Mobility, flexible working and unified communications - event summary
Mint Hotel, Manchester, 30th March 2011
The question was…. has vendor hype devalued the promise of unified communications and caused confusion with the move to cloud computing? The conference had a good mix of delegates across the sectoral divide – approx 35% public sector and 65% across all verticals of the private sector… and correspondingly, about 40% were already engaged in their interpretation of unified communications… This might not have been the fully converged end to end approach but, it recognised that this is a journey, and the vendor and service offerings enable this to be an iterative process.
The revolution felt very much like it is underway, bringing with it real benefits to enterprises and to workers. Technology improvements and market and economic pressures have pushed communications onto a common IT network and platform. Communications technologies are now an integral part of IT infrastructure and the foundations are in place for new, innovative and disruptive technologies to deliver real productivity benefits to end users and enterprises.
Historically, over the last ten years, there has been a rapidly accelerating series of convergences in the communications world. The world of telephony has changed forever… from its roots in traditional TDM voice through convergence with data networks, productivity applications, mobile devices and business applications. Add to that the very real current challenge of consumerisation of technology – the emergence of netbooks, tablets and smartphones and in the corporate environment… this has renewed interest in the routemap to a fully unified business.
As businesses remain under increasing pressure to do more with less – and general technology to operate in a much smarter way the key ingredient is the effective deployment of communications technologies, ensuring the right people have the right access to the right information at the right time.
The event provided a snapshot of the recent research on technology convergence, mobility & workforce flexibility. With technology thought leadership in abundance, alongside real life cases studies of successful implementations – the pressure is certainly being felt to achieve greater efficiency through technology or indeed to do more differently – a phrase summarising NCC latest Benchmark of Strategy and Spending 2011.
The conference offered a very thought provoking benchmark against which to map your own strategic thinking with a focus on:
- Ensuring security is not compromised in the move to mobile flexible approach.
- Help in evaluating, short listing and selecting the right technologies.
- Creating the right culture and user experience with flexible working.
- How to make the most of mobility and unified communications technologies.
- How to approach the challenges of consumer technologies in the enterprise.
- The impact of mobile technologies on the back office functions.
- Benchmark your own strategic thinking on workforce mobility.
Unified Communications is not a product, it’s more a philosophy... a state of mind aimed at delivering reduced costs, organisational efficiency and empowered people. It brings together disparate communications methods, business applications and information sources, to facilitate the efficient and timely collaboration between people and to improve accessibility to critical, time-dependent information – regardless of device and location.
10 key points to consider regarding Unified Communications and the Cloud
The following guidance for enterprises is made with the objective of gaining an advantage from deploying Unified Communications in a cloud-centric scenario, enabling you to addresses quick-wins but also seeks to prevent costly mistakes with likely technology cul-de-sacs.
- Strategy: this about unified communications (the concept, not the products) as a cornerstone of your IT strategy. It is a core component, not a separate island. Failure to do so will increase the challenges for you in aligning communications further downstream.
- Network-readiness: IPT requires networks that are voice ready; quality of service must be deployed across all WAN, LAN, WLAN components that will carry real-time voice traffic. Remember that end-users will not tolerate poor or unstable voice quality. Upgrading networks is often a significant investment for the enterprise, but necessary not just for IPT. Use cost-savings of deploying IPT as a factor in the business case for upgrading networks.
- Software is the future: Proprietary hardware IPT voice servers and devices are costly and keep telephony at arm’s length from software applications used by the enterprise. As with all developments in IT, hardware always becomes a commodity, with software and services providing the value-add. Investments in proprietary network-centric voice hardware may be short-lived. Software-based IPT servers offer investment protection for the future.
- Step-by-step: IPT is not a prerequisite for UC. Remember that UC is a philosophy with a number of components. Some of these can be deployed using UC-enabling desktop applications with traditional TDM PBXs. This may be appropriate in the short-term to gain quick wins. However to gain the full benefit of communications-enabling applications making the transition to software-based IPT is inevitable.
- Simplify: Avoid complexity. This is the basis of UC. Building UC infrastructure with gateways, middleware, complex connectivity and other intermediary components may be necessary as a short-term measure, especially for larger enterprises. But the strategic objective must be to simplify. This will facilitate all communications methods being available to be accessed by any application, a prerequisite for the deployment of next generation communications-enabled mashup applications.
- Virtualise: In common with other software applications, virtualise UC server and desktop applications to gain cost savings. The centralisation of all of these applications will also facilitate deployment of next generation communications-enabled applications.
- Open standards: There is no reason in today’s world to acquire proprietary communications infrastructure. Software-based IPT servers should be capable of running virtualised in commodity server farms. Commodity devices should be capable of being used. Applications should be able to call UC functionality using open web services, facilitating rapid deployment of next generation communications-enabled mashups.
- Fixed Mobile Convergence (FMC): One mobile device for each user should be the objective. A mobile smartphone able to handle unified communications applications integrated with other enterprise and productivity applications. There is a place for desk phones for non-mobile workers. But for mobile workers the simplest approach is the most effective… using the mobile smartphone as an enterprise communications device. Consider the two alternative strategies for FMC.
