CNIB sees benefits in Exchange Server upgrade

The Canadian National Institute for the Blind is going to be spending the next several months continuing to roll out an upgrade of its Microsoft Exchange system that includes its Unified Messaging support.

CNIB, which employs more than 1,100 staff across the country, started the implementation earlier this summer. So far, the upgrade has been deployed to about 350 users representing its library, its head office and Toronto district staff. The project represents a consolidation of functionality for the non-profit, whose previous system had involved using speech output technology to listen to Microsoft Outlook e-mail messages or calendar entries. The voice mail and private branch exchange (PBX) weren’t tied into e-mail, but Exchange Server 2007 Unified Messaging is designed to bring those things together.

Vicki Mains, director of IS systems operations at CNIB, said she first learned of the product at a Microsoft customer event and realized it was a fit for her organization. So far the rollout, done in partnership with Mississauga, Ont.-based Trios Support Services Inc., has been smooth, Mains said.

“I can tell you the upgrade is probably one of the best executed that we’d ever seen before, much easier than from Exchange 2000 to 2003,” she said. “If you have a clean Active Directory to start, you won’t have any issues at all.” CNIB will be making use of Exchange 2007’s speech-enabled automated attendant feature within Outlook Voice Access, which answers calls through an automated operator and global address list directory services. The system also allows users to convert text to speech, which means visually impaired users can have information read aloud to them.

Trios president Stuart Bentley said the company is starting to see greater Canadian adoption of Exchange 2007 since its release earlier this year. “I know we’ve done a few migrations. There’s definitely an increased interest level,” he said. “We’re in the proposal stage at a number of customers.”

Mains said the CNIB started out with a pilot study that included 100 users on Exchange and 30 that made use of the Unified Messaging features. The training curve wasn’t steep, she said.

“All of the training materials were ready, and basically when you convert someone to Exchange Unified Messaging, it sends out automated e-mail with a PIN and the attached documentation – and people never used it,” she said, laughing. “Then when we went to the broader audience, we did the same process, converting them overnight and sending out a notification that this was coming.”

The organization also offered optional training in the afternoon but there was little demand, Mains added.

Bentley said one of the more popular features in Exchange 2007 is the out of office assistant, which can be pre-programmed in advance. “Most of the interest is really about better reliability, getting them prepared for future versions of the Microsoft platform,” he said.

In August, Microsoft released the second beta of the first service pack for Exchange Server 2007, which included improvements to let customers integrate the product with Windows Vista and Windows Server 2008. Customers are still waiting, however, for the ability to virtualize Exchange Server 2007 on its Virtual Server R2 platform, which supports only 32-bit guest operating systems.

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