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Did Nortel's Bankruptcy Get Your Attention For Enterprise UC?


January 20, 2009

The enterprise telephony pundits are all putting their spin on the news that industry leader, Nortel, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization.  They all say that this is no surprise and it’s not just because Nortel made mistakes.

I also mentioned the first published rumble from Nortel in early December in a comment I wrote to an article on UC. (See what I wrote below. *) Because enterprise telephony technology is being integrated and absorbed into UC and multimodal mobile services are rapidly become available to consumers, the traditional telephony piece parts (endpoint devices, TDM networks, hardware switches, voice applications) will no longer be locked into those premise-based hardware/software solutions that the telecom industry has traditionally served up to the business market.   
Blair Pleasant (at UC Strategies.com) took a great stab at trying to clear up the confusion that surrounds the fundamental concepts of “unified communications.” For the record, my own perspective has always focused on benefits for the individual end users of communication technology, which includes:
·         Ease of use of endpoint communication devices
·         Flexible and efficient modes of contact with people (who can’t always be available or accessible)
·         Personalized manageability of all contact activities that are location and device independent
·         Reasonable cost effectiveness
Whether for personal (consumer) usage or for business job responsibilities, without those benefits, UC technology will never gain user acceptance and enterprise implementations will never take off or pay off for business process efficiency!
Different Enterprise Constituencies and UC Perspectives
(* Comment on article “W ill the REAL Definition of UC Please Stand Up!”) )
Part of the problem of defining UC rests with the different constituencies involved with the use of UC capabilities. End users don't care about infrastructure requirements, only functionality and ease of use. Business management are primarily concerned with business process performance and operational costs. IT is mainly concerned with implementation and support costs for operational capacity, reliability, and security for network and server infrastructures, satisfying various end user needs and business management's application needs, and managing (control) over what they are responsible for, including software clients on end user endpoint devices.
 
What UC is changing the most is what Blair highlighted, the role of voice telephony. Not only is traditional telephony importance downshifting to visual interfaces and text content, but the traditional TDM network infrastructure and how it is managed is changing as well (IP telephony, VoIP, wireless mobility).
As Blair mentioned, the latter is having a drastic effect on enterprise telecom, telephone system providers, and the public service providers (carriers). Needless to say, the sales and support channels for all these providers will also be greatly impacted in who they represent and how they will do business with their clients.
Presence - Don’t Confuse Availability With Accessibility!
The one point I would want to clarify is the role of “presence management.” Availability status, from a contact initiation perspective, is primarily needed only for real-time connections, i.e., phone calls, IM, and conferencing. The increasing roles of asynchronous messaging and immediate message delivery (SMS) don't really require such information to be made available to senders. Message originators should be able to send messages whenever they need to, in whatever medium is convenient, and with any type of device, while recipients should have the same flexibility for controlling message delivery, retrieval and responses. 
The reliability of location-independent message delivery (plus it's informational attachments) made email equally important with phone calls for business users in a study I reported upon over two years ago. At that time, the study didn't consider IM, so that would add another chunk of communication activity taken out of voice telephony's future role in business communications.
Voice conversations will always remain very important to both personal and business contacts, but the inefficiencies of ad hoc, "blind" call attempts that waste the caller's time can now shift to more efficient, "contextual" ways of initiating a successful call. That is where new federated presence technology will pay off, primarily to contact initiators, both on a person/application-to-person basis, or on a person-to-anyone-who-is- qualified-and-available basis (e.g., live assistance to a customer or any end user).
Changing Enterprise Responsibilities for UC Services/
The migration from current telephony investments that still work presents several challenges to enterprise organizations, primarily about what communication services they should be responsible for, what do they need to change first, who needs those changes, and how should they go about making such changes. I think it is getting very obvious that from an end user perspective, it will start with mobile devices for internal users, business partners, and customers who are involved with high-value business processes.
Mobility has always been the driving force of user demand for the flexibility that UC offers, rather than the desktop. So, to start with what all end users really need most from UC, just look at the role that the enterprise will play in supporting all the new "smart phones' that end users will bring to their work environment and that customers will start using to interact with enterprise portals and customer care staff. Desktop UC is "nice-to-have," but mobile UC will be "got-to-have!"
As Blair pointed out, the traditional telephony system and service providers are quickly trying to shift product gears to support the changing role of location-based, proprietary hardware and software telephony to open, software-based, device-independent UC and mobility.
Reports that Nortel is considering bankruptcy possibilities is an indication that supporting Microsoft's UC strategies may not have done enough for their future survival. We are still watching how the other leading premise-based, business telephony (PBX) providers are changing (Avaya, Cisco, Siemens, Mitel, Alcatel-Lucent, etc.) vs. the enterprise premise-based email and IM technology providers (Microsoft, IBM), vs. what the hosted communication service providers are now able to offer.
Since UC covers all the pieces of business communication, including integration with business process applications (CEBP), it will be most interesting to see who ends up doing the business process consulting, solution selling, and technology infrastructure installation and support for the different UC components to fit various individual enterprise migration needs. Look for “UC Teams” of technology and service providers to be required to do the job of UC strategic planning and implementations.     
What Do You Think?
You can contact me at: artr@ix.netcom.com or (310) 395-2360.

Art Rosenberg, a veteran of the computer and communications industry, contributes his column, The Unified-View to unified communications. To read more of Art’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Jessica Kostek




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