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.

Maturity framework – How do you sell Unified Communications?

Unified Communications Maturity FrameworkI recently held a series of Unified Communications Readiness Workshops in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to provide our channel partners with the tools to break down a complex unified communications solution into something which can be easily characterised and understood.

A few months back while working with Microsoft I stumbled across a maturity framework which Microsoft called the BPIO Model otherwise known as the ‘Business Productivity Infrastructure Optimisation’ Model which is based upon Gartner’s Infrastructure Maturity Model, and MIT’s Architecture Maturity Model.

While similar to other infrastructure optimisation models, what I liked about Microsoft’s interpretation is how they applied it to unified communication.

I won’t go into the detail of the model here… which would take a minimum of two (2) hours to explain but essentially the model consists of four (4) vertical stages each of which represents enhanced levels of maturity as the organization transition from stage to stage.

Horizontally I have identified five (5) technology area’s which I have expanded further from Microsoft’s BPIO Model and which I feel form the foundations of a unified communications solutions include.

  1. Messaging

  2. Collaborative Workspaces and Portals

  3.  IM & Presence

  4.  Voice

  5. Conferencing

The benefit of the model is that it provides us with a framework to have a strategic discussion with our customers to evaluate what their current maturity level or which stage they are in and by using a consultative approach identify where the business would like to be by taking into account the direction and goals of the company.

By understanding the current state of the organisation and where they would like to be we are in a better position to recommend and implement a staged approach to getting them there. Or to develop a plan transitioning the customer through each maturity level in order to reach a level which provide maximum business benefits and cost savings to the organisation.

Solution in silos – How do you sell Unified Communications?

Unified Communications is a term which has been around for some time but often is the cause of confusion and misunderstanding.

I remember giving a presentation about the strategic position of IBM, Cisco and Microsoft where I focused specifically on the area’s where the vendors compete and more importantly where they collaborate. During the Q&A a hand went up and ask “..so which product should we lead with?”

Where do you go from here? The question could be answered on many different levels, but the important thing that this question highlighted was that unified communications can not be defined as a single product.

The challenge for all of us who are developing our unified communications practice is to stop thinking of solution in silos… instead the real value which we as sales people can offer our customers is the ability to develop a wider and deeper understanding of their current infrastructure which will undoubtedly consist of a multi-vendor environment.

By understanding the bigger picture of where each of the vendors are coming from in terms of the unified communications strategy and especially understanding where their products compete and compliment we are in a better position to recommend a unified communications solution that scales to meet the customers future needs.

Cisco’s new SMB ‘Select’ Specialisation.

I have had a number of enquires regarding the new Cisco SMB ‘Select’ Specialisation, what it is and the process for getting certified, so for those of you who are interested here is a quick guide.

Cisco SMB ‘Select’ Specialisation has been revised for those partners who wish to sell Cisco’s new Smart Business Communication System (SBCS) suit of products – which includes the UC500. In short a total of four exams must be passed: 

  1. Foundation and Security for AM
  2. Foundation and Security for Engineer
  3. SBCS for Account Manager
  4. SBCS for Engineer 

Cisco’s rational behind this training is to first of all make sure their partners have the foundation competencies to recommend, install and implement and voice and UC solution and also to offer specialisation training which does not require a heavy investment from the channel. Training has been divided into two streams, account manager and engineer (however a single person can do both) and will be available on Cisco’s Partner E-Learning Connection (PEC) on August 1st, 2007. The four training modules will take approximately Estimated 29 hours to complete and online each exam will cost US$20. All four exams will be available as online exams which will replace the current Proctored Exams. This means partners do not need to book these exams through Cisco’s testing vendors. Partners can simply click on the exams from the PEC website to register. 

Partners that want to resell SBCS/UC500 products must pass all four exams as stated above. They must then apply for SMB Specialisation via Cisco’s Certification and Specialisation application tool (http://tools.cisco.com/WWChannels/cpapp/index.jsp).

