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Arthur M. Rosenberg

[June 28, 2004]


By Art Rosenberg

Migrating Convergence Through Telecommunications User Groups

The challenges of enterprise migration towards communications convergence and unified communications have not yet found an objective venue for telecommunications managers where user organizations can share their experiences and issues in understanding, planning and selectively implementing next-generation, presence-based, multi-modal communications. Ever since the now-defunct, non-profit Electronic Messaging Association (EMA) (news - alert) missed its early opportunity to move its enterprise membership beyond messaging into convergence with telephony, technology managers never had an opportunity to leave their traditional organizational silos. Since it is becoming painfully obvious that IP-based convergence will require supporting end user needs in new and converged ways, telecommunications managers are being forced to realign themselves to new and different responsibilities.

IP data network managers acknowledge the need to understand and support voice transport with Quality of Service (news - alert) management and security facilities, but they don’t really go into the functional “application” level for multi-modal communications. Now that voice is becoming “data,” what is becoming logically practical, is for traditional enterprise voice communications management to merge their responsibilities with all forms of text-based messaging, including e-mail management. The big challenge for every organization, therefore, is how to selectively and “gracefully” migrate their users from legacy telephone and e-mail usage to the new functionalities of converged, multi-modal telecommunications.

The traditional voice telecommunications providers have started to deliver flexible, SIP-based (define - news - alert) convergence technology solutions to help their customers make the transition. This is becoming a matter of survival for them in order to first retain their existing installed customer base, and then gain new “greenfield” business. However, the enterprise migration problem is one of re-education and practical implementation guidance, rather than simply selling replacement technology components. To this end, telecommunication user group associations are starting to become the primary battlefields for the leading providers to sell their visions of communication convergence and a channel for objective re-education and migration support of their existing customers.

Siemens User Group Helping Enterprise Migration

This year’s annual conference of Siemens customers showed an increase of over 15% in attendance, including a third being first-time attendees and a third being the largest Siemens customers. This reflects the impact of both new Siemens product offerings and the JUST-US user organization’s educational program for the enterprise migration towards converged, multi-modal telecommunications. In addition, a large number of channel partners that support the small to medium business market were also in attendance to get educated about converge migration.

As part of this migration focus, we were invited to survey Siemens customers and present preliminary findings about the status and progress of enterprise migrations to the conference audience. (“Misery loves company!”)

Siemens has been aggressively moving its voice telephony products for both enterprise CPE (define - news - alert) and wireless carriers towards standards-based telecommunication convergence and beyond simple VoIP (define - news - alert) network infrastructures towards what it has dubbed “second-generation IP” (2gIP). This label highlights the exploitation of SIP and presence to support personalized mobility and multi-modal devices. We feel they are heading in the right direction and appear to be one of the industry leaders in actual product development. At this point, however, the challenge will be in helping educate technology managers about the implications of converged communications and implementation alternatives.

Arthur M. Rosenberg

Our survey of enterprise telecommunication management found that there is still little awareness or proactive demand for the functional benefits of communications convergence from end-users.  (See survey chart) This obviously won’t help technology managers or executive management move faster.

However, there has been a noticeable shift in importance from cost reduction ROI (define - news - alert) last year to end-user productivity and customer interaction benefits. The problem, of course, is that although such benefits have increased in perceived importance, there is still little substantive input driving enterprise planning. In fact, most respondents indicated they were doing very little themselves to provide such information.

More than half of the respondents carried job titles of “manager” and higher. Although they still have primary responsibilities for “real-time” communications such as wired and mobile phone calls, voice and video conferencing, contact center routing, VoIP networking, carrier services and unified messaging, most of these technology managers have not (yet) become responsible for converged support of e-mail, instant messaging (text, voice), or WiFi (define - news - alert) based communications.

Less than 20% of the respondents felt that SIP and presence was important for their implementation plans at this point in time. Accordingly, only about a third of the respondents consider it important to replace desktop phones with SIP phones. On the other hand, 64% feel that inter-site VoIP networking and 53% consider IP PBXs (define - news - alert) as important implementation steps reported. Since Siemens, like other leading telecommunication providers, has been taking increasing market share for VoIP networking implementations, two-thirds of Siemens customers indicated that they would rely primarily on Siemens for supporting their convergence migration plans.

