Today is a really exciting day for the Office Communicator team because it marks the first time we have been able to share with you the full extent of our vision of what type of user experiences we believe must comprise Unified Communications. Delivering on this vision is a path we have been on for a while and there have been some major milestones on this path – we shipped Communicator 2005, which was a great enterprise grade instant messaging and presence client and gave a glimpse what was possible – but this beta really marks the first opportunity for us to share working bits with you that demonstrate our complete vision.
When we started the Communicator team, we were driven by a very fundamental belief – communications systems of today do not meet the needs of users in the workplace that they find themselves in. This new world of work – an always connected, fast moving, globally distributed world of work – where time to decision is a business imperative requires users to have a new communications experience in order to be successful. This was clear from the frustration users had with their current tools which was centered around four pain points
1. Interaction Impedance Mismatch: Users were frustrated because the experiences offered to them by the current communications systems didn’t match their mental model. A prime example of this is the initiation of communications. Users wished to communicate with other users. However, they found themselves communicating with other users’ devices. Because the systems didn’t offer the right abstractions so that users could have interactions that matched their mental model, there were instead exposed to the details having to make a choice whether to call a person’s office phone number, or their mobile phone number, or disturb them and call them at home
2. Unproductive Communications: The new workplace that users found themselves in demanded increased and quicker communications but instead they discovered that most of their attempts at communicating were not successful. In fact a Gartner study indicated that over 70% of all phone calls end up in voicemail. And given the multitude of devices people had – that pain got compounded with people having to leave a voicemail on multiple systems
3. Splintered Communications: Technological advances were giving users multiple means of communications. This should have made the users more productive and efficient, but what they found was that the availability of a communications medium was predicated on the application they happened to be in. If a user was currently using an email client – she could only have an asynchronous text based communication. If she was using chat software her only choice was a real-time text communications. With a phone it was voice and with conferencing software it had to be data. What users wanted was access to the all modalities and not to have to switch applications just so they could use the most productive medium.
4. Siloed Communications: Even the few systems that offered some level of integration by providing multiple communication modalities were not integrated with applications. Much as our team loves building communication applications, it was clear to us from the beginning that communications is not the primary goal of most users. It is an absolutely crucial task they engage in – but they engage in their communications in context of workflows, business processes and projects that actually are the primary part of their job.
So we found that users were not able to realize their potential and be as productive as they could be and despite all this deep need all that was being offered to them by other vendors was more of the same.
We decided we would redefine the communications experience around the following tenets:
1. People Centric Communications: Our system would let users communicate with users and take care of all the details under the covers.
2. Presence Mediated Communications: Presence would be the dial tone of this communications system allowing users to determine the willingness, availability and capability of other users before they even initiated communications.
3. Integrated Communications: We would break the silos between different media and different types of conversations giving a single experience that encompassed text and voice, real time and asynchronous and two part and multi-party conversations
4. Contextual Conversations: We would allow users to communicate right from within the applications they used in their roles and also allow the context of the communications to flow between users
So here is the unveiling of the product that is built on the above principles. Over the next few weeks we hope to engage with many of you as you give us your feedback and impressions on the product and we talk about the capabilities, design decisions and technology but today let me point out just a few of the compelling features we have.
· Managing Contacts: You can now add Distribution Groups so that your contact list already stays up to date, you have a Recent Contacts group that dynamically changes to reflect the last few people you communicated with. You can drag and drop people to manage your contact list and use the new contact card for detailed information on people
· Rich Presence: Communicator 2007 gives you great control over who can see what information about you. You can categorize people as “Personal”, “Team”, “Company” or “Public” and decide what information they get to see about you
· Managing Conversations: All your conversations can be archived in Exchange and viewed via Outlook. So now you can have a single view of your conversation history from all machines.
· Office 2007 Integration: You can now initiate all your communications right from inside the tools you are most familiar with. You can also use OneNote to take notes during conversations and these are archived with the rest of your calls
· Conferencing: You can add up to a 100 people in an IM, audio or video conference all with drag and drop ease.
· And of course VoIP, VoIP, VoIP: With this release Communicator is a full featured soft phone allowing you to finally get rid of that plastic device called a telephone you were forced to have. Not only does Communicator have all the functionality you need – including Hold, Transfer and Conference – it also has features you haven’t seen in the telephony world – like adding a subject line to a phone call or marking the call as important. For all you mobile users – Communicator provides VPN-less access to voice so that you can make calls to anyone from anywhere without first having to dial in to your corporate network!
Speaking of which, I need to make a call to our team in Redmond congratulating them on this release and I am going to do it right from my hotel room in Zurich, Switzerland using Communicator 2007.
To download the Office Communications Server 2007 Public Beta and start to enjoy the power of IM/Presence, web conferencing and Voice…..click here.
– Amritansh Raghav
Director, Office Communicator Team