Bell, Microsoft team on audio, Office tie-up

Through its Live Meeting 2005 offering, Microsoft has come up with some new enhancements that will aim to improve the Web conferencing experience.

Yesterday, Microsoft and Bell Canada announced they have formed a partnership to integrate Bell’s audio conferencing service into Microsoft Office’s Live Meeting 2005.

According to Gordon Forsythe, COO for conferencing for Bell Canada, this new integration, the first of its kind in Canada, will allow customers the ability to control audio conferencing calls directly from the Live Meeting console, a feature not available in previous versions.

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Also, users are able to dial meeting participants directly, mute and un-mute participant phone lines, remove participants or lock a meeting. In addition to audio, there is also integration with Microsoft Office and Outlook.

“What used to be two services running in parallel is now one easy-to-use meeting solution,” said Forsythe during a Web conference call using Live Meeting 2005 that demonstrated the audio integration.

McGraw-Hill Ryerson, the third-largest publisher of higher education textbooks in Canada, was using the 2003 version of Live Meeting but has been recently introduced to the 2005 version. The company uses Live Meeting to connect its sales force across the country to discuss technology products that are available to their customers or any of the latest changes to those products.

“We do three major sales meetings a year but there is a lot that happens in between. We were trying to talk technology without visuals. Without the ability to be interactive [we are] not nearly as effective,” said Diana Macdonald, business development specialist for McGraw-Hill Ryerson. As well, having everyone meet in one geographic location proved difficult, but with Live Meeting, McGraw-Hill Ryerson were able to reduce employee travel time and costs.

Web conferencing, such as that conducted by McGraw-Hill Ryerson, is on the rise in Canada. According to a recent IDC Canada study on Canadian collaboration, about 51 per cent of mid-sized companies have some level of Web conferencing adoption and another 15 per cent of organizations said they were looking at adoption.

“Mid-size organizations have the same business requirements as large organizations but don’t have the IT infrastructure or expertise in place to deliver on that business value,” said David Senf, program manager of the IT business enablement advisory service with IDC Canada. He presented his findings during the same Web conference.

Senf added there are two waves to Web conferencing adoption. The first is companies using it internally for training and educational purposes or for ad hoc meetings on projects. The next is external use so companies can connect to their suppliers or customers.

The benefits of the technology have mainly been in productivity, said Senf. “It is a top priority in 2005 for Canadian executives to deliver on higher levels of productivity.”

The integration of Web conferencing represents phase one of the Microsoft-Bell partnership. Phase two will include a unified communication services offering where Web conferencing can be done on any device, according to the companies.

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