For twenty years, PC users have gazed at standard 'desktops' and operating systems that allowed them limited interaction with business partners using similar machines.
Suddenly, they are breaking free. As their focus shifts towards the standards-driven web as the universal medium of communication, global connectivity has become routine. Now, their screens are free to show the applications, services and communications tools that reflect the changing tasks they face and the roles they play. Enterprise collaboration is a new frontier for users and IT staff.
Collaboration starts with communication, and as users demand enterprise IM, VOIP, and video, the pressure increases for more integration with productivity applications.
A popular solution is Microsoft Office Communicator 2005, which provides 'rich' presence (additional information on location and availability to communicate) and unifies real-time communication modes, such as IM (instant messaging), voice, video and access to voice conferencing and web conferencing into a single application. In conjunction with Live Communications Server, it enables presence and real-time communications from all Microsoft Office applications, such as Outlook, SharePoint portal server and Live Meeting.
Telephony may become unrecognizable as it merges with PC communications. Microsoft is working on voice/PC integration and Office Communicator already enables PC-to-phone integration, including mobile phones. "In Office Communication Server 2007, emails, voice mails and faxes are consolidated in one mailbox, for a faster response. With a 3G phone, I can use Outlook on a browser to sort my emails, while maintaining firewall security," said Gary Lee Sweeting, Microsoft's product marketing manager for unified communications.
According to Marc-Alexis Remond, director for marketing & business development for North East Asia at Alcatel Asia Pacific, "collaboration means operating more quickly and efficiently across the entire interaction and decision-making chain."
He advocates the use of web, audio and video conferencing as well as data sharing as a suite of integrated communications tools to enable more timely and better interaction among staff, partners, customers and suppliers.
"In a global business environment, the cost benefits of such rapid online interactivity are becoming business critical," he said.
The emergence of "presence" technology, already exhibited by IM tools, is making communications suites more relevant in collaboration initiatives as it enables users to assess in real-time the availability of people.
Remond notes that knowing when to contact a person and via what medium can potentially reduce wasted time in people waiting for replies or leaving voicemail and email reminders.
He also observed that the growth of enterprises based in Hong Kong brings ever more complex communications demands, such as the need to cover more geographic zones, increased employee mobility and remote working practices.
To address today's business challenges companies should become more "virtual" and build their activities around people interactions and communication, stressed Remond.
"Convergence enables this to happen with video, data and voice sharing the same infrastructure resulting in both lower initial investment and ongoing IT administration costs," he added.
Alcatel is partnering with conferencing provider Polycom to provide integrated voice, video and data communications in an effort to aid enterprise collaboration efforts.