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Unified Communications Redefines Connectivity

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VoicenData Bureau
New Update

Over the last few years, enterprises have gone through major challenges like new consumer demands, the need to integrate front office, and back office as well as a major business transformation in terms of business processes and an emerging workforce with a different outlook. According to a recent Gartner survey, improvements in employee collaboration, productivity and customer service are the top three benefits of unified communications. In 2008, the mobile worker population was 27% of the entire workforce, and to fit this, 57% of organizations were supporting mobile devices to help this trend with the workforce wanting to be mobile.

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All this is a clear indication that unified communications is now no longer a fancy phenomenon, but is clearly becoming a necessity to cut costs, stay connected across locations, time zones, and integrate various mediums of communication like voice, data, telepresence, IM, email, video, and more. Linking the mobile and laptop is where the 3G comes in with applications that connect both. However UC can't exist in isolation, it is communications integrated with business processes, and collaboration harnessing an enterprise's collective intelligence.

Companies are now realizing that transformation into a collaborative and borderless enterprise will allow them to harness the efforts and collective wisdom of individuals across and outside the organization and this is the single largest reason driving UC demand. Moreover this transformation can help them to create new business models, accelerate decisions, increase productivity, innovation, and strengthen the customer relations. According to IDC, the UC market in EMEA was worth $8 bn in 2010 and will grow to $16.6 bn by 2014. By 2014, the UC market in India will approximately be $840 mn, according to leading analysts.

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Beyond all this, the ROI experienced by organizations which have implemented UC&C tools meant that the technology has a real positive impact on the business performances. With CIOs and CTOs accelerating their adoption of cloud-based services in 2011, there will be a strong demand for UC as a technology that will help the companies transform their business while optimising costs. Video will become a vital part of UC and is now considered as the new 'voice'. For example, TelePresence adoption has grown sharply. In 2007, there were about 500 TelePresence rooms worldwide. By 2010 end, that number should be more than 5,500, and as per third party estimates, by 2013, the number will exceed 15,000. While UC solutions have contributed to improving employee productivity, other benefits includes high availability of bandwidth, and availability of VoIP solutions.

UC as a Business Case

In 2009, when it came to adopting unified communications and collaboration among companies, India saw the highest earnings in terms of 'return on collaboration' investment. According to a 2010 Frost & Sullivan study, currently India leads the Saarc region's UC market in terms of total spending, and an overall awareness of UC. Over the long term, opportunities exists to design entirely new businesses and approaches using mobility, such as virtual manufacturing, virtual meetings, virtual logistics or new modes of operations such as office-less business. However in order to effectively tap this segment, it is important that vendors develop customized solutions, which offer a cost-effective and easy to deploy alternatives.

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Today, messaging, tele-collaboration, mobile convergence, call control, and switch integration are gaining popularity as UC solutions. Online and telephony presence is also a recent phenomenon representing the fulcrum of UC, which would also include messaging, email, voice and unified messaging, conferencing , collaboration, mobility, and a unified client. While all these elements were present earlier in UC-user type solutions focusing on improving the end-user connectivity, today there is a scope for improving the business process integration rather than being used in isolation, as was the case earlier.

Enterprise social software is also generating a great interest amongst the corporate IT planners/decision makers. Cisco enterprise collaboration platform is an enhanced corporate directory with social networking capabilities that allows the users to create team spaces and community environments on the fly, and is a customizable end-user framework for integration to business applications and web 2.0 content.

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The growth of IP telephony and mobility services have boosted the adoption of UC in India.

Besides, there has definitely been an upward transition from the primitive phase of TDM to IP shift and now CIOs seriously consider the key UC components. IP based systems like SIP, IP PBX, and telephony systems have gained ground. According to Datamonitor's report on unified communications in India financial services led the unified communications market with a share of 28.6% in 2007, followed by the energy and utilities vertical with a share of 10.7%. The maximum revenue for the unified communications market was generated by IP and hybrid PBX technology, with a 32.3% share in 2007.

Today, CIOs wanting to buy UC are looking at the ability to deploy the solutions physically in their office, and expect the same infrastructure to be able to migrate to cloud or hybrid- on-premise as well as hosted platforms. The second consideration is whether it supports the multiple platforms like PC, mobile, and the browser window.

