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Handwritings on the Wall of Mobile Business Communications – The Good and the Bad of Convergence
[February 22, 2006]

Handwritings on the Wall of Mobile Business Communications – The Good and the Bad of Convergence

BY ART ROSENBERG, The Unified-View
If you thought VoIP and IP telephony was going to shake up enterprise infrastructure management, “you ain’t seen nuthin’ yet!”  The convergence of information access and people contacts over the Internet, plus the new gorilla on the block, handheld wireless mobility, is going to cause major changes in business information processes and personal communications management. Of course, this can’t happen overnight, but there are already handwritings on the wall that should make enterprise management worry about future-proofing their implementation plans.

Technology planning these days is no longer a one-time proposition, but must consider ongoing, evolutionary changes that will take place over the next couple of years. So, that means looking at what is being seriously talked about today but may not be deliverable until tomorrow. That, of course, may conflict with all the technology press that focuses just on what is deliverable today, and, most importantly, it means not planning just for yesterday!

With all the IP technology announcements and market assessments that overload us over the Web, emails, webcasts, podcasts, and now “virtual” conferences, it is often hard to pick out the ones that are meaningful for the convergence of business processes and the changes in how people communicate. Given that the technologies are still evolving and practical user experience is sorely lacking, enterprise education and implementation decisions are going to be slow for a while.

“The Good” - The Push Towards Universal Information and Communications Mobility 

There is no question that the business information and consumer communication world is moving away from the limitations of wired desktop devices like PCs and shared residence telephones. This was highlighted recently at the World economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, by Microsoft’s Bill Gates push to make cell phones the universal, personalized device for both information access and delivery, as well as communication contacts. That was echoed at the 3GSM conference in Barcelona this week by Microsoft’s Steve Balmer’s keynote address.
This approach was Microsoft’s counter to the “One Laptop Per Child” (OLPC) $100 laptop initiative for universal child education launched by Nicholas Negroponte of MIT’s Media Laboratory. Craig Mundie, Vice president and Chief Technology Officer, acknowledging that “Everyone is going to have a cell phone,” sees the handheld, personalized, mobile communications platform as a common basis for network-based personal computing. So, rather than just converging telephones into laptops (“softphone”), the ubiquitous mobile phone form factor can become the “brain” of a PC that can either be used for mobile applications (voice, small screen interfaces), or attached to standard TV screens and keyboards to become an inexpensive desktop PC.
If the world is going to provide this kind of device convergence for poor children, by definition it can do this for all consumers, and that is one of the “handwritings on the wall” messages for enterprise organizations and business users.

“The Bad” – “Always on” Accessibility

We opened a Pandora’s Box with IP and wireless connectivity, allowing communication applications to make contact with us whenever our desktop and handheld devices are turned on. Of course, because important calls may come at any time, our wired telephones have always been “on,” even when we are not around. Now that text and voice messaging have become important alternatives to voice conversations and Instant Messaging exchanges when people are not immediately available, message notification has also become ubiquitous. So, people’s productivity is at the mercy of communication services that can constantly interrupt whatever you may be doing, regardless of their relative importance.
Although the cost of an interruption in term’s of true “lost” time has been greatly exaggerated in the press recently, there is an ever-increasing need for both contact initiators and recipients to manage both their business-related and personal time and accessibility to others. This is a result of wireless mobility and ease of contact removing the old barriers to personal communications with people. What is probably more significant, as our huge problem with email “spam” has already demonstrated, the potential for “applications” to make real-time contacts for time-sensitive notifications and information delivery can also be subverted into real-time “spam.” (New email service offerings that certify message origination from authenticated sources are just now coming into play to help that spam problem.)

Having Both Virtual Accessibility and Privacy

There have been lots of suggestions being offered by pundits to overcome the conflict between multi-modal communication overload, yet being accessible and responsive when it is important. Because efficient and timely communication contacts with people both inside and outside of the organization (alias “collaboration,” “business agility,” “the real-time enterprise,” etc.) are crucial to all aspects of business operations and generating revenue, people communications must be always dynamically multi-task on top of other work activities, including information work, travel, and all forms of business meetings. Now, with multi-modal forms of personal contacts, presence and modality management must provide the “intelligence” to make the choice of contact more efficient, effective, and manageable.  
As enterprise business activities become more globalized with 24x7 demand for decision-making, assistance, and follow-up actions, IP telecommunications, wireless mobility, and Internet information access can help make the enterprise more “virtual.” However, the new challenge for business users will be to avoid having to work 24x7. Clearly, if 24x7 availability is required at all levels of organizational responsibility, then such responsibilities will have to start being separated from specific individuals to anyone who is available within a “group” of qualified staff resources.
Some users simply shut off all contacts after “business hours,” while others who are either more compulsive or have more responsibilities to be “on call” will stay “always on” with handheld wireless devices.  The real solution is to be “intelligent” and selective about access to people, recognizing the relative accessibility, availability, and modalities of contact of other people.

