VoIP For IT Is Still FUD: Where's Mobility and Multi-Modality?
By Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View
IP-based converged communications means different things for different parts of an enterprise organization.
For executive management it means more timely people contacts, efficient business operations, and reduced technology support costs; for end users, it offers multi- modal and mobile contact flexibility and convenience; but for IT organizations it means business communication functions are becoming standards-based, interoperable software. This last factor, however, is creating fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD) about making business process applications communicate with people, realigning IT and telecom skills and responsibilities, and, perhaps most challenging of all, selecting the right technology providers to plan for the changing future. But the real change in business communications for people is not just about IP networking infrastructure, it's really about user mobility away from a desktop for both voice conversations and multi-modal messaging.
Jeff Pulver has been a big mover in the IP telephony world with his very successful VON shows and other activities. However, the VON shows were primarily focused on the carriers and service providers of VoIP and IP telephony services, rather than enterprise-owned technology. This year Pulver approached CMP Media, a seasoned player in the enterprise-oriented media market to put on a jointly sponsored conference in Las Vegas targeting enterprise IT management called "IP.4.IT." And, I was there to see what the show had to offer!
Small Audience, But Good Speakers
For a first event, the IP.4.IT show had a respectable turnout, reportedly around 1100 registrants, including vendors and other non-enterprise attendees. Most of the excellent industry speakers were actively involved with the current product developments in IP telephony technologies, SIP, and the evolution of presence-based communications. The emphasis, however, was heavily focused on voice telephony contacts, rather than messaging for the IT management audience.
Although the plenary sessions and keynotes drew maximum audiences of a few hundred people, the typical competition between parallel tracks limited those audiences to smaller groups of 10-50 people. To compound the problem, the show added even some competing presentations on the exhibit floor "theatre."
Speaking of exhibits, the traffic was modest, but more importantly, as is the case with the current spate of shows for evolving IP telephony technologies, the attendees were not really "buyers!" They were primarily technology developers networking with each other and enterprise managers getting educated about coming technology and becoming aware of some of the new technology in the industry. The enterprise people tended to focus primarily on long term "migration planning," but a few had immediate "greenfield" implementations to take care of.
Educating the Enterprise Market About Business Communication
The enterprise market is obviously confused about IP telephony because it is not just about replacing TDM network infrastructures, but also about the impact of IP infrastructure and wireless connectivity on business process applications, communication devices and interfaces, and how business people will communicate multi-modally in the future. To add to the confusion, new challenges of security, privacy, and regulatory archiving are being added to the once simplistic use of telephony infrastructure. As a result, the industry providers are flooding the market with all forms of "educational" information to position themselves as knowledgeable and trusted providers for evolving IP-based business telecommunications.
As the ROI focus of enterprise organizations shifts from technology cost-reductions to improving business productivity through more flexible and efficient person-to- person communications and application-based, urgent information delivery, IT organizations face the dilemma of understanding and supporting the operational business processes that involve timely contacts with people. On the other hand, the operations people are not aware of the potential benefits that converged IP communications technologies can bring to their business procedures. So, guess what? We have a situation where the "blind are leading the blind!"
The technology headlines are full of suggestions for IT to "align" themselves with the business side of the house, in order to facilitate cross-education, but IT has to get educated about the technology first. That was the apparent objective for the IP.4.IT conference.
Unfortunately, however, many of the presentations only revealed the confusion that is rampant in the industry about where the technology is going beyond traditional telephony functions, and who the market should trust for implementing "future-proofed," converged communication technologies.
Another pet peeve about technology "shows" is that they tend to be overloaded with parallel program tracks that compete for the audience's time, trying to offer something for everyone, but really replicating many common issues.
With communication convergence, enterprise technology management is in "learning" mode, should be exposed to all perspectives of an issue, and made aware of everything that will interoperate and significantly impact their old silos of responsibility.
Moving to IP Telephony - Single Provider vs. "Best of Breed"
A conflict in session schedules prevented me from sitting in on a panel discussion of a particularly important issue that will affect every enterprise IP telephony decision.
