Oracle CIO: Unified Communications works for us

Oracle Corp. has almost three years of experience with unified communications technology that some enterprises are just starting to consider, and it says the deployment has been well worth the time and expense.

Standardizing and centralizing its communications systems has helped the software giant integrate the more than 30 acquisitions it’s made over the past three years, including Siebel and PeopleSoft, said CIO Mark Sunday in a keynote speech at VoiceCon.

Unified communications has also saved the company millions of dollars and let it support a growing workforce while actually cutting its voice and data team by 6 percent, he said. The new technology also means better support for users of its Oracle On Demand services, Sunday told attendees at the San Francisco conference.

Although there are still some legacy phone systems Oracle hasn’t replaced with VOIP (voice over Internet Protocol) because it doesn’t yet pay to do so, the company’s general strategy has been one of diving in. Some IT managers at VoiceCon aren’t yet so sure about unified communications, but Oracle’s Sunday is sold.

“The return from deploying this has real, hard savings that more than justifies it,” Sunday said.

Nearly 75 per cent of Oracle’s facilities have migrated to VOIP, Sunday said. Those are spread over 120 countries but are all controlled by six Cisco Systems Inc. CallManager systems, and the company wants to end up with just one large CallManager cluster, Sunday said. “Triple redundancy” keeps the phones alive in emergencies, he said. Equipping a new office or consolidating sites, as Oracle has done many times as it bought companies, is much easier than before.

“Effectively, we just plug in the phones,” Sunday said. “This is a tremendous enabler for acquiring companies.”

Combining voice, video, e-mail and text messaging with presence has saved employees millions of hours, according to Oracle. It also helps developers come together quickly on projects and lets customers quickly reach Oracle and have what Sunday called “rich interaction,” beyond voice and e-mail, to solve problems.

The new technologies are also finding their way into Oracle’s own products. The company is building communications capabilities into every aspect of its middleware and putting tools such as Oracle Communicator and Oracle Communications Suite on the surface of all its applications, he said. Matt Drage, an IT director at a manufacturing company, heard Oracle’s presentation and wondered whether things have worked as smoothly as described. Drage is getting ready to replace four traditional phone systems and wants something more than just VOIP phones, so he’s looking into unified communications at the show.

“I’m hearing that UC is the Holy Grail, but I’m not sure the products are quite ready yet,” Drage said. The main thing he hopes it can fix is the array of different things clamoring for employees’ attention: desk phones, cell phones, notebooks and technical workstations. Employees tell him they like to travel just because it simplifies their lives down to a cell phone and notebook, he said.

A telecommunications manager at a midwestern university medical center, who asked not to be named, thinks one size may not fit all parts of his organization. He’ll leave the choice to departments and then put together a system that makes sense for each. For example, some researchers may have no use for unified communications at all, while a call center for clinic patients might be able to offer better service if operators automatically had information about callers presented to them, he said.

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