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Unified Communications Magazine November 2007
Volume 1 / Number 3
Unified Communications Magazine
Richard Grigonis

How Unified Communications Changes Your Business

By Richard "Zippy" Grigonis


Competitive advantage generally goes to the organization best able to apply the knowledge and expertise of its workers whenever and wherever it's needed. Much has been said of how UC can accelerate and formalize internal business processes, ultimately achieving improved workflow and cost savings. Certainly the notions of presence, single number contact, video and web conferencing are no longer novel and are now increasingly taken for granted by workers. But the biggest impact in providing unified and flexible, voice, data, video, and web-based collaboration tools may occur in the wireless realm with the nearly two-thirds of all workers who comprise the ever-growing mobile workforce.

"I think there are really three major issues when it comes to unified communications in the enterprise being a true productivity tool," says David Wippich, President and CEO of Ensim (www.ensim.com), a major provider of management software for unified communications and collaboration used by service providers and enterprises worldwide.

"The first one is that many companies don't know actually know how to build UC into the way they do business: the way they act, the way their sales department interacts with customers or internal departments interact with each other," says Wippich. "Integrating UC into your standard workflows and business is Number One. You've got to think about where you're going to integrate it. The mistake people make in many companies in the IT area is that they start with the technology, not with how they're going to use the technology. So this first issue is, 'How am I going to use it in my company to improve my internal efficiency, my internal communications and my external communications?'. The answer to these questions differ for each business. Whether you're a web retailer, a manufacturing company, or a services company, everybody is going to have a different way to see how it fits into their business."

"Once they've done that," says Wippich, "the second challenge is ensuring that the applications are integrated. From a certain application, can you click on a phone number and call that number? Without application integration it becomes difficult to really enjoy the cross-usage of UC services. It's great to have voicemail and efax and email and IM and VoIP, but it's even better if they can work from each other's front-end or back-end, so that when you're in email you can click on something to make a call, or you can change your presence information to indicate that you're in a meeting and therefore it's best to reach you on IM instead of via a phone call or email. Thus, application level integration is important."

"Third and lastly," says Wippich, "is the plumbing that makes it all work. That's at the platform level of integration - being able to provision users across all of your UC applications, being able to provide secure access control for a single site on a shared server, being able to do password reset, or be able to do different back-end tasks, and push them out to the front-end. Many of the unified communications applications require enablement of certain features or functionality by the IT department. So it's very difficult for them to try to do that for each user. Being able to selectively take different privileges and then push those out to the front end in a delegated administrative way is very important. So this third area is 'the plumbing'. That's where Ensim plays. We're the 'plumbing enabler' if you will, of unified communications."

"There are several primary areas where we help a customer with that plumbing," says Wippich, "First is provisioning: doing all of the automated provisioning on a single platform, whether it's the IM, the VoIP, the email, the voicemail, the efax, or whatever. All of those applications need the same things. They need a user to be created on the system for access. The user needs to be linked into the directory system, be it Active Directory, LDAP or something else. A certain set of privileges or parameters need to be assigned to that user. Does he have specific rights? Is he a senior or a junior user? How much mailbox storage does he get? What kind of mobile device does he get? These are all provisioning parameters that must be dealt with. Then you've got to provision the devices he's going to use. Many people forget about the device. So it's about being able to automatically provision, configure and manage the device, such as setting up the smartphone or Blackberry automatically, or setting up his IP phone to match back to the PBX system. Setting up his Outlook client on his desktop or laptop is another common matter. And then there's all the rest of the client-side software to configure."

"Many UC applications such as Siemens' OpenScape, Microsoft OCS or Outlook, all have a client-side part of the app that needs to be configured back to the server side when you add a user," says Wippich. "You'd rather do that automatically than manually."

"So the first way we help customers is in terms of automatic provisioning, and the second way is with all the device management configurations," says Wippich. "Third is all of the user identity, role management and delegated administration. That's essentially a matter of allowing people to have a single sign-on, to be able to take these back-end tasks such as creating a distribution group and have admins do that themselves rather than having to bother the IT guys."

"Fourth," says Wippich, "is providing a framework and a user interface for all of these users to work in their particular roles, whether it's Jane who wants to change her password, or Bob who wants to create a distribution group, or the junior IT guy who needs to do some standard task, but you're really afraid to give them keys to the backend system because they might screw it up, limiting what they can and can't do. But then you can also automate a lot of redundant tasks. So having a simplified IT management infrastructure, where the different people can do different things, based on their privilege set and performing them through a web-based interface that's very easy to use, are the four main functional areas where Ensim contributes."

Security, Anyone?

