Although we start looking at unified communications (UC) from an end user perspective, i.e., who really needs which capabilities from UC, we must also look at IT’s role in planning, implementing, and supporting UC capabilities in a business environment. Even though the basic justifications for UC must come from the business users (individual end users and business process management), we must still rely on IT technology expertise to develop a practical UC implementation and support plan that is acceptable to everyone.
Drawing the line between fixing existing business technology that is broken vs. implementing new technology is a traditional challenge to IT management. For UC, it is further complicated by the need to support the new communication alternatives that will allow internal staff, outside partners, and most importantly, customers to communicate more flexibly and efficiently. Such flexibility will be increasingly required by mobile users employing handheld, multi-modal “smart phones,” to maximize both their business and personal communication accessibility.
UC and Mobility
Unified communications (UC) still struggles to be defined conceptually for its role in person-to-person communications and process-to-person interactions. The ability to use either speech or text communications between people was a starting point for more flexible business contacts, facilitating the choice of asynchronous messaging vs. real-time synchronous contacts (phone calls, IM). Now, with improved speech recognition and multi-modal mobile devices, the next stage of efficient user real-time interaction with business process applications is here – the choice of entering or retrieving information with voice or screen interfaces, or a combination of both. As the title of a white paper published by NEC at the beginning of this year suggests, UC may be viewed as the next stage of mobility. Right there, enterprise IT will face the problem of supporting both existing internal desktop applications, as a well as a variety of public and private networks, mobile communications services, and endpoint devices that end users will be deploying to communicate with different people and different applications. How will usage of such mobile services be managed from an enterprise IT perspective?
It’s not enough to design and develop new technologies for business end users; it is also critical to manage technology support and changes to keep in synch with the operational usage needs of different people and work environments. Now that telephony is joining other forms of business communications under the UC umbrella to support multimodal, mobile devices that are software-based, IT technology support for all forms of business application integrations has to be consolidated and structured as well.
Orange Business Services Offers Microsoft (News - Alert) UC Plus ITIL-based Support
A clue to how enterprise UC mobility will be evolving through the use of managed services appeared in a recent announcement from a leading European service provider, Orange Business Services (News - Alert) of France Telecom, targeting multinational, global business organizations. They announced they would be supporting the use of the following standard Microsoft software applications to business customers on a managed basis:
- Microsoft Exchange Server 2007
- Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007
- Microsoft SharePoint Server 2007
What Orange has also added to their business communication offerings is standards-based service management through ITIL, Information Technology Infrastructure Libraries, which is a set of documented concepts and policies for managing operational support and change procedures for information technology services.
To get some insights into that perspective of UC implementations, I talked with my old Unified-View partner, David Zimmer, who has been actively involved with educating IT personnel on the gospel of ITIL.
According to David, here are some key points about ITIL:
- ITIL is a significant cultural change for IT organizations in performing their responsibilities to support enterprise information and communication technologies
- It requires understanding and coordinating business management needs and priorities, individual end user needs, as well as the trade-offs between existing and new technologies to provide required technology services
- Most importantly, it requires defining all aspects of technology support as reflected in Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for different technology support services, i.e., break-fix problems vs. changes to existing capabilities
- The ITIL framework includes standardized procedures for:
Continual service improvement (Metrics)
Finally, David suggests that IT project management still has to determine how to best implement any requested and approved application changes and that kind of expertise is very fuzzy at best. New implementation options can now include hosted or managed services, integrated with existing enterprise technologies.
Business management, on the other hand, has to understand its operational problems and priorities and the value of selectively solving those problems with UC technologies. Such solutions must be properly planned and implemented on an evolutionary basis at both the IT support level and the individual end-user adoption level.
“ITIL is a framework for describing the practical guidelines needed to align IT technology with business initiatives,” said Zimmer. “UC is fundamentally a business initiative using supporting technology. Moving from current technology to UC and then continually upgrading or introducing new features in the rapidly changing world of business requirements is the crux of the ITIL framework. In the short term, companies go through cultural change, but come out further ahead because of the systematic methodologies employed to support the business.”
In the long run, proper IT management of UC technology implementations and usage will result in time-savings, avoiding expensive mistakes, and making new UC applications more future-proofed to keep up with the real-world of both business and end-user needs.
What Do You Think?
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 Tim Gray