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November 21, 2007

Converged Communications User Bill of Rights Gaining Momentum

By TMCnet Special Guest

Kerry Shih, founder and chief strategist for Communicado (News - Alert), outlines his ideas on the User Bill of Rights.

The User Bill of Rights is something that’s needed by everyone involved in combining data and voice (and with increasing frequency video and presence) on IP Networks to deliver the benefits of unified communications to the end customer who is adopting the infrastructure that gives them new productivity and mobility benefits; and the system integrator/service provider that is selling infrastructure to this end customer.

The customer wants to have a trusted partner to help manage or fully manage this piece of the infrastructure, which is getting more ambitious and complex with the impact of Microsoft’s Unified Communications (News - Alert) initiative and others that are driving uptake of the technology. The customer and the technology integrator both need a clear definition of boundaries and responsibilities when it comes to providing this management of converged communication as a service.

Management as a service clearly predates converged communications, for example in desktop management of virus protection and application configuration and the like. But converged communications management is different in that it is not focused on automating maintenance but rather involves real-time person-to-person applications with the resultant high and instant visibility to users of any problems or issues. The applications are actually quite complex, and thus management of them requires more planning and a deeper visibility and understanding than managing the previous generation of data applications.

Infotech has the service industry surrounding converged communications going from 500 million to 2 billion over the next 3 years, and that kind of growth makes sense given it matches the explosive growth in adoption of IP telephony. But users don’t know what they should expect in benefits from converged communications in terms of availability, security and its relative usefulness. At the same time the systems integrators who are deploying 80+ percent of this gear don’t have clear guidance on what service to deliver nor a clear path on how best to deliver value to their customer.

Consequently, I believe the appetite is there for service to go from 500 million to 2 billion, but without guidance it will be unmet. How is that demand to be satisfied if no one knows what the customers want and the customers know neither what they deserve nor what they should have to pay to get it?

To that end, we’ve done a first draft of the User Bill of Rights in conjunction with our customers, partners, analysts and the like, positing that the world will be  better if customers knew what to expect and if partners knew what things were valuable to deliver. The economies of scale need to meet a sensible price point. Users might ask for a hundred different things, but when the rubber meets the road they’ll be willing to pay for only the 10 that are most material and useful. We can’t expect to succeed if resellers are off building 1000 different solutions for different customers, which would limit everyone’s ability to understand which services are really the key core services to deliver.   Based on that notion, the Bill of Rights is aimed at defining what users’ true needs are, what their expectations are, and therefore what their rights are.   Further, we expect to be one of several vendors enabling service providers to be able to provide those things and only those things, to everyone's benefit.

The Bill of RIghts is Required to Satisfy the Promise

Converged communications is one of the first pieces of infrastructure where management is one of the reasons to take on that piece of infrastructure in the first place, meaning IP telephony is supposed to reduce your total cost of ownership. But if you do not manage it well, if you have sporadic problems that bury your IT team, if you have to bring in consultants to fix problems, if you have to throw hardware at the problem by buying routers or if you have to buy bandwidth, you can negate the cost benefits promised on the front end.

Again, it’s very complex, and a large part of the midmarket will want to have someone else do this for them. For the end customer it’s about support, and availability, and reliability and security.

Management as a Service recognizes the reality that the task goes beyond systems management tools to encompass human skills in the form of technicians, and process, and even ramp-up time. If I’m going to adopt a piece of infrastructure and manage it myself, I know I’m going to have to buy tools, and it’s going to involve half a tech or 1.5 techs or some other allocation on a continuing basis, and I know it’s going to take time for those techs to come up to speed on the use of those tools in an IT process that’s supposed to among other things elevate availability. As anyone knows, that ramp up can take too long, be too painful, you might not have those techs available, you have insufficient budget, ect. 

What Price the Bill of Rights?

The bill of rights doesn’t specifically talk about “the price for this level of service should be here” and “this higher level of service should be this much in addition.” Our company, Communicado (News - Alert), has an initiative to enable service providers to satisfy the bill of rights to at least a certain extent in the form of a service, and we have our price points and there’s a reason behind that. In our view, there’s a value curve that starts at automated monitoring, and it goes all the way up to business continuity and even to the consultative level. That curve matches the increasing value delivered and suggests what the relative price should be for various levels. But while the bill of rights focuses on the need for service levels and guarantees. It’s not asserting any specific values. It’s not saying that problems have to be fixed in 5 minutes or 5 hours. Choose your level, and if that level has a higher cost associated with it, you must justify the cost/value ratio on a business basis. Whatever the cost, we think it should be baked into one monthly expense because that’s clean and simple for customers.

And we’d like to note that all of this can be done sans technology designed specifically to solve this problem, ours or anyone else’s. Indeed, there are some reseller organizations that solve the problem with brute force for a few favorite customers. But to enable a large number of service providers to fulfill 2 billion dollars of demand for management as a service of converged communications, it all has to scale and to scale it you have to rely on technology that can deliver on those promises efficiently.

Frankly, even the lower levels require not just tools but also human expertise. A human lens needs to be applied to the incoming queue of events. Something as complex as troubleshooting a real time “quality” problem as experienced by an end user in a multisite environment composed of gear from multiple network infrastructure providers plus different carrier environments and tons of different servers is not likely to be automatically tracked back to being one phone’s fault. To be able to step up to a guaranteed time to fix something so complex is going to take not only an advanced set of tools and visibility but established processes and expertise. Other functions like assessment, Moves/Adds/Changes, and business continuity also require the right combination of tools, remote access technology, and human expertise.

Bill of Rights Drives the Bottom Line

We believe all of this value can be provided at price points far lower than the customer would have to spend to do it themselves, both in soft and hard costs, while creating the kind of margins and revenue that moves every VAR who sells this hardware to become a service provider. That’s the only way we’re going to be able to move as much of the hardware as analysts have forecast and the only way the industry will be able to fulfill this demand for service.

Kerry Shih (News - Alert), founder and chief strategist for Communicado., a provider of solutions for managing converged voice/data communications networks that carry real-time, person-to-person business communications, outlines his User Bill of Rights.

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