Christiaan Lam – over de dagelijkse avonturen van een mobiele manager
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MSN/Skype versus Unified Communications

The new buzz in management-land is Unified Communications, by Microsoft. It promises to deliver A Lot © for Very Little ®. Waiting for the IT department to buy, test, implement, usertest and actually use the required servers, mobile devices, software, hardware and new SOP’s could, just might, take some time and money (more about what’s needed here) . In the meanwhile, just using MSN (or Skype for that matter) delivers at least half the promised functionality at… well, zero costs. I use it daily to communicate with secretaries, personnell, co-workers, managers and whomever else is ‘live’ at a certain time.

There are a few great advantages to using MSN/Skype over, for example, regular e-mail. One is that it is less formal and you know that the recepient has at least received the message (not to mention the ability to send/receive messages even when offline). Also, it is less intrusive then using a phonecall. Further, if used well, people can tell you if they’re busy, out to lunch and whatnot. And, an underused functionality of MSN/Skype, you can add a line about what’s on your mind at that time which is, in the consultancy business (where you meet face-to-face once a month or less) a great way of telling how you’re feeling to the world (since you’re usually not in the same room with your long-term colleagues). Not to mention the plugins that start appearing for MSN to do online banking, passing money around, buy music, and more.

To improve the enterprise functionality, you’d additionally need a company plugin/applet where you can immediately see some details about said person (such as function, phonenumber) or even add an Automatic Friendlist where you get connected to people from your own unit/division, pushed from the companies backend systems.

The main differences between Skype and MSN is that Skype has, in my opinion, superior voice-and-video capabilities, whereas MSN has something very handy: webmessenger, so that even in situations where regular MSN/Skype/ICQ/Google Talk/Yahoo Messenger is blocked, you can still get online.

So, to set the right example, you can usually find me on Skype as: christiaan.lam

Go spread the word.

PS: and quoting one of my employees about Unified Communications Lotus Groupware has been active in this field for years, and Microsoft has a disadvantage in this area, so to pretend UC is something all-new would be passing several companies who have been active in this area for a long time.” Seems it’s again Microsofts PR machine working

8 comments

1 Peter de Haas { 08.15.07 at 0:11 }

CHristiaan,

I do think you are totally missing the point here. Comparing MSN / Skype to Enterprise RTC solutions is an apples and oranges discussion.

Enterprise RTC solutions need to :
– Be secure and preferable linked to an Identity and access management solutions
– Be able to store IM discussions for compliancy reasons
– The presence capability should integrate with your collaboration platform and potentially also with your primary business applications
– Mobile access to the RTC platform should also be secure / encrypted a sthe mobile client is ‘just another client’.

The assumptions you’ve made show you’ve got some catching up to do on Microsoft’s capability in this area :
http://www.peterdehaas.net/2007/05/gartner_microso_1.html
http://www.peterdehaas.net/2007/08/new-wainhouse-r.html
http://www.peterdehaas.net/real_time_collaboration/index.html
and so on …

As you are working for Sogeti in The Netherlands I assume, I am more than happy to spend some time with you / your team to bring you up to speed ;-)
Just send me an email.

2 Christiaan Lam { 08.15.07 at 13:09 }

Hey Peter,

most certainly MSN/Skype would be comparing apples and oranges. Or maybe comparing a leaf to an entire tree for that matter :)

To add a bit to my original post: I think that not only would you need a lot of hard- and software for full Unified Communications (that I’ve also heard called UCC and now RTC?) but also a new way of thinking and working. And while waiting for UCC to be implemented (which I actually hope it will be soonish!) we should at least try to start using MSN (and/or Skype) because if we don’t even use something that is that easily accessible, then how would we ever use the full potential of UCC.

Plus, MSN (and possible plugins) seems much easier to use/implement with my employees that work on dozens of different systems, behind different firewalls, in different customer enterprise environments.

I think one of your MS collaegues was here today, I have him my card and am looking forward to a meeting to get up to speed… ;)

Chris

3 Peter de Haas { 08.16.07 at 18:13 }

Christiaan,

Good stuff. Wé’ll work on an introduction to UC for you.

With regards to your comments on UC :

1. A lot of HW / SW
Sure you need HW and SW. BUt the solution is not caomparable to “just” IM and voice. The essence of a UC solution is how communication is integrated into all applicatations you use. We call this Presence integration. In all applications the presence of nt only you co-workers, but also you business partners is available. From that tool you can initialise all forms of communication : email/IM/voice/webconference/videoconference.
For small organisations, this solution can also be a hosted one. Many Service providers host MS Exchange / MS SharePoint / LCS/OCS

2. New way of working
Sure, the ability to communicate in real time with other means than ‘just’ a phone enables you to work in teams without virtually being in the same room / building. Ofcourse a lot of us already use MSN / Skype and other solutions as consumers. The enterprise solutions just have a different purpose, are secure, etc.

