Microsoft's global announcement of its unified communications and software PABX platform, Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007, was not all forward-looking as the vendor released details of local enterprises already using it in production.
Brewer Lion Nathan and resources giant BHP Billiton were among the Australian customers that traveled to San Francisco for the global launch.
Microsoft Australia's director of unified communications, Oscar Trimboli, said OCS offers customers more choice because today's PABX systems from telephony vendors are restricted to a certain hardware device.
"Any device can plug into this platform so there is more device choice for end users," Trimboli said. "Our approach, and what the industry is moving towards, is a shift from hardware to software. We are looking at horizontally integrated approaches, much like the transition from the mainframe to the PC."
Trimboli said business processes and applications are driving voice interactions in the enterprise and there is a massive opportunity for ISVs to develop applications around voice.
Local organizations using Microsoft's communications platform include Adelaide Bank, IAG, Scotch College with 300 employees, the University of Sydney, the NSW Institute of Sport with 50 users, retailer Harvey Norman, and Eastern Valley Health in Victoria.
At Lion Nathan voice mail was important to having an integrated approach to unified communications and it leveraged an existing investment in Cisco equipment.
Lion Nathan, along with Telstra and BHP Billiton, is also an early adopter of Microsoft's RoundTable videoconferencing device.
Lion Nathan CIO Darryl Warren said HP and Microsoft provided early access to the RoundTable device, which allows what would previously have been a simple audio conference call to become an "immersive meeting" containing audio, video, and data.
Warren said videoconferencing has redefined the way Lion Nathan performs team meetings between cities and countries.
Microsoft itself also claims to have benefited greatly from its OCS platform which allowed the consolidation of 81 PABX directories worldwide into one Active Directory.
Trimboli fended off industry speculation that Microsoft is trying to put the PABX vendors out of business, saying OCS is designed to work with existing infrastructure.
We often get asked "is it Cisco versus Microsoft", but we are working together, and have been working with Cisco for three years.
"Here at Microsoft Australia we use OCS with our Nortel PABX," he said. "Customers see OCS as faster to deploy because people don't need retraining as the interface is familiar."
At BHP Billiton, some 11,000 throughout Africa, Australia, Europe, and North America are relying on OCS today, and RoundTable is integrated with HP's Halo telepresence solution.
BHP Billiton IT strategy group principal enterprise technology architect Ian Hoyle said the organization has attained a better understanding of the value of presence since deploying the OCS 2007 platform.
"With distributed groups, it is important to know where people are and when they are available," Hoyle said. "This helps open communication, saves time, and improves decision-making."