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Instant Messaging debuts as enterprise service

The mobility and agility of the State of Minnesota workforce is being advanced by the new tools offered as part of the Enterprise Unified Communication and Collaboration Service.

“Right now there is great momentum building behind Enterprise Unified Communications and Collaboration (EUCC),” said OET Assistant Commissioner Tarek Tomes. “Like the many workplaces in the public and private sector that are boosting productivity with advanced communications tools, the State of Minnesota is now moving beyond the telephone call, beyond email, even beyond typical video-conferencing to connect government workers with colleagues and clients statewide.”

The goal of creating a unified communications strategy was identified in 2009 as a priority initiative for Minnesota. Email system migrations and the introduction of web-based collaboration applications, such as SharePoint, have advanced progress toward that goal. Now, add to that list: instant messaging and desktop sharing. These efficiency- and productivity-enablers are available to state agencies due to the enterprise agreement brokered with Microsoft in 2010. This agreement also led to the introduction of the BPOS-D suite of services in 2011, and made Minnesota the first state in the nation to adopt this advanced set of tools enterprise-wide.
Microsoft’s “Lync” is the State’s new Instant Messaging (IM) service.  Instant Messaging, best suited for short bursts of conversation, is more immediate than email and can be more direct –sort of like sending text messages from your PC or workstation.

The popularity of IM-ing is growing, according to a recent survey of company CIOs by Robert Half Technology. Approximately 54 percent of the CIOs surveyed said that applications such as instant messaging would soon be “somewhat,” or “much” more popular than e-mail on the job. 

In addition to the basic ability to send a message, OET’s Lync IM service has the ability to facilitate impromptu meetings with desktop-sharing (the ability to see your colleagues screen on your own monitor), audio, video and more. Basically, a conversation that starts with a quick, typed message can be escalated to a screen-sharing session with the ability to collaborate on documents, a VoIP audio conversation via headset, and even a face-to-face meeting, with the use of a webcam.

To send text-based instant messages from a web browser anywhere in the world, users have two choices: use the web-based IM client, or integrate with the Outlook Web App (OWA). Currently, the audio/video-conferencing and desktop-sharing capabilities of the service are only accessible using the Lync client connected to the State network. 

Lync’s video-conferencing capabilities are out-of-the box and relatively intuitive to use for the State’s Enterprise Email users. Not only does it make it easy to find contacts by leveraging the power of the State’s Enterprise Active Directory, the hardware needed for the service - such as headsets and video cameras - need only be USB-based and compatible with PCs. However, it will be key for organizations to plan additional network bandwidth to use Lync’s IM video capabilities. OET can help in this planning.

As an added benefit, instant messaging is tightly integrated with EUCC Email which allows users to determine the “presence” of others – whether they are “available,” ”busy,” “in a meeting,” etc. The adoption of this service across the state enterprise is expected to be gradual, depending on decisions made within other organizations about business issues like bandwidth, the availability of peripherals, and organizational deployments.

“The adoption of these tools will depend on the thoughtful development of service strategy and even cultural changes within organizations,” Tomes said. “But once they are in place, there is great potential for increasing efficiencies within government, which is an explicit goal for government IT service providers.”

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