The Ghost of Christmas Presence

by Dave Michels

My company is a small one, about 15 people.

We like technology though and have implemented way more than we should have. It is an ‘eat our own dogfood’ type of deal, but we don’t make the stuff, just resell it.

The fact is most of our solutions for (re)sale are designed for much larger organizations. Our production systems are centered around Mitel and Microsoft. We use MS Office Communications Server (OCS) integrated with the Mitel 3300. It is a powerful solution, and frankly a bit much for a 15 person company.

OCS and the Mitel 3300 talk to each other so our presence includes phone status (on the phone). We also have the Communicator client available on many of our cell phones. Proves to be quite useful while driving (why call someone when they are already in a call?) and even more useful in long sessions at conferences for IM/chat. The solution is also integrated with Mitel Mobile Extension, so that if someone takes a call on their cell phone, we can also see the “on the phone” status.

Anyway, we suffer a bit from Cobbler Syndrome and our customers tend to get our priority. We recently did a major infrastructure upgrade which included the migration to Exchange 2007, a new domains, and just about everything else that could affect one’s productivity (and did). As a result, OCS, which was deemed as non critical, got put off until we sort through all the critical aspects of the project. It is daunting how integrated this stuff has become. So many things are connected to the Exchange server beyond the obvious email and calendars (fax services, emergency paging system, unified messaging integration, distribution lists, cell phones, OWA, public folders including our on-call and service schedules, etc.). No real surprises there, that is somewhat the goal of UC – full integration with so many devices.

Anyway, that isn’t the point. The point is, it is amazing to me how much we have grown to rely on OCS.

Sometimes you don’t fully appreciate something until it is gone. It is gone (for now), and dramatically impacting everyone. It is more than the IM, more than the phone integration, and more than the click to dial. It is presence.

Our office is on two floors – and we have many teleworkers. OCS has made the organization flat. For example, yesterday I sent an email to someone (who is usually in the office) that I was on my way in to see them. I got there and found he had called in sick. That didn’t used to happen – I would’ve seen he wasn’t online and found out why. With another co-worker we had to move back to AIM as a temporary IM solution, but it turns out we don’t really use it that much. IM isn’t enough for some reason. I think the problem is I have to look at the client rather than just see the presence indicator in email or other Office apps.

Staff talk about the void OCS has left. Everyone is eager to get it back. The problem is OCS is not a trivial installation. It isn’t designed at all for small business as it requires multiple servers in its latest incarnation (plus the gateway to the Mitel). It is an internal project with a capital P that we just can’t prioritize over paying customers, so it will be a few weeks.

Until then, I am dreaming of ideal holiday presence.