Unified Communications (News - Alert), or "UC," is a term that is displacing "business communications" because it is a concept and technology approach that integrates user interfaces to support all forms of real-time and asynchronous contact and interaction with people involved in a business process. It is slowly replacing stand-alone business telephony technologies, integrating voice and text-based information. UC is particularly important in mobile environments, where the end user interfaces, both for initiating or receiving a contact, must work flexibly and efficiently within the context of a business process, for each individual user's needs at the moment.
As a result, the trend towards implementation of UC capabilities is opening new opportunities for traditional technology sales and support channels to assist business organizations in planning and implementing their individual migration from legacy telephone communications to integrated UC capabilities. The key to success in this convergence will be strategic business partnerships with leading infrastructure technology providers and developers, established communications software and service providers, as well as application designers and implementation specialists that can work together to support all aspects of an integrated UC operational environment. UCStrategies calls such UC Business Partners "Solution Integrators."
One major communication software provider, IBM (News - Alert), describes its UC strategy as being based on four pillars: an open end extensible platform capable of integrating with most leading collaboration and telephony products, technical expertise, industry knowledge and experience and, last but not least, a healthy ecosystem of business partners. IBM relies on business partners or Solution Integrators to build UC solutions on top of its UC platform and to provide the integrated functionality customers require. And because IBM Sametime software integrates out of the box with many Microsoft (News - Alert) productivity applications, solutions integrators of a wide variety of backgrounds can find opportunities. IBM provides those partners with access to the technical expertise and integration tools they need to succeed, providing the added UC integration expertise that is lacking in most IT organizations, while giving business partners a key role in one of IBM's newest segments of its software business.
In order to recognize the enterprise business sweet spots for UC, it is important for every UC Business Partner or Solution Integrator to fully understand all operational perspectives and priorities for the different benefits that UC will bring to a business organization. This includes individual end user needs for communications and interactions with people both inside and outside the organization. Any UC solutions implemented for today's modes of communication must also be "future proofed'" for tomorrows communications.
Telephony Integrations - one of the key starting points for UC
Today's enterprise UC migrations typically start with enabling more efficient and effective ways to initiate real-time phone contacts with other people, both inside or outside of any size organization. This may be done "contextually" from "click-to-call" information, coupled with availability information (presence), in a personal contact directory, provided through messaging contacts (email, IM, voice mail, SMS, etc.), or for selective access to live assistance within automated, self-service business process applications (Web, IVR applications).
Cost efficient, SIP-based IP Telephony that can integrate easily with other UC communication applications, is slowly but surely replacing legacy TDM PBX (News - Alert) telephone systems. A big obstacle in migrating any organization to a UC environment is the challenge of ripping and replacing the many existing and expensive telephone systems that still function effectively for person-to-person voice conversations. Integrating existing telephony investments with business process applications and other UC communication applications software (email, voice mail, conferencing, IM, telephony presence, SMS, social networking, and mobile, etc.) has become a short-term target for UC payoffs.
As shown in the diagram below, IBM has made a concerted effort to bring its Business Partners on board to help integrate their customers into a UC services environment. There is a range of services business partners can provide. The greatest customer value - and the greatest revenue opportunity for business partners resides in - first, improving business processes with horizontal unified communications services and, ultimately, UC-enabling specific business processes in vertical industry application scenarios.
UC Services roadmap - Opportunities for IBM Business Partners
What's The Opportunity for UC Business Partners?
The evolving UC capabilities and technologies provide new opportunities and challenges to enterprises. Because most enterprise IT organizations typically have neither the evolving knowledge and experience for integrating converging legacy telephony with other UC technologies, they need lots of hands-on help to even start moving forward with migrations to real UC solutions. In addition to the challenge of integrating and interoperating with legacy telephony systems, most UC solutions will include:
All forms of messaging and multimodal endpoints ("unified messaging")
All forms of voice and video conferencing
Integrations with business process applications (CEBP)
Business organizations, large or small, will need hands-on support for planning, configuring, installing, integrating, and UC-enabling all the hardware and software pieces in the UC solution picture. This can't happen overnight because UC technology elements are still evolving and slowing the migration from legacy telephony silos. There are a variety of issues that enterprises need help with from Solution Integrators due to the nature of UC solutions:
Existing communication technology investments still work and need to be included when appropriate in the day-to-day operations.
