Category Archives: collaboration

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.

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.

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…’