3. MSN / Skype are easier to use
From a pragmatic standpoint yes. However, They are :
– Not secure
– Not supported / allowed in many (client) organisations
– Not integrated with your corporate directory (you only see your own buddylist and
Like I said its different solutions for different people

4 AntiAlias { 08.17.07 at 12:50 }

Peter,

Sorry to interrupt on your comments, but in my humble opionion you focus pretty hard on the HW / SW side of UC / UCC / RTC. You talk about the ‘essence of integration’, MSN / Skype as not secure, not supported nor allowed in many organisations and not integrated with your corporate directory. But for daily office usage most of these aspects are hardly necessary, as most regular email and file transfer isn’t send encrypted either. And what about integration? Email / IM / voice / webconference / videoconference is delivered out of the box by “simple” applications like Skype and MSN. Christiaan already stated that a corporate friendlist would be nice to have, but on the other side this can easily be generated by any company. And if MSN / Skype is not allowed by most companies, why would an UCC solution be allowed? This integrates more deeply with the companies systems, and therefor forms a larger possible security threat.

The important aspect (where he hits the bullseye) Christiaan highlights is that if a company doesn’t have a culture in which coworkers, employees, etc are used to communicate by different means than e-mail or phone, than any UCC / RTC solution probably will have a hard time delivering it’s promise. So it’s a good start to create a 2.0 culture within your company, before you implement a (as I have seen it, superb) UCC solution that doesn’t get used to it’s full potential.

So the focus should not be on MSN / Skype versus UCC / RTC but on the non-technological aspects of ‘the new way of working’.

5 Peter de Haas { 08.17.07 at 14:58 }

Dear AntiAlias,

I am not sure if ‘playing around’ with MSN and Skype will provide the cultural change required when you are a company of reasonable size.

Sure new technologies require change and people have to ‘trust’ the technologies before they will actually start working with them.
With trust also the ability to have secure communication is essential. Also communication in many companies needs to be monitored / archived for compliancy reasons.

My statement about MSN / Skype not being allowed is mainly that a lot of organsiations do not and can not allow unmonitored and unsupported communications on their networks. They would support solutions that meet the requirements in form of compiancy, scalability, security, etc

I don’t think having an MSN/Skype solution with Plug-ins and other stuff bloted on to it will stand the test of any audit. MSN is not build to be an enterprise based RTC solution. It’s as siple as that.

I would agree with you last statement with the addition of … supported by good, reliable enterprise solutionss ;-)

6 r0g1 { 08.17.07 at 16:38 }

Very nice, yet another solution to a problem that could have been solved in 2002 by adhering the standards of the IETF. A quote: “Information about the Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol (XMPP), an open XML communications technology developed by the Jabber open-source community in 1999, formalized by the IETF in 2002-2004, and continuously extended through the standards process of the XMPP Standards Foundation.”

http://www.xmpp.org/

So does it have support for XMPP too Peter?

7 AntiAlias { 08.24.07 at 16:20 }

Although a MSN with Skype solution would not pass a serious audit test, I see the same problems with introducting a large scale RTC / UCC solution within larger organisations. The integration of such a solution has a big impact on current systems, so I can imagine the IT department will have some seconds thoughts before implementing such a large system, while MSN (or other messenger clients) can be introduced easily.

And will a solution be accepted faster by end users if they know everything is strictly monitored and archived? Or will this be another bottleneck for an easy introduction.

Let user’s get to know how other forms of communication can help them in doing their work, and when they are used to these forms of communication, move them over to a more secure solution. Isn’t that how e-mail evolved?

8 Peter de Haas { 08.28.07 at 23:02 }

@ AntiAlias,

For sure the implementation of an Enterprise UC solution is something different compared to allowing users to use MSN or other consumer oriented IM / VOIP solutions.

Ofcourse letting users get familiar with IM and other RTC solutions lowers the threshold. We work with a lot of our enterprise clients on exactly the change and benefits new technologies enable.

Judging from your comment MSN should be positioned as a temporary solution paving the way for a structural Enterprise UC solution that in itsself is a good thing. You could argue though if this is neccessary.

To get some insights in the differences between MSN and Office Communicator (Microsoft’s Enterprise Communications client), check this blog : http://blogs.msdn.com/officerocker/archive/2007/08/08/why-is-ocs-and-communicator-2007-better-than-windows-live-messenger.aspx

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