Microsoft Unified Communications; Waste of Time and Money?

communications.jpgMicrosoft's Office Communication Server 2007 -- the heart of the company's Unified Communication Strategy -- was launched this week. Jeff Raikes, president of Microsoft Business Division, initially described the offerings as a "software-focused approach to bring together disparate communications technologies into a unified experience -- driving down the cost and complexity of collaborating at work."

David Greenfield over at ZDNet disagrees with Bill Gates' assertion that communicating is too complex because we're bound by devices. Yes, our modalities aren't integrated, but in Greenfield's opinion, the burden isn't that great; Microsoft's just looking for an excuse to pursue a potential market opportunity, and while OCS may be helpful, it's hardly essential to business:

Fact is that the problems of unifying communications is one that's so 20th century. Most us have gradually acclimated ourselves to switching between IM, voice, video etc. etc. Just watch any teenager navigate IM and you understand that tomorrow's communicators were bred with a Blackberry not rattle. Bringing further coherence to the communications order is nice, but it's hardly critical for most of us.

What's far more important is helping people improve the content of their exchanges. If I couldn't persuade you before to buy my product then Office Communications Server 2007 won't help me sell it any more effectively. If I didn't know the question to ask in a meeting then OCS (or Cisco's Unified Communications Manager or Avaya's Communication Manager) isn't going to help me figure that out.

Mike Gotta, Industry Analyst with Burton Group, essentially calls Greenfield's opinion asinine:
In a business setting where you have real issues that can have impacts in terms of revenue, costs, customer relationships, time-to-decision, time-to-action and so on, unifying communications is a strategic endeavor. If you want to progress to enable to content of the exchange to improve - try doing that without some semblance of common infrastructure services (this does not mean one vendor). The idea that we should just accept the morass of communication chaos and anarchy and learn to deal with it is not a serious recommendation I would make to a business or IT strategist interested in improving the operational aspects of their organization or looking at ways to transform communication channels.
Greenfield has a point in there; our communication is often ineffective, and it has little to do with devices. Businesses would certainly benefit from allocating resources to improve workers' communication skills. But in the end, that's an entirely separate issue. Communication skills and tools are not the same thing; having one doesn't negate the need for the other.

Go ahead and communicate. Do you think OCS is only strategic for Microsoft, and not necessary to business?

(Communication image by Mark Wallace)