I Know

Microsoft held their Unified Communications launch event on Thursday in Louvain-La-Neuve, and I attended to see what all the fuzz is about.

Microsoft renamed it’s Live Communications Server to Office Communications Server with the 2007 release, and features new and improved features.

Communications Server is Microsoft’s answer to the possible information overload you could get when using e-mail, instant messaging, one or more cellphones and your desk phone, and the integration of all the personal internet experiences into an business environment.

The information worker of 5 years ago could live without IM, possibly even without his cellphone and was happy to communicate face to face, by his desk phone or by email.  The information worker has evolved, however, and is now using Instant Messaging at home to keep in touch with colleagues and friends, his cellphone has grown into a personal notepad and he keeps a blog, while at work he still communicates with his old one-trick deskphone and archaic e-mail.

The information worker of the future is the teenager of today: work is done in a team effort through IM, webcam conferencing, sharing desktops and being digitally omnipresent while physical presence loses importance.  These people will not fit in a business environment where the main communications platform are e-mail and a deskphone, and where physical presence is required to manage these communication methods.

The business that will succeed in offering a digital presence, will attract the information worker.  The business that will only offer physical presence, will appall these talented workers.

The issue with all these information streams is that currently, these are separate information streams: you need to ask your colleage something, so you look up his number to call him.  You dial the number into your deskphone, but he’s not available and you leave a message in his voicemail.  Following that, you send him an email to be sure he reacts.  The more urgent your question is, the more quickly you are going to repeat the above procedure until he reacts.  This all while in the mean time people are trying to reach you, and you are trying to do your work.

OK, so how does Office Communications Server fit in this vision of the future?  Communications Server delivers a central platform to interconnect your Exchange Server, Instant Messaging, mobile access and telephony.  All communications are connected, so before you call, you can see if someone’s available on IM or in any Office application (and application which uses the Communicator API).  If your contact does not respond to your IM message, he’ll get it when he is ready.  If you call your colleague and he does not pick up, your voicemail message generates an item in your colleague’s inbox.  And if you need to have a meeting but your colleague is not around, you can easily drop him into a conference call or conference webcam.

I’ll be testing this in the near future, to work together with Exchange Server (and it’s newly released Service Pack!).  In the mean time, be sure to check the I Know UC website.  So you’ll know… 🙂

edit: The speaker presentations are up on Everybody.knowsuc.be.