What is “unified communications”?
That is a subjective, and fiercely debated question. I think it’s important for organizations not to get caught up in the naming conventions or even trying to define what unified communications is, or isn’t. This blog post points out that “Gartner publishes magic quadrants both on Unified Communications and on Corporate Telephony. They also have reports on CEBP, collaboration, and contact centers, to underscore the differences.”
At the end of the day, you don’t really care if what you are using is called unified messaging, unified communications, unified collaboration, etc. What you care about is whether or not it improves business processes, streamlines communication, and/or cuts costs–among other things.
Don’t get caught up trying to jump on the unified communications bandwagon just for the sake of riding with the in-crowd. Look at your business processes and identify areas that need improvement. Analyze the tools and solutions available to address those needs and implement the ones that make sense.
One of the best things about unified communications is that it is modular. You don’t have to buy it all today. Start from where you are. Implement the tools that make sense. As time goes on and your needs change, you can always implement more features later.
Only you can define what “unified communications” means for you. That said–you should have at least a general idea of the long term vision to ensure that the components you implement today will integrate and mesh well with the components you implement tomorrow and won’t cause conflicts forcing you to scrap your investment and start over.
One of the less common elements of unified communications is FoIP–Fax over IP. There are a variety of benefits for organizations that rely on faxing to make the transition to FoIP, especially if the traditional voice network is being replaced by VoIP communications.
FoIP enables organizations with branch offices and geographic diversity to host a central fax server and eliminate the cost of provisioning voice lines to each site. Faxes received at the FoIP server are delivered digitally to the recipient’s email box.
That said-I hate faxing and I don’t understand why the technology is still used at all. I own a fax machine. It sits in the attic collecting dust until some entity I am trying to do business with tells me that they *require* me to fax something in order to complete our affairs. So, I climb into the attic and dig it out. Set it up. Fax my paperwork. And….put it back in the attic.
This is 2009–next week it will be 2010! Let’s get on board with digital signatures, or at *least* accept a scanned document sent via email in place of a fax. Seriously?
Unified communications is many things to many organizations. There is no set collection of elements or functions required in order to call it “unified communications”, and the fluid and varying nature make it virtually impossible to define the unified communications market.
As this blog post explores, what should you include in the market projections for unified communications? Voice? Instant messaging? Email? Mobile / wireless communications? Audio / video conferencing? Leaving one or more of those elements out of the equation could grossly shrink the potential market and revenue projections, but including them all may give a false sense of grandeur to the UC market.
How would you predict the size and revenue potential of a market made up of varying components with no set elements?
Catalyst Telecom, a sales unit of ScanSource, has partnered with Sipera Systems to deliver Sipera’s UC and VoIP security solutions.
According to the joint press release, “By offering these solutions, resellers can deliver an enhanced level of assurance that the VoIP and Unified Communications (UC) solutions they are offering are secure, thanks to threat protection, policy enforcement, access control and appropriate encryption, all deployed seamlessly onto the network.”
Dean Roth, vice president of sales, Central Region for Sipera Systems notes that security is a primary concern and is an element of UC and VoIP that can inhibit adoption. “Resellers have found that they can simply and seamlessly address security concerns with Sipera’s award-winning solutions. As a result, VoIP and UC adoption is faster, with less risk and greater return on investment. Resellers find that their customers will purchase and deploy more next-generation solutions more rapidly when Sipera is in their portfolio.”
BT and Cisco announced that the two are teaming up to deliver hosted unified communications on a global scale. There is a lot of buzz–much of it little more than hype–about the impending merger of unified communications with the ubiquitous cloud, and the advent of delivering hosted unified communications. When you put names like BT and Cisco with the story, though, it adds instant credibility.
As a IT solutions provider, BT has been one of the leading champions of unified communications. BT has been a strong partner and supporter of Microsoft Office Communications Server, and Microsoft unified communications solutions. Cisco, on the other hand, is one of Microsoft’s biggest competitors in the UC arena.
The fact remains, though, that Microsoft is a software solution that relies on third-party networking and telecommunications hardware, and Cisco happens to be a leader in those areas. The combination of BT and Cisco, and the ability to integrate Cisco hardware and software with OCS 2007 should provide a powerful and cost effective UC solution for those who would rather not invest in their own UC infrastructure.
