Cisco moves to unify communications tools

7 Mar 2006

Cisco Systems has launched a new suite of voice, data and video products and applications that integrate the communications system and IT infrastructure of a business. The company claims it will help make businesses of all sizes more productive.

At a briefing in Dublin yesterday to announce the products, Cisco officials said that the adoption of voice over IP was now being driven by the applications that companies are using rather than the technology in itself.

The new products and technology announced yesterday, under the banner of the Unified Communications system, are based on internet protocol but instead of providing just telephone services — as has been the focus until now — they provide a communications environment that can combine voice, video and data as well as collaboration in one system.

According to Cisco, there are now many ways of communicating with fellow employees, from relatively traditional means such as the telephone and email to instant messaging and videoconferencing.

However, the company revealed figures which showed that 36pc of people are unavailable when first contacted, resulting in delays or missed deadlines. This in turn impacts on a company’s top and bottom line.

“We believe that what we’re releasing is an architecture and real products that will help customers that have those issues today or who want to implement an effective communications mechanism going forward,” said John Stone, chief technology officer with Cisco in Ireland.

The Unified Communications system can check a worker’s presence on the network as well as their preferred means of being contacted. This ‘intelligence’ built into the network allows various communications software tools to interoperate better, said Stone. “If we increase functionality within the network then all of the applications benefit,” he added.

A desktop product launched yesterday, the Cisco Unified Personal Communicator, integrates and sorts multiple incoming communications into a single user interface. It is not intended to replace a particular tool, for example Microsoft Outlook, but it ties it in to a single front end. The product also has a facility for sharing documents.

At the infrastructure level, Cisco Unified Presence Server collects information about a user’s status, such as whether or not they are using a device such as a telephone, PC or video terminal at a particular time. Using this information, applications such as Cisco Unified Personal Communicator and Cisco Unified CallManager can help users connect with colleagues more efficiently by determining the most effective method of communication.

The architecture is based on open standards, so that third-party applications and hardware will work with it. New phones from Nokia and the latest RIM BlackBerry handset are all compatible with the Unified Communications system.

Cisco also released technologies for helping medium-sized businesses to manage contact centre environments more effectively.

By Gordon Smith