Category Archives: UCC

Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2008

While searching for information relating to Gartner’s Unified Communications Magic Quadrant I stumbled across Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2008.

1.       Green IT

2.       Unified Communications

3.       Business Process Modelling

4.       Metadata Management

5.       Virtualization 2.0

6.       Mashup & Composite Apps

7.       Web Platform & WOA

8.       Computing Fabric

9.       Real World Web

10.   Social Software

At first glance it was not surprising to see Unified Communications (UC) at the top of the list. What it shows is that UC is at the forefront of what organisations are – at the very least – talking about, piloting or adopting within their business environment. What I also thought was interesting were the other technologies highlighted by Gartner which are to some degree either composites to UC – Mashups & Composite Apps. A technology which typically been excluded from UC conversations but is critical to successfully realising and experiencing the UC vision – Metadata Management. Technologies which help reduce a customers TCO and also by default adds to the organisations sustainability and ongoing investment to the environment – Virtualisation and Green IT, and finally a technology which enables organisations to address one of their biggest issues of how to retain the knowledge or intellectual property of our employees before they leave the business – social software.

Of course it must be noted that most of the technologies mentioned above are at very different stages of maturity and many are still in the domain of the consumer and early adopters.

Lets take a look at each in more detail and how they relate to UC.

Mashups & Composite Apps when integrated appropriately can enrich many of the productivity enhancements we have been hearing about. For example converging presence or awareness technology with GSP and Map technologies. Lets say you need to find a suitable contact that has specific knowledge on UC who is available to present on ‘Social Software and the implication for businesses’. Imagine your search result returns 20 suitable contacts across the company and you can view their presence information and current location details within ‘Google Maps’? This would provide you with a visual aid to enhance your UC experience to help you to find the closest resource to fulfil your current need.

Other forms of this technology slowly becoming available to mobile users include location based technologies like ‘Dodgeball’, a location finder app. which you installed on your mobile. This application allows users to search through your contacts stored on the phone to see – who if any – are located within a 10 block radius. Those who respond to your ‘poke’ with be displayed within a map of the local area. Needless to say this technology has emerged from the consumer space and has become a necessity when you’re at your local watering hole and need to locate additional drinking buddies for the big night ahead. The challenge for businesses however is how to leverage this technology for business use…. Where’s the link I hear you say? Imagine being at the airport and your flight is delayed or at your hotel. In this instance you could use this technology to see if any of your business contacts are also waiting for a flight or staying in the same hotel… in which case you can initiate an impromptu meeting.

In many cases when hearing vendors present on UC I hear about the happy-day-scenario where everyone is mobile working anywhere they choose to be using any device… we’ve all heard the pitch, sounds great right? But what gets me is no one talks about the information and data we are trying to access and more specifically how to get that information and data in such a state where we are able to search and more importantly access information anytime, anywhere using any device.

Metadata Management, number four (4) on Gartner’s list of Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2008 helps organisations address this by enabling individuals to realise the full benefits of UC by applying the appropriate metadata to each document turning the happy-day-scenario into a reality.

Virtualisation and Green IT number five (5) and one (1) respectively are typically paired hand-in-hand.

Virtualisation makes it possible for businesses to run multiple operating systems and multiple applications on the same computer at the same time, increasing the utilisation, flexibility of hardware and more importantly reduces the organisation’s footprint on the environment by using less hardware (server consolidation) and reducing overall power and cooling requirements.

Within a UC environment this topic is becoming a lot more relevant because a typical UC solution will require multiple servers, a DC, Exchange or Domino, Presence, Mobility Servers, Storage Array’s, and many with multiple roles.

Social software which scraps in a number ten (10) will have an enormous effect of the way businesses will communicate in the near future. But what  is the number one asset for any business?… it’s people right? So the challenge for businesses is how do we retain good people and if we can’t, how do we retain their knowledge and intellectual property which we can reuse at a later date…? with social software of course.

We can see this technology in action through sites such as mySpace, Facebook and LinkedIn, and technologies such as wiki’s and blogs all of which have been driven out of the consumer space by teenagers and Gen ‘Y’s. All of a sudden the World Wide Web has transitioned from purely transactional where information travelled one way to an environment where we can all have an opinion and a forum to express our point of view, whether it be right or wrong.

So the challenge for businesses is how to leverage this technology within the enterprise? We are starting to see this technology emerge from vendors such as IBM with Lotus Connections, a social software server client model which enables individuals to produce their own profile to include past experiences and interest.

