Unified presence gives firms “competitive edge”

In the enterprise world, implementing a unified messaging (UM) presence isn’t a matter of “if” but “when”, according to one industry observer.

“This is not hype…it’s really happening,” says Forrester ana-lyst Brownlee Thomas.

He says for many large companies today, making the transition to UM is a matter of gaining, or retaining, competitive advantage.

Construction and engineering company Leighton Contractors can vouch for this.

The firm has merged network and telephony availability into a single online presence for 500 staff at its office in Sydney, Australia.

The immediate catalyst for this project was the move of the company’s New South Wales branch office. “The projectbased nature of our work, together with short time frames often required to relocate or establish new operations made a flexible communications infrastructure very attractive,” said Scott Ferguson, IT infrastructure and services manager, Leighton Contractors.

He said Leightons’ users now have access to a featurerich, collaborative, and realtime communications environment. Staff have clicktocall, clicktoemail and clicktoinstant messaging options.

The collaborative infrastructure developed by Dimension Data plc, a South Africabased IT services provider harnessed technologies from multiple vendors: Cisco (CallManager) Microsoft (Office Communicator, and Genesys (enterprise telephony software).

Using an integrated solution that can scale at a low cost gives the company a tremendous competitive advantage.

One key benefit is increased staff productivity, according to Oscar Trimboli, Microsoft Australia’s unified communications group director. He said productivity has improved as a result of reduced travel, and the ability to effectively conduct business remotely both internally, and with customers and partners.

Jon Farrell, a Dimension Data consultant, said mobility is a big consideration with a collaborative infrastructure. “We have to work with people who are no longer sitting at the next desk they may not even be in the same time zone,” he said.

“Leightons has a highly mobile workforce and with these technologies we can extend presence and communication out to mobile devices such as a PDA, allowing rich collaboration and reliable contact methods for workers either out on site or travelling.”

Closer to home, a Torontobased law firm has also experienced a surge in productivity as a result of implementing a unified messaging solution. Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP (FMC) with offices in five Canadian cities and New York began building a new communications infrastructure began back in 2002.

The firm is using Cisco technology to support unified messaging along with virtual LAN, video conferencing, and softphones for mobile staff, according to Dave Komaromi, manager, technical services at FMC. This infrastructure, he said, is critical to the firm’s productivity.

In 2004, FMC was one of the first Canadian law firms to implement voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP). Today, the company is using its IP network to add video to internal phone calls, using a new Cisco IPbased videophone system from IBM, installed at its offices in Toronto, Ottawa and Vancouver.

In doing so, FMC has reportedly improved its lawyers’s telephone productivity by 33 per cent, according to IBM http://www03.ibm.com/press/us/en/pressrelease/20122.wss which is providing design and installation services for the new videophones.

Since installation began this spring, the firm has found that lawyers using the new system spend a third less time on the telephone, allowing them to work more effectively on their clients’ cases.

With the pilot program successfully completed, FMC is considering videophones for all of its 530 lawyers across Canada.

“Videophones have connected our offices across Canada in greater ways than we had anticipated,” said John Esvelt, FMC’s director of technology. “Not only are our people getting the information they need more quickly, but they’re also collaborating more effectively with colleagues in other locations.”

For enterprises looking to make the leap into UM and converged IP, Forrester’s Thomas offers some bits of advice. “Identify areas of communication bottleneck, and get a handle on current network management costs.”

It would also be useful to define before and after scenarios for UM and converged IP communications applications, the analyst said.

For companies with legacy applications, relying on Session Initiation Protocol or SIP one of two leading signaling protocols for Voice over IP (VoIP) may be a good way to go.

“SIP really saves the day, because it lets you introduce [unified messaging] products that work not only in the VoIP world, but solve legacy issues as well,” according to Rod Scotland, product sales specialist at Cisco Systems.

He said SIP is an easier way to extend UM across an organization without needing to switch out extensive infrastructures that connect enterprises to public switched telephone networks.

Scotland said SIP will be the standard of choice to enable traditional or mobile phones work more readily with applications such as email and instant messaging.

He said Cisco’s messaging products such Cisco’s Unified Call-Manager 5.0 include native SIP support, which allows the platform to -interact with other SIPbased client and server presence applications, such as Microsoft Office Communicator, as well as Cisco’s own Unified Presence Server and client software.

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