Microsoft adds human element to corporate communications

People do a lot of things when they think no one is watching, like picking spinach out of their teeth with their fingernails.

Now, if Microsoft Corp. has its way, you could soon be caught in the act by your boss through ad-hoc live videoconferencing.

Microsoft on Tuesday announced upgrades to its collaboration and conferencing tools that let users contact colleagues and business partners, anytime, anywhere, regardless of the Microsoft application they are using.

Microsoft released its Office Communicator 2005 – Code-named Istanbul – that is the client portion of Microsoft’s Live Communication Server (LCS).

With Office Communicator, users can view colleagues on a single interface, check out colleagues’ calendars to see when they are available, and choose how they want to communicate and with whom.

For example, users may decide they want to receive calls from family members on their cell phone, or that only their spouse would be able to interrupt them during important meetings.

Users can also automatically initiate video and audio conference sessions, instant messaging (IM) sessions, e-mail and conference calls directly from Office Communicator. These services can be accessed from any device —desktop, notebook, cellphone or PDA.

Office Communicator ties in directly to Microsoft’s LCS 2005’s, which through its first service pack (SP1) also released yesterday, lets companies integrate their Microsoft corporate messaging free public IM clients from MSN, AOL and Yahoo, over a secure network.

This means companies can log and track communications with outsiders and control who they have access to. Additionally, users can see what network contacts are using for IM. LCS 2005 SP1 includes filters for IM spam or “spim”, so users can reduce the number of unsolicited messages they receive.

Updates to Microsoft Office Live Meeting let users launch videoconferencing from any Microsoft Office application, drag and drop files to share with videoconference viewers, and includes better graphical rendering and support for animations, slide transitions and full-screen mode.

Dave Senf, program manager of IT/Business Enablement Advisory Service at IDC Canada Ltd. in Toronto said collaboration tools are an important part of business strategies for corporations to increase employee productivity.

He said mobile workers and individuals who work from home need new ways to keep in touch and share information faster with the head office. People will rely more on technologies like IM and videoconferencing to stay connected, and Microsoft’s work around collaboration will facilitate this, he said.

According to IDC, sales of messaging technology will grow at a compound annual growth rate of 11.3 per cent between 2003 and 2008, with IM (a subset of messaging) growing at 27.5 per cent, and conferencing technologies growing at 17 per cent.

Allstream Inc. also announced today that it will be adding Microsoft Office Live Meeting, Office Communicator and Microsoft Office Live Communicator to its suite of hosted collaboration offerings, dubbed Allstream Collaboration Suite.

The service includes hosted Microsoft Exchange, Hosted Microsoft Sharepoint Services, journaling and archiving, antivirus, anti-spam, information rights management and enterprise BlackBerry services.

Homes by Avi, a privately owned home construction company in Calgary has been using Allstream’s Collaboration Suite for the past month. Darren Soltes, vice-president of business development at Avi said features like ad-hoc videoconferencing have really put the human element back into corporate communications.

“We noticed a lack of the human touch. We send e-mails, leave voicemails but avoid human contact because it’s not efficient,” he said.

He said two main advantages to Allstream’s Collaboration Suite have been introducing IM to Avi and the ability to engage in face-to-face meetings with remote staff members via videoconferencing.

“This helps them feel validated and part of the team. It also eliminates their travel time (to the head office for meetings.)”

So far, Avi has experienced some short-term ROI from its investment in Allstream’s Collaboration Suite. Soltes said the firm’s paperwork is processed faster, resulting in better customer service.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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