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Capitalizing on 3G

3G's presence will also bring its benefits to UC, namely high data transfer rates, efficient bandwidth use, map and positioning services. According to Springboard Research, the demand for all-IP based networks in India is expected to grow handsomely in the next three to five years, given the rollout of fresh service provider networks for 3G and WiMax services. Also, the increasing demand for high-end services and converged network infrastructure are likely to drive up adoption. The new SIP-based communication platforms consolidates several new and existing functions into a complete package that makes it easier for enterprises to deploy everything they need for unified communications. Solutions like converged IP telephony that improves the service reliability, enable security for VoIP, and simplify deployment and management are available today.

3G presents the potential for ISPs to capitalize on, with increasing bandwidth making way for faster data transfer, and bundling of apps and solutions which can be run globally. The introduction of the new 3G services will expand the horizon of UC leading to improved quality of services over the various channels of communications, as a lot depends on the last mile connectivity which will be enhanced with high bandwidth wireless services though 3G and BWA spectrum.

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3G will help spread the benefits of wireless connectivity to the SME and SOHO segments as well as consumers in tier-1 cities to tier-2, and beyond. Gartner predicts that by 2016, more than 80% of telepresence meetings will include a participant from a personal video device. 3G and 4G will make such adoption a reality.

Security Concerns

The key to secure the UC solution requires considering voice, data, and video communications as a system, and implementing a multi-layered, uniformly applied defense construct for the system infrastructure, call management, applications, and endpoints. The solution should be layered with multiple controls and protections at multiple network levels. This defense-in-depth approach minimizes the possibility that a single point of failure could compromise the overall security. If a primary security layer is breached, the other defensive barriers are available to deter the attack. Such an approach has been considered as the best practice for data security since the first days of the internet. The bottom line is that the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of critical multimedia resources must be ensured while maintaining the UC solution's performance. Security features should be transparent to the user, standard based, simple to administer, and cost-effective. There is no one size that fits all.

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Besides security, partitioning of TDM and IP, and last-mile releasing of 3G spectrum to help in increased bandwidth, as well as the government regulation on PSTN and VoIP interconnection which limits the full potential of an IP telephony system are challenges faced in deploying the UC today. Also, multiple-vendor integration and interoperability, multiple UC elements from a variety of vendors, and ensuring that all these components work seamlessly together, is another big challenge for a CIO. The usage of open standards can tackle this issue. Many suppliers have developed products that support open standards such as the SIP.

And while it is widely acknowledged that UC results in huge cost savings, if not deployed accurately, it can expose an organization to unnecessary financial and operational costs. While the upfront costs of UC systems may appear manageable and within budget, it is usually the longer-term costs that eventually put a UC project into the red. UC systems are complex environments with complex underlying systems. Many of the costs associated with purchasing, owning, and operating a UC platform are unknown until the system goes live and employees begin using it.

UC for Green

The base of a UC systems resides on the network infrastructure. The first step to UC is to migrate to VoIP systems which usually starts with an upgrade of the network gear of the organization. Hence there will be a need for the old switches to be replaced with newer Power over Ethernet (PoE) which are efficient switches that reduce power consumption both at the telecommunications closets, and the workstation level by providing a single connection for both data and voice devices. Thus through power saving, UC can be a green option.

The benefits of using UC tools in organizations are quite apparent; solutions like TelePresence have the potential to reduce travel costs by 20% over a 3-year period, which in turn will diminish the company's carbon footprints. Companies using the integrated voice and web conferencing reported a 30% reduction in conferencing expenses, as well as cost savings of 35% on power, and significantly lower the infrastructure and hardware costs. Another green advantage is reduction in workstation, and office spaces that UC brings via mobile workforce.

In 2009, Avaya launched an online energy saving calculator to help the companies determine how much energy they can save by using flexible working practices. The calculator also suggests a range of unified communication solutions that can help companies achieve their flexible working and business productivity goals.

Global to Local

UC has gained a strong foothold in the enterprise space especially because the workplace has become immensely globalized. IP telephony still remains important to enterprises, however UC tools such as TelePresence have emerged as vital communication tools for many organizations.

As Indian organizations integrate and serve the needs of the larger global economy, there are global best practices that they are recognizing and in most cases adhering to. The Indian IT/BPO industry is an example of this.

Some of the key verticals where UC is gaining significance today are banking, finance, hospitality, retail, healthcare, government and education. The integration of voice, data, video, and mobile communications enables the companies to move up the value chain, drive additional revenues, promote better service, increase customer loyalty and optimize operational efficiency.

In India, connecting from a PSTN network to that of an IP network is not been implemented yet. This could be one of the initiatives towards improving the scope of UC in India. Spectrum allocation of 3.5 G or 4G will also see many more deployments of UC across organizations.

Beryl M

berylm@cybermedia.co.in

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