There is no denying when it comes to a new app or the next big breakthrough, there is a bit of a lull in the UCC space. Customers are moving through the UCC adoption cycle at their own pace, and the existing benefits and upside of UCC seem to be enough for many. Still, the next big thing in UCC has not really shown up yet on the menu. Some vendors have made claims of new applications and are putting some shine on UCC. Still, the question is: Will UCC, the centerpiece of highly utilized communication networks, show some new signs of life, and is any of the talk more than talk?
The most cited recent developments tend to revolve around cloud-based UC, collaboration tools, WebRTC, and mobile applications. There is enough here to keep vendors busy. And enterprises recognize the promise here too. Cisco and Unify (formerly Siemens Enterprise Communications) gained attention when they spoke of collaboration tools that could dislodge email as the primary means of communication by providing an interface for combining messaging, file-sharing and audio, video and web conferencing.
WebRTC continues to look for common audio/video standards, but the adoption and inclusion of this technology into vendor offerings is happening and undoubtedly will feed audio/video to mobile applications and websites. And cloud in its various formats is being embraced for its cost savings, with a majority of enterprises now having cloud-based apps and many others migrating parts of their network functions.
The Smart Enterprise Approach
At the end of the day, though, enterprises are looking to make their communication network a contributor to the bottom line in some capacity. This can take the form of operational efficiency, improved customer service via interfaces and contact centers, or optimizing business practices and driving employee engagement to compete more effectively in the marketplace.
A few vendors have advanced conversation and marketing messages around productivity. A leading data company talks of a smart enterprise. Other companies also dallied in this with talk of delivering variations of a smart enterprise. A smart enterprise approach to enhancing UCC usually includes an agile business model, cloud delivery options, collaborative communities and service assurance.
NEC (News - Alert), the more than 115-year-old Japan based company, is dedicating a large portion of its current solutions portfolio to creating and implementing a smart enterprise portfolio for its customers. As it looks toward market trends and future customer needs, it sees three things that it believes will kick-start the smart enterprise movement to a new level. In the enterprise communications space NEC is betting on three emerging technologies as differentiators to attract enough bottom line-focused adoptees to re-define unified communications and collaboration.
More than a decade ago NEC made a commitment to develop a suite of technology disciplines with the intention of creating a top-quality solution and attaining market leadership.
“We have been working closely with our company experts in early adoptive technologies such as biometrics, software-defined networking, and big data analytics to come up with new offerings in the area of UCC,” said Taichiro Hashizawa, executive vice president at NEC Corporation of America. “As an organization, NEC has a comprehensive product portfolio, yet we still dedicate extensive R&D to develop these high-profile technologies. With each solution – whether it be SDN, analytics, or biometrics – we have been fortunate they have resonated with and been embraced by our customers in various vertical markets.”
The early technology bet is paying dividends, as NEC has proven with deployments and a growing customer list in key verticals.
“But what is most significant is the way we are now integrating these solutions into our UC&C solution,” said Larry Levenberg, vice president for NEC Corporation of America. “We have grown these individual solutions into market leader positions. Our goal is to now achieve the same level of established technology leadership with our UC&C platform by offering integrated technology that no other competitor can offer. We did not want to go down a path of offering me-too enhancements. Our research pointed us toward integrating these three technologies as vital additions to our robust SV9000 and UNIVERGE 3C communications platform series, with the potential for adding huge value to a customer’s communication network.”
The smart enterprise initiative is one way to put some shine on UCC. Here are some others:
An App a Day Keeps UC in Play
Indeed, a number of unified communication vendors are integrating business applications into their UC&C offerings. This trend will continue largely because the basic tools of UC&C have moved far beyond the single point of origin days of PBX and are largely mature, having been defined and deployed. Collaboration, conferencing, contact center, mobility, WebRTC, and on-premises and off- premises cloud capabilities are fast becoming mainstays. All have merit, but the search is on for new business applications to be the next enhancement that will give UC&C some new sizzle.
Communication is Social
One such movement to boost UCC capability aims to capitalize on the social media uptick. As UC tries to get more social, UC vendors are introducing products integrating social features like activity streams to provide a more complete platform for employees to collaborate on projects. Some of the products using social features include Unify (News - Alert) Circuit and Cisco Project Squared. While lots of work is still needed, expect more mature versions to emerge.
The Anywhere, Anytime UC Approach
The power of UC in the palm of an employee’s hand was once a differentiator and now has become table stakes.