"With so many things communicating with each other," says Wippich. "There are of course security concerns. Take mobile devices. It's bad enough when people lose a laptop. Imagine how easy it is to lose a cell phone. People go on a business trip with their laptop, but people always have their cell phone, so they're more likely to lose it. Your cell phone now has business-critical information in it. What happens when it gets lost? How do you track it, wipe it, or 'kill' it? Being able to do all of that becomes important. Another area of security concern is determining what users have access to what applications. Does everyone get the same level of access to the apps or can you do that based on different roles? Then there's the matter of setting up a user. How do you control who gets to set up users? How about taking down a user when somebody quits or is let go? You've got to lock up their account: their email, IM, smartphone; and making sure the device is wiped, so if they leave with the smartphone or the Blackberry or laptop, all of the business info from the UC apps are wiped clean. That's another major area to which Ensim contributes."

Ensim is currently focusing on the certain markets through four variants of its Unify product line: Enterprises (managing UC applications on-premise), Shared Hosting Providers (delivering UC and other hosted applications to small and medium-size businesses via a carrier-grade shared infrastructure), Managed Service Providers (offering enterprise-class solutions in dedicated environments) and SaaS Service Providers and ISVs (offering applications as hosted services). The Ensim Unify Enterprise Edition is now available with a free trial download from the Ensim web site at http://get.ensim.com.

The Influence of Call Centers

As long ago as the CTI/computer telephony days of the 1990s, Yours Truly always joked that advanced telecom technology such as UC was simply transforming whole organizations into veritable (not to mention virtual) call/contact centers. One company that has focused on the development and distribution of customer interaction and workforce optimization software for IP-based contact centers has been the Calabrio Software division (www.calabrio.com) of Spanlink Communications (www.spanlink.com), which in 2006 was spun off to operate as an independent company. Calabrio came out of the gate with approximately 500,000 installed desktops; it also maintains its OEM relationship with Cisco. (For the record, Spanlink Communications itself will maintain its focus on selling, delivering and supporting unified communications solutions. They still focus a great deal on the call center space, but more from a full solutions deployment and integration standpoint.)

Designed for virtual VoIP-based customer interaction networks, the Calabrio Unified Interaction Suite combines agent desktop tools with workforce optimization software to unify the entire customer interaction process for agents and supervisors, thus aligning contact center business processes with a company's business objectives by integrating workforce optimization within a team's daily workflow. Calabrio's Unified Agent Desktop, for example, unifies agent productivity tools, automates transaction workflows and enhances team collaboration. It also integrates team coaching and collaboration tools with Calabrio's own Quality Management, Workforce Management, and performance reporting solutions.

Kristen Jacobsen, Calabrio's Marketing and Communications Director, says, "Our niche is developing software solutions for VoIP, which happens to fit into the unified communications space. So in a sense we've been doing UC for years in terms of unified desktop applications, bringing in softphone-type of applications, integrating presence for contact centers, and in the last couple of years we've rolled out applications relating to quality management and workforce management so that agents in a contact center really have one unified 'device' if you will, which is the desktop, from which to orchestrate all of their call-handling activities."

"With the advent of unified communications, the fact that the underlying technologies from manufacturers are coming together, positions us to do what we do more effectively," says Jacobsen.

Calabrio CTO Jon Silverman says, "We started down the path of distributed systems back in the 1990s and we got to VoIP in the early 2000s," says Silverman. "We discovered this thing called 'voice' that could be streamed out to the endpoint, and we could do things with it, such as capture it and send it somewhere else where another program could play it to someone. Later we did what are called 'end-to-end' arguments, which involves moving the intelligence out of the middle and as high up in the stack as we possibly can, and just let the endpoints do their thing. We had situations where we'd be capturing the stream and the supervisor would want it and we'd send it along, from a server initially, and then we realized we could just as easily have the endpoint on the agent's desktop communicate with a supervisor, and we could forward a stream that way. In fact, if we want to provide traditional contact center operations, such as 'barge-in' and 'intercept', and so on, we really don't need heavyweight legacy servers in the middle. We can simply have the endpoints do most of that."

"We've formed a software architecture that moves as much of the process as we can to the endpoints so they become intelligent," says Silverman. "We do lots of capture there, since we do recording and monitoring; we can capture voice, screens, and so on. We have the signaling and the media right there coming to the endpoint, so we can do whatever we want with it."

This article is continued on TMCnet. Please go to www.tmcnet.com/1289.1 for the full text.

Richard "Zippy" Grigonis is Executive Editor of TMC's IP Communications Group.

Unified Communications Communications Magazine Table of Contents

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