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The Future of Enterprise Telephony and Unified Communication
[August 12, 2005]

The Future of Enterprise Telephony and Unified Communication

I don't know about you, but I am having trouble keeping up with all the announcements of IP-based telephony, unified messaging (including Instant Messaging), and wireless mobility products and services that will finally support our old vision of business-oriented, 'always-on' unified communications.

By Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

I don't know about you, but I am having trouble keeping up with all the announcements of IP-based telephony, unified messaging (including Instant Messaging), and wireless mobility products and services that will finally support our old vision of business-oriented, "always-on" unified communications (UC). Now that all call processing technology is rapidly becoming standards-based software, rather than proprietary platforms, and wireless handheld devices are changing contact accessibility to both people and information delivery, the business communications world is being turned upside down. It's not just how the technology is changing that is confusing the enterprise market, but also who will end up being the providers of what pieces of the technology.
IP telephony and VoIP have opened the floodgates of hype. Everyone in the telecommunications provider industry is putting out white papers and sponsoring free seminars, teleconferences, webinars, and web videocasts to explain the new importance of SIP standards, IP telephony applications, and their concepts of presence management, while they race to implement evolving technologies in their new products and services. These are all indicative of the disruptive change taking place in telephone technology and the realignment of the telecommunications industry with the data world. IP telephony is enabling voice communications to become a more flexible element of personal contact and information delivery technologies.
Examples of recent and notable pronouncements include:
·        Microsoft's Bill Gates' public declaration at the Microsoft annual CEO Summit to use VoIP, IP Telephony, and SIP-based presence management to compete with traditional enterprise telephony providers for business telecommunications at the desktop and network services. Said Gates, "We're investing in phone software in a very deep way."
·        IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS), the carrier-oriented version of IP telephony infrastructure standard, is now being offered by Nortel, Siemens, Nokia, and Ericsson, with particular benefits for enterprise-oriented mobility services across wired and wireless networks.
·        AT&T and Microsoft announced their partnership to develop new services for the carrier's business customers. This will follow the "service delivery platform (SDP) concept, an integrated set of software modules that will enable carriers to offer a variety of communication and information delivery services to both fixed and wireless customers. The announcement at Supercomm said that they will "develop innovative services in the areas of collaboration, messaging and communications services, using Microsoft's Connected Services Framework (CSF) and their SDP, launched earlier this year.
·        Cisco's John Chambers says that the company's "next big thing" for converged networking is the "application-aware network" that will be driven by enterprise and service provider business application servers in "virtual" data centers. Cisco is also getting ready to productize their trial integration of an IP phone with an Instant Messaging software client, enabling what we have defined as "transmodal communications."
·        IM service provider Yahoo announced their shift from "walkie-talkie" voice IM to full-duplex voice communications at the PC desktop, enabling callers to leave voicemail messages, and integrating with VoIP services for users to dial out to any phone number.
·        Avaya is focusing on IP telephony servers for both wired and wireless voice "communication applications" that can interoperate with "embedded" business applications. This will enable multi-modal "personal contacts" to be initiated indirectly within any online business application and along with "collaborative " information exchange. Avaya is also converging cellular services and premise-based Wi-Fi with IP-PBX desktop extensions through Motorola dual-mode phones and extension to cellular phones (Nokia).
·        Nortel's "Office Anywhere" capabilities is exploiting their MCS 5100 Multimedia Communications Server to support Sip-based IP-telephony for enterprise wired and wireless user mobility and multi-modal communications. In addition, they have also implemented IMS-based "Converged Multimedia Services (CMS) solutions for carriers and service providers.
·        Siemens is exploiting SIP and Microsoft's Live Communication Server technology to provide multi-modal presence management for their Openscape server at the enterprise desktop and IMS technology for carriers in their [email protected] product line. They are also using SIP-based presence management technology to support more efficient "One Contact Resolution" for customers through conferencing and IM interactions between agents and "virtual" enterprise experts.
·        For the small business enterprise market, Interactive Intelligence (subsidiary, Vonexus) has been strategically bundling all their SIP-based telephony application software to sit on top of Microsoft desktop infrastructure, making it easy to implement fully converged communication applications in a Microsoft business environment.
·        Motorola announced their open standards-based "Communications Server" computer architecture for seamless convergence of multi-modal communication services across wireline and wireless networks.
