UC Gets Green, IBM Gets Sci-Fi -- and Al Gore Materializes

ORLANDO, FLA. -- From virtual worlds to carbon emissions, the keynote speeches at VoiceCon here this week ran the gamut in outlining the business benefits of unified communications (UC). After Michael Rhodin, general manager of Workplace, Portal, and Collaboration Software at IBM, made a series of announcements related to the expansion of the company's Lotus software, former Vice President Al Gore joined up with Cisco Systems to highlight how videoconferencing can help companies shrink their carbon footprint by decreasing the need for travel. Though Gore's participation brought considerable gravitas to the conference, it was IBM's announcements that drew the most industry attention. Though those IBM announcements had been alluded to during earlier panels here this week, Rhodin officially unveiled IBM's plans to invest $1 billion in its UC products, and described where some of that money will be allocated: The majority of emphasis was placed on partnerships with the companies Shoretel (Internet Protocol telephony features), VBrick Systems (video conferencing capabilities), NEC, and Ericsson. (On Monday, IBM had another partnership announcement, the expansion of a global strategic alliance with with customer service solutions priovider Kana.) In an unexpected move, IBM also unveiled Babel Bridge, its virtual-world product, which operates in similar fashion to SecondLife. But, rather than operating as a game, Babel Bridge acts as an online collaboration tool -- Rhodin said it is currently being developed for U.S. government and intelligence agencies. (IBM no doubt hopes Babel Bridge doesn't suffer the same fate as the Tower of Babel.) Taking a completely different view of UC solutions, Cisco used its stage time to show off its telepresence products and underline their environment-friendly benefits. No small task for any tech company -- unless they have Al Gore on board. Rather than flying in the presentation's panelists from London, California, and Tennessee, each panelist spoke to the audience via Cisco's TelePresence product. Cisco's executive vice president and chief marketing officer Sue Bostrom made sure to note that business travel produces up to 15 billion cubic tons of polluting carbon emissions each year. "Teleconferencing presents an option that solves a problem with traveling," Gore said. "[TelePresence is the] most realistic effort I've seen thus far. When you start reducing carbon, reducing travel, this is an option I think is going to play a big role. Instead of flying to Orlando, I just came a few blocks from my house in Nashville and feel like I'm in a meeting of the minds in four different locations." Gore and Cisco Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Chambers both noted how companies getting rid of polluting legacy systems can also help enact green initiatives -- though Chambers' larger point was the impact TelePresence would have on the changing ways in which work is done. "The second wave of the Internet is built around collaboration, enabled by network tools that include products like TelePresence," Chambers stated. Despite the two speeches' unrelated topics, the underlying message was the same: Whether for business or environmental reasons, UC adopters will be able to adapt quickly to a rapidly changing work landscape.

Related articles: Bringing the Customer Aboard the Unified Communications Bandwagon Contact center solutions vendor Aspect Software has a new UC strategy -- and the company says it starts with the customer. Unified Communication: Connected Anywhere, Anytime In an increasingly global economy, unified communications should be on the top of the to-do list for small and midsize businesses (SMBs), according to a new report. Viewpoint: Got a Unified Communications Strategy? If not, you've got a lot of room to improve collaboration efficiency. Microsoft Serves Unified Communications Speech Server 2007 will be part of the broader Office Communications Server 2007; Windows Vista will have speech recognition in eight languages, a Windows first. Fewer Vendors Sit Atop Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications Alcatel-Lucent, Microsoft, and Nortel retain their positions as leaders, but Cisco Systems and Siemens fall out of the top quadrant; Interactive Intelligence moves up a notch. Netbriefings 'Proclaims' Video Tools for Business Webcast provider responds to the explosion in video communications with something sales and marketing teams can use. Come In and Take a Glance By increasing the number of guests, Glance Networks aims to expand the use of its screen-sharing capabilities. Web Conferencing Comes of Age Save time and money on travel and heighten service levels by meeting online with colleagues, customers and prospects.
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