Unified Communications: Click to talk

September 27, 2009  2:45 PM

Clearing the Fog Around Unified Communications

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Will there come a point when we can stop talking about how confusing / perplexing / foggy / murky / cloudy / or otherwise ‘complicated’ the concept of unified communications is? I mean, the very nature of unified communications is based around simplifying and streamlining- so why is it so difficult to grasp?

Granted, I agree that many organizations and IT admins are still trying to make sense of UC and what it means to them. I am just as guilty of writing repeatedly (this post notwithstanding) about the difficulties of understanding what UC involves.

But, the technologies and concepts that comprise unified communications have been around for awhile, and the buzzword concept of unified communications has also been around for awhile. It seems like we should be able to move past the fact that it is made up of a variety of components and that you can mix and match components and vendors to create the UC that works best for you, and focus on how to implement it more efficiently, or how to leverage it effectively to maximize the benefits.

Hopefully we’re getting there. Slowly, but surely. In the meantime, those who are still confused and perplexed will find value in this video whiteboard tutorial series from Information Week. This Information Week article provides some background on what you can expect from the webcasts.

September 24, 2009  3:58 AM

It (Almost) Never Hurts to Update

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

One of the steps that should be on somewhere in the top 5 troubleshooting steps for virtually any problem is ‘download and apply most current update’ for the software or hardware in question (and/or peripheral software or hardware that could be related to the problem).

Another top 5 step would be to Bing (or Google if you prefer) the issue and see what the vast Interwebs might have to say on the subject. It usually helps to be as specific as possible- like copying and pasting the actual error message you are seeing. Often you will find that this step leads to the first step I mentioned as you encounter comment after comment from users who had the same problem until they applied the latest update.

A recent blog post on the OCS Team blog illustrates how sometimes the latest update may even address issues not specifically called out in the knowledgebase or readme text. If you end up calling for support, applying the latest upates is guaranteed to be one of the top 5 steps the custmer service tech walks you through, so you may as well cut out the middle-man and just do that part before you call.

Bottom line- it never hurts to apply the latest updates…except when it does. There are occasionally patches and updates that break more than they fix, but those are fairy rare these days (at least from estabished / major vendors). The odds of a corrupt patch are probably significantly lower than the odds that applying the latest upate could solve your problem.

September 23, 2009  2:29 AM

Broadview Offering Hosted VoIP Nationwide

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Broadview has an established presence in the Northeast and New England where it has developed its OfficeSuite hosted VoIP service.

OfficeSuite is similar in many ways to Google Voice. It includes “hot desking” which allows users to make and receive calls using any OfficeSuite phone on their network. OfficeSuite can simultaneously ring a desk phone and cell phone. It also provides the capability to receive voicemails via email.

OfficeSuite also includes features that set it apart and make it more robust as a communications system for small and medium businesses. For example, OfficeSuite has an auto attendant with voice-prompted call routing, and it provides an online portal for administrators to manage the OfficeSuite capabilities. 

Now, the rest of the country will have an opportunity to benefit from the OfficeSuite hosted VoIP service. Broadview announced that it is expanding availability to the rest of the country.

September 21, 2009  11:23 PM

UC Market Rebounding and Prospects Looking Good

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

This is a short post just to highlight two stories I saw today which seemed to fit well together.

The first one reports that the UC market had its first quarter of growth since Q3 of 2008. The growth was modest, but significant given the impact of the economy on all IT sales.

The second is a report projecting that the UC market will grow at compound rate of just under 39% from 2009 to 2014, generating $87 billion in revenue over the 5 year period.

Taking thw two pieces of information together, it looks like UC might be recovering from the economic downturn and that the UC market has a very promising future…at least for tne next 5 years.

September 20, 2009  2:51 AM

Secure Your Mobile Devices with DUST

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Mobile devices are a critical component of enterprise communications and a core element of unified communications. They used to just be phones, but now they are more like tiny micro-laptops that fit in a pocket. With that increased functionality and ability to store massive amounts of data comes an acutely greater need for security.

An industry analyst firm has developed a model for managing mobile security and compliance. The DUST Model for Managing the Risk to Enterprise Mobility establishes guidelines and provides a framework for end-to-end compliance practices and security controls.

The guidelines have four primary components that make up the DUST:

  • Devices
  • Users
  • Sessions
  • Transactions

You can get more details on the DUST Model from this CRG Research Brief.

September 18, 2009  11:08 PM

Achieving UC Utopia

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

What is the ultimate goal of unified communications? For you, the user?

Organizations have all kinds of potential reasons for adopting unified communications. Cut costs. Improve efficiency. Communicate more effectively. Streamline business processes. Converge voice / network administration. The list goes o.

But what’s in it for you? Beyond from the hyperbole and and grandiose claims in marketing brochures, the ultimate promise of unified communications from a user perspective is the single number / single device access.

It’s nice to be able to use Presence to see if someone is available and choose the best method of communication based on that individual’s current status. What would be even better is if you only had one method of contact for the individual- his SIP URI for example- and the unified communications environment would intelligently route the communication based on Presence and preferences. Let the recipient choose the best method of communication instead of the sender.

We’re not there (obviously). Most people still have an email address, a desk phone number, and a mobile phone number at a minimum. Many people carry multiple mobile phones to stay in touch with different parties. Cutting Through the Clutter for Unified Communications takes a look at the current state of affairs and explores how we get from here to that UC Utopia of single number / single device communications.

