LGCSB and Eircom to use Unified Communications

24 Oct 2007

Eircom and the Local Government Computer Services Board (LGCSB) are among the first Irish organisations to begin using Microsoft’s new Unified Communications software, which was officially launched in Ireland yesterday.

Eircom will roll out the software in its new corporate headquarters at Dublin’s Heuston south quarter, which is due to open in March next year.

Jim Udell, productivity lead with Eircom Advisory Services, said this forms part of Eircom’s ICT strategy which is being driven around the need to improve collaboration among staff and have greater organisational agility.

“There are bottom-line improvements to be had through tying business processes with ICT,” said Udell.

In June of this year, the Local Government Computer Services Board (LGCSB) installed Office Communications Server 2007 (OCS) to more than 30 users throughout the organisation.

Tim Willoughby, assistant director of LGCSB, said the group now wants to roll out the entire unified communications package, which he said would increase productivity and efficiency throughout the organisation.

“In the future we intend to work with a number of different local authorities, starting with Waterford County Council,” he added.

With Unified Communications, what people use today as their inbox would effectively become a single repository for all messages, whether email, instant message chats, voicemail, conference calls or calendar appointments, accessible from anywhere.

Instead of playing ‘phone tag’, users could quickly establish whether colleagues are online and available to speak, choosing the most appropriate means to contact them.

Microsoft claimed the technology offers significant productivity improvements; research has shown employees lose up to 30 minutes per day trying to contact people and switching between communications devices to do so.

Colour-coded ‘presence’ icons appear beside contact names in common Microsoft applications, indicating whether people are available or busy. Clicking on a name brings up a range of contact options.

In one scenario, sending an instant message to a person could establish if they are free to take a call. This communication could then be expanded to a conference with multiple participants where documents could be shared among them.

“From an IT point of view, this is not a huge radical change. It’s relatively easy to put in,” said Richard Moore, head of the information worker group within Microsoft.

He suggested that many organisations might pick a group of 10 users to trial the software first, ahead of a larger rollout. “We don’t think people will go to this overnight. It will be a gradual transition,” he said.

For mobile phone users, handsets running Windows Mobile version 6 will be compatible with the unified communications system, Moore confirmed. These devices are already available from operators Vodafone, O2 and Meteor.

Users could dial in to the exchange server when out of the office and retrieve voicemail or email messages. Alternatively, people looking to contact that person would be routed to their mobile.

The full unified communications and VoIP suite comprises Office Communications Server 2007, which delivers voice over IP, video, instant messaging, conferencing and presence to applications in Microsoft Office as well as new versions of its Dynamics and CRM business software.

Also included are Office Communicator 2007 client software, Office Live Meeting and a service pack update of Microsoft Exchange Server 2007. Microsoft is working with several partners to deliver Unified Communications systems in Ireland, including BT, Nortel and HP.

Microsoft also hopes to make videoconferencing more widely used through its RoundTable videoconferencing device. It plugs into a USB port and has a 360-degree camera that captures a panoramic view of meeting participants, tracks the speaker and can record meetings.

Pricing has not been disclosed but Moore claimed it would be a “tiny fraction” of the cost of a dedicated videoconferencing system. RoundTable will be available in Ireland from early next year.

By John Kennedy