·        While RIM has converged cellular telephony into its wireless email messaging line of handheld communication devices and enterprise "mobility" servers, they are also partnering with traditional enterprise and carrier technology providers (like Nortel) to enable Blackberry devices to be supported by enterprise voice communication applications.
·        On the flip side, Microsoft just announced that a feature pack for it's Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system for handheld devices will now support direct "push" email messages from MS Exchange Server 2003 to wireless smart phones and PDAs.(See my comments below on information delivery and "application buddies.")
·        Nokia, a world leader in cellular handsets, has jumped into the mobile Wi-Fi data device world with its new handheld 770 Internet Tablet using a Linux-based PC client. Supporting both the IETF SIP standard, as well as the carrier-oriented IMS standard, a third-partyapplication, Movial's"VoIP Connect," also provides SIP-based IP telephony functions for the device.
While it is gratifying to see the wired and wireless telecommunications industry making progress in the right directions, the unfortunate part is that all these announcements reflect piecemeal elements of total UC "solutions" that end users really need. These elements include ALL of the following:
·        Converged voice and data wired/wireless IP networking, including security and voice/video Quality of Service (QoS)
·        Communication Application servers, including IP telephony applications and multi-modal messaging
·        Wired and wireless multi-modal communication devices and embedded client software (e.g., desktop and handheld softphones)
·        Cross-network, federated presence, availability, and modality management servers that facilitate efficient personal communication contact across networks and device endpoints
·        Make it all easy to use!
Aside from the fact that many of the above technologies are really still evolving, especially from an "open IP" standards perspective, the major challenges still facing the enterprise market include all of the following:
·        Preparing for all the operational and organizational management implications of converged, presence-based communications and wireless mobility
·        Planning the practical migration steps for moving to secure, IP network infrastructures, IP-based communication application server software, and multi-modal communication devices
·        Understanding and having the tools for managing and measuring all the different ROIs (besides cost reductions) that will ultimately accrue from the major technology investments in IP telephony, unified communications, and wireless mobility
Before that can happen, however, everyone must agree on an up-to-date definition of "Unified Communication" (UC). Even though the term is being increasingly used in the hype for IP telephony applications and unified messaging, it is obviously more than just "open" standards and CTI. It is the seamless convergence of all forms of traditional person-to-person voice communications functions, multi-modal messaging (including IM), and video, under a cross-network layer of "intelligent," flexible, and personalized presence management, that results in more flexible and efficient personal communication contacts or "transmodal communication." More importantly, enterprise telecommunications can no longer be described as just enterprise "customer premise equipment" (CPE) to support wired station sets, because wide area wireless carrier services will be required for off-premise mobility.
Personal Contact, "Collaboration," and Business Applications
Collaboration means people working together, and working together means communicating with individuals within and between groups. Collaboration also means exchanging information with individuals, but exchanging information and person-to-person communications doesn't always have to be concurrent. Business communication applications focus primarily on enabling people to contact other people to communicate with them in real-time or through asynchronous messaging. Exchanging information can also take place in real time or asynchronously concurrently through other modalities of information delivery, e.g., using an Instant Message connection or exchanging email messages with attachments or web site URL links to view various forms of information online.
Contacting people is much more difficult and sensitive than accessing computerized business applications and information. Why? …Personal availability to communicate!
Even though application servers and communication devices are (usually) "always on," people are not always available and cannot multitask their communications (especially voice) very well. That's why the new ways of contacting people increases the requirement to personalize and dynamically control individual accessibility and choice of modalities.
"Application Buddies"
Proactive business applications and services have the same problem of contacting individual users for information delivery. Information delivery can also become critical if there is time-sensitivity involved, e.g., notifications, alerts, etc. For this reason, such "real-time" applications that deal with subscribing end users, whether as customers in the demand chain or enterprise personnel or partners in the supply chain, must now consider permission-based information delivery a la IM's "buddy lists." Call and message screening are becoming critical to both user productivity and timely task completion, the new "bottom" lines for business communications.
Needless to say, personally managing "buddy lists" and access priorities in general is not a chore that end users will want to take on, so whatever technology can do to intelligently automate that function will be critical to its success. Not that manually createng contact accessibility "rules" is all bad, but it will not go very far in my book.
