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Microsoft Partners Its Way to UC Market Share

The word "ecosystem" might have a distinctly flora-and-fauna feel about it, but in the software game it means something entirely different. For Microsoft, as for most big vendors, the ecosystem is a universe of partners, customers and other friendly entities that facilitate sales and implementation of applications. Or something like that.

This week, Microsoft has been growing its ecosystem -- feeding a plant here, breeding some animals there, if it were in the natural world -- for unified communications. Following on the heels of UC deals with Polycom and Tandberg is this week's announcement with Aspect Software, which makes technology for contact centers (otherwise known, as far as we can tell, as call centers).

Aspect will build its unified IP application for contact centers -- already built on the .NET platform -- to integrate with Microsoft's UC offerings. Microsoft, in turn, made an "equity investment" in Aspect. While Aspect won't stop working with other vendors, it will lead with Microsoft UC apps in selling an integrated package with its Unified IP offering.

"When it comes to UC platforms, our lead will be Microsoft," Mike Sheridan, Aspect's senior vice president of strategy and marketing, told RCPU. "We'll only be reactive with other UC platforms customers might ask for."

For Microsoft, the idea is to be ubiquitous (hey, it's worked for Redmond before), working with a variety of partners to become everybody's UC software platform, no matter what or whose application is sitting on top of it or is integrated with it. Apparently, the folks in Redmond have found their competitors in the UC space (think Cisco and IBM, for starters) to be a little inflexible on that front and think that they can cash in.

"We're changing the number of options that customers have traditionally been able to work from when it comes to telecommunications investments," said Zig Serafin, general manager of Microsoft unified communications, in a phone chat with RCPU today.

At the heart of Microsoft's UC offering is Office Communications Server, which the company says is now deployed in 35 percent of the Fortune 500 (that's "about" 174 companies, according to Serafin, who didn't offer a more precise number). But, really, the key to UC for Microsoft is partnerships and having established UC partners whose own partners will sell Microsoft's UC platform into their client bases. It's pretty classic Redmond strategy, and Serafin's pretty sure that it'll work.

"Microsoft's offering in the voice space will be in the top three voice providers within the next few years," Serafin said.

In the meantime, though, this week presented another opportunity to add a new beast -- in this case, Aspect -- to the Redmond UC ecosystem.

Are you interested in partnering with Microsoft for UC? What do you see as the potential for unified communications? Give us a shout at lpender@rcpmag.com.

Posted by Lee Pender on March 19, 2008 at 11:54 AM


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