The evolution of communications in the enterprise

28 Dec 2009

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IT departments need to be getting ready now for the coming revolution in unified communications, collaboration and contact centre (UC4).

In recent months, computing giant Hewlett-Packard entered into a major 10-year alliance with telecoms equipment maker Alcatel-Lucent to create a one-stop shop of telecoms and ICT managed services.

The significance of the move cannot be underestimated. According to Kevin O’Callaghan, head of operations at Alcatel-Lucent in Ireland, there has been a definite evolution of telecoms in the enterprise. Companies are now looking for more dynamic multimedia communications solutions that deliver lower IT capital expenditure and support faster and more efficient customer, employee and partner collaboration.

“Enterprises are also looking for end-to-end solutions, as opposed to stand alone products, while simplicity and ease-of-management are key. A great example of this is fixed-mobile convergence (FMC), which has promised a lot for several years but has been held back by fragmented solutions and approaches to implementation that have not delivered return on investment (ROI).

“However, improved devices, simpler implementation, consistent experience in and out of the office plus centralised management are now making FMC a much more viable solution with clear ROI.”

O’Callaghan says that over the next two years we will see evolution of unified communications (UC) into UC4 – defined as UC, collaboration and contact centre.

The key trend in this evolution will be making UC contextualised. In simple terms, this means integrating UC into organisations’ business processes and job functions to make sure it is seamlessly aligned with what employees are doing, when they are doing it.

“We also see video becoming a key communications technology, fuelled by the need for companies to reduce travel costs and make quicker internal decisions. High-definition videoconferencing can now be achieved at the click of an icon on a user’s desktop, giving employees instant video links with their colleagues.

“What’s more, videoconferencing is no longer dictated by the need for specific room-based facilities, which previously put it beyond the means of many smaller companies. Video can now be integrated in a cost-effective and practical way through many of the same tools businesses are already using today, such as a web browser. Over the coming months, these affordable desktop solutions will start to break down the traditional barriers to adoption and prioritise ease of use – crucial for businesses with limited technical expertise.”

O’Callaghan believes that over the next 12 months and beyond we’ll see more and more IT departments having to act and behave as service providers for their own organisations, providing service-level agreements and services based upon specific user profiles, with security policies based upon these user profiles (rather than a one-size-fits-all approach).

“We anticipate a growing need for high-leverage networks. Enterprise networks need to be aligned to business needs and processes, irrespective of location, time and function. Consistent services must be provided to all users within an organisation, regardless of the demands this might place upon the network. Consequently, IT departments need to think and act now in order to deliver a service that meets all future demands.

“With UC4 and contextualised communications, UC is already becoming a mature technology. Organisations can’t afford to treat technologies in isolation – they need to unify all communications processes across all devices, from the desktop to the mobile phone.”

O’Callaghan believes that, ultimately, companies should persevere with UC for the very simple reason that these solutions can help them save money and make money.

In particular, conferencing and collaboration is a business area demonstrating real ROI in the current climate. In contrast to softer claims of ‘productivity improvements’, organisations that deploy integrated collaboration solutions that utilise existing assets within business telephony, multimedia handling and mobility can now expect financial return within six to nine months.

“Failure to invest in the right technology will mean that an organisation loses its competitive advantage. The IT department of today needs to fully understand its business, become an expert in building a business case for each technology, and then integrate the technology into the business seamlessly so the organisation gains a real competitive differentiator.

“Additionally, as Generation Y enters the workforce, companies must recognise that SMS, Twitter, Facebook and instant messaging are the ways this generation wants to communicate. UC4 involves harnessing these new forms of communication in order to encourage skills- and knowledge-sharing among workers. This should be a key strategic aim for any organisation that wishes to maintain a competitive advantage,” O’Callaghan concludes.

By John Kennedy

Photo: Get ready for the next communications revolution: Kevin O’Callaghan, head of operations, Alcatel-Lucent in Ireland.

Editor John Kennedy is an award-winning technology journalist.

editorial@siliconrepublic.com