UC is not a not a single product, but rather a set of interoperable communication capabilities that may be distributed differently among a variety of communication facilities.
Implementation priorities will vary from organization to organization, especially in terms of business process functionalities and priorities, and then may change as business activities change.
End users, from both inside and outside of an organization, will need some training in the effective use of basics of UC communication functions, as well as in specific business process applications that are customized for specific UC situations and end user situations.
New mobile endpoint devices and interface designs will play a large role for enterprise application implementations.
Communication technologies will need many, selective technology integrations with business applications.
Such integrations will require strong partnerships and implementation planning/coordination.
These are all areas that UC solution providers must take responsibility for dealing with in helping customers implement UC applications. The question then becomes how will UC Solution Integrators gain that expertise?
What IBM Has To Offer UC Business Partners
The voice or telephony industry is changing drastically. In looking for a strategic partner, UC Solution Integrators or Business Partners have to start thinking about the end results that their customers are really looking for, which may require skills that the Solution Integrator doesn't currently have. Solution Integrators in the UC arena, particularly those who specialize in voice communications, need to partner with leading providers of integration technology that provide robust and flexible integration platforms to help customers extract more value from what they already have and to give Solution Integrators the technological springboard to help those customers evolve new UC applications when they're ready.
Because of its heavy experience with standards-based, open software, along with its strong role in developing messaging and application software, IBM is well positioned to assist its business partners move into the various areas of UC, especially in the business process perspective of UC activities.
IBM provides the necessary platforms and tools to enable Business Partners to easily develop and integrate customized, but flexible, business process UC applications. In addition to its UC platform offerings, notably Sametime and Sametime Unified Telephony, IBM provides a range of tools for its Business Partners, including:
Comprehensive Integration Software Tools - Toolsets for designing and implementing customized, applications with voice and visual interfaces for both desktop and mobile endpoint devices.
UC Experience and Training - Experience is what UC Business Partners require in order to help their customers move forward with practical UC implementations, and IBM is clearly experienced in using its own technologies internally. IBM also provides opportunities for partnering with other IP telephony Business Partners and specialists in order to provide comprehensive UC component solutions. In addition, IBM offers integration training, market training, and end user UC interface training.
Practical Steps to become a UC Solutions Integrator/Business Partner:
UC is not a single product or application and evolves from the support and participation of different application specialist skills. As shown in the IBM Business Partners Skills diagram at bottom of page, UC will become an ongoing source of business from existing customers as UC software technology continually changes to match evolving customer needs. The following are steps that are recommended for potential UC Solutions Integrators:
Identify your current "expertise" within the technologies of UC, e.g., business process analysis, applications (telephony, IVR, contact center, etc.), IP telephony integration, business process integration, mobility;
Identify customer UC needs and associated skill requirements;
Learn additional UC skills required by your customers, or
Partner with others who already qualify in those other skills; and
Develop your additional skills as needed, leveraging the UC resources available at UCStrategies.com, or from specific vendors. For example, IBM's Partnerworld is an excellent place for IBM partners to help grow their businesses.
As the UC industry changes, so too do the skills for Solution Integrators and Business Partners. Working with vendor companies that provide these partners with the tools they need to succeed is crucial. As a sponsor of UCStrategies' UC Summit, IBM is investing in helping its partners prosper.
Services Roadmap - IBM Business Partners Skills
What Do You Think?
You can contact me at: [email protected] or (310) 395-2360.
Art Rosenberg, a veteran of the computer and communications industry, contributes his column, The Unified-View to TMCnet. To read more of Art's articles, please visit his columnist page.
Edited by Kelly McGuire