Instant messaging spurs demand for presence awareness telephony apps

Before companies gave all workers e-mail access and voicemail, people had to meet in person to get answers and resolve business issues.

Instant messaging and presence awareness products have the same effect as meeting for face-to-face discussions, according to an executive with Microsoft Corp., which recently announced its Live Communications Server (LCS) 2005 will work with hardware from some of the major telephony vendors.

“In the old days, a lot of conversations would take place in a stairwell,” said Aisha Umar, director of Microsoft Canada Co.’s unified communications group. “You would pick up your coffee, if you were on a different floor, and you walk up the stairs and you would see someone.”

Umar added she has noticed an increase in demand for instant messaging and presence awareness, which allow workers to determine whether colleagues can be reached by instant messaging or by phone.

A sip of instant messaging
Microsoft LCS now works with telephony products from Alcatel, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, NEC, Nortel and Siemens using Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) and SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE).

“If you see someone is there and you can get an instantaneous answer, that saves you from leaving a voicemail, calling the cell phone, calling the office phone or trying to send them an e-mail,” Umar said.

LCS 2005 and Office Communicator work with Mitel Networks Corp.’s Live Business Gateway, which lets the software access Mitel’s call control devices and applications. This will help customer service representatives find subject matter experts quickly, said Stephen Beamish, director of solutions marketing for Ottawa-based Mitel.

“If I am an agent, and you are a customer calling me, and you’re asking me questions about bike parts, and I’m not a subject expert on bike parts, I can click on a group of people and put in ‘searching for bike part experts,’ and it’s going to pull up those people that are available anywhere in the world.”

Beamish said in this scenario, the customer service rep could bring a bike part expert into a conference call.

Presence awareness has more uses than reaching subject matter experts and determining whether colleagues are at their desks or are talking on their phones, said Brian Sharwood, principal of the SeaBoard Group, an Ottawa-based market research firm. For example, he said, presence awareness software could be combined with motion sensors or video cameras so someone can determine whether a retail sales person is busy with a customer.

“There are all kinds of things you can push into presence,” he said.

Video conferences can be set up using presence awareness, said Rick Moran, vice-president of product adn technology marketing for Cisco Systems Inc. of San Jose, Calif.

Young workers accustomed to IM
“We are starting to see video popping up more and more, and that seems to be driven by the consumer side,” Moran said.

Cisco’s Unified Presence Server, a software package sold with Call Manager Release 5, is scheduled to ship next month. It’s designed to pull together presence information and corporate policies for users and all their devices, and to make that information available to their colleagues, said Brian Dal Bello, director of product marketing for Cisco’s voice technologies group.

He added SIP allows users to move from one communications device to another “without a lot of complexity,” meaning a user could start an instant messaging session with a colleague and then convert that to a voice call.

Graduates entering the work force are accustomed to using consumer instant messaging products, and will continue to use IM to talk with colleagues on the job, but IT managers are concerned consumer IM programs are not suitable for a corporate network, Umar said.

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