Although confusingly labeled as "Cisco vs. the World" in a track called "Evaluate the Business Case and Architecture," it really focused on a fundamental question of how IP-based software interoperability will impact an enterprise's IP telephony migration strategy. It has to do with the new choices in providers for both communication applications and communication devices, compared to the proprietary TDM procurements of the past.
Enterprise telephony has traditionally been a proprietary technology that required a company to buy a complete voice communication system, including desktop digital station sets, that primarily supported manually initiated phone calls. Legacy voice mail system integrations with TDM PBXs, offered a "transmodal" conversion of a failed phone contact ("busy," "ring-no answer") into a voice message option, a "call back" from a voice mail message, as well as the limited "mailbox to mailbox" voice messaging between users on the same system or between networked voice mail systems. With IP convergence, telephony integrations will also include text messaging (email, Instant Messaging, SMS) as well as the familiar voice mail.
"Future-proofed" procurements, for both end-of-life replacements and "greenfield" telephone systems, start mostly with moving from TDM to IP-PBX based, with IP endpoints following close behind. That explains the landmark market tipping point claim this year, that more than 50% of enterprise line shipments were IP, even though the IP telephony "applications" are still mostly the same as before. New converged communication functionality, however, is still evolving technology-wise, and, based on market research, enterprise organizations are really not ready for those changes.
With the convergence of IP-based telephony and presence management, unified messaging, and multi- modal, mobile devices, the whole nature of the voice "telephone game" is being transformed and all the technology providers are strategically positioning themselves for the coming market transition to IP telecommunications. The challenge facing all enterprise organizations is to understand the operational implications of such change and start planning for their migration to convergence between IP-based telephony and multi-modal messaging communications. This will include making the strategic choice of technology provider(s) that can be trusted to make the move cost- effective, interoperable with current technologies, and, most importantly, "future-proof." Although "greenfield" implementations may not have legacy enterprise technology investments to integrate with, all the other requirements for "future-proofing" and migrating the organization will be just as critical.
The session moderator, Jake Star, CTO of consultancy Southport Communications, filled me in on this session and here are his highlights of the three panelists (Cisco, Avaya, and Juniper Networks):
- As, highlighted by the session title, Cisco wants to develop and supply everything, the network infrastructure, the IP telephony application solutions (servers), and wired end-point devices, but will also provide some of these pieces, if necessary. Architecturally, they also want to embed IP telephony application solutions within the network infrastructure servers that they dominate, rather than at the edges.
From a customer perspective, in the short term, this approach can minimize the complexities of integration for converged applications, but on the other hand, it also can create "lock-in" to a proprietary infrastructure. Cisco's security is "good enough," but not necessarily the best or the most flexible.
Industry analysts claim that enterprise TCO for technology support will average 25% less if all technology comes from a single provider, but TCO is not the only or the most important factor for enterprise ROI. Furthermore, a single developer source can hamper innovation flexibility and application "future-proofing."
- Avaya telephony applications are more seasoned and comprehensive than Cisco's, as far as flexibility and functionality are concerned, and easier to migrate to IP. Avaya is also aggressively partnering with new communication application developers, IP networking infrastructure providers, like Juniper, and mobile devices and services, to provide comprehensive solutions and migration flexibility for their large installed base. They now offer "one-stop" implementation management services for the enterprise market that has little or no in-house expertise for the dramatic changes in how people will communicate in the future.
- Juniper Networks is one of the partners that Avaya works with to supply the "best in class" IP networking for security and Quality of Service for Voice over IP networking. Their technology provides an incremental, flexible, migration to an IP network infrastructure that will support the full range of both TDM and IP telephony applications from Avaya and others. Their marketing strategy correctly lets new communication "applications" lead the way for network requirements, not the other way around.
- The session audience voiced a concern that all the vendors were focusing on technology development and ignoring the increasingly need for post-installation customer support ("Day 2 support") that is critical for communication convergence. This will be particularly aggravated by the increased complexities and customizations required by converged devices and user interfaces for specific business processes.
Star observed that, "Enterprise organizations need to first understand what their real business process requirements for communication applications are" before they can evaluate vendor offerings and the network infrastructure that will support those applications. "The data network staff typically ignores the fact that telephony is an 'application' that is going to be different for different people and different operational needs."
