Happy New Year, we hope!
The old visions of converged, “unified” communications from the mid-1990’s were hampered by the fact that “voice” technology infrastructure was different from the “data” infrastructure that could exploit the open flexibility of the public Internet for email and now real-time text messaging (Instant Messaging). The benefits of timely communication contact were also limited by traditional wired connections and the tremendous growth of cellular devices and services has expanded the possibilities for individual user accessibility and responsiveness.
Getting From Here to There!
The mad rush that is now taking place by both enterprise telecommunications providers and carriers to offer new telephony products and service using cost-efficient Internet Protocol networks (VoIP) means three important things to the enterprise organization:
That old vision of “unified” communications can now become very real and even more practical now that “voice” will also be data and all telephony features and functions will be provided through software on standard network servers and communication device clients.
Organizations with legacy telephony technologies have the onus of “migrating” to the new IP infrastructure environment to exploit the benefits of converged communications that end users will appreciate. This may be done gracefully through “gateways” that allow the old and new to interoperate or through complete forklift replacements. Either way, this is going to take careful planning, time and money.
Person-to-person communications must be converged and viewed multi-modally at the application interface level, where the individual user is not tied to a location, and where the modality of any contact is dynamically flexible and based upon the availability, devices and circumstances of the communicating parties. This also means that although there will be a variety of personalized communication devices that will be deployed by individual users, they must all be interoperable across all wired and wireless networks and modalities.
2004 was the turning point for acceptance by the markets of voice as network data (VoIP) and telephony switching based upon Internet Protocols (IP Telephony). Although the initial attraction for both consumer telephone service and enterprise CPE was lower costs, simply replacing current telephone systems that still work with VoIP and IPT technologies that do the same old things has not shifted the investment life cycles of the installed enterprise markets. Typically, companies with new installations and other “ greenfield” situations have been making the first IPT moves.
What Is The Enterprise Market Doing?
On the other hand, our market survey of enterprise telecommunications management showed that 2004 was the year that serious planning and/or implementations for the inevitable migration to converged communication applications was taking place in more than 50% of the enterprises surveyed. Such planning included more than replacing the voice and telephony components and included all end user functional needs for converged, multi-modal communications or what we have called “unified communications.” Such capabilities would have to support unified messaging, multi-modal wired and wireless communication devices at the desktop and the palmtop, “instant” multi-point conferencing, and customer-facing contacts.
Where Are the End Users?
One troubling finding from our survey was that enterprise end users were not yet a major factor in the migration planning effort. This was reflected in the fact that there was little awareness by end users for any of the capabilities that converged communication applications can offer, and, therefore, little demand for such benefits. This may simply reflect that fact that there has been mostly “all talk and no action” in the marketplace and until end users experience the benefits first-hand, e.g., through consumer services, there will be little understanding.
While our research showed that the primary champions of technology convergence were IT technology managers, the negative implication is that enterprise executive management, who are key to final decision-making, are still lagging in their understanding and support.
The Trauma of Migration for Enterprise Organizations
So we see 2005 as being the year that the provider industry can realistically offer products and services to support communications convergence and that the enterprise markets will increase their migration activities. However, there is always trauma associated with drastic change and enterprise organizations will have to face new challenges that they have little or no experience with. When it comes to communication between people, you have look beyond just traffic capacities and infrastructure and understand what features and functions will improve personal communication efficiencies and task performance effectiveness.
Enterprise migration planning has to “take it from the top.” This includes:
- Understanding the old and new operational communications needs of end users within the context of a converged environment and new communication devices
- Determining the value of new communication benefits to different groups of end users and subsequently to the enterprise ROI
- Reorganizing and consolidate technology management organizations to efficiently support end users with converged service needs and communication devices, rather than the traditional “silos” of voice and data
- Planning a cost-effective migration strategy that will enable a graceful transition from the old to the new ways that people will communicate for business
- Procuring the necessary software tools that will enable the enterprise to manage the effective usage of the new capabilities that converged and mobile communications technologies will offer
Understanding the Future
Until an enterprise has made a reasonable dent in understanding its future needs in all of these areas, there is no way that management will jump in blindly with major procurements. That is why we keep hearing about enterprise “pilot” activity for selective locations, departments or work groups, so that enterprise management, both technical and operational, can learn more about all of the above. It is also another reason why the technology providers have established major consulting services, because their customers don’t have any experience with what is coming down the pike.
It’s not just a problem of forecasting expected communication traffic activity and configuring network and server capacities, because simply combining the old disparate modalities of person-to-person communication is not what convergence is all about. The simplistic approach for just VoIP network resource planning has typically been to figure out what shared LAN capacity is needed to support both information application traffic and VoIP traffic to insure adequate Quality of Service (QoS). (A safer approach will use dedicated network resources for VoIP, rather than try to share LAN resources before you learn from experience what you really need.)
What is more challenging for planning of multi-modal convergence is that one must look at the total end user communication activity, i.e., as both contact initiators and recipients, and for contacts both within the enterprise and outside the enterprise. Throw in wireless mobility, and all your traditional wired telephony traffic statistics can go out the window, e.g., “three out of four phone calls don’t reach the intended party.”
There is no good way to guess about the changes that converged communications will bring to the way people will communicate and the system resources they will require, and there are no valid “best practices” (yet) that will provide answers to the individual enterprise. Therefore, it is time to learn by doing, i.e., start doing “pilots” within your own environments.
Security and Personal Communications
Life was simple in the old TDM days of telephony. Telephony security meant only worrying about wiretapping, a cumbersome procedure at best, and for the government “spooks,” using special phones that encrypted voice conversations end-to-end. All that is changing for the converged VoIP environment as all the garbage of the Internet, along with the exposure of wireless networks, combine to create huge new threats for all forms of communication. There is not only the fear of unauthorized access to enterprise calls and messages, stored or on the fly, but also the fear of malicious corruption of network communication servers, denial of service attacks, and good old “spam” that could include phone calls of all kinds.