One point that we need to remember is that we all come to an organisation with past experiences and interest outside of work which could be useful to the organisation which typically goes unnoticed. For example you maybe heading up a virtual team to discuss a new product development process and you need to find the most appropriate individuals in the organisation to attend.

By searching the organisation’s employee profiles you can find all those who have the knowledge and skill sets you require which are based not only on their current role within the organisation but also their past experiences and interest.

Cisco’s releases Unified Communications Solution for Small Business

Cisco Unified Communications 500 Series for Small Business otherwise known as the ‘UC500’ forms part of the Cisco Smart Business Communications System is due for release this week…

The UC500 is an all-in-one unified communications solution designed specifically for Small Business users, which is defined by Cisco as sub 50 seats and represents Cisco’s entry into this highly diversified market.

This all-in-one solution incorporating call processing, voice mail & automated attendant into a single (1.5RU) appliance represents a paradigm shift from Cisco traditional enterprise approach – requiring that both applications reside on separate appliances – sends a clear message to the market that Cisco is serious about expanding its dominance into the SMB market.

There is no doubt that the UC500 offers Small Business customers the ability to leverage Cisco’s pedigree of VoIP and Unified Messaging and provides small businesses the opportunity to migrate from a legacy PSTN or PBX system to reduce their TCO.

The for techies among you, the UC500 comes in two fixed port configurations… with your choice of 4 PSTN trunks (FXO) or 2 BRI interfaces… in addition both units contain 8 x 10/100PoE switch ports for LAN connectivity, supplying full 15.4w of power to any standards based (802.3af) device including Cisco’s complete range of IP phones… well… except for the Cisco’s Video (7985G) Phone, wireless access point or IP camera and 4 x PSTN (FXS) interfaces supporting analogue phone, a fax machine or point of sale (POS) system and an expansion slot providing additional (2 or 4) PSTN (FXS & FXO) or (2) BRI interfaces.

Both models have the option for an integrated access point to provide basic WLAN (b/g) coverage in a small office space which can be extended using Cisco’s Mobility Express Solution consisting of up to three (3) access points1 (AP521) controlled by a centralised management station (WLC520) and can also be extended to provide presence and mobility via the Cisco Unified CallConnector for Microsoft Office and Unified CallConnector Mobility Server options, both of which can be installed on a standard Microsoft server running MS Pro or Vista.

The UC500 base unit comes preinstalled with Call Processing – Cisco Unified Communications Manager Express (CME 4.1 base), Voice Mail & Automated Attendant – Cisco Unity Express Voice Mail (CUE 2.3 base), Security, firewall, and VPN capabilities and to further simplify the licensing requirements, the UC500 is pre loaded with 8, 16, 32 or 48 feature licenses for Call Processing, voicemail, and Cisco Unified IP phones to eliminate the guesswork from configuration and deployment.2

The only thing which seems strange is the base unit ships with a fixed port configuration, and in order to expand the port density to support the suggested 16, 32 and 48 users the solution will require an additional (1 RU) 8 or 24 port switch (CE520 Series) to provide the additional port requirements and capabilities.

This minor issue aside the UC500 will surely make a solid debut. Cisco has already began planing for the introduction of its new ‘Select’ certification program which is designed to recruit and train a number of SMB focused resellers to take the UC500 to market.Cisco does have many competitors in this space including, Nortel with their BCM 50 and Avaya with their IP Office both of which have been in the market for a while now. Both Nortel and Avaya offer presence (the ability to show user and contact location, availability and phone status) as an option like Cisco, but the question is this something small businesses want or need?

What about mobility or the requirement to route calls to any number of devices including Single Number Reach (SNR) routing calls to cell or home phone when away from the office… and also offering the ability to bridge calls on IP Phone allowing to answer call on cell and switch to IP phone with a single click?

1When utilising the integrated access point only two access points can be added.

2The 8 & 16 port versions are due for release the end of June 2007 with the 32 & 48 port options due for release later this year in August.

What is the ROI on Unified Communications?

The ROI on Unified Communications (UC) is an important component which needs to be addressed at some stage during the sales cycle but the majority of ROI’s presented are often on the surface superficial and lack tangible returns for the end user customer.

