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February 2008 | Volume 11/ Number 2
Feature Articles

Unified Communications is on a Roll

By: Richard “Zippy” Grigonis

Despite the fact that no two people can agree on what it is exactly, Unified Communications (News - Alert) (UC) is rapidly being adopted by businesses everywhere. The simple, deskbound unified messaging systems of long ago have now given way to advanced solutions that enable the increasingly mobile workforce to take their services and PBX (News - Alert) functionality with them wherever they go.

Brian Beutler, CEO and founder of Alianza Global Communications Services (http://www.alianza.com), says, “Alianza provides the first hosted, fully-integrated IP-based unified communications platform — the PowerPlatform. It includes VoIP, hosted PBX, IVR, integrated messaging, conferencing, and much more. The PowerPlatform also enables Broadband Service Providers to launch private-labeled solutions in less than 30 days, with no capital expenditures.”

“In 2008, we are going to see Unified Communications applications adding more value to developing markets; so much so that I expect that the revenue from applications will continue to increase while revenue from the actual broadband service will decrease,” says Buetler.


“Moving forward in Unified Communications, we are not too far off from where web and voice mashups will flood the Internet,” continues Beutler. “We will be in a world of applications that will make our life easier, like clicking on a phone number listed on a website so that it immediately makes the call through your desktop phone without you having to dial.”

Defragging Your Business with UC

In the summer of 2007, Siemens (News - Alert) (http://www.siemens.com) commissioned Toronto’s Insignia Marketing Research (http://www.insigniaresearch.com) a full-service consultancy, to conduct a comprehensive online survey among 517 participants in the U.S., Canada and Europe, covering ten aspects of collaboration. The participants worked in customer-facing sales and service roles.

The survey revealed that an amazing 94 percent of participants are experiencing unacceptable times “waiting for information” from colleagues who weren’t available when needed. The average length of this delay, directly attributable to the use of disjointed communications systems, is 5.3 hours per week, resulting in an average annual cost of over US$9,000 per user. Moreover, business travelers estimated they spent 11 days during the previous year on unnecessary or avoidable business travel, itself an annual waste of at least US$3,400 per person. Lack of parity in communication services reduced the productivity by an average of 7.8 hours a month for respondents who reported spending at least 10 percent of their time working from remote locations. And 75 percent incurred incremental communication costs on up to 4 business trips within the last six months, with an average expense of US$186 per trip, resulting in an average annual cost of US$1,488 annually, per business traveler, in additional expenses for communications while traveling, on top of typical travel expenses.

Siemens’ solution to alleviate much of this is to resort to unified communications, which eliminates distance, complexity, and helps ensure that one person can immediately get in contact with another. Siemens’ own UC solution — OpenScape, is a major entry in the UC system category. It’s a multimodal real-time communications application suite that’s open, presence-aware and designed to quickly synchronize people and information to facilitate action or decision-making. With OpenScape you can now be reached via one number, and all of your messages can be retrieved and managed from a single inbox, regardless of media, device or location. It can help you contact any co-worker so you can reach them with the first phone call. Also, the system can start conference calls by calling the participants at their telephone of choice.

Grace Tiscareno-Sato, Global Marketing Manager for Siemens OpenScape, says, “You’ll also be seeing an increase in system integrators seeing the potential of UC as a new revenue stream, and so they’ll approach customers not just in terms of adding applications. They’ll be saying, ‘I can integrate UC capabilities into what you already have’. I read an article recently about Avaya (News - Alert) recruiting thousands of developers to do this. So eyes are opening all over the place. Whether you’re a system integrator, a vendor, or somebody who’s hosting applications, people understand that organizations that deploy unified communications directly into the applications they work with will achieve new competitive advantages. We’ll see more interesting case studies appearing. We’ve talked about these advanced functions for years, but now we’ll see the proof.”

The Buddy System

Hewlett-Packard (News - Alert) (http://www.hp.com), better known as HP, has an HP Services division that has entered the UC arena.

Jim O’Shea, Unified Communications Global Solution Lead, at HP Services, says, “We focus on the services aspect of UC. Unlike other people, our definition of UC includes collaboration. We felt that there was a collaboration area of interest and usability, and that includes web and video conferencing solutions, and a richer type of presence, such as the presence that you get with the Microsoft OCS (News - Alert) [Office Communications Server] integration. We use presence indicators such as ‘Am I on the phone or in a meeting?’ The system should automatically find me wherever I am. We were simply responding to customer needs. We also looked at the market, obviously. So we felt it was a viable business for us to get involved.”

