The Struggle to Unify Communications

Sep 05, 2012 7:31 am   |   Leave a Comment

The title for this blog comes from a presentation given at last year’s Forrester IT Roadmap conference by Art Schoeller, Forrester principal analyst for Unified Communications and Contact Centers. As we prepared this post, we realized that more than 12 months after Schoeller’s presentation, unifying communications remains something of a struggle.

In our prior blog post, we discussed some of the misperceptions surrounding Unified Communications that we think have made it challenging for businesses to embrace UC. Mostly, that post focused on marketplace confusion, due to the evolving definition of UC – one that changes based on each UC vendor’s product sets.

In this post, we will look at some of the technological challenges. First, we want to highlight some barriers to UC interoperability that Schoeller identified:

Buyer Headaches Vendors’ interoperability solutions Resulting buyer value
Extensive cost to administer and configure multiple vendor product lines and excessive amount of time spent managing interfaces Standards-based solutions designed for compatibility. Reduced UC capital requirements, staff training costs, administrative loads, and ongoing maintenance.
Remote/distributed workforce is unable to access communication and collaboration tools outside of the office. Fixed-mobile integration leverages cellular and Wi-Fi networks to deliver mobile, nomadic, and remote access. Improved remote and mobile worker productivity, reduce mobile telephony costs, and improved telecom cost control.
New technologies (e.g. VoIP) are incompatible with old (e.g., time division multiplexing (TDMI). Integrated TDM-VoIP gateways and edge routers with integrated management control. Reduced UC capital requirements, enabling IT to leverage existing network infrastructure.
Multiple business unit buyers adopt difference UC&C services that meet work group requirements but are not secure, manageable or cost effective. Configurable UC&C systems that can enable different services for different employees based on role, location, or level – meeting BU requirements but on common platform. Reduced IT administration costs, improved security, higher UC&C utilization, better IT/BU relationships.
Disjointed systems and communications environments introduce errors in processes ranging from HR to accounts payable to enterprise resource planning (ERP). Agile, configurable communication-enabled business processes. Increased speed of business operation, reduced error rate, better customer service.

Unfortunately for IT departments and end users, these UC headaches still remain.

Other headaches include:

  • Too many UC companies come from a telephony background. That means their solutions typically are based in hardware. The fact is that hardware can be reliable. But hardware is also expensive to install, maintain (especially because it is inflexible) and upgrade or replace.
  • A telephony all-in-one approach can be challenging to deploy in a mixed-vendor environment.
  • Some UC solutions work well only in some environments – a fact that is not always disclosed. For example, some work well if your company’s infrastructure takes a single-vendor approach. But others don’t work seamlessly if your company – like most companies – relies on multiple-vendor infrastructure. Others still can’t deploy across virtualized environments.
  • Some UC solutions can’t connect to existing video infrastructure – which means throwing out solutions companies have already invested in. Without a transcoded media architecture, some solutions can’t connect to different types of (room-based, desktop, etc.).
  • Meanwhile, some best-of-breed collaboration-type UC solutions require integration, which, according to Frost & Sullivan’s Melanie Turek, “depending on the vendors involved, may or may not be achievable out of the box.”
  • The lack of a single uniform pricing structure – because each company sells its UC offerings differently – makes it difficult to “identify the true cost of a UC implementation,” according to Turek.
  • Some solutions set up untended barriers to collaboration, requiring complicated or counter-intuitive steps to communicate. For example, systems that don’t work with existing solutions (such as old room-based videoconferencing systems) will frustrate end users who are able to easily connect with other end points.
  • Interoperability becomes more important and harder to manage in a Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) to work. As Schoeller noted, “Workers receive a choice of devices, such as desktop phone, mobile device, wireless on-premise phone, or softphone, but not necessarily a landline phone.” Managing those choices can be complex, especially as the delivery of communications across platforms and devices must be similar and seamless.
  • Virtualized and cloud environments are becoming more widespread but the ability to support UC functionality, like videoconferencing, remains difficult for most UC vendors.
  • Security and bandwidth management need to be address but can complicate seamless communications. This can lead to what Schoeller refers to as “The UC civil war.”

There is, we believe, a simple solution to many of these headaches. It’s this: no hardware. Find UC solutions that use an all-software architecture. These all-software solutions are flexible, cost-effective, and future-proof. They can deliver seamless UC in multi-vendor environments to multiple end points. Check out Schoeller’s presentation for more insight. Also check out the Avistar C3™ platform, which is designed to meet the challenges outlined in this article, while exceeding end user expectations and IT demands.

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About Avistar Communications

Avistar is an innovation leader in the unified visual communications industry, with more than 15 years of experience providing proven business-class desktop videoconferencing technology. Avistar's solutions are used across a broad spectrum of industries with deployments ranging in size from 30-35,000 users. Avistar's technology also helps to power solutions from Citrix, IBM, LifeSize, Logitech and many other leading unified communications vendors, while delivering end-user videoconferencing solutions to some of the world's largest corporations, in more than 40 countries. For more information, please visit www.avistar.com.

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