Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Microsoft Canadian Connections Newsletter - Winter Issue


Microsoft Canada publishes a newsletter called Canadian Connections, and covers topics related to enterprise communications.

They were nice enough to ask me to write an article on Unified Communications for the Winter 2007 issue, which has just come out, and is posted on Microsoft Canada's website.

Below is the full text of my article - your comments are welcome!

A Word from... J Arnold & Associates

By Jon Arnold, Principal, J Arnold & Associates

Unified Communications - Choosing the Right Approach

From an analyst�s perspective, the term �convergence� resonates on many levels, and can be the starting point for a lengthy discussion. We all have a basic notion of what convergence means, and I want to begin by saying that this is a hot topic today because it finally has relevance for all elements of the value chain.

Convergence first became important to network operators, as it allowed them to simplify their infrastructure and reduce operational expenditure and maintenance costs. It has become important to enterprises for the same reasons, but also to reduce communications costs and to make employees more productive. For the end users at their desks, convergence manifests itself in the form of a richer communications environment, which is commonly referred to as unified communications. And finally, convergence is important for vendors, as it creates exciting opportunities for innovation.

The idea of convergence is especially timely now, as it builds on VoIP, which is gaining critical mass in the enterprise market. Initially, the adoption of VoIP was tied to IP telephony and PBX replacement, which is largely a voice-centric solution. On its own, VoIP does little more than replicate the PBX experience with less cost, and enterprises have been deploying this cautiously. Over the course of 2006, various unified communications platforms have come to market, promising a higher level of integration of voice, data, and in some cases, video.

These platforms offer a stronger value proposition than IP telephony, and are giving enterprises good reason to think more strategically about IP technology and making investments in convergence. Unified communications solutions have been evolving for some time, and are now ready to deliver business-grade services that enterprises can no longer ignore. For this reason, we expect that 2007 will be a breakthrough year for convergence. As enterprises learn more about what unified communications platforms can deliver, there will be a stronger business case for network convergence than what IP telephony alone could justify.

A fundamental driver for convergence and unified communications platforms is the fact that today�s technology has actually made communications more complex and not easier. We have too many ways of reaching people and ways of being reached, and the net result is that people spend more time managing their communications tools than actually communicating with each other. Not to mention mobility, which frees us from our desks, but adds another layer of complexity in managing the communication process.

Unified communications goes a long way to making us more effective at keeping in touch. IP networks make this possible, especially with advances in SIP � Session Initiation Protocol � which enables presence and supports real time, multimedia communications. For the end user, this means new capabilities such as click-to-call from Outlook, or setting up web conferencing on the fly for collaboration. Building on this is Fixed-Mobile Convergence (FMC), which extends the desktop telephony experience to mobile devices. These are just a few capabilities and applications that provide real value to enterprises, and we really are just at the beginning of what is possible.

With all this promise, enterprises need to make some careful decisions about how to pursue a convergence strategy. Since the second half of 2006, major vendors have come to market with unified communications platforms from both the software and hardware worlds. These represent two distinct models, and enterprises will need to choose the one that best fits their needs.

The software-based approach is founded on the thinking that the PC is the center of the employee�s workspace, and that it is the preferred interface for communication. This would be Microsoft�s position, and given their market dominance, adding unified communications is a logical extension of their existing operating system. It should be easy to deploy in the network, and being software-based, is a cost-effective solution. Their Exchange Server supports major PBX vendors such as Nortel, Siemens and Avaya, so it can be readily deployed by a large segment of the enterprise market.

Conversely, a hardware-based solution is built around the view that voice is not just another PC application, and that unified communications is best delivered over a network that is tightly integrated from the switch out to the desktop. For vendors such as Cisco and Avaya, a software solution alone cannot provide the full end-to-end convergence experience. The PC is an important endpoint for supporting unified communications, but for these vendors, the PBX or IP PBX still has a pivotal role to play. Furthermore, their solutions are not tied solely to Microsoft, and could support enterprises using other software platforms.

This is just a cursory view of these two models, but the underlying contrast is the main message. Enterprises will need to understand how each would impact their existing networks and what the implementation scenarios would be. Both approaches have merit, and each will deliver unified communications to varying degrees. To a large extent, we believe the choice will be a philosophical one. For enterprises that view the PC as the ultimate nexus of the desktop, the software model will likely prevail. Conversely, those with more conventional views on technology and communications will probably be more comfortable with the hardware-based model.

For either to be successful, however, we believe there is a bigger challenge. Despite the fact that these platforms can deliver a host of new features and productivity improvements, enterprises still need to be convinced that unified communications really is new and improved. The ROI and TCO justifications are difficult to demonstrate, and enterprises will need to hear a stronger story. This applies to all the players involved � vendors, service providers, systems integrators and Value-Added Resellers (VARs).