“Our vision of UC allows us to leverage the customer’s existing investment in telecom equipment,” says O’Shea. “So we developed an Assessment Strategy and Architecture service which is at our core. Then we developed different areas, and one of these was ‘Migration to IP Solutions’. This is all about IP telephony, VoIP, PBX replacements and/or upgrades. With it you can make all the new stuff work along with network upgrades.”

“Then we decided to make it possible to bring in the business functions and integrate them,” says O’Shea. “We call that ‘Integrated Business Solutions’. That ties together the front-end and back-end business processes. And of course, HP is very good at support services. We support what we build and sell. We’ve been doing that for years.”

“Because of the broad nature of the industry and the size of HP, HP Services has as strategic partners Microsoft and Cisco (News - Alert),” says O’Shea. “Both have different UC solutions; they approach it from different angles, but we’re very adept in working with both these companies’ technologies. Our partnership strategy not only involves our strategic partners Cisco and Microsoft but also local partners as needed. By ‘local partners as needed’ I mean that every region in the world — sometimes every country — will have a different set of predominant local partners. Customers in a region have certain needs, and specific vendors often enjoy a local predominance and that drives decisions. So we have multiple partners in each area. But of course you always have your big names such as Avaya, Nortel (News - Alert), Ericsson, which are strong names in UC that we can support.”

Kunal Ganju, Unified Communications Sales and Delivery Enablement Lead, HP Services, adds, “Cisco and Microsoft both tell the world independently that each has the correct way to achieve UC, which is expected. The role that HP plays is to come and try to be the integrator of choice between Cisco and Microsoft. We have a surprisingly large number of clients who have invested in both Cisco and Microsoft technology and they often struggle to integrate their respective platforms. That’s where we believe we can play a fairly significant role, because we are platform/technology agnostic.”

“Among the advantages we bring to the table is the fact that HP was the first Global Gold Certified Partner with Cisco,” says Ganju. “We’re also a prime integrator for Microsoft across the world. We have a large number of professionals that are both trained and certified on Microsoft and Cisco. In the case of Microsoft I would guess that the numbers are about 30,000 people; with Cisco it would be about 7,000 people. So we have the proper backing and people trained in these technologies.”

“Our other investment we’ve made involves ensuring that a person working on Microsoft in the UC space should also be trained on what Cisco offers,” says Ganju. “That training shouldn’t necessarily be to the degree where they can completely deliver a Cisco solution, but just being able to understand how the integration works and to pull in the other technology when required.”

“So we believe that what we do in the partnership space is a key differentiator for us,” beams Ganju.

“There’s a university hospital called St. Olaf’s in Norway,” says Ganju. “When the hospital was rebuilding itself, they decided to use advanced communications technology as a foundation for the entire organization. This was exciting because they wanted to build things up from scratch, not just add something to a pre-existing infrastructure. We worked with St. Olaf’s in conjunction with Cisco, and what we’ve done is quite interesting. Now things such as patient registration and patient information access occur on various computer terminals, handhelds and computer screens available in the patient’s room. Right from the time when a person enters the hospital they’re greeted by a touch screen where they can learn more about various illnesses and they can also find the right doctor and things like that. It’s a fairly new concept in the hospital space. Technology is even used to rush samples from the point of sampling to the lab. Medicines are also moved around between departments in the hospital using robotics.”

“Since St. Olaf’s is a university hospital, the limitation of having a certain number of students watching a surgery has been done away with, because we have installed advanced videoconferencing where students sitting in class can watch live surgery,” says Ganju. “So the kind of work we’ve done with St. Olaf’s is an ideal ‘end state’ where we all want to get to. Ideally we want to deliver these kinds of advanced integrated business solutions to all our clients, but of course different companies are at different stages in terms of adopting this technology. We view UC as being a journey, not just a destination. Our idea is to help our clients start from wherever they are and take them forward to whatever end state they’ve determined is good for them.”