He also suggested that there is more money to be made from customer application support than from sales of infrastructure hardware or software and that the competitive benefits of hosted IP services are being offset by both poor administration and by "not being sold" effectively.
Finally, Star acknowledged that "one-stop shop" for IP telephony no longer means that all the software or hardware pieces have to be developed by a single proprietary provider, but they do have to be interoperable and supported by a single supplier, across all networks.
Other Conference Highlights:
The conference program competed for attendee's time with a variety of sessions focused primarily on IP-based telephony technologies. Much of "IP.4.IT" was about evolutionary directions, rather than finished software products ready for purchase and implementation, and, as such, the presentations talked about unresolved issues and futures. Here are a few notes from the sessions I attended.
- Although I believe that wireless mobility is one of the strongest drivers for multi-modal communications and presence management, there were only a few sessions that focused on the implications of IP for converging all forms of mobile contacts. That would include not only person-to-person communications, but also time- sensitive notifications and alerts. Motorola's keynote address highlighted the trend towards device-independent, "virtualized," and personalized contacts with people, as well the advent of automated "BAM" (Business Activity
Monitoring) that will lead to proactive contacts with people by business processes ("application buddies"). This will increase the challenge for enterprise users to dynamically control their contact availability for both business and personal priorities, especially if using a converged, mobile device.
- IP-based presence technology is the real key to the convergence and growth of all business communications with people, not just IP telephony.
It will make both desktop and mobile communications more flexible and efficient, both on premise, as well as off-campus through wireless carrier services. However, the technology is still evolving and not really ready for prime time.
- Identity management and authentication will become an even stronger need to support presence management for controlling person-to- person contacts, especially for real-time connections. Traditional caller ID is unreliable since it reflects a phone number/location and IP needs a valid form of contact initiation ID at the individual user level. Standards-based federation across domains and networks is another requirement that is still in the process of evolving for presence management. Standards like ENUM, for using PSTN phone numbers for web addressing, and SAML, Security Association Markup Language for sharing authentication information between servers, look most promising.
- There was much debate about the future of the industry in terms of services vs. traditional, CPE and who will be the winning providers. "PBX vendors are getting disaggregated because of wireless mobility," said one speaker. A whole panel discussed the future impact of Skype on business communications, although Skype did not participate because it claimed that "it was only focusing on the consumer services markets."
There was also the issue of Skype using a "non- standard" version of presence. vs. SIP, but it will interoperate with SIP and the PSTN, when necessary. However, Skype is not compliant with regulatory requirements yet and will start to get competition from Microsoft and Google.
- Other sessions discussing the coming benefits of using SIP-based presence and whether SIP is ready for prime time, highlighted the fact that it is far from being a finished standard, especially for time-critical contacts with people for notifications, questions, decision-making, and action follow-up.
Unlike the economic benefit of minimal production inventories of the familiar "just-in-time" manufacturing concept, there is little economic benefit in unnecessarily delaying contacts with people who are needed for a time-critical task.
However, IP communications with 2nd generation "group presence" management, can enable more efficient contact with or notifications to any "qualified" person who is most "available" at the moment. So, what happens when no one is immediately available?
- A session moderated by Joe Outlaw from Current Analysis gave testimony from two relatively small enterprise contact center operations about their migration to IP. Coincidentally, both users were motivated to transition to IP because of their outdated call center technologies ("brownfields") and wanted to deal with a single provider. Both happened to end up using Interactive Intelligence as a vendor of choice because that vendor offered to exploit the benefits of IP infrastructure to customize and deliver application flexibility.
According to one of the speakers, because they were "small," the big IIP telephony vendors "weren't too interested."
- The quest for a "perfect," converged IP communication system was discussed by a panel led by David Greenfield, Editor of CMP's IT Architect magazine. Key points noted were the need for complete device independence and interoperability, since there is no one perfect, multi-modal device for everyone both for the desktop or mobility, the many deficiencies of VoIP today in terms of complexities, reliability, integrations with business applications, and focus on individual users vs. a device, and lack of metrics and management tools for usage.
- ICE is evolving as the IETF standard solution for firewall security that will facilitate enterprise exploitation of web-based services.