What Migration Problems Are Users Having Problems With?      

We were able to sit in on a user session where convergence implementation problems were discussed. By far, the biggest complaint was in missing functionality caused by the move to VoIP and IP Telephony (news - alert) infrastructures. Some of the problems reported were often caused by incompatibilities in sharing the existing enterprise data network, as opposed to dedicated VoIP facilities.

Several users complained that product support (read “on-site” visits) for new IP Telephony products were not yet up to par with traditional TDM (define - news - alert) products, even though remote support is the wave of the networked future. However, what was more painfully obvious was the lack of adequate preparation and planning for the new technology products that is becoming essential any implementation step in the great migration to multi-modal convergence.

It was interesting to note how important traditional voice mail functionality for telephone answering and auto-attendant applications was still required by enterprise technology managers. Although we didn’t hear much discussion about preserving legacy user interfaces, voice mail users in the past have been notorious resistant in the past about any changes to their familiar TUI (define - news - alert) procedures. With the coming industry shift to speech recognition user interfaces for handheld communication mobility, we expect the migration to be somewhat rough.

The New Role For Telecom Users Groups

Converged communications is causing a shift of enterprise telecommunication user groups, like Siemens’ JUST-US, Avaya’s INAAU, and Nortel Networks INNUA, from simply being a “birds-of-a-feather” association of telephony technology managers to an increasingly re-educational role for understanding, planning, and managing all end user communication activities and needs. These groups will also provide a venue for bringing together enterprise technology managers of both converging network infrastructures and communication applications (telephony, messaging) to foster better cooperative understanding of each other’s operational responsibilities. Such needs are not unique to any single provider or product line, but will be a universal concern to all enterprise organizations.

User groups provide a useful two-way exchange of constructive information between technology providers and enterprise technology managers, all for the ultimate benefit of the enterprise end-users and customers. With the IP-based paradigm shifts of communications mobility, multi-modal interfaces, and dynamic presence and availability management, the new needs of such end users are becoming a critical concern for both technology providers and enterprise technology managers. They are both in “learning” mode!

The telecommunications provider user groups are going to be most critical to enterprise organizations that will be slowly migrating on an evolutionary basis, attempting to preserve the value of existing technology and minimizing the disruptive impact of new technologies. Organizations will need practical guidelines on how to migrate their usage management and support responsibilities, how to migrate their end users to new communication services, procedures, and devices, and how to track the real ROI results of the new technologies. User groups will be in a position to offer such guidance and feedback from peers, rather than expensive consultants or the provider’s sale people.

A few years ago, we attempted to create a non-profit organization for enterprise users that would be independent of any particular technology provider. The Unified Communications Consortium (UCC), was similar in concept to the old EMA. However, we were ahead of our time and enterprise organizations were not ready to even think of convergence and migrations. So, we must now look to existing enterprise user groups supported by leading providers to take on such responsibilities.

I will be attending the big Nortel users’ INNUA Global Connect conference (L.A., June 6-10) to observe their approach to supporting their membership’s needs for migration to communications convergence.      

What Do You Think?

Where should enterprise technology management look for objective communications migration guidance? What will drive end user demand for multi-modal convergence in the enterprise?  Will today’s telecom management make the transition to managing and supporting all converged communication applications, including e-mail, instant messaging, and presence management? What responsibilities for VoIP networking infrastructure will telecom retain in the future? Who in the enterprise should manage both converged network infrastructure and communication applications?   

Let us know your opinions by sending them to [email protected]

 Art Rosenberg and David Zimmer are veterans 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. They focus on practical user requirements, implementation issues, and new benefits of multi-modal communication technologies for individual end users, both as consumers and as members of enterprise working groups. The latter includes identifying new responsibilities for enterprise communications management to support changing operational usage needs most cost-effectively.

Considered to be objective industry thought leaders, Art Rosenberg and David Zimmer have been publishing their highly-acclaimed syndicated column on unified messaging and unified communications for over four years to a worldwide audience of consultancies, technology providers, service providers, and enterprise technology managers. Both principals are popular speakers at leading technology conferences and organized the first programs in the industry focused on the subject of unified messaging/communications. The Unified-View's website (www.unified-view.com) is also considered to be a leading source for information on the evolution of unified communications.

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