UC Around the Globe – A View From Dubai, U.A.E.

There’s a buzz in the air in Dubai – the electricity of optimistic growth.   The airport gives an amazing first impression, blending the high tech look of the new terminal with touches for Arabia in the arches, sconces with (cloth) flames, and the ceiling painted with the deep blue, star-studded night sky.  The ride into town is more of the same: the sparkling new Metro, the smooth-flowing expressways, and the beautiful skyline, now highlighted by the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world (at 2,720 feet – over half a mile tall) since the opening at the beginning of January.  

Dubai is, most certainly, a center for business, with all the supporting services.   One of the attendees pointed out that Dubai is a central location between Europe, Asia, and Africa.  A quick visit to Bing Maps will make that clear (mouse over to see country names, with U.A.E. in the middle of the map).  The companies represented at the Road Show ranged across the business spectrum, from banks and financial firms, to real estate development, to a mercantile exchange, to Emirates Airline, to the operator of a major chain of sports clubs (have to be healthy to do business), to a major regional telecommunications company.

While the audience was very focused on the cost-savings element of the program theme, they were also looking for new ideas that could create competitive advantages.  Of course, this fit well with the Microsoft messages in the event.   In fact, the conversations at the breaks and lunch were really centered on which innovations would likely yield the most return via savings or cost avoidance.

Probably the biggest single interest was in connecting more effectively with internal teams and with external partners and customers.  Almost all the companies were multi-location businesses and were not satisfied with the amount of money they were spending for inter-site communications nor with the limited functionality they could achieve with those connections. 

There was real resonance with the idea that one of the best ways to cut telecom tolls and cellular bills is “don’t call in the first place.”    Thus, presence and instant messaging were either already deployed or were high on the list of projects for a Microsoft Office Communications Server (OCS) deployment.

Once that was done, the attendees expected their users would quickly pick up on the internal company PC-to-PC calling and desktop sharing.  Also, most of the firms already had both Exchange and SharePoint installed, so the integration of OCS for communications directly from those applications was a top benefit, as well. 

There was also strong interest in linkages with field personnel, whether at construction sites, in retail banking, in development projects, or similar mobile roles.  Most of the attendees were in the planning or pilot testing phases of applications for the Communicator Mobile (COMO) client for OCS.   With that tool, calls can be placed to the cell phone under OCS control, rather than calling from the cell phone, which significantly lowers the monthly charges. 

Some companies were focused on process improvement, which of course resonated with me, based on our definition of Unified Communications as “communications integrated to optimize business processes.”  The customers’ concepts were that definition and streamlining of processes is key to competitiveness, since that avoids costly delays, mistakes and rework.  Of course, including communications in that analysis is key, often leading to simpler or more effective modes (e.g. IM vs. voice calling).  

This is all within the setting of telecom rules that do not allow Voice over IP calls to connect to the Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN), similar to the situation in India (see blog from Mumbai).  On the one hand this is good, since it helps focus the Microsoft-based UC projects to those that did not conflict with the PSTN rules.  On the other hand, it complicates the initiatives that involve calling into the PSTN, such as requiring integration with the customers’ TDM PBXs. 

So, I’m heading home from Dubai with the same electric sense as my first impression, wishing all these customers the best of success in their UC endeavors.

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