Today's communications architecture no longer meets the requirements of Organisations
Europe's leading IT research and advisory organisation, Butler Group, believes that organisations are moving from traditional hierarchies based on command and control, to looser structures utilising collaboration and team work and there is a fundamental shift from one-to-one to many-to-many communication. The report "Communications and Collaboration Report - Laying the Foundations for Business Process Flexibility" identifies that organisations are beginning to expand outside the traditional boundaries found in the past. The extended enterprise now requires a common IP-based infrastructure to capitalise on information mobility and the need to be more flexible. There is a requirement for greater location independence, with remote working becoming more popular and many employees no longer remaining in one place for any great length of time. In order for this flexibility and changes in work practices to be catered for it is becoming apparent that the existing separate silo ed infrastructures are no longer the answer.
"The need for new and enhanced service provision to support business requirements must drive infrastructure and technology deployment. A services-based approach is best suited to this environment to insulate developers and users from the complexity of the infrastructure, and to ease the integration of the different systems and communication mechanisms. There should be a move towards the provision of common integrated communication services, which are ideal for catering for a complex and distributed environment. Web services can also be utilised to mobilise information to all stakeholders", says Mark Blowers, Enterprise Architectures Practice Director and co-author of the study.
"Moving away from proprietary solutions for voice and data to a horizontal communications architecture will enable the communications environment to be broken down into separate layers, making use of industry standards to integrate the hardware, common services, and administration elements. This componentisation and services-based approach increases flexibility, enabling services to be developed independent of the equipment. Using IP-based components instead of vendor-dependent solutions improves scalability, along with driving down infrastructure costs with price/performance optimisation."
Communications convergence is a key enabler for better collaboration
The term 'convergence can be misleading. It is not a merger of voice and data networks, but the utilisation of the existing data, fixed, and wireless infrastructure for the provision of IP-based services, including voice, data, video, and storage. Within this all-encompassing environment one of the most important building blocks is the establishment of voice as an application. This fundamentally alters the communications paradigm, enabling the development and integration of many new innovative services.
The reach and range of business processes continues to increase as organisations extend and expand their interactions with partners, suppliers, and customers; and so the need to integrate geographically dispersed teams into complex business processes presents something of a challenge for the IT manager. Fax, e-mail, pager, SMS, Web conferencing, video conferencing, and conventional teleconferencing are all in use today, yet many business processes are still hampered by ineffective collaboration. Organisations must therefore re-examine their corporate communication and collaboration strategies in order to better support business activities and objectives.
"Communications play an important role in ensuring businesses function efficiently. It is therefore vital for systems to be effective and easy to use. Enterprises are concerned with both employee and customer satisfaction when deploying communication technologies and are looking to improve productivity through their IP and unified communications investments", continues Blowers.
"There is pressure on the IT manager to provide enterprise presence functionality due to the availability of consumer instant messaging. Social networking techniques and Web 2.0 functionality used in the consumer environment will be demanded by the enterprise workforce, which will come to expect these new tools and technologies to be readily available at any location, as well as being able to use any device."
Implementation costs, as well as security and reliability are important considerations within the unified communications environment
Although reliability and security are amongst the most important factors in investment decisions, the cost of implementation is the leading inhibitor. Whilst this is slightly more of a factor for small or medium-sized enterprises with tighter IT budgets, it is still an issue for a majority of the enterprises responding to a 2007 Datamonitor survey on Communications Convergence.
Another challenge is to securing the extended environment that most IT managers now need to support. There are many instances of successful attacks and loss of data, which includes finance companies and government agencies. The issue of security must be adequately addressed when contemplating utilising an IP-based environment. Whilst the introduction of voice and video on to the network presents new security worries, it does not, however, add any new vulnerability that did not previously exist.
Effective management is a key capability in the unified environment where policies must drive availability, and visibility moves from individual point solutions to being system wide, along with the shift from fixed asset administration to dynamic asset utilisation. A cornerstone for the provision of multi-modal channels is the ability to deliver intelligent central performance management, enabling efficient use of the available resources. The accessibility of end-to-end Quality of Service (QoS) supporting data, voice, and multimedia, is an important first step in the evolution towards an automated solution.
Blowers concludes: "Many communication and collaboration strategies are primarily initiated to reap the benefits of infrastructure consolidation, such as reductions in operational costs, and to improve levels of service quality. However, although these are useful goals, the real value afforded by unified communications and collaboration solutions ultimately arises from improvements to business processes, enhancement of stakeholder interactions, the optimisation of workflow, and driving innovation in the business."
Butler Direct Ltd
Butler Group (www.butlergroup.com) is Europe's leading independent IT Research and Advisory organisation. Its mission is to ensure that its clients are the most comprehensively informed IT and business managers on current, emerging, and future technology matters, and their impact on business - in short, "Analysis without compromise". Butler Group has established an enviable reputation for the impartiality and incisiveness of its research and opinions. This is evidenced by a client base encompassing over 40% of the top 100 companies in each of Butler Group's key markets. Butler Group.
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