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The Flavors of Enterprise Unified Communications


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August 25, 2006

The Flavors of Enterprise Unified Communications

By Art Rosenberg

Now that the term “unified communications” (UC) has become officially adopted by both the telecommunications industry and the text messaging/information processing giants (Microsoft, IBM) as the future home of IP telephony, the enterprise market is going to have fun learning what “UC” will really mean in the upcoming months.
Sitting in on a recent BCR webinar where industry PBX guru Allan Sulkin gave his market forecast for enterprise telephone systems, it became readily apparent from the audience Q&A that one of the biggest problems in the industry is defining what UC really means, especially to end users (as opposed to IT technology management).
The fact of the matter is that there will be different flavors of UC services, wired and wireless, that will fit different end user needs, both as consumers and as business users. UC will basically converge all forms of contact with people on an individual, personalized basis, person-to-person directly (phone number-to-phone number, mailbox to mailbox, etc.) or indirectly through network “intelligence” (address books, presence management, “Find me”), and from business process applications.
The fact that UC will be heavily reliant upon software-based IP telephony servers and interoperable endpoint device client software, has also muddied the waters for determining who will sell and support different “UC” components to the enterprise and its end users, as opposed to who will be developing the software products for both CPE and hosted services.
IP-based UC convergence is changing the enterprise “telephone” from a “dumb,” wired, location-dependent, voice and button interface endpoint device, controlled only by proprietary, premise-based enterprise servers (PBX switches), primarily for person-to person conversations into a variety of interoperable, multimodal desktop and mobile communication endpoints.
Most importantly, however, UC, IP telephony, and unified messaging (UM)—a subset of UC capabilities—will open the doors for automated business process applications to both proactively and flexibly deliver pre-authorized, personalized information to specific users (notifications, alerts, etc.), as well as facilitate more intelligent routing of person-to-person business contacts within the context of specific applications and information.
This will enable automated business applications to proactively involve people in operational workflow processes.
The Migration Challenge: The “Whys” vs. the “Hows”
Enterprise organizations will also be confused about the “whys” vs. the “hows” for migrating their various legacy phone and messaging applications to a converged UC environment. Inasmuch as the technologies and interoperability standards are still evolving and there is little experience with future new communication functions, the enterprise markets are going to move cautiously in replacing existing technology that still works today.
The fact is that “open” IP communication enables technology management support to be centralized and consolidated internally—for distributed (“virtual”) enterprise organizations (including teleworkers) or outsourced through hosted and managed service providers. This only makes the case for IT departments to become more efficient in doing their jobs, but it doesn’t prepare the enterprise for changes and improvements in business process operations and how people will do their jobs with presence-based, multimodal communications.
This is where the “whys” of UC have to focus on improving “human contact latency” caused by the silos of communication technology and the lack of personalized contact intelligence becoming addresses with SIP-based, end-to-end, federated, presence and availability management technology.   
Differentiating Business UC at the Top - “It Takes Two to Tango!”
Since UC is fundamentally about technology for contacting and communicating with people across networks on a personalized, multimodal basis, there will be both “business UC” and “consumer UC,” just as the distinction exists in traditional communication markets (telephony, messaging).
Since we are not talking about simply replacing existing forms of communication contact, but changing the fundamental ways people will use them in the future, the first UC planning questions for the enterprise organization should deal with the operational requirements of all business processes that involve contacts with people.
Those questions should include:
  • Who are the people or processes initiating the more mission-critical business contacts and what communication modality alternatives will make such contacts timely and effective?
  • What are the business relationships between the contact initiators and the recipients that will affect their accessibility and modality of contact?
  • What communication devices, contact modalities, features, and network connectivity will the contact initiators need vs. the contact recipients? (Forms of wireless mobility vs. local and remote desktop endpoints)
  • If there is a way to selectively change (”migrate”) and improve current business communications facilities between users with minimal cost and effort, including hosted and managed services vs. enterprise systems?
  • Finally, as an enterprise organization moves to “UC” capabilities, how will such communications be measured and managed to insure that the technology is being used effectively?
Based on these considerations, enterprise organizations need to align UC with the priorities of their different business units and their different types of users. Both elements will selectively employ features and functions of UC, just as we have done in the past with telephony and messaging.
For the typical enterprise organization, the top layer of business UC will originate from the following categories of contact activity:
  • “Intra-enterprise UC” – Covers the functional needs of internal, intra-enterprise individual communications, typically with a common system or interoperable services
  • “Inter-enterprise UC” – Covers federated intercommunication between people in different enterprise systems or services
  • “Customer UC” – Traditional customer contact operations (inbound, outbound) with business customers and consumers, who will both be more mobile and multimodal rather than communicating just from traditional wired desktop phones.