The emergence of the cloud and remote working has pushed enterprise demand for desktop services on mobile devices. Employees can now join a web or video conference or access tools once only accessible in the company’s central location. Vendors now have a mature range of services available via smart client for iOS and Android (News - Alert) devices. Wireless carriers have also jumped on the mobility bandwagon. Video was once a last bastion to be offered on mobile phones but now is finding seamless transitions across desktop to smartphone.
Security is the One Thing Enterprises Agree On
Data breeches to major retailers and banks have made national headlines and proven that enterprise networks can be vulnerable. As IP-based phone services become commonplace and a mainstream replacement for traditional phone systems, it is clear that the same techniques and tools used to break into an enterprise network work on VoIP connections. Security across the UCC network and its disparate elements is as crucial as network redundancy of five 9s.
And then there’s the triumvirate of biometrics, SDN, and analytics that NEC is building into its UCC platform. NEC’s approach of integrating emerging, dynamic technologies is a potential seismic shift compared to the recent spate of new applications and aforementioned technology initiatives that have hit the market. And while NEC’s focus on SDN and analytics may be slightly more mainstream and adoptive to UC&C platforms, biometrics is clearly a new frontier. Also significant is that NEC has established itself as a leader in each of these three advanced solutions and is recognized by industry research firms and government testing laboratories as having top-shelf technologies with cited advances over competitive solutions. Integrating these technologies into NEC’s UC&C offering is an investment – a calculated bet company leaders believe will take NEC’s UC&C UNIVERGE3C and SV Series to a new level. Each of the three technologies has its merits and its own special sauce, but when integrated into a whole solution, the potential impact is a game changer.
Consider the value to any organization if you could improve the customer experience, coach and monitor call center agents/improve service quality, reduce operating expenses and save money, identify up-sell and cross-sell opportunities/boost revenue, improve customer satisfaction and reduce churn/attrition, and make a workplace safer.
A smart enterprise UC&C approach can play a big role in making this kind of impact.
It can be helpful to recognize the inherent merits of each element:
- UC&C – This is the primary communication platform that enables a variety of communications with collaboration via communication source transparency.
- SDN – This enables highly responsive interaction via dynamic packet routing.
- Biometrics – This enables identification of the information source. Once identified, all of the historical information pertaining to that source can be resourced and impact the question at hand.
- Analytics – Much of the data that passes through a UC&C network is unstructured and contains nuggets of gold that humans simply cannot see due to the vast amounts of data. The NEC solution enables a number of benefits such as data discovery that bring critical hidden/non-obvious trends and patterns to the surface so they can be leveraged to reengineer and improve business processes.
Analytics is capturing data for a variety of uses, but the current emphasis on analytics is centered on digitally mining qualitative and quantitative data from a business and its competition to help craft and drive a continual improvement of a customer’s experience. A website’s user interface is the front door to a company’s customers and potential customers. Successful use of analytics translates to a company’s desired outcome (both online and offline).
NEC understands that the repository of data that passes through its communication systems in a customer’s premises or hybrid/cloud network could be a goldmine of information. That includes not just the data that underlines the core business operation of a company, but also the transaction-based data that seemingly is ignored on a daily basis: phone calls, inquiries, web visits, dealer questions, and much more. Using the right tools, this additional data could be crafted into a metric that illustrates customer trends or a company’s performance. One result, as an example, could be tracking and improving sales mechanisms so that first-time visitors can be converted into valuable customers. There is a saying that sums up the importance of analytics and how it can impact business performance: “Once you know – then you can go.”
A company’s unified communications platform is a natural host for capturing analytical data, whether it is contact center, collaboration, or multiple forms of in-bound media queries.
With digital analytics, companies can act on their ultimate business objectives and fully expect to measure progress:
- Ecommerce sites can shed light on how products or services are selling.
- Lead generation portals can collect user information for sales teams to connect with potential leads.
- A website’s product content has an underlying goal to encourage engagement and frequent visitation.
- Online informational or support use feedback can be streamlined and organized to help users find the information they need at the right time.
- A company’s branding can be tweaked to drive awareness, engagement, and loyalty. All of this is achievable in an engaging UC&C platform that transitions analytics from a measurement and understanding tool into a difference maker.
Simply put, one of the benefits of an SDN solution is the inherent flexibility of a software layer providing network administrators with the ability to make network device adjustments through a software interface rather than manually configuring hardware and other network devices. Empowered with complete control over network traffic through the SDN software interface, organizations can decrease their reliance on more expensive switches with proprietary firmware, change and shape data traffic rules on the fly, and virtualize IT and network infrastructure. All of that can take a UC&C platform to new levels of productivity.
