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Microsoft OCS 2007 R2 Hits the Streets

Last week, Microsoft held a virtual launch of Office Communications Server 2007 R2. Here's a one-word summary: Different.This release reminds me of Clayton Christensen's book, "The Innovator's Dilemma," which points out that most innovations break into an existing marketplace not by replicating the existing products, but by delivering new, different -- even if limited -- functionality that provides attractive options to those that are over-served by existing, mature products. OCS 2007 R2 release seems to be following that path, reflecting the promises by Bill Gates and then Jeff Raikes at VoiceCon Orlando 2007, that software could make communications a lot better and easier.

A lot has been written since the announcement of OCS 2007 R2 last October; has a good review here.

However, almost all of the articles focused on whether OCS 2007 R2 is ready to replace a PBX. Not quite yet, was the consensus, though some allowed that, " (OCS R2)can certainly be deployed by customers to work behind an installed voice system for UC applications only, or in defined workgroup environments for converged voice and UC requirements."

But, there's an alternative view: It looks to me like they asked themselves the question: What would be the best way to deliver communications for a "people-ready business" that would reduce costs, improve business outcomes and provide both productivity and control to the users? If the new software also fills in the PBX checklists, that's so much the better.

So I put together some "Q&A" that might have produced these "Different" features in OCS 2007 R2:

Q: How could Admins work with those they support in voice calls as well as they do with Exchange and Outlook?

A: Create new Delegation features with the attendant client that allows viewing, answering, controlling, annotating, and placing calls for all Delegators supported by the Admin.

Q: How could a department or team leader assure that calls to the team were answered effectively?

A: With Team Ringing, so users can dynamically designate others to support calls when they can't answer, or are off-line or in do-not-disturb mode. OCS-based callers will be visually advised of this coverage. Rules can exclude specific callers from team answering.

Q: How could we help support groups improve service to their clients?

A: Provide Response Groups that allow teams to set up rules and workflows to route and queue calls to formal and informal "agents;" presence status of informal agents can be included in the rules and workflows.

Q: How could we make the mobile user experience even more productive?

A: Deliver Communicator Mobile (COMO) on a variety of phones, in addition to Windows mobile, and provide IM, presence and "click-to-call" through the OCS server. Provide Communicator Web Access for wireless Mac and Linux computers as well as Windows PCs.

Q: How could we make the quality of experience for the voice media stream even better?

A: Include enhanced "comfort noise" and add typing noise suppression during calls.

Q: How could we help teams have a project-based record of their interactions?

A: Provide Group Chat with user set-up of multiple, concurrent chat rooms for tracking progress, including posting of files and voice recordings.

Q: How could we make communications a much more integral part of a business process?

A: Provide a robust API Toolkit with sample applications posted on TechNet website.

Q: How could we assure a lower TCO?

A: Include all of these features in the existing OCS Enterprise CAL price, and add more tools for simplified management.

Other new features are less notable as "different," such as adding outside telephony access to audio conferencing or reconfiguring the software to lower the server count for large enterprises.

And, no, it is still not a PBX, though it is a Unified Communications solution. Either way, it's probably worth a look through this "innovator's" lens.

Please join me for more UC review at VoiceCon Orlando 2009 in the March 30 afternoon Tutorial session, "Comparing UC Options and Vendors--Who's Offering What?" Hope to see you there.