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Unified Communications and Collaboration: Laying the Foundations for Business Process Flexibility and Innovation
Butler Group, April 2008, Pages: 187
Business challenges continue to include the requirement for better flexibility, greater mobility, and to continuously improve business processes. In addition, organisations are always on the lookout for ways to reduce costs to keep ahead of the competition. The new breed of communications and collaboration technologies presents an opportunity for companies to realise these objectives. Many organisations are moving from traditional hierarchies based on command and control, to looser structures utilising collaboration and team work.
There is a fundamental shift from one-to-one to many-tomany communication. The integration with the Internet, the increasing mobility of employees, and the move towards virtual organisations, alongside the requirement to always improve profitability and customer service, means that enterprises must embrace the adaptability that services-based communications can provide.
There are a number of challenges that remain whilst enabling the requirement for providing flexible working for a diverse user community, including the
home worker and ‘road warrior’. One of these challenges is to secure the extended environment that most IT managers now need to support. There are
many instances of successful attacks and loss of data, which includes finance companies and government agencies. The issue of security must be adequately addressed when contemplating utilising an IP-based environment. Whilst the introduction of voice and video on to the network presents new security worries, it does not, however, add any new vulnerability that did not previously exist.
Another challenge is providing an opportunity for the interaction of disparate employees and organisations. However, this inter- and intra-company interaction brought about through collaboration is not without its risks – loss of corporate intellectual property and commercially sensitive information, for example. But generally speaking, fostering innovation and a product formed through the collaborative efforts of several minds is likely to be inherently more valuable than the thoughts of a lone individual. Like cogs in a machine, bringing together the right people, at the right time, in the right way is what good management is all about, and in the current working environment this is difficult to achieve without collaborative-working tools. Effective management is a key capability in the unified environment where policies must drive availability, and visibility moves from individual point solutions to being system wide, along with the shift from fixed asset administration to dynamic asset utilisation. A cornerstone for the provision of multi-modal channels is the ability to deliver intelligent central performance management, enabling efficient use of the available resources. The accessibility of end-to-end Quality of Service (QoS) supporting data, voice, and multimedia, is an important first step in the evolution towards an automated solution.
The reach and range of business processes continues to increase as organisations extend and expand their interactions with partners, suppliers, and customers; and so the need to integrate geographically dispersed teams into complex business processes presents something of a challenge for the IT manager. Fax, e-mail, pager, SMS, Web conferencing, video conferencing, and conventional teleconferencing are all in use today, yet many business processes are still hampered by ineffective collaboration. Organisations must therefore re-examine their corporate communication and collaboration strategies in order to better support business activities and objectives.
Organisations are beginning to expand outside the traditional boundaries found in the past. The extended enterprise now requires a common IP-based infrastructure to capitalise on information mobility and the need to be more flexible. There is a requirement for greater location independence, with remote working becoming more popular and many employees no longer remaining in one place for any great length of time. In order for this flexibility and changes in work practices to be catered for it is becoming apparent that the existing separate silo’ed infrastructures are no longer the answer.
The need for new and enhanced service provision to support business requirements must drive infrastructure and technology deployment. A services-based approach is best suited to this environment to insulate developers and users from the complexity of the infrastructure, and to ease the integration of the different systems and communication mechanisms. There should be a move towards the provision of common integrated communication services, which are ideal for catering for a complex and distributed environment. Web services can also be utilised to mobilise information to all stakeholders.
Moving away from proprietary solutions for voice and data to a horizontal communications architecture will enable the communications environment to
be broken down into separate layers, making use of industry standards to integrate the hardware, common services, and administration elements. This
componentisation and services-based approach increases flexibility, enabling services to be developed independent of the equipment. Using IP-based components instead of vendordependent solutions improves scalability, along with driving down infrastructure costs with price/performance optimisation.
There is pressure on the IT manager to provide enterprise presence functionality due to the availability of consumer instant messaging. Social
networking techniques and Web 2.0 functionality used in the consumer environment will be demanded by the enterprise workforce, which will come to expect these new tools and technologies to be readily available at any location, as well as being able to use any device. To meet these challenges communication technology will need to become more seamlessly integrated with collaboration tools and enterprise applications. Initially this will be communication services, such as personal numbering, instant messaging, and automated directory enquiry, which can be easily provided before deploying more complex communication services.
It is envisaged that next-generation networks will include the ‘Intelligent Dial Tone’, where callers will no longer hear a dial tone when they use the phone but instead a voice browser will ask, “What would you like to do?” The user can then request the service required, such as “Call home” or “Where is the nearest bank?”, and the system will understand, performing the required task, and returning the information using the most appropriate medium.
Many communication and collaboration strategies are primarily initiated to reap the benefits of infrastructure consolidation, such as reductions in operational costs, and to improve levels of service quality. However, although these are useful goals, the real value afforded by unified communications and collaboration solutions ultimately arises from improvements to business processes, enhancement of stakeholder interactions, the optimisation of workflow, and eventually driving innovation in the business. That being the case IT managers should not run away with the idea that one vendor can offer everything the organisation needs in terms of communications and collaboration capability. Inevitably the issue of integration and alliances must be considered as part of the organisation’s communications and collaboration strategy. Partnerships and alliances make or break vendor solutions, and so one must consider these alongside the organisation’s own list of preferences, existing IT investments, and vendor relationships that are already in place.