Completing NEC’s trinity of integrating new technologies into its communications platform, biometrics is a fascinating technology that can really make a difference when integrated into unified communications. Rooted in forensic science, NEC’s biometrics solutions use facial recognition, iris scanning, fingerprint and palm print, and voice recognition software to identify individuals. As with analytics and SDN, NEC holds a leadership position in face recognition (accuracy of its algorithmic model) and fingerprint identification based on its technology and market share in law enforcement and government markets. Security is only one of the benefits associated with biometrics technology. Applications also have migrated to retail, hospitality, entertainment, and a host of other customer-facing businesses. Customer service and loyalty programs are a growing facet of biometrics that have enormous appeal and benefit for companies.
NEC is exploring ways to incorporate these three technologies with a number of its customers. Use case examples include mobility solutions that go beyond BYOD, with full multi-line call control via an NEC mobile client so calls always can be transferred and empowered like desk phone, agnostic whether the call comes from cloud, or any other source; include WebRTC support for video and audio; support flexible deployment in any premises/cloud/hybrid model; and enable specialized vertical applications like a telecare platform that remotely unifies patient/hospital/physician communications.
NEC sees the addition of its big three applications as the next step in the smart enterprise movement – a dynamic process that continues to evolve and empower organizations to build an IT infrastructure that allows a more predictive business that can operate at a lower cost and make companies more competitive. Such a platform will facilitate resolution of business issues while innovating business processes. The end result is a stable IT and communications solution that enables customers to focus on their key business challenges.
Putting It All Together
There are many ways to advance a UCC platform. The elusive app that is a difference maker remains rare. While vendors all bring varying solutions to market, NEC believes the synergies gained by layering SDN, biometrics, and analytics into the UC&C framework can be that difference maker.
Some of the earliest adoptions of the integrated SDN, analytics, and biometric approach can be found in the following examples from vendors and some NEC actual use cases.
- Integration of Industrial IOT and IoT – A frequent flyer arrives at the airport and a kiosk recognizes the flyer, pulls up travel information automatically, that is being broadcast via smartphone. Then it checks the passenger in automatically, gives flight status, and directions to the club and gate.
- Airports – A classic, forward-looking example of UC&C integration, airport passengers who opt-in to a carrier’s loyalty program can automatically be notified of gate changes and flight delays just by showing up and being recognized through face scan – or more commonly, via a smartphone IP.
- Law Enforcement – This one involves crowd behavior. A known offender/suspect in a crowded environment can be tracked by GPS so authorities can follow movements in real time, meaning the system is following, not an enforcement officer, and hence there’s no risk until apprehension.
- Retail – This can anonymously track a shopper’s path through the store, take note of store section dwell times, and associated products, and push customized content or offers.
- ITVAP – That stands for integrated text and voice analytic program. In call centers, analytics measure the length of the call, and when calls exceed the typical length the program sends signals over SDN, notifying the managing agent to coach while the call is in progress.
- Customer-facing websites – By the third click, the user can be clustered or identified and the most resonant content can be dynamically pushed to users as they navigate the links (and implicitly reveal their preferences).
- Hospitality – Preferred customers are checked in automatically (facial or fingerprint scanned) and provided with the preferred amenities without having to request them.
- Front Desk Reception – A building reception desk may not be staffed at all times, but every visitor deserves a personalized greeting. NEC’s NeoFace facial recognition software also has NeoFace Welcome, which can use a customizable avatar to greet employees, visitors and the delivery guy when reception staff are unavailable, making guests feel welcome, unlock a door, and provide an interactive experience by greeting guests by name while using hundreds of conversational scripts and automatically notifying their host of their arrival. Integrated with Microsoft (News - Alert) Exchange Calendar, NeoFace Welcome can confirm whether a visitor is invited to a meeting and if a caution flag is assigned to a person’s record, it can silently alert the appropriate security staff. When integrated with the NEC Unified Communications (News - Alert) platform, NeoFace Welcome can provide streaming video and voice communication between NEC desk phones and the Welcome kiosk.
- Health Care – Patient evaluations can be done remotely all based on the physician’s handwritten notes and an on-camera patient interview plus an image of a patient’s current physical state (e.g., ruddy complexion implies a range of diagnostic possibilities such as alcohol abuse).
- Life Sciences – Technology can be leveraged in this case to dramatically reduce historically long DNA sequencing times, spot negative conditions in an X-ray that the radiologist cannot see, and rapid identification of most effective drug formula in clinical trials.
These are just some examples of how NEC’s new approach to UC&C is delivering on the promise of its Smart Enterprise initiative by helping companies work smarter and be more efficient and move UCC in a direction of network accountability that enterprises are demanding.
Ram Menghani is vice president of unified communications products and support of NEC Corporation of America Inc. (www.necam.com).
Edited by Stefania Viscusi