More On “Federated” Presence – AOL and IBM Jump In (IM only)

As mentioned in my most recent column, a major move was made by new service provider Tello to lay claim to federated inter and intra-enterprise presence management services. Tello’s announcement included initial interoperability as a multi-modal presence “clearinghouse” service for more than just instant Messaging exchanges, but partnering with leading enterprise telephony providers like Avaya, Cisco, and Nortel. This paves the way for (IP) telephony to become more “intelligent” both inside and outside the enterprise, and, perhaps more importantly, to converge wired and wireless IP telephony with all forms of text messaging (email, IM).
Following in the footsteps of the Tello announcement was the announcement of IBM’s IM interoperability with AOL’s Clearinghouse, but just for IM, not telephony. This move was welcomed at Lotusphere as a step in the right direction towards “extra-enterprise” real-time messaging and may signal the era of public “clearinghouse” or gateway services for migrating to “open” converged communications across enterprises, application servers, wired and wireless networks, user devices, and modalities. Who is going to pay for what for such flexibility in business communication services, is, of course the big question!    

“Virtual” Enterprise Shift to Hosted Services?

There are a number of drivers for enterprise telephony to migrate from traditional “CPE” (Customer Premise Equipment) towards hosted services as business telecommunications shift away from the wired office desktop and become more personalized and mobile. The same will be true for text messaging as well, as Instant Messaging converges with email and voice telephony through presence at the mobile palmtop. Microsoft’s big presence at the GSM conference this week attested to that writing on the wall!
Business end users have always wanted communication services and computer tools to do their jobs, the question being who will supply the service, the devices that interface with the services, and the service support for customized applications and user administration and assistance. Historically, the cost-effective answers were to be found in providing all of the above on premise and with internal staff. However, with the advent of the public Internet and wireless mobility, the convergence of business process applications and personal contacts, and the complexities of multi-modal communications, making such services “virtual,” managed operationally internally, but provided and supported by trusted and flexible service providers, is becoming a practical and viable business alternative. As key person-to-person contacts increasingly require more off—premise and “extra-enterprise” interactions (like long distance telephony used to, but now joined by wireless, messaging, and presence management services), we see a slow migration to standards-based, reliable, cost-effective, and comprehensive hosted services, not just to premise-based software.

Mobile End-user Devices - Gartner Finally Gets It!

One area that Gartner finally gets is about IT responsibilities for mobile devices. Five years ago they were trying to tell enterprise IT management that they should take full responsibility for buying and managing handheld PDAs and smartphones (see my Unified-View comment at the time).  Now, with 20-20 hindsight, they acknowledge that even employee-owned notebooks will be in the wave of the enterprise future. This is not only for small businesses that just don’t have IT staffs, but for larger enterprise organizations as well.
If you consider that simple cell phones have long been individually acquired by business end users from wireless carriers as individual subscribers, the migration to a large variety of wireless, multi-modal, smart phones, with embedded application software clients, will be a logical move for mobile enterprise users. However, the responsibility for supporting and controlling access to enterprise information, including tracking user business contact activity and controlling mobile devices, cannot always be completely delegated to outside services that supply network and device support.
The enterprise dilemma of supporting mobile communication device independence was discussed by several CIOs in a recent article of CIO magazine. The consensus for the present about end user mobile devices and services was that the choice of devices and associated services rests logically upon the nature of individual job responsibilities, where “work” laptops will be more strictly controlled by the enterprise, while handheld, personalized “communication” only devices for calls and messaging can be the individual user’s choice.
As business and personal communication contacts start to converge more and more, enterprise controls will have to become more segregated by embedded client software to separate the “personal” and “business” uses of a common mobile device. This concept is still in its infancy and was reflected in the Avaya/Nokia announcement last year of “Extension to Cellular” capability that enables phone calls to business numbers to be routed to cell phones that also can separately handle personal calls provided by the wireless carrier service for the device. Incidentally, the network endpoint connection could be either by cellular or soon by Wi-FI.
Finally, federated presence management will probably play a role in terms of routing real-time information and people contacts to a mobile device, based upon both the recipient’s availability status and device facilities. As the choice of mobile devices and embedded software increases, business users will be personalizing them more and more, and as one CIO stated,” “Devices will change constantly and we don’t want to be in the device business!”  

What Do You Think?

There are so many questions that can be asked, don’t get me started!
Just let us know your opinions by sending an email to [email protected]

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