Customer contacts include both of the following:
  • Specific Enterprise Individuals – e.g., assigned sales representatives and field support staff. “It’s not what you know, but who you know!”
  • “Available” Enterprise Support Staff – Traditional call center personnel who handle any customer contact with the enterprise, not who they know.  
The real layers of UC functionality will be differentiated based upon specific vertical industry requirements, business process applications, and, last, but not least for enterprise users, individual job responsibilities, situational work environments, personalized desktop and/or handheld multimodal communication devices and endpoint software clients. From an infrastructure perspective, all users may benefit from UC communication flexibility, but from a user perspective, there will be all shades of UC gray.
From an enterprise UC planning perspective, it is not simply identifying the technologies to be acquired, replaced, or upgraded, but quantifying their capacities for future traffic, which, in turn, will be based on the new ways that end users will be communicating with others. Looking backward at past telephony and messaging activities is a step in the right direction, but doesn’t tell you what will happen in the different areas of enterprise UC, nor the impact that coming “consumer UC” will have upon “Customer UC.”
These are the areas that every enterprise will need assistance in defining end user requirements from a coming new breed of objective, experienced “UC consultants,” before they rush out to buy the new technology and/or services.  
So, Who Will Be Supplying Enterprise UC Applications?
The short answer is: Everybody.
While the telecommunications industry is trying to redefine enterprise voice communication functionality within the context of business process applications, presence management, and multimodal messaging, it is also realigning itself around software applications, multimodal desktop and mobile device independence, and hosted/managed services, all layered on top of converged, secure IP networks. The upshot of all this is that enterprise migrations to UC will be fragmented.   
The suppliers of communication application software for both centralized servers and device clients will be converging and partnering, making it difficult to decide whom the enterprise should be turning to for help and advice in migration planning.
The complexity of interoperability, reliability, and security across communication devices, business process software applications, and enterprise/public networks, has created a challenge to enterprise IT that still has little if any expertise with implementing and managing the evolving future. This means they will have to rely on outside resources for planning future migration steps.
Since UC is not a single application, its software components will be developed by a number of competitive providers. Evolving UC applications will be based on “open,” interoperable software rather than proprietary hardware and such applications will become an evolutionary arena that will constantly attract “best of breed” application specialists and competitors.
Because IP communications application software lends itself to network-based hosted and managed service implementations, rather than just traditional enterprise owned hardware/software, the service options will be supported by various types of technology providers, including software application developers, network service carriers, system integrators, consultants, resellers, and VARs, all partnering with communication device manufacturers.
Looking At the “Mass” SMB Market
A recent study of business and IT management in the small and medium-sized business (SMB) markets sponsored by CompTIA, an international organization supporting the providers of computing technology to the business markets, showed that voice and data network convergence is below 20 percent for the SMB market, but more than 10 percent have converged their messaging systems (voice, email). 
Ranking at the top of end user dislikes with present communications were communication interruptions, the difficulty in managing multiple sources of contacts, and the difficulty in making (real-time) contact with others. Most SMB users report that they buy their telephone systems directly from telecom service providers or from resellers/value-added resellers.
The CompTIA report shows that about 30 percent of SMBs will be making new investments in various communication technologies, from wired and wireless networks to phone and messaging technologies. Companies with separate voice and data networks are particularly interested in upgrading their phone systems, while wireless networking is of greater interest to the larger organizations.
Interestingly enough, CompTIA also reported in May that VARs are starting to shift from just selling communication technology and break/fix support, to becoming managed service providers—with expected business growth of 10-40 percent.
However, at this point in time, only 38 percent of SMB organizations indicated they would move to managed services, while only 9 percent said they would migrate to hosted services. (As UC becomes better understood by the enterprise market, those numbers will probably change.)     
What Do You Think?
Are you happy with the definitions that the industry is using for UC? With the convergence between IP telephony, messaging, and business process applications, will the enterprise market know who will provide the components for all flavors of UC implementation? Do you think that the industry has the tools and metrics for effective UC usage management? Who in the converging UC industry do you think will dominate the provision of hosted UC services vs. managed services? Who in the enterprise has to take charge for initial planning for UC, IT, Business Management, or a combination of both?
Submit your opinion to [email protected], or comment in the Unified View blog.
For more about customer contact applications, see the following articles:
  • Smarter Call Center IP Telephony Routing   
  • The Five Real Reasons For Migrating Your Call Center to IP
Art Rosenberg is a veteran of the computer and communications industry and formed The Unified-View to provide strategic consulting to technology and service providers, as well as to enterprise organizations, in migrating towards converged wired and wireless unified communications.

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