Beyond Personal Productivity

Cistera Networks (News - Alert) (http://web.cistera.com) offers the Cistera 1.6 IP communications application platform, which provides a single interface into and out of Cisco’s Call Manager and Call Manager Express and can seamlessly integrate multiple application engines running on Cistera’s own ConvergenceServer. Cisteria’s application engines include 1) event alerting and notification engines, 2) quality assurance and compliance engines, and 3) communications and collaboration engines.

Greg Royal (News - Alert), CTO and Executive VP of Cistera, says, “We didn’t come from the TDM world — we started in IP Communications, first specifically creating solutions involving Cisco’s Call Manager, which is one of the more open IP telephony platforms out there. We then progressed to dealing with somewhat more traditional systems, such as Nortel’s CS1000 platform, which is a server-based IP PBX that has many features and supports unified messaging, customer contact centers, IVR, wireless VoIP and IP phones. Recently, we’ve added support for hosted environments, specifically for Sylantro’s Synergy server that’s IP telephony-centric, and is now an IMS application feature server too.”

“We work in three core areas of telephony applications,” says Royal. “First is event alerting and notification systems. Our technology binds different IP-enabled devices together to create large-scale notifications solutions. Our second area is quality assurance and compliance involving recording and monitoring systems. We have products that work in the traditional area of recording and monitoring for contact centers, and we mostly support Cisco’s IPCC [IP Contact Center] product. These things have been around for a while, but IP communications have created the ‘glue’ to pin all of these supposedly disparate technologies together into a unified platform for our customers.”

“Our third area is unified communications,” Royal continues. “Our system sits in the middle of the various UC products. It’s easiest for me to talk about Cisco, but what I say equally applies to Avaya, Nortel and others. We create some components that support using the ‘base’ UC products such as Presence Server, Conferencing, Voicemail, and the IP telephony platform itself to create some compelling applications around ‘teaming’ which is a term we use. For example, we have a university customer that generates specific responses based upon activities that occur on the campus. In the event of an emergency, they have the ability to build conferences on the fly. Basically their system dials out looking for people, reaching out to IP phones, two-way radios, cell phones, analog phones and even IM, as it tries to find people and bring them into the conferences in real time. We call that our Team-based Services for Unified Communications.”

“Our criticism with UC is that there’s been an overt preoccupation with personal productivity tools,” remarks Royal. “Microsoft, Cisco and everybody else is out there selling tools such as click-to-talk and unified messaging, integrated directories and things like that, which coalesce around both the desktop and what we call the ‘mobile worker’ or ‘intelligent worker’ infrastructure. Although there’s been a lot of interest generated in personal productivity tools and the “Communicator” products from Microsoft, Cisco and others, people are actually sinking their money into things that help improve their business flow in terms of communications. We have cities large and small that use our notification systems and our UC products and combine them into their existing conferencing capabilities.”

“So what we’re seeing is that there’s a gap between what developments are occurring in communication and what’s really needed to deal with the campus or in terms of public safety,” says Royal. “Take an oil spill or an earthquake as examples. We see that organizations are taking a leap and codifying particular processes to deal with such things in their communications platforms. We’ve had a lot of success in resolving that particular piece of the puzzle, and taking components such as a Cisco or Nortel conferencing system and combining all of them together into something that can handle a particular business process. We’re seeing more traction on that rather than personal productivity.”

UC in the Contact Center

Contact centers rely on many ‘channels’ of communication with customers, and so it’s not surprising that UC has an impact there as well. Recently, Aspect Software (News - Alert) (http://www.aspect.com) the world’s largest company solely focused on contact center technology, announced availability of Aspect Unified IP 6.5.1, a Session Initiation Protocol (News - Alert) (SIP)-based VoIP unified contact center solution that provides Automatic Call Distribution (ACD), voice portal capabilities, predictive dialing, Internet contact, workflow management, multichannel recording and quality management for customer service, collections and sales and telemarketing business processes. Aspect Unified IP 6.5.1 now leverages server virtualization via VMware, and in 1Q 2008 users will be able to leverage the real-time reporting capabilities of Aspect’s Unified Command and Control module for consolidated real-time reporting across multiple sites and apps through a friendly, graphical display.

Mike Sheridan, Aspect’s Senior VP of Strategy and Marketing, says, “Contact centers straddle the line between IT and operations, probably more so than any other kind of application sale in the enterprise. Unified communications is another kind of ‘straddling’ technology and it would appear to be something that the contact center might be able to either influence or leverage in some way. The approach that we’ve taken in these early days is, as much as anything, educational in nature for our typical buyers.”

