There’s a seismic shift that you might have missed: Microsoft’s merging of its Exchange group under a new Unified Communications Group (UCG) almost a year and a half ago. You’ve probably noticed more coverage of UC on the Exchange & Outlook Pro VIP and Windows IT Pro sites. (See the list of UC articles at the end of the commentary.) Perhaps you dismissed UC outright as another Microsoft marketing ploy, or maybe you’re curious about UC but wonder what it has to do with your current job duties managing Exchange Server.

I’m here to tell you that Microsoft is serious about UC, and it’s something you need to start paying attention to. Even if your job now is centered mainly on administering Exchange, at some point in the foreseeable future, you could find new tasks creeping into your job description. You might be working with telephony and telecom folks, to integrate your Exchange services with VoIP softphones that give users a voice phone on their computer, which works in tandem with email, IM, and Web and videoconferencing. It’s a good bet that corporate management will turn to the messaging arm of IT to provide these services—and you’ll need to be ready to meet such requests.

UC is an evolving technology. Microsoft is releasing several new UC products and has announced UC initiatives this year, such as a UC qualification program for mobile devices and the upcoming Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 (now in beta) and Microsoft Office RoundTable, both slated for availability this fall—while of course touting Exchange Server 2007’s UC support. Third-party providers such as Cisco Systems have been more overtly focused on the UC game longer than Microsoft, but they’re also partnering with Microsoft in its UC initiative and are taking pains to promote their products’ integration with Exchange 2007 and other Microsoft UC products. The industry realizes that when Microsoft puts its weight behind a technology—for better or worse—that technology’s going to become a lot more important to IT people.

So what’s the point? The bottom line is that Exchange 2007 is now a UC product. Gradually, Exchange will evolve to become a component of an organization’s UC infrastructure, rather than the hub of “an Exchange organization.” The ability to provide seamless UC on the desktop or on a mobile device—where users can navigate easily between answering a phone call, switching the call to email, IM, or a Web conference, and give their contacts immediate, specific information about their presence—exists now. Users are smart and technologically savvy, and soon they’ll be asking IT to provide these capabilities. UC may not be in your bailiwick now, but it behooves you to keep an eye on the prevailing winds of change. Your career may depend on it.

As always, I’d like to hear your thoughts. Email me at agrubb@windowsitpro.com. Note: I’ll be at Tech Ed June 4–6 and would love to meet any readers who will be attending. Have a great month!

—Anne Grubb, Exchange & Outlook Pro VIP Editor

Unified Communications Articles