A couple of the most commonly talked about benefits of UC are increased employee workflow efficiency and user productivity. This is true but, you would be hard pressed getting a senior executive to sign off on a UC opportunity based on these benefits alone.Increased productivity and efficiency are often referred to as being ‘Soft’ benefits or ‘Micro-Productivity’ which refer to the actual time saved by an individual when completing a given task.

Take this study for example… Sage research in 2006 surveyed 200 small, medium and large businesses to map the trends in their device usage. The concluded that the number of communication devices and applications are proliferating at an alarming rate and determined that each person surveyed had access to an average of 6.4 different types of physical devices (Mobile, VoIP Handset, Smart Phone, Blackberry or Pam, Fax, Pager etc) and 4.8 different types of applications (Email, Public IM’s such as MSN and Yahoo Messenger, Enterprise IM, softphone etc) to communicate with various stakeholders in their organisation.

They also found mobility to be a market driver with employees becoming increasingly more mobile with 27% of those surveyed travelling at least once a month.

These two factors alone… ‘Proliferation of communication devices and applications’ + ‘increasing mobile workforce’ = delays in contacting the right person.

We have all experienced ‘message tag’ where we have tried numerous communication devices to contact the right person. The typical process is like this….

  1. Send an email (and wait for a reply)…
  2. I need a response urgently so I’ll ring the land line or mobile and leave a voice message.
  3. Still no response so I’ll send a follow-up email… and then leave another message on the land line or mobile again.
  4. …Repeat

You can see where this is going… I just spent a good part of the day using various communication devices and applications trying to contact a key discission maker… without much success. Not to mention that the person you have been trying to contact will have to manage and clear the influx of emails and voice messages left on any one of their 6.4 physical devices and/or 4.8 applications.

The net effect of the inability to contact the right person the first time is delay and missed deadlines which could seriously impact the top & bottom line of the business.

The study concluded by indicating that those companies who implemented various UC solution such as ‘Unified Communications Clients’, ‘SoftPhones’, Enterprise IM, and ‘Unified Messaging’ saved between 32 and 53min per employee per day by being able to reach co-workers on the first attempt or by escalating IM chats into phone calls.

We could argue that the time saved resulted in a direct hard $$ savings. Let’s assume that by implementing and using an enterprise IM solution to escalate chats into phone calls saves each employee 45min per day. Over the course of a year the time saved by each employee is approximately 180 hours or 7.5 days each year. Multiple this by the total number of employees and you have some considerable savings.But is this enough to get executive buy in… the answer in most likely NO! Increased productivity and efficiency are ‘Soft’ benefits or ‘Micro-Productivity’.

ROI of UC is faster revenue generation:

What gets executives excited is not the time saved by implementing and using better and easier methods of communications… it is the time saved by performing specific core functions of the business based around revenue generation… or otherwise referred to as ‘Hard’ benefits or ‘Macro-Productivity’Macro-Productivity is the ability to speed up the customer ordering process, or the ability to resolve a customer billing issue by being able to accurately and within a timely fashion, resulting in increased customer satisfaction and retention.

Another ‘Hard’ or ‘Macro-Productivity’ is the ability to add additional functionality by integrating UC into backend business processes. Companies who have invested heavily in CRM or ERP systems would look positively in complementary solutions which enable decision makers, internal experts and information workers to access customer information over any device to help resolve or perform specific core revenue generating functions of the business.    

Unified Communications defined?

What is Unified Communications (UC)?

Cisco defines Unified Communications as ‘…an architecture that connects people-people and people-applications… simply.’ Anonymous – Cisco

Anoop Gupta, corporate vice president of Microsoft’s Unified Communications group defined Unified Communications as being ‘… personal and intuitive; centered around people and availability; allows users to be in control of communications on any device; is deeply integrated with business processes; leverages infrastructure customers already have; makes it simple to manage communications services; lower the costs; and is standard-based for interoperability.’

UC is often the course of great confusion. If you asked 10 different people to define UC you will get 10 different answers. For those of us who are working in this area the above definitions provide us with a bare bone definition for which we have to flesh out. I would suspect that a relative newcomer to the world of UC would find these definitions utterly useless. So let’s get the ball rolling. How would you define UC… I’ll start…

I use this definition to simplify the concept, applying it to the business case. Remember these guys don’t care about ‘speeds and feeds’. They want to know how this technology can increase productivity and provide their business with a competitive advantage.

UC can be defined as

‘…the office of the future where users are empowered to take control over how they communicate, providing access to the right information and the right person over any device or application the first time…’