“Contact center managers and executives largely don’t have a notion of what UC is all about,” says Sheridan. “That will change, especially in the light of things such as Microsoft’s big UC launch back in October 2007 and the subsequent buzz that occurred as a result. Furthermore, I never thought I’d see TV ads about unified communications, but Cisco, for example, is promoting UC in the mass media. So UC will do more than just impinge on the world’s CIOs and their staffs. UC is going to impact the contact center, and that’s a good thing. From our perspective, Microsoft, Cisco, IBM (News - Alert) and the rest have really been looking and promoting UC as a tool to improve productivity of the ‘intra-enterprise’. For example, I and my colleagues could create a presentation for you in a much more rapid fashion, taking advantage of each other’s presence and using Office Communicator to call one another, and taking advantage of Live Meeting so we could whiteboard ideas. That’s typically the way we’ve seen UC promoted. But this scenario leaves people scratching their heads and asking, ‘How do I quantify the ROI for my CFO?’”

You could say, ‘We’re going to be able to put together that presentation 50 percent faster than we could before.’ But in reality the enterprise CFO will look at it and say, ‘Those are ‘sunk costs’ — costs that have been incurred and which cannot be recovered to any significant degree — and soft costs at that. How does it impact my bottom line?’ You can extrapolate your way from there, but you have to jump through a couple of hoops to get to a reasonable explanation,” says Sheridan.

“We would say, ‘Think about how UC might improve your customer interactions, both helping to sell more to customers, helping you improve your service with customers, and helping collect money more quickly from them.’ That’s the way we see most contact center interactions — a sales, service or collections interaction,” says Sheridan. “Your marketing group, legal group, financial group and product groups must be able to address those inquiries more quickly and on the first try. If there’s a way to go about doing that, then you can show ROI around improved sales, better/quicker closing rates, more upsells, faster collections and all-around improved customer service.”

“Technology-wise, UC is really taking advantage of the structure that contact centers have always brought to communications: How do you report on it? Where do you deliver this call? How do you queue it until it’s delivered? And how do you extend it with such things as OCS 2007 or what Lotus provides, and be able to take advantage of the presence that those offer? Part of it involves considering the people in the back office, and the knowledge workers who have always been a part of some set of contact center interactions, and doing this in a more structured way,” concludes Sheridan.

Moore’s Law Helps

Dialogic (News - Alert) (http://www.dialogic.com) is the legendary computer telephony board and software vendor that paved the way for modern telecom platforms. Not long ago it acquired Cantata (itself formerly Brooktrout and Excel Switching).

Dialogic’s Bud Walder (News - Alert), Enterprise Marketing Manager, says, “We’re in close alignment with Microsoft in terms of their 2006 rollout of Exchange server with unified messaging and, more importantly, with their OCS introduction in 2007. We’re worked with Microsoft for over 10 years in different areas of communications, but never more closely than now. In a lot of ways what we see happening here is very much fulfillment of the disruptive innovator aspects of the computer telephony industry as it was envisioned in the late 1980s and 1990s. In those days we were pushing for open standards and multimedia communications delivered on standard compute platforms. Certainly we enjoyed a lot of success with that and Dialogic having been drawn into Intel (News - Alert) was part of Intel’s drive to make that happen too, whether for service providers or enterprises. They looked to take what were fairly siloed systems and create more of an application play on standard platforms.”

“We’ve been working our way around the block to achieve this vision and I think in a lot of ways the UC movement, Microsoft as a software provider coming into this space and IBM too, for that matter, are really bringing about the final fulfillment of this,” says Walder. “Other things are also coming into alignment here such as the ultimate decline and disappearance of traditional PSTN connections. The network interfaces of telephony are in decline, while SIP is emerging is the standard VoIP and multimedia signaling protocol.”

“The constant march of Moore’s Law enables us to deliver more and better things such as advanced transcoding, and the ability to handle all of the different media types necessary to serve the modern world: everything from simple play-and-record functionality to complex, enhanced audio and video conferencing, all to be done in software without a lot of specialized hardware,” says Walder. “Apps can immediately take advantage of dual core/multi-core processors on a standard platform. We’re introducing software that will run up to 1,000 channels on a standard 1U-high rackmount server without any specialized DSPs. It’s amazing what you can do these days.”

