Unified Communications: Click to talk

January 31, 2010  7:52 PM

Unified Communications and Disaster Recovery

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

It’s the beginning of a year which is a good time to evaluate your disaster recovery plans and update them to include any new technologies and processes you may have added since the plan was last addressed.

A recent article from SearchDisasterRecovery.com, IT disaster recovery strategies: DR planning trends for 2010, covers the trends and key considerations you should address. Here is what it says about unified communications:

Communication and productivity tools such as Cisco Unified Communications, IBM Lotus Sametime and Microsoft OCS (Office Communication Server) are primarily used to enhance productivity and communication between employees. The portability and ability to provide a single communication interface makes the technology an increasingly appealing connectivity tool that many DR practitioners are recommending to support communication during a disaster. Some companies have already adopted it as part to their disaster recovery strategy, and it will be interesting to see how the technology will progress this year.

January 28, 2010  11:19 PM

SMB’s Look for Short-Term ROI on UC

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

The economy is certainly recovering, but recovering does not necessarily equal “recovered”. It all depends on the filter you are looking through.

Apple and Microsoft both reported record profits, so somebody, somewhere, is spending money on something. Still, small and medium businesses operate on entirely different economies than larger enterprises, and struggle to find a more short-term break-even on investments like unified communications.

A recent article from ITBusinessEdge says:

“Late 2008 and 2009 has been an interesting year because of the changing dynamics [due to the economy],” says Sanjeev Aggarwal, the founder and partner of The SMB Group and a partner at Hurwitz & Associates. “What SMBs are looking for are solutions that provide a lot more operational efficiencies and at the same time cost cutting and short-term ROI. UC is more a strategic tool than a short-term ROI-based, operationally-focused solution.”

The beauty of unified communications, though, is that each SMB can define for themselves what it means, and the different elements can be purchased and implemented in a modular fashion so each component can be integrated into the network and into the organization’s business practices, and achieve its own ROI before moving on to the next piece.

Eat the elephant one bite at a time.

January 28, 2010  10:41 AM

Want to Provide Voice Service? Expect FCC Oversight

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Newcomers to the voice arena are trying to have their proverbial cake while eating it too. They want to be seen as competitors to traditional phone companies and wireless providers, but they also want to operate outside of the rules and regulations that govern those entities.

AT&T has filed complaints that Google has discriminated against certain regions or area codes in providing voice service. Google responded by saying that it does not own the data network, nor any voice infrastructure so those rules don’t apply to them. They are simply providing a service that relies on third-party infrastructure.

Gerson Lehrman Group analyst P.J. Louis said in a blog post “If the FCC behaves true to form, they will be reactive. The problem with being reactive is you can never stay ahead of the changes or troubles. Hence, I would be expecting total chaos in the marketplace. I would also be expecting the FCC to overreact to all of the changes occurring in the market.”

I disagree with that assessment. I don’t think it gives FCC chairman Julius Genachowski and the current FCC administration enough credit for the proactive efforts they have invested in trying to rein in communications providers, and to establish a clearer framework of regulations that adapt to current technology and meet the needs of the country moving forward.

The bottom line for companies like Google and Skype is that, while their services and business model may not fit the existing telecommunications mold, that isn’t enough to allow them to deliver critical voice services while remaining exempt from communications oversight.

If you want to provide voice service, expect FCC oversight and plan on playing by the rules.

January 11, 2010  11:10 PM

Unified Communications for Dummies

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

The book is out! Unified Communications for Dummies is available now.

My co-author, Satish Shah, and I, along with the editorial team at Wiley (Katie Mohr, Tiffany Ma, and Pat O’Brien) invested countless hours pulling it all together and making it pretty just for you.

Here is an excerpt from the Foreword by Eric Swift, General Manager of Unified Communications for Microsoft:

“There is a solution: a truly unified communications system that can remove silos of vertical systems infrastructure, multiple user interfaces, different communications methods, and the myriad of devices. One identity for all your communications: a single inbox for all your messages (including voice, text, and e-mail) and one identity to present your availability to the world. IT can then manage and administer one communications infrastructure that integrates into your organization’s business processes and applications.

The technology exists today. The authors of Unified Communications for Dummies have paved the path for your journey in this book…”

You can read these excerpts to get a better idea of the book content:

December 31, 2009  9:56 AM

Unified Communications: Steroids for the Contact Center

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Have you ever called a customer support contact center and found that the Level 1 support technician that answered the phone didn’t have the knowledge or experience to help you? That is rhetorical. If you have *ever* called a contact center, it is a virtual guarantee that this scenario has occurred to you.

When this situation occurs, the Level 1 support technician that has reached the end of their troubleshooting flowchart without arriving at a viable resolution for you must find a more experienced and/or knowledgeable technician to escalate the problem to. Preferably, a technician with specific expertise with your exact issue.

With traditional call center systems and processes, identifying and locating the right person to address the issue most efficiently, and thereby deliver the best possible customer service, is daunting at best. With unified communications, and presence, though, the contact center can be transformed into a paragon of efficiency and superior customer service.

