For systems integrator and service provider Eurodata, unified communications was a case of 'eating its own dog-food.' The company claims to have been the first in the UK after Microsoft itself to implement the latter's Office Communications Server (OCS).

"The opportunity is that what was once very expensive technology has now come down in price," says Eurodata MD and co-founder Des Lekerman.

The choice of suppliers - Microsoft for the software and Mitel for the phones and other IP telephony hardware - was pretty much governed by Eurodata's existing partnerships with those companies.

However, Lekerman claims that those relationships - and the fact that it had already been involved in hundreds of installations of Microsoft's earlier Live Comms Server (LCS) - meant Eurodata staff had a good idea of what was going to be involved.

In particular, they knew that this was going to very different from past projects to move communications onto IP networks. Lekerman says that's because unified comms (UC) it is not merely an enhanced digital version of what went before, as IP telephony was, but something that lets his team do things and work in ways that they couldn't before.

"Things like VoIP didn't impact the business user - it was all back-end stuff only. UC is different," he adds.

He notes that it is not just an office-based system - Eurodata's consultants use it from home as well. "Voice works fine at home over a 2Mbit/s link, with better quality than people are used to, though video [over home broadband] is more of a problem," he says.

The key is that the UC system gives each individual a single identity on the network, no matter what device they're using. That single ID can then find them wherever they are, making the system people-centric and device-agnostic, says Eurodata.

It's not for everyone though, says Neil Keating, the company's commercial director. For instance, not all staff need to stay in contact on the road or out of hours, so an important part of the project was to figure out who would benefit from having a full UC set-up, rather than just the individual applications they needed.

"Our knowledge workers are our consultants - they're constantly exchanging information and data," he adds. "Then there's our road warriors - the salespeople. They need to check proposal status, update their projects and so on. Our team uses a lot of instant messaging and an awful lot of LiveMeeting."