Business Processes, Communication Applications, and Enterprise Productivity
Business processes don't really care who does the data entry or retrieves information, as long as the end result is achieved, i.e., the task is completed, the problem is resolved, the product or service is delivered, and the deadline is met. This suggests that the value of timely communications and information delivery to people will only be recognized and quantified when the business process can track the results. The fact that people are critical elements of most operational business processes, by analyzing problems, making decisions, taking actions, coordinating activities, answering questions, etc., means that business communication productivity must really be tracked within the context of business applications and processes, not just individual time savings.
The enterprise organization still needs new tools to manage and measure person-to-person communications to both insure effective use of all this new technology, as well as to quantify the resultant benefits.
Where is All This Taking the Telecommunications Industry?
If you look at some of industry announcements mentioned earlier, you can see what is coming down the track.
·        The market will migrate (slowly) to IP telephony and VoIP because they will have to. New TDM technology is disappearing.
·        The battle for software-based communication applications will increase because they can constantly be improved competitively.
·        The choice between "best of class" and bundled "suites" will be questionable; everyone will want to "futureproof" technology investments and no one will want to be "locked in" to anything.
·        The shift to hosted and managed services will become more practical and attractive, especially since enterprise management and control can now be preserved, regardless of where the technologies are located and supported.
·        The enterprise will have to face the realities of a wide variety of changing handheld communication devices that must all be supported and controlled across both fixed and wireless networks. This also reflects the choices between PC-based "softphones (with "dumb" handsets), "smart" desktop IP screenphones that will replace full-blown PCs, and wireless handheld devices that cost-efficiently exploit both Wi-Fi, Wi-Max, and cellular connectivity for maximum mobility.
·        There will be some kind of shift in enterprise responsibilities for supporting user communication mobility outside the office with any kind of handheld communication device. Again, this is a service provider opportunity that can tie nicely into consumer-oriented services.
·        There also is an obvious need to consolidate enterprise administration of all forms of person-to-person communications, in addition to enabling cost-efficient self- provisioning by end users.
·        The enterprise organization has always needed better tools and metrics for to manage effective person-to-person usage of all forms of contact, both intra-enterprise, inter-enterprise, and, last, but not least, with customers. Beyond cost management TCO, this will apply to both "micro-productivity" (individuals) and "macro-productivity" (groups tasks) ROI metrics.
·        Security, of course, has become a big issue now that telephony is vulnerable to the various diseases and criminal attacks that email users have learned to fear and hate.
·        Both usage activity management and security issues tie in to the need for also maintaining some degree of personal privacy as well. This will be particularly important when communication devices are used for both business and personal contacts.
Just as the communication technologies are converging, so too are the industry technology providers targeting communication applications as their bailiwick. The network people think it belongs to them, the desktop software people think they can do it, and the traditional telecommunications CPE providers and carriers think they can still own pieces as their legacy from the past. While communication hardware platforms have become commodities, the software is still evolving along with the convergence of multi-modal user interfaces at the device level. The "big gorillas" are all starting to flex their UC muscles this year, so who knows when the dust will settle and enable the different enterprise market segments to really make practical migration decisions.
What Do You Think?
What are the new arguments in favor of enterprise telephony CPE in the coming world of IP telephony services? What are the arguments for "best of class" software vs. communication application "suites"? Why should enterprises be in a hurry to migrate to IP telephony if their current technology still works?
How do you think the telecommunications industry is going to restructure itself? How do you think enterprise technology management will shift organizationally to manage and supportIP telephony, wireless mobility, and converged communication applications? Where should enterprise communications security control reside - at the network level, the application server level, the device level, or all of the above?
Let us know your opinions by sending them to [email protected]
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. He focuses on practical user requirements, implementation issues, and new benefits of multi-modal communication technologies for individual end users, both as a consumer and as a member of enterprise working groups. The latter includes identifying new responsibilities for enterprise communications management to support changing operational usage needs most cost-effectively.

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