Communications play an important role in ensuring businesses function efficiently and it is therefore vital for systems to be effective and easy to use. Enterprises are concerned with both employee and customer satisfaction when deploying communication technologies and are looking to improve productivity through their IP and unified communications investments. Although enterprises are gradually migrating to IP telephony, it will be some time before all telephone systems utilise IP technology. A notable driver of investments will be the end-user.
Technology cycles mean that consumer and enterprise technologies often interconnect and influence one another. Internet telephony, such as Skype, and the use of Instant Messaging (IM) in the home is having an influence on the availability of software and advanced features in the workplace. Although reliability and security are amongst the most important factors in investment decisions, the cost of implementation is the leading inhibitor. Whilst this is slightly more of a factor for small or medium-sized enterprises with tighter IT budgets, it is still an issue for a majority of the enterprises responding to a 2007 Datamonitor survey on Communications Convergence. It is important for vendors to provide price transparency rather than selling solutions on the basis of cost savings as they may have done previously. As IP-based communication solutions become more commonplace and the market begins to saturate, price pressure will cause implementation costs to drop. Vendors should also aim to work more closely with partners to help solve enterprises’ cost issues.
From assessing ten vendors in the voice/data convergence market on their technical capabilities, market impact, and end-user sentiment, the conclusion
is that four large players dominate – Avaya, Cisco, Siemens Enterprise Communications (SEC), and Nortel. Although each of these vendors has
different strengths and weaknesses, all have achieved similar scores and it is difficult to differentiate one true leader. The market will continue to grow at a steady rate but vendors need to work hard to differentiate themselves as technologies are more widely adopted. Some of the challengers pose more of a threat than others. Both Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent offer technical capabilities but they have not been rated as well by their customers. Alcatel-Lucent must work on improving its financial and integration issues before advancing, and Ericsson, although its convergence strategy has a distinctive mobility focus, needs to work on developing management technology and a better marketing strategy.
ShoreTel, Interactive Intelligence, and Teleware are likely to remain at a distance from the leaders mainly due to their size. However, both ShoreTel and Interactive Intelligence have shown rapid growth. ShoreTel’s IP telephony and Interactive Intelligence’s contact centre solutions are extremely competitive. Teleware in particular has been struggling to grow due to price pressures from the leaders and needs to change its strategy to succeed. NEC, on the other hand, has size and brand strength but should work on improving its product portfolio and strengthening its sales channels outside of the Asia-Pacific (APAC) region.
Section 1: Management Summary
1.1 Management Summary
Section 2: Introduction
2.1 Report Introduction and Objectives
2.2 Providing Communication Services
2.3 The Collaboration Environment
Section 3: Business Strategies
3.1: Cost Reduction
3.2 Process Enablement
3.3 Working Practices
3.4 Improving Collaboration
Section 4: Planning and Implementation
4.3 Organisational Impact
Section 5: Unified Communications Architecture
5.1 Platform Architecture
5.2 Physical Layer
5.3 Network Layer
5.4 Session Layer
5.5 Presentation Layer
5.6 Application Layer
Section 6: Unified Collaboration Systems
6.2 Systems and Solutions
Section 7: Case Studies
7.1 Case Studies
Section 8: Market Analysis
8.1 Convergence Solution Adoption
8.2 Market Trends
8.3 Vendor Selection
8.4 Vendor Analysis
Section 9: Vendor Profiles
Cisco Systems, Inc.
Interactive Intelligence, Inc.
Mitel Networks Corporation
NEC Unified Solutions, Inc.
Nortel Networks Corporation
Siemens Enterprise Communications (SEC) GmbH & Co. KG
Vocera Communications Inc.
Section 10: Glossary
These are challenging times, with organisations facing continuous change, including the shift to a more agile, virtual organisation, increasingly mobile workers, and the unremitting demands to increase productivity and lower costs. The requirement for a multi-channel IP network and unified communications to support all of an organisation’s interaction and collaboration needs has never been more evident.
It is becoming increasingly important for IT management to begin to lay the foundations for the availability of integrated common communication services, either by infrastructure upgrades or through Managed Services. If organisations have not already, then the author recommends that enterprises should put in place the foundation of a converged IP environment, along with exploiting unified communications and the latest collaboration mechanisms.
- Avaya Inc.
- Cisco Systems, Inc.
- Ericsson, Inc.
- Eurodata Systems
- IBM Corporation
- Interactive Intelligence, Inc.
- Microsoft Corporation
- Mitel Networks Corporation
- NEC Unified Solutions, Inc.
- Nortel Networks Corporation
- Novell, Inc.
- ShoreTel, Inc.
- Siemens Enterprise Communications (SEC) GmbH & Co. KG
- TeleWare plc
- Vocera Communications Inc.