September 16, 2009  3:24 AM

Unified Communications Helps Improve Both CRM and CEM

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Companies have focused for years now on CRM- customer relationship management. They want to make sure they have the right tools in place and measure the right metrics to maximize the value of each customer relationship. Makes sense…for the company.

Now, companies are starting to understand and embrace CEM- customer experience management. CEM looks at the interaction from the perspective of the customer. Rather than just managing the relationship, CEM seeks to ensure the best possible experience for the customer each time they interact with the company.

The good news is that focusing on CEM is almost guaranteed to lead to improved CRM as well. Even more good news is that unified communications can play an instrumental role in both sides of that equation.

Whether it is providing employees with the tools to efficiently and effectively manage customer relationships, or integrating and simplifying customer interactions to improve the customer experience, unified communications has cost effective tools to make it happen.

Check out Enhancing Customer Experience to learn more about CEM and how to achieve it with unified communications.

September 15, 2009  4:54 AM

Putting All Your UC Eggs in One Basket

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

It seems like just yesterday I was questioning the validity and value of the Gartner Magic Quadrant. My own opinion aside, executives and customers still value the information, and there aren’t many alternative sources of information so we are left discussing the Magic Quadrant out of necessity.

So, let’s dive a little deeper into the recent Unified Communications Magic Quadrant.  Bern Elliot, a vice president and senior analyst at Gartner, and co-author of the UC Magic Quadrant noted “The vendors would like to broaden the footprint they have within their existing customers and expand into new markets, whereas users, in many cases, would like to have the vendors interoperate effectively so they can get a high degree of functionality, and preserve and migrate their existing investments.”

Bottom line, it is Elliot’s opinion that the major vendors are fighting to be the whole pie, but that customers gain more benefit from a buffet or cafeteria approach combining different vendor components and leveraging existing hardware/software investments.

Toward that end, Elliot suggests that vendors focus more on interoperability and playing well with others and less on trying to dominate and be the all-in-one end-to-end solution. Fair enough. I will extend that concept by saying that, among the major vendors, I believe Microsoft provides the superior balance betwen delivering an innovative and comprehensice unified communications experience, while integrating well with a variety of platforms and enabling customers to integrate Microsoft offerings with existing communications investments.

September 14, 2009  12:30 AM

Disappearing Value of the Magic Quadrant

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

The media likes to quote analysts and survey reports, but do reports like the Gartner Magic Quadrant provide any useful information for customers?

I have thought for some time that organizations like Gartner, Forrester, and others have an inflated view of their self-worth. The analysts prognosticate based on trends and circumstantial evidence and the industry in question is expected to react to the analyst statements and predictions.

To the extent that customers actually accept the analyst reports as credible information they become self-fulfilling prophecies. Customers who have never heard of ACME Unified Communications (don’t check the Magic Quadrant- I made it up) are more likely to purchase products or services from it if it is ranked prominently in the Magic Quadrant, thereby justifying its rank in the Magic Quadrant after the fact.

A blog post I read recently drilled even deeper to explore the value of the Magic Quadrant.  The blog post points out that “unified communications as an industry is fueled by, driven by, and revenue generated by a set of companies Gartner just never sees. Just as small and mid-sized business drive much (I believe most) of our economy, they drive much (or most) of this industry. Where’s Truphone? MaxROAM? Calliflower? Tungle? IfbyPhone? Junction Networks? Voxeo? Jaduka?”

It seems like the Magic Quadrant is little more than marketing fodder for the companies fortunate enough to make the Magic Quadrant. It gives vendors recognition to quote in marketing collateral and media (such as me) a convenient source of (allegedly) credible data to quote from, but seems to offer little in the way of true value for customers trying to understand the products and services available in a given industry.

What do you think? Do analyst reports like the Gartner Magic Quadrant have any value? Do you use them in making vendor / purchasing decisions? If not, are there other sources you consider more credible and reliable that would recommend instead?

September 12, 2009  3:31 AM

Secret Messages Hidden in VoIP Traffic

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley

Security researchers are increasingly concerned that hackers are close to developing tools for VoIP-based steganography. With hidden messages being transmitted secretly within the voice data, eavesdropping programs like the NSA wiretapping would be rendered useless.

Steganography hides a message within some other medium in such a way that only the sender and the intended recipient are even aware a message exists. If combined with some form of encryption to protect the message on the remote possibility that someone randomly stumbles across it, steganography can be a very powerful method of transmitting secret messages and data.

There have long been rumors that terrorist groups like Al Qaeda transmit secred coded messages to each other by using steganography to embed data within JPG images such as porn photos, or images associated with eBay auctions.

Steganography isn’t new. Even steganography on VoIP is not really new. What is new, and what concerns security researchers, is if tools become available to average users to enable anyone to use steganography over VoIP.

Government and law enforcement agencies in the United States (and other countries as well) use eavesdropping and wiretapping as a means of intelligence gathering for national security purposes. But, if two terrorist operatives use steganography over VoIP they will be able to transmit plans for the next suicide bombing or airplane hijacking secretly in the background while the NSA just eavesdrops on two people having an innocent conversation about which actor is the best James Bond (I vote for Roger Moore).

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