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OCS integration with Cisco VoIP brings fast unified communications ROI

Modec, an oil field services company, discovered that integrating Microsoft OCS with Cisco's Unified Communications Manager delivered unexpected benefits. By answering phone calls on the computer desktop, engineers were able to take the calls without losing their place in complicated engineering drawings.

The integration of Cisco's IP telephony with Microsoft Office's messaging platform Office Communications Server (OCS) has made engineers at a global oil field services company far more productive and delivered a fast unified communications return on investment (ROI).

Two years ago, Modec, a firm that builds and operates floating oil drilling vessels, started to rip and replace its legacy NEC PBXs with a new unified communications infrastructure. The deployment centered on the integration of Cisco Call Manager and Microsoft Live Communications Server (LCS). Modec is now upgrading to Cisco Unified Communications Manager and Microsoft OCS.

Modec CIO Ed Flavin said he wanted to improve the collaboration of the company's engineers, who were scattered all over the world, from India and Singapore to Tokyo and Houston.

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"For us, it was not just a matter of putting voice in there and routing calls," Flavin said. "Unified communications is about integrating the whole data layer with voice. We were changing the way we think about voice and how we use it."

Unified communications delivered unexpected benefits. For instance, by combining the on-premise infrastructure from Cisco and Microsoft with Cisco's MeetingPlace Web conferencing technology, Modec was able to transform global collaboration among its engineers.

"Logistically, it was very difficult and time consuming when you're sending documents back and forth [over email] and having them reviewed," he said.

With the new unified communications system in place, engineers across the globe can now set up a quick Web and phone conference, share large three-dimensional CAD files online, make changes to the documents in real time, and sign off on those changes right there in the meeting. "We take a multi-week process and turn it into days," Flavin said. "It's putting tens of thousands -- if not hundreds of thousands -- of dollars right into our pockets."

But some of Modec's most important productivity gains were not so obvious to the casual observer, he said. The integration between Cisco UC Manager and OCS allows for a small but important improvement that truly adds up across the company. The pop-up window that OCS opens on an engineer's desktop when he receives a call through Cisco UC Manager is literally saving Modec money.

"[Before this integration] engineers would say they would spend about five to 15 seconds for every phone call they got looking over to see who was calling them," Flavin said. "They would take their hands off the keyboard and mouse. Their minds change. And for them to get refocused on what they're doing would take some time. They calculated that they were losing maybe five minutes a day per employee. We thought that was conservative. Part of this calculation is what it takes to get back into [desktop]. When you're looking at an AutoCad drawing or a 3D drawing and you have to stop and answer the phone, then you have to refocus and say, 'OK, where was I with this drawing?' It's pretty significant."

The OCS and phone integration allowed the engineers to keep their eyes on the desktop. They could simply glance at the OCS window to see who was calling. They could click on the window to take or ignore the call and basically keep their attention focused on the task before them.

Flavin estimates that across the engineers in his 1,800-person firm, this time saving adds up to $200,000 in recovered time over the course of a year.

"The fact is that sometimes the value-add in tools [is] not always what's obvious," he said. "Sometimes the small things can make a big difference when you add them up."

Henry Dewing, principal analyst at Forrester Research, said these types of incremental time savings from messaging and voice integration are quite common, but not every enterprise or every individual user can reap the benefits.

"I've heard from both sides of the street on this," Dewing said. "Microsoft has done these kinds of toaster pop-ups, and if you want to take it, you click on it. If you don't, it goes away. It's a fairly efficient way to take care of calls. But the other thing I hear [from users] is, 'My soft phone keeps popping up over the task I'm trying to complete, and then I click on it by accident and can't finish what I'm doing.'"

Dewing said some people prefer to have their communications on a separate screen, whether it's a smartphone, an IP desk phone or a second monitor.

"I was in a high school admissions office and every person had two screens up on their desks," he said. "They had communications, their IM client and their email on one screen and the productive work they were doing on the other. I think this notion of what is the right piece of glass to have that communications interface will be defined by the role and the personality of the user. I have not come to a definitive answer to what the dividing line is."

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Editor

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