UC: Can We Just Connect?

UC overcomes limitations of standalone communication media and enables users to navigate from one mode to another

Enterprises are faced with the urgent task of aligning their business processes to the needs of a market place that is suddenly very dynamic. It is witnessing ever new technologies, supported by innovative marketing strategies. And often, there are disruptions in the forms of aggressive pricings, new competitors, and fast changing customer needs.

On the enterprise front, organisations need to be dynamic and responsive enough to be able to cope up with the pace of this new global market place. And to achieve this, it needs to be agile at forming new market strategies and reducing time to market. In turn, teams internally will need to speed up the development process while working in cross-geography environments.

It is equally important that the partners and suppliers are also in sync with the enterprise transformational needs and initiatives.
Throughout, the focus will be on two aspectspeople and processesand also on establishing an effective and harmonious interplay between the two key aspects. And this interplay will be achieved only with a communication framework that is pervasive, device- and platform-independent, fosters teamwork and above all, catalyses business and process transformation.

Business communication has become rapidly multimodal, driven by enterprises need for reaching out to customers, partners and employees in a swift and targeted manner.

This, however, has brought in new complexities and integration issues in the system, and enterprises have been exploring ways to simplify their communication channels. At the same time, organisations are also looking at adding capabilities to their existing communication systems so as to enrich them. And while they do all this, they also want to reduce their communication cost that has been going up rapidly.

All these requirements are pushing the need and the case for adoption of unified communications (UC) in the enterprise. While many organisations have already embarked on the journey, and are at various stages of UC maturity curve, several others are actively considering its deployment.

In simple terms, UC involves blending of various real-time communication channels on a single platform, thereby assisting businesses to resolve query in the easiest possible manner in the course of a given session. Some of the commonly accepted components of a UC solution include e-mail, unified instant messaging, IP telephony, audio/video/web conferencing and mobile applications.

Businesses are also evaluating the capabilities of UC for better integration of the communication functions with the core business applications. In fact, the post-recession economy has seen many a companies, strictly adopting policies of reducing their travel budget through video and web conferencing.

According to Frost & Sullivan, the total market size of UC that was pegged at over $1 billion mark in 2010. While enterprise IP telephony holds the major chunk of the total, components like tele-presence, conferencing, mobility and collaboration make up for around 10%.

Modular approach
The real challenge comes in consolidating voice, video and data onto a single network. In this context, its important to first analyse if the existing corporate network is ready to deal with the proposed deployment.

The deployment needs to be a highly tailor-made process and demands an effective strategy that should be based on the current and future business requirements.

IT managers must record users behaviour and business processes before finalising a UC solution. It is important to understand that since no single solution has the capability to fit all user requirements, it is advisable to choose from the components that a particular solution or vendor offers.

However, if you are building a multi-vendor UC solution, monitoring of tools becomes all the more critical. Also, monitoring solutions are not a core expertise of vendors in general and they often lack good-quality graphical user interfaces (GUIs), detailed performance data and even general usability.

During deployment phase, it is advisable to avoid the integration of UC applications with the corporate wide area networks (WAN). On the surface, this may appear to be the right way, however, in reality it will result into an extremely complicated networking scenario. It also increases the cost significantly.

A better approach is to identify pain points by addressing areas that can help derive maximum benefits. Implement UC in such areas initially. However, it is important to note that the architecture of UC is still evolving, and therefore, the implementation should be flexible enough to accommodate the evolutionary trends.

Network performance, security, reliability and ease of usage have to be thoroughly tested before rolling out the solution. A modular approach can help IT managers identify issues at an early stage and solve them.

Also, avoid getting into a vendor lock-in situation by implementing proprietary solutions. When moving to a new application, it is always a good idea to conduct pre-deployment testing.

The bottlenecks
While UC proposes a number of offerings to enterprises, issues such as too many devices, too many platforms, non-availability of bandwidth, and unavailability of standards often come in the way of a full-blown UC deployment.

Enterprises also face the challenge of defining the collaboration needs across the organisation. Every worker, department and a group have their own set of mechanisms through which they collaborate and they are far from homogeneous. For instance, what might be a meaningful collaborative model may not be an ideal model for the editorial department of any media organisation.

Similarly, while few groups prefer face to face interactions, others prefer tools like Skype or Yammer to interact. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to meet the user requirements through a common UC solution.

For an IT manager, it is vital to take a pre deployment survey to understand the collaboration requirement of each department or a group of users. The answers of 4Ws and 1Hwho, when, what, why and howneeds to be noted before deploying any new tools or solutions.

The overall strategy should revolve around the applications enabled by UC technology, collaboration and knowledge sharing. It is critical to evaluate the collaboration needs of each business department before making any roadmap.

Another bottleneck is the low penetration of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) that is a cornerstone of UC. There still are regulatory limitations to be addressed. VoIP termination related issues, especially with regard to PSTN, are a deterring factor.

Vendor landscape
Many vendors are now aiming at delivering fully hosted UC solutions with the capabilities of providing the same user experience as the on-premise converged office solution.

Cisco has added Manager 8.0 Session to its basket recently. This version of Cisco UC manager provides aggregation services for legacy PBXs, devices, and applications. It provides connectivity to fixed and mobile carriers via SIP trunks and allows customers to rapidly deploy UC and new collaboration applications cost-effectively.

The company has also forayed into enterprise social software to furnish enterprise-ready tools to connect people and provide integrated experiences with policy, security, scale and real-time communications. These can be integrated with the UC solutions as well.

Avayas One-X Unified Access Suite of applications is also an interesting solution to watch out for. It provides access to business communication tools in both real-time and non-real time environments.

For Datacraft, integration of unified communications with third party applications is the latest technology addition.

In the contact centre space, Sify has introduced UC as a service. The solution is integrated with the customer business process or systems like the CRM, marketing campaign, database integration, and computer telephony integration. It uses a software-as-a-service (SaaS) model for delivery, which does away with the need for an upfront capital expenditure (capex).

For enterprises looking to evolve their voice communications, Business Octane offers audio teleconferencing solutions like Altra Clarity and Xtra Clarity. These promise high-end audio conferencing capabilities for enterprises.

UC can help enterprises proactively connect with customers for information and insights. Components like IM and presence can be used to seamlessly connect customers to domain experts for real-time resolutions.

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