Microsoft enters the VOIP Arena

Microsoft released survey results today polling people about their business email usage, to announce a number of VOIP products they’re launching. The intent is to justify their new product line with the findings in their survey. Obviously, the product came first and the survey was a PR move. Here’s one of the findings in the survey:

When asked why they opted for e-mail given these challenges, respondents admitted that the act of physically switching from e-mail to the phone interrupts their workflow and many can’t be bothered trying to track down multiple phone numbers. In fact, 72 per cent say they would be more likely to call the person if they could determine whether they were available to take the call, and could make the call by clicking the person’s name in an e-mail.

The survey goes on to mention that many people read and re-read their emails to ensure their writing sets the correct tone; emotional intent in emails is often misunderstood.

Any regular user of email knows this, but is voice over IP really the answer? i agree that it’s high time phones started acting more like computers, offering us the organization and searchability that comes standard with most productivity software. But the survey discounts a number of distinct advantages that email offers:

1. i can answer emails an instant messages on my own time. When someone phones me and i pick up, i am captive to the conversation. i have to answer their questions right there, in that time frame. In fact, it’s a known technique to use phone calls to squeeze answers out of an otherwise elusive contact.

2. Email leaves a searchable paper trail that phone conversations do not. If you want something “on record”, you send an email, fax, or letter. Phone calls and conversations disappear into the ether. Even if all of your phone calls were recorded (requiring faster machines and larger hard drives), “audio search” technology does not yet exist. You can’t type “i will make that milestone on the 12th” or “yes, this price is fair” to bring up a certain agreement in a conversation.

3. Email makes me 85% less boorish. i can’t think fast enough or process my thoughts so that what comes out of my mouth when i speak is correct, inoffensive, true, tactful or life-affirming. i usually have to roll a sentence around my mind, slow-cooking it, until it’s baked appropriately for the conversation. But live conversation doesn’t move like that – it’s rapid-fire. Email affords me the opportunity to write a sentence, walk away from the computer, mull it over, have a sandwich, and then stroll back to re-read and re-write it until it works.

Microsoft, in touting their new VOIP services, calls this iterative and refining process a waste of productivity. i call it a life saver.

Below is the press release in full.


Lack of emotion, inadequate time lead Canadians to question efficiency of e-mail
Microsoft unified communications solutions bring voice back to workplace ,helping to increase productivity and collaboration

MISSISSAUGA, ON — October 16, 2007 — E-mail and instant messaging may be the communication mediums of choice but Canadians say the lack of emotion in written messages frequently causes conversations to be misinterpreted, according to the results of a new survey released today by Microsoft Canada. While more than one-quarter of Canadians say they use e-mail to conduct business, 32 per cent say they have had an e-mail misinterpreted, and 66 per cent say they need to spend additional time explaining the context or tone of a message to a colleague after sending.

Although e-mail is considered fast, people are spending at least 30 minutes a day re-reading messages to ensure tone and context are accurately communicated. As well, 67 per cent of respondents admitted that they follow-up on important e-mail messages with a phone call, adding more time to their communications.

“Canadians are looking for ways to better express and more clearly convey their meaning and intent through e-mail,” said Warren Shiau, Lead Analyst, IT Research, Strategic Counsel. “The majority of respondents indicate they feel a need to use expressive tools like emoticons and Caps Lock in business e-mails to make sure the right message gets across. This points to a need to enrich messages with alternative communication methods such as voice.”

Canadians are also concerned about how e-mails are perceived by others, with 83 per cent re-reading their notes before hitting the send button, and 89 per cent saying the phone and face-to-face conversations are still the most effective ways of communicating important issues.

When asked why they opted for e-mail given these challenges, respondents admitted that the act of physically switching from e-mail to the phone interrupts their workflow and many can’t be bothered trying to track down multiple phone numbers. In fact, 72 per cent say they would be more likely to call the person if they could determine whether they were available to take the call, and could make the call by clicking the person’s name in an e-mail.

“This survey illustrates how difficult it has been for people to use voice communications in business. People choose e-mail because it’s easy to incorporate with the way we work. How do you ‘reply all’ to a verbal conversation? Until today, you couldn’t,” said Bryan Rusche, Product Manager, Unified Communications and Collaboration. “Workers are also spending too much time trying to track others down or explaining their e-mails. That is why today we are bringing voice back to the workplace, merging voice, video and data in one place.”

Microsoft is helping businesses address this challenge with the release of software-enabled unified communications solutions that combine the efficiency of e-mail with the power of voice, matching voice and data with video conferencing, instant messaging and “presence” information that tells users if someone is available to chat.

The new products include:

· Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007: software that delivers VoIP, video, instant messaging, conferencing, and presence within the applications people already know and use such as Microsoft Office system applications and upcoming versions of Microsoft Dynamics ERP products and the Microsoft Dynamics CRM release due later this year.

· Microsoft Office Communicator 2007: client software for phone, instant messaging, and video communications that works across the PC, mobile phone and Web-browser.

· Microsoft Office Live Meeting: advanced conferencing service that enables workers to conduct meetings, share documents, utilize video, and record discussions from any computer.

· Microsoft RoundTable™: a conferencing phone with a 360-degree camera that captures a panoramic view of meeting participants, tracks the speaker and can record meetings.

· Service pack update of Microsoft Exchange Server 2007: the industry’s leading e-mail, voice mail, calendaring and unified messaging platform.

With these solutions, Microsoft is helping to simplify connectivity for Canada’s workforce, enabling people to instigate a phone call or video conference with the click of a mouse. As well, with software as their foundation, these new solutions help eliminate the need to rip and replace PBX systems, integrating virtually seamlessly with existing technology investments.

“For Canadians, the benefit of unified communications is ease of connection. Instead of trying an individual’s work phone, cell phone, work e-mail and mobile device in the hopes of reaching the person, there can be one connection point,” said Rusche. “Microsoft’s goal is to simplify the communications experience. With these new solutions, users can easily move from one mode of communication to another without interruption.”

The nation-wide survey of Canadians was conducted in October by The Strategic Counsel.

Customers can learn more about Microsoft’s unified communications software here.

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