Microsoft and Nortel Networks this week announced a road map for delivering jointly developed product bundles that combine e-mail, instant messaging, telephony and other communications technologies.
But at a press conference in New York, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Nortel CEO Mike Zafirovski acknowledged that they face an uphill battle to get corporate users to understand the potential value of the unified communications offerings. With that in mind, Microsoft and Nortel are launching a marketing and education initiative that will include setting up 100 demonstration centres this year, in addition to 20 that have already been opened.
The road map, laid out by the two vendors as part of a development and marketing alliance set up last July, includes several offerings that are scheduled to be rolled out later this year. For example, they plan to deliver an "integrated branch" appliance that incorporates both Nortel and Microsoft technology to provide voice-over-IP and other communications capabilities for remote offices.
Microsoft and Nortel also said they will bring out conferencing and unified messaging bundles that combine their respective products. In addition, they plan to extend an existing package offering VOIP, e-mail, instant messaging and user-presence capabilities to Nortel's Communication Server 2100, a carrier-grade telephony device that can support up to 200,000 users.
Johan Krebbers, an IT architect at Royal Dutch Shell, appeared at the press conference to describe his company's early efforts to link Microsoft and Nortel technologies for its global workforce of 112,000 employees. Over the past year, Shell has rolled out about 2,000 Nortel phones that work with Microsoft's Office Communicator client software, Krebbers said after the meeting.
To Krebbers, the promises of unified communications are compelling. "You're really giving people far better collaboration capability," he said. "We know it makes people more productive." For example, workers in one part of the world may not have to wait hours to reach a colleague in another region, Krebbers noted.
Todd Schofield, chief technology officer at International SOS, said that within the next two weeks, he plans to link a Nortel phone switch to Microsoft's Live Communications Server 2005 software at his company's Singapore headquarters to improve internal communications capabilities for the 500 workers there.
International SOS offers medical assistance and physical security services to businesses worldwide. In all, it has about 4,500 workers in 65 countries who could benefit from better collaboration technologies, Schofield said.
But Schofield noted that he still has work to do to convince business managers of the value of unified communications. For that reason, he plans to move slowly on the new technologies in order to keep costs relatively low.
Ballmer said that eventually, Microsoft Office will be so tightly linked with communications products that an Excel user will be able to send messages from inside a spreadsheet without having to launch a messaging application.