Microsoft Office 2007 (or System 2007 as MS prefers) will be a big thing in any company, as the all familiar office interface has been renewed completely. But that’s just the surface (and sadly what most blogs and news sites will cover). Under the hood there are lots of features, and some of them are related to integrating ever increasing mobility in business operations.
One of the new features available in Outlook 2007 will be SMS / text-messaging. Outlook already has the capacity for instant messaging, e-mail and even voice mails (with Live communications servers + Exchange), but this is the software giants first attempt to convert SMS messages from children’s playground to serious business use. Most likely this will be a very successful move, as SMS-messages are already a major player in some business operations (for example SAP uses SMS very successfully).
Outlook’s text messaging feature works in a way that allows users to send SMS-messages to a receiver’s cell phone number, and receive replies back to their Outlook inboxes. Sadly, text message content won’t be fully integrated as Outlook (and Exchange) will not store and index SMS message traffic. This is though something I think will change shortly as historical data is highly important in office.
Another cool, and very expected feature, is integrating automated reminders and SMS-messages to each other.
Unfortunately, SMS services will be available to a very limited US audience initially. So far only Verizon Wireless has signed the contract to offer required SMS service. Based on early details, the system sounds a bit clumsy as each user would need to sign up separately, and Verizon would charge them separately. I’d prefer to see an integrated solution where a specific amount of SMS-messages comes bundled with license or you could by them separately. Most likely this will change a bit before final release.
Microsoft also has plans on enabling telephone access in and out from Outlook. Calling out is nothing new, as Skype and others provide desktop telecommuting but calling to Outlook is a highly interesting feature. This is based on interactive voice response (IVR) system that works by using voice commands. Based on preliminary details, IVR will enable calendar and meeting management trough voice commands, i.e. you can browse your calendar, hear information about meetings, move meetings etc. As a standalone this would be nothing highly useful, but MS has also included possibility to leave voice messages that will be routed to other participants in meetings.
A question you might ask is of course is this really useful and necessary? After all, synchronizing between outlook and mobile is already something most phones are capable of (if nearby), and there are several 3rd party services providing similar remote access services. In any case, this can be both good and bad news for mobile content providers. This definetely opens new doorways for mobile services, but it also makes Office more dominant in a sector that was previously pretty scattered. Hopefully all parties have learned lessons from the past, and work together for more robust web services to empower business.