Athens! A cradle of western civilization. I arrived in Greece with enough time to visit the Acropolis, the neighboring Areopagus, and the marvelous new Acropolis museum. Even the Metro station in the center of the city has a 100-foot long wall of glass showing the layers of civilization back to 600 BCE, which were exposed during construction of the Metro.
You might think that businesses in Greece could be so captured by their history that they would be slow to change. Actually, the business people I met were justifiably proud of their heritage, but they took the lessons of history as a cause for action – as illustrated by the archeology, new methods always win out, whether suddenly or inexorably.
Sure enough, this Microsoft UC Road Show event was well attended by a broad cross-section of business and government. Hotel chain CIOs rubbed elbows with finance and insurance firms. Natural resources firms interacted with manufacturing and distribution firms. Several government agencies, including the Navy, were there, too.
The points of emphasis and inquiry by the attendees had their unique themes, including:
- Branch office and retail outlet communications. There was interest in how to support branch offices more quickly and effectively and with less cost. Certainly, Unified Communications was seen as a solution for branch office support by making the regional or central support teams more immediately available using presence, IM and click-to-communicate. Also, use of the conferencing functions of UC for training of new branch office employees and for training of all associates on changes in products or policies was seen as a potential method for saving both travel cost and time.
- Conferencing Savings. Direct cost savings were also anticipated by bringing hosted conferencing services in-house, using Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS). Those I spoke with were thinking of this savings in combination with putting the Office Communicator client on the employees’ desktops, to make conferencing easier to use. One company mentioned that after rolling out OCS, they trained their users on setting up and managing conferences using the combination of OCS and Microsoft Outlook and the use of conferencing went up by 30% in less than a month.
- Co-existence with aging PBXs. Many of the firms owned PBXs or key systems that were approaching a replacement cycle; or in some cases the firms were using direct central office support (like 1MBs or Centrex lines in the US) and were looking to reduce those monthly tariffs. The favored approach, both for ease of implementation and for the fastest cost reductions, was to implement the OCS solution for specific groups of users or for specific locations based on those which most needed a communications capability upgrade or system refresh and to connect to the remaining PBX users via gateways. There were no complaints of limitations or barriers from those who mentioned this approach.
- Management communication effectiveness and cost savings. One firm, a multi-national natural resources and minerals firm headquartered in Greece, is using OCS for their management team and their remote mining locations. They provide the managers with mobile phones equipped with the Microsoft Communicator Mobile client so the management team can see who is available for interaction and decision making at any moment, and across continents and time zones. The remote mining locations use either PCs or the USB or network-attached phones for communications to and from the sites and also to and from the management team members. The report showed lower telecom toll costs, reductions in cell bills, and economical deployments that reduce telecom costs for the remote mining sites.
So, in summary of the Athens event, it seemed to me that the Hellas business community is applying the logical methods for which their ancestors are famous to the current problems of cost savings and resource optimization and finding that software-based UC can deliver the intended benefits.
It was a real pleasure to visit Athens both to interact with today’s business community regarding their UC actions based on Microsoft’s UC offerings and also to observe and contemplate one of the primary cradles of our western civilization.