- Richard Shockey, from Neustar, made a convincing pitch for the ENUM standard that would facilitate the transition and interoperability of the PSTN world of location-based telephony to the "virtual" world of multi-modal IP communications.
Bottom Line On Converged Communications - Industry Battle Lines
The battle for dominance of converged business telecommunications will encompass both hosted services and traditional CPE products, since both approaches can interoperate effectively in an IP environment. Traditional, distributed TDM telephony "CPE" (Customer Premise Equipment) is turning into centralized "CPS" (Customer Premise Software), but even that is changing.
Microsoft's reorganization to offer network-based subscription services for its software offerings is setting the stage for the enterprise IP telephony industry to do likewise. Free or very low-cost service providers like Skype and Google, are leveraging their penetration of the consumer markets to move into the enterprise business because end-users want easy-to-use "unified" devices and services.
Something Enterprise IT CAN Sink Its Teeth Into! - Avaya and Symbol's "Campus Mobility" Vertical Application Communication Devices
Wireless mobility is generating the increasing need for key enterprise personnel to be accessible to both people and business process applications for time-critical situations. Such key personnel are not what I would call "knowledge workers," but will include decision makers, authorizers, action implementers (e.g., field services), and various types of "experts" who must readily be able to communicate in real-time with other people. Wireless access to enterprise information will be also particularly practical for job responsibilities that require on-site roaming and where there is a need for both customized and secure application information delivery, and person- to-person contacts. Wi-Fi technology coupled with multi- modal, handheld devices, can now offer on-site mobile personnel the ability to work more responsively and efficiently, even when away from a desktop PC and phone, according to a new announcement by Avaya and Symbol Technologies.
Targeting health care and retail market segments for its initial applications, the Avaya and Symbol announcement also provides a cost-efficient way for enterprise IT management to support and control mobile devices for specific, localized on-site use anywhere within an enterprise network. The Symbol-developed (MC50) Enterprise Digital Assistant devices can be customized for a variety of mobile application-oriented information needs, in addition to business telephone contacts through an integrated Avaya softphone client. The joint announcement also highlighted the use of Symbol's Voice Quality Manager (VQM) resident software client and "sub-second" roaming handover by Symbol's centralized switching between enterprise Wi-Fi Access Points.
Unlike cell phones and expensive carrier services, the new CPE offering allows the enterprise to selectively support and manage mobile information access and voice communications on premise in the same way as their wired telephones and PCs on the desktop. Of course, with IP telephony and presence management, the potential for more "intelligent" and flexible, multi- modal communications is heightened. However, at this time, Avaya has not indicated any convergence of this Wi-Fi campus device approach with their "Extension-to- Cellular" strategy. This means that enterprise campus roamers may still require two mobile devices with a common business phone number, one for their on- premise mobile business applications and one for off- premise cellular access. (Stay tuned - Avaya is headed in the right direction!)
What Do You Think?
How ready is the technology for enterprise converged and mobile communications? How can an enterprise "futureproof" any technology it is forced to implement today ("greenfield," "brownfield")? How can the enterprise assess the converged communication needs of individual users and effectively support such needs off-premise?
What can service providers offer the large enterprise to support their needs for management control, security, and VoIP QoS? Where will the "productivity" metrics for converged communication applications come from?
Let us know your opinions by sending them to [email protected]
Listen to the Joint "Virtual" Panel Discussions of Enterprise Voice and Email Messaging Conferences
Sponsored by Avaya and Nortel, three of the joint panel discussions between the voice messaging IAMP and email Messaging Forum conferences were open to remote audience participants and speakers to participate with the conference attendees and more than doubled the size of the audience for those sessions. Participating providers on these virtual panels included Avaya, Nortel, Siemens, Microsoft, Cisco, Adomo, and IP Unity, They viewed all forms of enterprise messaging as increasingly significant elements of converged business telecommunications, requiring more seamless integration with telephony.
To hear the actual "virtual" panel discussions on unified mobility, presence, migration, and consolidated administration go to:
(It's too bad that some of the "IP.4.IT" sessions were not made available "virtually" in the same way; maybe next year?)