Unified Communications Prove Disruptive but Constructive
Merging capabilities onto one platform enhances user experience.
Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of the unified communications group at Microsoft, shows the multitude of devices today’s business professionals rely on to stay in touch. Unified communications ties together many of these devices on the desktop.
Alliances between complementary companies are changing how industry will use the myriad of communications devices that evolved during the past decade. Mismatched pieces that once appeared to belong in different toolboxes now are falling into place, and converged communications is delivering one multipronged tool that is more useful than the sum of its parts. Easy access to the right people at the right time tips the scales from technology that takes a lot of work to work that takes advantage of technology.
Industry giants such as Nortel Networks,
Nortel and Microsoft signed their four-year Innovative Communications Alliance agreement in July 2006. Corporate officials at each company agree that the partnership was formed out of mutual respect for each other’s expertise in specific areas: Microsoft in software, Nortel in telephony. The partnership goes deeper than just integration and interoperability. It involves development cooperation, patent cross-licensing and a joint go-to-market approach for sales and marketing. However, both companies realize that interoperability is a critical part of communications solutions and say they will work with many partners to offer customers choices in how they deploy unified communications solutions.
Siafa Sherman, director of technology, chief technology office, Nortel Government Solutions,
Nortel has been delivering voice services for more than 100 years. It moved into the digital world in the 1980s, and in the 1990s moved from a time division multiplexer-only solution to one that is Internet protocol (IP)-enabled. It connected the private branch exchange (PBX) to the IP network, put in a gateway and enabled the device to transmit voice over a data network. “That would be the hybrid. Where we’re moving to now is a totally IP-based environment where inevitably we will deliver to our customers a CD with our voice software application and then define common off-the-shelf hardware on which to run it,”
For customers, the new communications approach means access to services through a single portal and reduced costs because they do not have to invest in proprietary hardware. They can leverage their hardware for other services being delivered to their networks because it is now an open, purpose-built application server.
When employees have these capabilities literally at their fingertips, it will be easier for them to collaborate,
“You can’t put any quantitative value on this capability. How do you place a value on being able to talk to someone quickly? That communication could be a gating factor to closing an agreement,”
And although getting in touch with someone in seconds is sometimes paramount, speed is not always necessary, so unified communications enables users to determine the most effective way to employ today’s communications capabilities. When speaking with someone immediately is crucial, a telephone, cell phone or IM can be used to connect. However, not all communications are critical; some are a matter of assigning a task or checking on the progress of a project. In this case, e-mail may be the most efficient use of time and resources. Or when employees working in different locations need to discuss a program, perhaps NetMeeting is a better solution than traveling to one site.
In addition to access to people, unified communications facilitates quick access to data. For example, when a question arises during a meeting that requires specific information before a decision can be reached, discussion often must be tabled until the data can be obtained. If meeting attendees can locate the data, deliberations can continue and decisions can be made.
|Mike Zafirovski, president and chief executive officer, Nortel (l), and Steve Ballmer, chief executive officer, Microsoft, discuss the companies’ shared vision during the announcement in New York City about a joint road map for unified communications.|
Today, this capability is not considered unique, but
Despite the word “unified” in the name, communications in this approach actually supports dispersed networking, an important capability during national crises or natural disasters. A unified communications system can help ensure continuity of government when personnel cannot get to their office buildings or headquarters because they can access their organizations’ resources from a remote location. Using a laptop or BlackBerry, they can leverage the same capabilities they would in the office, assuming the home office backs up data at a disaster recovery site. “It’s much less expensive. You don’t have to build a whole new voice infrastructure to support your disaster recovery or your business continuity because you’re leveraging the investment that you’ve already made,”
This benefit also applies to companies that have a mobile work force. Moving, adding or changing the status of employees is easier because the client stays the same. On-site visits are not necessary because the hardware remains constant. This can result in operational cost savings. “Can you quantify it in dollar terms? Maybe not, but you’ll find as is the case with all technology that we’re using today, it tends to make things a little easier to do,” he states.
“The Verizons and AT&Ts of the world would lose billions of dollars if they could not deliver reliable services. You have to bring that mindset into your data network. You have to ensure that voice has a higher priority than data traffic because they’re using the same highway. It’s the express lane for voice and the rest of it is best effort—it will get there when it can. We refer to it as business quality, because if we’re conducting business and there’s static, I’m going to hang up the phone and find some other way, if at all, to stay in touch with you,”
Communications is not the only area that experiences a boost in quality as a result of the unified approach.
“It’s this simple: We’ve got all this technology that’s meant to do a lot of different things. But from an end-user perspective, I just want to get on the network and do my job. I don’t want to learn different interfaces; I don’t want to learn the nuances of my PC; I don’t care about Windows and the inner workings of my computer. I just want to know where I click to get where I want to go. Unified communications removes the complexity of technology from the end users so that they can be more effective and efficient,”
Greg Saint James, director of worldwide sales, marketing and partners, Real Time Collaboration division, Microsoft, says his company predicts that unified communications will transform how companies do business in two significant ways. First, it will increase productivity. “Phones, IM, e-mail work today, but the problem is you don’t have an integrated experience. All of us take for granted that we have to spend a lot of time just trying to reach people and leaving voice mail messages. So how long does it take to connect with someone, and how do you make sure you connect quickly and with the right person and even have a sense that they’re available? We think there’s a huge opportunity to eliminate the wasted time of communications where people are searching to find the right person, assuming that they’re there, and waiting for them to respond,” Saint James says.
The second benefit is how it enhances customers’ experiences as they interact with a company. They will be able to request the information they need via telephone, e-mail or IM to ensure that the correct company expert gets back to them. “There’s a better chance for a strong connection and for customers to get the right response the very first time,” he states.
Saint James relates that at Microsoft unified communications has made e-mail more useful for its personnel. When one employee wants another to take time to review material, it is sent via e-mail. “That’s an appropriate use of e-mail. ‘Is Joe coming to the meeting? Have you seen Jack? Where’s the document?’ That’s a good use of IM or a phone call. You don’t need a static version of that. Or if the person’s not available and I’m looking for something quickly, I can move on. It’s making these existing forms of communication more useful,” he says.
Nortel Government Solutions: www.nortelgov.com
Microsoft Corporation: www.microsoft.com
Gartner Group–Exploring Unified Communications: www.gartner.com/it/products/podcasting/asset_149277_2575.jsp