Partners are only eligible to sell SBCS products once their application has been approved by Cisco. PEC (CCO login required): www.cisco.com/go/pec After logging in into PEC, partners can use this URL to get to the SMB training: http://cisco.partnerelearning.com/peclms/lang-en/management/TAX_NodeDetails.asp?RootNodeID=-1&UserMode=0&Action=show&NodeID=70 

Points to remember: 

  1. Cisco SMB ‘Select’ Specialisation will be available on Cisco’s Partner E-Learning Connection (PEC) on August 1st, 2007. 
  2. Four exams must be passed. Two (2) exams each for account manager and engineer, however one person can do all four (4) and each exam will cost US$20.
  3.  Registered Partners – once their SMB Specialisation is approved, they should apply for ‘Select’ Certification. 
  4. Premier certified partners that choose to be SMB Specialised, do not need to apply for Select Certification (because the higher certification level will apply). 
  5. Partners that are already specialised in Advanced UC & Express UC can resell SBCS/UC500.  If you need support with regards to the application process – you can call Cisco’s Partner Relationship Team on 1800 612 452.

 Happy Certifying!

Social Software Impact on Business

We have seen a transition from the web over the last few years from being purely transactional. Today in the next evolution of the web, called web 2.0, we are starting to see growing communities where individuals can easily share and collaborate on information and where individuals can have their 15min of fame. 

We have all heard of MySpace, You Tube, Flickr, Blogs & Wiki’s…. These are all example where individuals can share their personal profiles and interests (such as MySpace), where you can share video files and Pictures to friends and family… or to the world – using You Tube and Flickr… or to provide a forum where individuals can express their opinion on any area of expertise and receive feedback from individuals with similar views – blogs and wiki’s etc, etc. 

What about ‘Sell-a-band’ and ‘Second life’? Both of these communities where you can emerge yourself into a virtual world or have influence and share in the success of the next biggest rock band. 

Ok a quick overview… 

Sell-a-band is a music industry concept designed to remove the barriers for struggling bands to get have their music heard, to develop a fan base and to have their music professionally produced. The key difference is that the success of each band depends on the number of fans (5000) and or investors they can accumulate over time.  Anyone here who would like to invest in the success of a band could make a visit to sellaband.com, listen to a number of bands who are ranked similar to a top 50 chart and spend your hard earned dollars to invest in their success. In return you will receive ongoing royalties from any music downloads and CD sales. 

Who is happy with their current life…? Second life is an online virtual world which provides you with just that a second opportunity to do something over, to test try a new business opportunity that you are thinking about getting into or to escape into a virtual world.  

Well that’s the business reason; of course second life like any other online community has more than its fair share of participants who are motivated purely by the excitement and the opportunity to ‘live out’ their sexual fantasies with complete strangers, but that’s for another discussion. 

You may have heard of Second Life on 60 minutes a couple of weeks back… where individuals are spending and making a lot of money within this virtual world. A couple of examples of examples which came out of the 60 minutes where… one guy who spent $100,000 (USD) on an asteroid off the main world… he makes his return on investment by building a nightclub and resort on the asteroid where other visitors can visit. He also offers a hunting safari service for those of us who want to go around hunting and killing alien creatures… and of course we pay real money to do this. 

Getting from the main world to the asteroid has created employment opportunities for those of us who fancy ourselves as Han Solo who are employed (yes with real $$) to fly people to and from the asteroid…and of course we all need to look good, so any one of us could start a fashion label, or work in a nightclub as a barman, deejay, own a restaurant or become a property developer, model or actor… you get the picture. 

This maybe a hard concept to grasp but the idea is that individuals are getting the opportunity to experience a second life… and to make money doing it… and businesses are seeing the value of it. Consider this research report from Gartner last year…. 

Enterprise social software will be the biggest new workplace technology success story of this decade. 30% of enterprises will openly sponsor internal MySpace-like social sharing spaces to help employees find others with similar interest, skills, backgrounds and experiences. Gartner, “Predicts 2007 – Big Changes ahead in the high performance workplace”, Dec 5,2006

So how are businesses leveraging this technology? Businesses are seeing the benefits of utilising these new social trends in social software by investing in land and premises within these worlds to simplify the way there employees collaborate and share information. Today we are seeing retail chains like Star Bucks who are employing professional 3D modellers to design and build shops to be placed on each street corner within second life.  

We are seeing universities including Princeton and Harvard Law School who are offering online lectures where students can attend for free. We are seeing large companies like Cisco, Microsoft and IBM to name a few who are conducting world wide product releases and presentations to their internal staff within second life, where all employees can make their way there in a virtual world… and the payoffs… it dramatically reducing transportation and travel cost and providing ease of access…. because you don’t need IT support to schedule a web conferencing session…. all you need is an internet connection.

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.