As John Blake, head of hosted IP telephony evolution for BT, is quoted saying in this article, “Business haven’t the money to invest in new technology, but they desperately need new technology.”
AltiGen Communications has successfully completed Microsoft’s Open Interoperability Program (OIP) for Office Communications Server 2007 R2, becoming the first company to offer both an all-in-one integrated contact center application, as well as a PSTN gateway for Microsoft OCS 2007.
In a press release, Niel Levonius, director of business strategy for AltiGen said “AltiGen is the first vendor to be certified as both an integrated call center solution and intelligent gateway solution with direct SIP integration to Microsoft’s Office Communications Server 2007.”
Levonius added “With a rich set of UC application functionality natively integrated to OCS 2007, AltiGen is able to uniquely offer Microsoft customers a powerful alternative to other Unified Communications technologies. Finally, customers are able to deploy a complete end-to-end 100% Microsoft-based Unified Communications solution.”
Microsoft is poised to revolutionize unified communications once all of the Wave 14 products hit the streets. We’re already realizing some of the benefits with the release of Exchange 2010. As this blog post notes, the combination of Exchange 2010 and OCS 2007 R2 enable unified communications features to be extended to the OWA (Outlook Web Access) experience.
Specifically, you get:
- Presence for internal and federated OCS contacts
- Ability to start and maintain chat sessions directly from OWA
- OCS contact list integration, including add/remove contacts and groups
- Ability to control your presence state from OWA
This is just the beginning, too. Once OCS 2010, SharePoint 2010, and Office 2010 are all in place everything will be more tightly integrated and UC functionality will permeate virtually every aspect of the Windows computing environment.
According to this Network World article:
“A year ago, the Ottawa, Ill.-based center was running an analog phone system fed by T-1s and a separate 10/100 Ethernet data network that wouldn’t support an IP phone system let alone the battery of high-bandwidth medical applications that are becoming more and more necessary, says Curt Sesto, director of facilities, construction management and electronics for the center.”
What began as a minor network upgrade became an extensive network overhaul resulting in a transition to VoIP. Ultimately, the project has helped this organization modernize communications and realize cost savings.
“The network overhaul was more extensive than the CEO had in mind when he asked for a new phone system, but it’s more appropriate to the high-bandwidth medical applications the network needs to support, Sesto says. “The old network was like having bicycle tires on an Indy car,” he says.”
Web 2.0 tools and social networking services offer an increasing challenge for IT and security administrators tasked with balancing the productive flow of communications in real-time with the security risks of leaked and compromised data.
Check Point, a leader in network security appliances, has reached an agreeement with FaceTime Communications to acquire the use of its application classification and signature database. The deal enabes Check Point to expand the capabilities of its security appliances to monitor and restrict Web 2.0 and social networking activity.
Check Point vice president of corporate and business development, Bill Bailey, explained “In adding this capability to our product line, we researched the market – and identified FaceTime’s application database as the market leader. Incorporation of the purchased database will provide businesses unparalleled granular control over application usage.”
Kailash Ambwani, president and chief exeutive officer of FaceTime Communications noted “Check Point’s purchase of our database reaffirms FaceTime’s leadership in the Web 2.0 and application security market. With people and businesses interacting more than ever online the need for Internet application security is essential to protecting corporate networks.”
Most companies are faced with an increasingly mobile and remote work force. There are a variety of strategic and tactical advantages to a work force on-the-go, but wandering users also increase exposure to risk and introduce unique security challenges.
Organizations have a number of factors to consider to secure remote users. The up side is that the remote work force also provides a win-win for deploying cutting edge technologies. It is a win for the organization because the remote users provide a sort of de facto pilot testing group allowing IT administrators to try out new tools and technologies to determine what works best. It is a win for the remote users because the new tools and technologies enable them to work more efficiently and be more productive.
Windows 7 is a prime example of a platform that organizations may want to test out with a pilot group before a full deployment, and which remote users in particular can benefit from as early adopters. Windows 7, and the built-in Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) Web browser, are significantly more secure than a Windows XP system with IE6 or IE7, while also providing tools to help users work more efficiently.