In How Unified Communications Can Improve the Contact Center, the author states “Now, with UC, they can search a complete list of subject matter experts (together with their presence availability), and contact them via IM or telephone, in order to get the information they need, when they need it. Finding the right resource in this way may not only solve the problem on a single call but also lead to higher customer satisfaction, increased sales, and more successful cross and up-selling of products. No wonder many companies are already reporting over 100% ROIs on their UC investments!”

If you have a contact center or customer support department, you should definitely be looking at the ways that unified communications can streamline your processes and enable you to improve customer satisfaction while cutting costs.

December 31, 2009  9:45 AM

VoIP is Low-Hanging Fruit for Attackers

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

VoIP (voice over IP) infrastructures are generally not as secure as the networks they ride on, and they provide attackers with a weakest link in the chain to exploit as a back door to the rest of the network.

An article on the Web cites a report that states “McAfee found that the number of known VoIP vulnerabilities has grown from less than 20 in 2006 to almost 60 now.”

Compared with the volume and growth rate of more traditional threats like viruses, worms, botnets, phishing attacks, spyware, etc.- this statistic does not seem all that alarming or impressive. The difference, however, is that corporate IT departments have a solid handle on basic network security and the tools to detect and block those threats are a commoditized part of every day business. Not so much with VoIP.

Organizations deploying unified communications solutions, or even just implementing VoIP, need to be aware of the risks involved with combining voice and data networks and take the appropriate steps to make sure VoIP doesn’t become the path of least resistance for attackers to exploit their way into the network.

December 31, 2009  9:22 AM

Bad Economy Translates to Good UC Market

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

The economy has been rough throughout 2009. Even as it has thawed some, businesses are still reluctant to open the vault and start spending again just yet…unless spending can save money.

That is where unified communications comes in. Unified communications vendors haven’t been giving away products and services for free, but businesses that invest in a unified communications infrastructure can cut costs significantly in other areas–enough to quickly recover the investment in unified communications for some companies.

ChannelInsider takes a comprehensive look at 2009 and how the poor economy may have provided a tipping point and acted as a catalyst for the success of unified communications and video conferencing.

December 31, 2009  12:37 AM

2009: A Year in Review for Microsoft Unified Communications

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

I suppose we can blame the crappy economy, but looking back on 2009 the unified communications market seems sort of stagnant. Granted, Microsoft released Office Communications Server 2007 R2, and much later in the year Exchange Server 2010, but it just doesn’t feel like much happened.

That will be significantly different in 2010. Following on the heels of Windows 7, and Exchange Server 2010, Microsoft has a busy year of product launches including OCS 2010, SharePoint 2010, Office 2010, and eventually (keep your fingers crossed) Windows Mobile 7 just to name a few. The way these products integrate and work together to deliver a seamless experience will revolutionize Microsoft unified communications and raise the bar for UC in general.

My friend and fellow Microsoft MVP Joe Schurman wrote up a detailed look back at Microsoft Unified Communications in 2009, as well as some thoughts on what 2010 has in store and his own insight on where things should go if Microsoft wants to dominate this market.

December 31, 2009  12:18 AM

Nuance Expands Voice-to-Text with Spinvox Acquisition

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Nuance, maker of the popular speech-to-text software Dragon Naturally Speaking (also offered in a convenient iPhone size), announced that it is purchasing Spinvox–another leading voice-to-text provider.

One of the many facets of unified communications can be the ability to deliver voicemail via email. This is often done as an embedded sound clip, or a file attachment that you can play, but actually listening to a voicemail is not always practical or convenient.

Providing an ability to automatically transcribe voicemail messages and deliver the text version via email can be a valuable service. Of course, it also has to be remotely accurate. The ridiculous transcriptions offered by Google Voice can make for a hours of enjoyment, or maybe a good drinking game–but extracting any useful information from the text is nearly impossible.

I have used Dragon Naturally Speaking, though, and it does an admirable job of converting my words to text and putting them on the screen. Hopefully Nuance and Spinvox can create some synergies and provide *accurate* voicemail transcription.

December 31, 2009  12:03 AM

Cisco Finally Closes Tandberg Deal

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

When a company (Cisco, for example) makes an offer to acquire another company (like Tandberg), the announcement itself is treated as, and perceived by many, as a done deal. The Cisco / Tandberg deal is a perfect illustration of just how false that perception is.

Offers have to meet with shareholder and regulatory approval. In the case of Tandberg, many shareholders balked at Cisco’s initial offer. Cisco announced its intent to purchase Tandberg for about $3 billion on October 1. After two months of negotiations and speculation that the deal may fall through, Cisco eventually succeeded in acquiring Tandberg for closer to $3.4 billion

Now that the deal is done, Cisco can get back to business. Its only serious competitor is Polycom, but Logitech recently threw down the gauntlet and jumped in the ring with its purchase of Lifesize Communications, as well.

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