While security is basically viewed as a network management responsibility involving firewalls, access authentication, etc., we read daily about the flaws in email server software that enable malware to wreak havoc with users. IP Telephony and IP voicemail may now join enterprise network applications that are always at risk. Our market research showed that security of IP Telephony was the most important concern of enterprise technology management, and may be delaying many migration plans.
A Word About Customer Communication Contacts
One of the most important “applications for converged communications is the communications with customers, traditionally known as the enterprise “call center,” but now the multi-modal “contact center” (or “interaction center,” to highlight the role of self-service IVR or online applications). This is the prime enterprise technology target for revenue-generating activity, as opposed to increasing internal staff “productivity” or simply reducing communication costs.
The demand for greater communication flexibility, including what I have labeled “transmodal” communication, will grow by virtue of the fact that consumers are increasingly exploiting the power of the Web to get shopping and product information, rather than using the traditional telephone yellow pages, or responding by phone to sales promotions on radio and TV. Shopping online is an ideal jumping-off point for “transmodal” contacts with enterprise live assistance, moving from self-service to text chat to a low-cost (VoIP) conversation connection (and back!).
Consumer wireless mobility is another driver for converged communications with customers, particularly when mobile customers initiate contacts from a handheld device that will be multi-modal, or when application services must deliver time-sensitive alerts to individual mobile subscribers.
The implications of convergence for the contact center applications go well beyond the lower costs of using VoIP networking for distributed locations or home agents, but that will be a subject for a future discussion on its own.
Enterprise Management Challenges for 2005
Rather than speculate about what will happen in the market and what new technology products will become available in the coming year, I would simply like to leave with some soul-searching questions that enterprise management should already have been asking to prepare for the future. If you can’t find good answers within your organization, its time to get professional help.
- When do we have to start migrating towards converged multi-modal communication applications and why?
- How do we converge all our current communications technology resources (telephony, messaging) to plan and support unified communications? Whom do we put in charge?
- How do we acquire the necessary internal expertise required to plan and support the new infrastructure and applications technologies?
- How do we find out what operational functionality our user groups really need from converged communications technologies?
- Do we really need to replace all the desktop telephone sets to exploit new capabilities like presence management and screen interfaces?
- What is convergence going to cost and how can we quantify the value of future operational benefits?
- Which capabilities and which user groups will be best for “pilot” testing?
- How do we educate and prepare our end users for the future communications environment?
- Which providers can best help us plan and implement a cost-effective migration towards converged communication?
What Do You Think?
Do you agree with what we say about the migration challenges that enterprises will face? Who do you think will be in charge of migration planning and implementation within the enterprise? What responsibilities will telecommunication management have in a converged environment and what new skills will they require? Who will be responsible for supporting converged communication devices for end users? How long will a “graceful” migration typically take? Who will provide the better support for IP Telephony, the data network providers, the new generation of IP Telephony providers, or the traditional telecommunications providers who have already migrated their products to VoIP and IPT?
Let us know your opinions by sending them to [email protected]
Upcoming Conferences Including “Transmodal Communication”
Since writing our articles on “transmodal communication,” we have been asked to participate in a couple of conferences that are focused on converged communications and were interested in bringing the perspectives that the term “transmodal” can bring to traditional person-to-person communications.
Open Group Messaging Forum Conference and Web Teleconference, January 27, 2005
The first upcoming conference is sponsored by the Messaging Forum of the Open Group, which used to be called the Electronic Messaging Association (EMA). The conference will take place January 27, 2005, in San Francisco, and will highlight a “virtual,” web-based teleconference session for enterprise telecommunications managers to hear leading providers of IP-Telephony applications (including Avaya, Nortel, and Siemens) and experienced enterprise users discuss the migration of IP Telephony into a converged messaging environment.
Joining the email-oriented conference attendees will be a “virtual” audience from the voicemail-oriented International Association of Messaging Professionals (IAMP). Further details on the conference program and how other enterprise users can attend the “virtual” session can be obtained by going to the Open Group’s web site at:
IIR Conference on New VoIP-based Services for Enterprises and Consumers, April 25-27, 2005, Scottsdale, AZ
A second conference in April, primarily for carriers and service providers, is being produced by IIR USA. Under the catchall label of “The VoIP Summit,” this conference will be discussing both the consumer and enterprise market requirements and opportunities for IP network-based service providers. I will be organizing a session that will discuss practical issues with new communication services for enterprise end users, such as “one-number” services. Such services may now interwork in complementary ways with wired and wireless unified communication technology within the enterprise to selectively support a variety of end user needs.
For a preliminary program and further details, you can visit IIR USA’s web site at:
White Paper Report: Progress and Direction of Enterprise Migration to Converged Communications
The Unified-View white paper report on the state of the industry and the enterprise market for communications convergence is still available. Entitled “Beyond VoIP: Enterprise Perspectives on Migrating to Multi-modal Communications and Wireless Mobility,” the report was sponsored by the non-profit Unified Communications Consortium and leading providers of enterprise voice telecommunications technologies, including Alcatel, Avaya, Mitel, Nortel Networks and Siemens.
This objective report summarizes the current availability of key converged voice application technology from the provider industry, as well as a realistic assessment of the progress that enterprise organizations are making in migrating to communications convergence. The latter information is based on recent market studies of enterprise organizations from a converged usage perspective. The study provides practical feedback on the readiness of the market for the new IP-based voice technologies.
For a free copy of the new report, go to www.unified-view.com
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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