BHP trials Microsoft telephony

Resources giant BHP Billiton is banking on Microsoft technology to fulfill its videoconferencing strategy.

BHP Billiton is banking on Microsoft technology to fulfill a three-pronged videoconferencing strategy, a senior executive said.

The resources giant is part of Microsoft's Technology Adopter Program (TAP) for Office Communications Server 2007. It's also evaluating telephony hardware such as RoundTable, a 360 degree videoconferencing camera.

In December, Microsoft extended a private beta invitation to 2,500 companies to test the new version of OCS 2007, the successor to Microsoft Office Live Communications Server 2005.

While BHP plans to use Office Communications Server and RoundTable for videoconferencing (in meeting rooms and on desktops), the company uses Hewlett-Packard's Halo videoconferencing studios for large scale communications.

BHP already runs Office and Live Communications Server 2005. However, OCS 2007 has an "utterly different" architecture to its predecessor, said BHP Billiton principal architect Dr Ian Hoyle.

In OCS 2007, data, audio and video are decoupled into separate services so that they can be run across individual servers.

Dr Hoyle was also impressed by Web access to Microsoft Office Communicator, a new feature in OCS 2007.

"It's an almost indistinguishable user interface from the client versus the Web client," he said.

This will allow BHP staff to read their e-mail while travelling, he said.

Microsoft has also integrated its Web conferencing client Live Meeting into a service of OCS 2007. Microsoft gained Live Meeting through its acquisition of PlaceWare in 2003.

"So now we can have internal Web conferencing within our business," said Dr Hoyle.

"And we wanted to do that for several reasons: security, performance, integration with audio and video.

"It's still a little bit raw," he said. "Some of the features in the client still aren't working as they should but that's part of the process we're going through working with Microsoft on this TAP.

"More often than not they do listen and they are reflected in what we ultimately see."

The company uses messaging extensively throughout its operations. BHP has federated communications with several business partners to ensure security. It also has secure communications with AOL, MSN and Yahoo to ensure its employees' communications with friends and family are kept private.

BHP is also trialling three RoundTable videoconferencing cameras, running on OCS 2007.

A RoundTable device consists five mini-cameras that capture a 360 degree video. The unit then sends images to its Windows CE OS and forms a filmstrip view.

Dr Hoyle said there were some physical problems with the unit, such as the way the arm connected to the base, but this was typical of a "first generation product".

BHP was so impressed with the product it wants to rip out its ageing Tandberg videoconferencing systems and replace them with RoundTable.

Being portable, the device was suitable for ad hoc meetings, said Dr Hoyle at a conference in Sydney last week.

He also said BHP was assessing other Microsoft telephony services. "I probably can't say much more than that or I probably would have to be killed."

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