Microsoft and Nortel are anticipating strong local demand for what they are calling the second wave of offerings to result from their Innovative Communications Alliance, formed 13 months ago.
The vendors are showcasing several options. This includes a converged office setup based on native session inititated procol (SIP) integration of the latest version of Nortel’s Communication Server 1000 IP PBX with Microsoft’s Office Communication Server 2007, and unified messaging through the integration of Nortel’s Alliance Communication Server 1000 with Exchange 2007.
The two companies hope early adopters and enterprises initially will enjoy the benefits of this integration, including ease of use and greater productivity through ‘Click to Call’ within Office.
Expected here in November are LG Nortel SIP handsets, which provide functionality for OCS 2007. Nortel will also extend its audio and video conferencing features to Office Communication Server through SIP integration.
“It’s the next wave of convergence after IP telephony,” says Nortel’s Microsoft business manager for Australia/New Zealand Kirsten Gilbertson. “You don’t need any third-party middleware, so it’s very simple and cost effective.”
Gilbertson and New Zealand Office Systems product manager Anne Taylor stress that implementation of Microsoft/Nortel unified communications is not about ripping and replacing existing systems.
“Microsoft and Nortel have a large installed base, so it’s about integrating this existing infrastructure,” Gilbertson says.
Along with legacy systems, another concern that transcends large and small organisations is boosting productivity. Taylor says a proportion of business telephone calls are missed and the skill shortage means existing staff have to work smarter.
Gen-i, New Zealand’s only specialist partner for the alliance, agrees that starting with existing systems is attractive for companies considering moving to the vendors’ unified communications offerings.
“We don’t have to start over again. We can start with one component. Companies often have to do things in phases and we can accommodate that,” says IP telephony and unified communications service manager Steve McGinn.
The integrator’s Microsoft practice manager Rick Hook says the Nortel/Microsoft alliance’s enterprise unified communications platform caters for common projects a customer wishes to embark on.
One such driver is integration with business applications currently in use, such as CRM, business intelligence and ERP systems; while another is compliance and the need to keep records of voicemails and emails within a searchable system.
McGinn and Hook say Gen-i, Microsoft and Nortel combined have done more than 500 demonstrations of their unified communications offerings since the alliance began.
Hook adds Gen-i has been surprised by some of the firms interested in unified communications, with one smaller company going from purchase decision to deployment in four weeks.
The renewed interest has largely been generated by the marketing clout Microsoft has brought to the relationship, Hook says. “Nortel wasn’t traditionally strong here in a market and a marketing sense.”
Long-term Microsoft partner Cisco has also ensured interoperability with Microsoft’s Live Communications Server and Office Communicator through its Unified Call Manager version 5.
Cisco country manager and former Microsoft New Zealand head Geoff Lawrie says Cisco’s level of integration with Microsoft technology matches or betters that of Nortel’s.
“For every point of integration that Nortel can point to, Cisco can point to an equal and more applicable point of integration as well.”
Cisco’s recent release of the Smart Business Communication system was designed to get small and medium businesses on board with unified communications along with enterprises.
Lawrie says Cisco has only recently started to see small and medium businesses here begin to adopt VoIP systems, as it was enterprises which initially recognised their value.
“It’s only now we’re seeing systems that are fully featured and well priced and easy to install.”
Cisco’s advantage in the market comes from being network specialists, Lawrie says.
“It’s not the end point or the handset that makes a voice over IP system successful, it’s the quality of the network and the key success factor is how it’s managed across the network.”