Microsoft is out proselytizing for UC again, this time with the launch event for Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 R2. And the demonstrations of OCS 2007 R2 certainly look impressive. With this release, Microsoft is stressing the economic benefits companies can achieve by implementing a unified communications (UC) infrastructure.

OCS 2007 R2's big new features include enhanced audio conferencing integrated with the overall communications infrastructure, an attendant console for call and conference management, and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) trunking to eliminate the need for on-premises gateways. The R2 release also features APIs and Microsoft Visual Studio integration to help organizations build custom applications with embedded communications features such as presence information.

The OCS 2007 R2 launch event keynote address includes a demonstration of R2's conferencing abilities. The process of creating meetings has been simplified, and perhaps most impressive, the process to call in to meetings has been improved. Meeting invites include several links so you can choose your method of logging on to the conference, which can include calling in through Microsoft Office Communicator or going to the conference website and having Communicator call your phone.

This latest push for UC could have greater effects due to the economic climate. Microsoft's launch event focused a lot on how implementing OCS 2007 R2 could save companies money, specifically through enhanced communications and the possibility of reduced travel expenses.

I spoke to Gregory Bryant, vice president of Intel's business client group, who participated in the virtual launch event. By implementing OCS 2007 R2, "there's some very hard cost savings that we can get," Bryant said. "As we move to voice over IP only, we can take cost out of the handsets and the client side. We can also obviously reduce our overall audio conferencing budget pretty substantially." Bryant estimates that Intel uses over 1 million conferencing minutes a day, and can reduce costs by 20 percent by using OCS 2007 R2.

The possibility of reduced travel expenses also is a big selling point for UC and Microsoft's OCS 2007 R2. Features such as video conferencing, cross-platform shared desktops, and group chat can greatly reduce the need for face-to-face meetings. So using all the capabilities of OCS can actually enhance productivity while reducing costs. As Bryant said, his end users on OCS 2007 R2 "can save a lot of time and money because of the way it's integrated in the applications they use."

The OCS 2007 R2 virtual launch site has many other resources to explore, such as case studies and in-depth breakout sessions. You can also get a quick list of OCS 2007 R2's new features on Microsoft's website.

It seems as though companies have been slow to adopt UC solutions—certainly slower than Microsoft might have wished. Are organizations going to be more willing now, given necessary budget cuts including staff reductions and reduced travel expenses, to implement a UC solution? Do you find the investment and work of upgrading your communications systems worth the efficiency gains you receive? I'd love to hear your thoughts—leave a comment below to let us know how UC fits in with your plans.

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