Enterprises need to clearly understand how convergence and unified communications will not only deliver tangible benefits, but also be a strategic investment that makes them more competitive. This is a lofty promise, and it remains to be seen who can do a better job articulating this vision. There is a lot at stake here, and both hardware and software vendors need to work closely with their channel partners to drive these messages home with the enterprise market. Going into 2007, the major players have their solutions ready for market, and we should start seeing evidence fairly soon as to which vision of new and improved is gaining the most acceptance.

Jon Arnold is Principal of Toronto-based J Arnold & Associates, an independent telecom analyst and marketing consultancy with a focus on IP communications. Previously, he was the VoIP Program Leader at Frost & Sullivan, where he was responsible for managing their subscription service for Global VoIP Equipment Markets. For more information, contact Jon at

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ipcom said...

Posted by: Industry Insider

Jon, you frame this question as if it is a choice between two models, the software approach and the hardware approach of which you use Avaya as an example. Yet Avaya, like most leading PBX companies is focused on positioning themselves as a software company that is using industry standard servers.

The other company in your hardware example is Cisco that really does have an opposing strategy, that of the network. The real choice that is emerging is between applications and the network. In more practical terms, who will prevail in the battle between the applications world made up of the Microsoft and Open Source (including Linux and Asterisk)communities along with the manufacturers of servers (HP, IBM, etc.)and the network world largely made up of the Cisco world.

ipcom said...

Posted by: Alex Vipov

E360crm Microsoft CRM Cisco IPCC Unified Enterprise Connector Released.
For enterprises looking to upgrade their call and contact centers with more effective CRM practices, it is essential to realize that the solution cannot exist independently from other enterprise applications and systems. A merger between data sources and applications is the only way to achieve greater efficiency within the enterprise (remove redundant processes), to increase revenues (cross-sell and up sell) and cut costs (brings down the cost of interacting with customers).
Also, as a crucial component of any enterprise architecture, CRM cannot be isolated. Integrating and aggregating the multiple communications and information layers within the enterprise puts a growing emphasis on integration between processes and applications.
One of these layers is of course the contact center, often the outermost layer of the CRM value chain and the face of a company for most of its customers. Yet, no effort has been made so far to extend the resources available to most call centers and to strengthen ties between the call center and the enterprise.
Developed by e360crm, the Connector for Microsoft CRM Dynamics 3.0 and Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise (Cisco IPCC Enterprise) is a merger layer that enables businesses to provide superior customer service by connecting Cisco IPCC solutions with the Microsoft Business Solution Customer Relationship Management (Microsoft CRM Dynamics 3.0) application.
The e360crm Cisco IPCC Enterprise Connector ( is a customer relationship management (CRM) application tightly integrated with Microsoft Dynamics CRM 3.0. The solution helps all sized businesses quickly gain access to customer information on inbound and outbound calls, with a 360 view to increasing operational efficiency and providing an improved customer experience.
The e360crm Cisco IPCC Enterprise Connector provides Cisco IPCC Enterprise users with a complete view of the customer, including current and past purchases, sales information, order status, account relationships and billing information. Allowing companies to focus their entire operations on customers, the solution helps businesses develop customer service excellence by providing all employees with access to caller data quickly and simply. This helps companies build stronger, more profitable relationships with their clients, increase competitiveness and minimize costs as part of long-term IT development.
When a call is received by a Cisco IPCC Enterprise, the e360crm Cisco IPCC Enterprise Connector automatically links to the Microsoft Dynamics CRM system and provides onscreen pop-up windows of the customer contact record and phone call activity so that the service agent can track the call. The same information and capabilities are also accessible remotely, so sales and service personnel in the field can also connect into the network quickly. New customer data or phone call information is uploaded back into the system, so the next interaction with the customer picks up where the last one left off.
The combination of Cisco Unified Communications with Microsoft Dynamics CRM helps companies increase employee productivity and customer satisfaction while reducing costs
Vladimir Kirushko, Head of Call Center Raiffeisen bank of Ukraine, said: "The e360crm Cisco IPCC Enterprise Connector is an important tool for our Call Center. Before our operators pick up the phone they see all relevant customer information on their screen. With the automatic creation of correlating call activities, all calls are monitored and documented in our Microsoft CRM Dynamics system. This is especially helpful when several operators are simultaneously working with the same customer. The simple configuration with xml configuration file and the intuitive legacy GUI helped ensure it was popular in our bank and with our customers."
About e360crm
E360crm is a Ukraine firm which develops software for CISCO IPCC Enterprise, MS CRM Dynamics 3.0. Information about e360crm can be found at Raiffeisen bank of Ukraine and Ukrsotsbank bank are the clients of e360crm.
With regards,
E360crm team.