Easing the Pain of Application Management

One of the more farsighted companies in telecom, Ensim (News - Alert) (http://www.ensim.com) offers solutions for both service providers and the enterprise. Their Ensim Unify Enterprise Edition is a systems management software solution for mission-critical applications, available for Microsoft Active Directory, Exchange 2003 / 2007, and the BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES). Unify provides automated provisioning, accelerated change management, mobile and client device configuration and support, delegated administration, and resource optimization, all via a web portal.

François Depayras, Ensim’s Vice President of Marketing, says, “We’re basically a management center for unified communications applications, usually delivered by a service provider on a shared basis and we’ve recently released a product for the enterprise to be used internally. Right now we’re focusing on Active Directory, Microsoft Exchange, the BlackBerry (News - Alert), and we’re integrating everything with Microsoft’s OCS and its UC capabilities, in early 2008. Much of this functionality appears in our vision of a shared infrastructure.”

“We’ve seen various things happening in the industry,” says Depayras. “First, there’s tremendous customer interest in Exchange 2007’s capabilities, specifically the unified messaging and unified communications capabilities, especially when you combine them with Microsoft OCS. There’s been interest in this by both enterprises and our service provider customers.”

“We’ve also discovered that medium-sized to large enterprises are very interested in outsourcing the management of some of their applications to third parties,” says Depayras. “But companies have a mixture of things in their infrastructure. That’s where we come in and help them manage everything under a single management ‘control panel’, if you will. So we’re seeing this as the future of the enterprise: the ability to mix-and-match not so much the applications per se, but the system of delivery of the applications.”

“Another thing, which is no surprise, is that the growth of UC at this point is fairly straightforward and obvious,” says Depayras. “Everybody is very interested in it. The gains in productivity are pretty straightforward. One big issue is that all of the various ISV applications for UC really focus on what sells, and what sells are end-user features. In terms managing these applications, this is often left to a complex methodology where the IT administrator must use a command line interface or a number of different tools to, say, provision a single user. Figuring out how to relieve the pain of the IT administrator is becoming important, especially in light of the existing workload that they have and that adding new applications creates more pain in terms of managing and providing such things as help desk capabilities to end users and so forth.”

The Service Provider Alternative

Many smaller enterprises and even some medium-sized ones can’t be bothered with maintaining their own UC system.

Harprit Singh is the Founder, President, and CEO of Intellicomm Inc. (http://www.intellicomm.com) an enhanced communications service provider. Intellicomm is the developer of Innoport (http://www.Innoport.com) a mobility-enhancing unified communications service.

“Historically, UC has had its genesis in unified messaging, and that’s what we started with,” says Singh, “providing such things as fax-to-email, voicemail-to-email services, and so forth. To us much of what’s happening is related to virtual phone services, where you can have a virtual phone and incoming calls can be routed anywhere you want. This includes find-me/follow-me, and a whole host of services and features, such as call screening and all of the ‘good stuff’.”

“Our direction is in sync with what’s happening with software - the service model,” says Singh. “We’re more focused on communications as a service model, where people use unified communications services, through a provider which essentially manages the services for them. It’s different than some of the noise you hear in the marketplace about UC, which is more related to integrating your customer premise equipment and making that a UC system. Many enterprises focus on that, and a lot of the large players who have recently entered the UC space are talking along those lines too. But our belief is that there’s a huge market in providing these communications using a service provider model. That’s what we focus on. Not a service provider in the traditional sense, but as mostly geared directly to the customers, so they can simply go to our website, sign up, and start using our services immediately.”

“It’s especially important for small enterprises simply because it gives them a very affordable and convenient entry point into the space of UC,” says Singh. “It’s still very new. When we speak about UC, people ask us what it means. Our fundamental definition of UC is one in which a service or a product can integrate multiple channels of communications, of which any don’t necessarily need to be defined and set in stone at any given point. If you’re communicating on multiple channels, and if a service or a product can integrate them and make your life simple, then that’s essentially what UC is. Over time we’ve seen the transition from unified messaging to UC but we still have a ways to go in terms of how things can best be integrated from a communications standpoint. Part of the reason for that is that new options keep popping up: instant messaging, text messaging, video, and so forth.” IT

Richard Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC’s IP Communications Group.

» Internet Telephony Magazine Table of Contents



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