- Interoperability is key: Without interoperability, email systems would not function today between enterprises. There would be no ubiquitous electronic communication between you, your customers, suppliers and partners. Architectural plans for UC within the enterprise should target a similar objective. The efficiencies arising from deploying UC within an enterprise will be magnified several fold when extended to the wider business ecosystem.
- Communications-as-a-Service (CaaS): UC services deployed from the cloud are a reality. This could be as private cloud services offered within a large enterprise to its subsidiaries. Alternatively replacement of on-premises hardware and software by an outsourced or hosted service on a pay-as-you-go basis may bring significant advantages. Remember that the ability to integrate communications with other business applications will be important moving forward (avoid CaaS offerings that cannot provide this).
Unified Communications – the potential….
The business driver of cost reduction in the current economic climate has accelerated the move towards virtualisation and cloud computing. At the same time the cycles of IT and communications convergence provide a platform for change, driving more cost reduction possibilities but potentially so much more…
The concept of ‘unified communications’ is still compelling and valid in today’s fast changing world… the convergence of all methods of communicating between two or more people, from any application, using any device, at any location, via the most appropriate route, enabling effective collaboration with business-grade security.
Unified communications, implemented well, will serve as a platform for change, freeing workers from some of the chains of the past. Communications techniques designed many decades ago no longer have a place in the 21st Century. Providing workers with next-generation communications-enabled applications, delivered quickly and cost effectively, can significantly improve the efficiency of the organisation’s business processes. At the same time, if these new applications are developed to reflect web 2.0 (and wbe3.0) techniques, they are likely to be accepted quickly by staff as well as providing them with real empowerment. New mashups create real innovation limited only by the imagination.
Adopting cost reduction strategies without considering innovative ways of improving efficiency is a missed strategic opportunity. Enterprises that understand and embrace this will create for themselves real competitive advantage.
And, as was apparent with the many statistics portability is the future for hardware – tablets will make up 21% of mobile devices by 2013. 30% of workers will be accessing corporate networks via mobile devices in the same timespan.
The virtual revolution…
So what of the virtual revolution that is underpinning this growth… From the pulse point of the room, IT enabled service delivery is currently undergoing a period of huge transformational change… and it is the virtualisation of the enterprise that is proving to be the catalyst for more effective technology deployment it is also about identifying new ways of doing things – NCC are witnessing a rapid acceleration of the adoption of virtualisation although this remains the routemap to cloud technologies…
The next big trend which focuses on Workforce flexibility – through which businesses across all sectors are seeing increasing benefits from empowering remote or mobile workers. The ubiquity of mobile technologies has enabled businesses to create fully connected people who have – and need – access to the right information at the right time from anywhere… and this includes access to the corporate resources – applications, documents, email, hardware and other devices as required…
Organisatsions everywhere are struggling to balance ever increasing technology complexity against ever decreasing budgets. Employees expect, and often need to work from anywhere, from any device. In our “always on” society it is very common now for employees to use personal devices such as smartphones, netbooks, tablets and home computers as part of their work arsenal – and this convergence of consumer technology and consumer behaviours with the corporate environment add to the complexity. Again the conference floor reflected a view of 50% of companies having an open policy on the use of consumer tech, approx 40% accepting use but restricting this to certain devices that would be centrally supported and only 10% having a total block.
But, generally the view of the room conceded that it was a case of when NOT if…. for this approach to be a cornerstone of their IT strategy. Many consumer devices are now sold with enterprise features such as the built-in support for Exchange and Remote Desktop sessions in consumer orientated net-book devices and smart-phones such as the new generation of Android and Apple smart-phones and tablet and iPad devices.
The race is on for control of the space…. And an interesting perspective was shared by Andrew Jacques from Good Technology showing Android in the ascendency in terms of the enterprise space and whilst the iphone was on a downward trend… the iPad was making a very strong show…
So how do you provide a consistent, standardised desktop experience for employees who need to work with multiple different devices, with multiple different form factors, connectivity options, processors and operating systems?
The answers quite clearly lie in Virtualisation…. and the abstraction of the desktop from any one physical device. Logically, as everything becomes Internet-enabled, the cloud comes into play and becomes a more convenient place to host these services ….. once the inevitable security concerns have been highlighted, understood and addressed. The large proportion of businesses are wrestling with this issue… Desktop virtualisation is not about building the ‘highest spec desktops’, capable of working with every USB, serial or parallel device, it is about finding the appropriate ‘base-build’ and applying it where appropriate in the organisation, then making incremental improvements in frequently repeating agile iterations.
Ian Cawson shared a hugely insightful journey from The Co-operative Group
Workforce flexibility – what are your barriers…
Working from home isn’t for every body some need the dynamic of the office environment and the companionship of colleagues and simply don’t thrive on the isolation, others find it difficult to work under their own initiative and need the reassurance of the hierarchical structure… It also needs to be considered that not all roles are suitable for home or flexible working…
What is undeniably the case is that there are huge drivers and that flexible working is affecting all organisations both in the public and private sectors… The time is right for employers across all businesses in all sectors to embrace change… The technology exists to facilitate successful deployment of flexible working and the benefits to the organisations, its people and the environment can be easily measured.. Here are some very quick takeaways to help underpin your strategic thinking around Workforce mobility … for the 50% of delegates who were not actively engaged in flexing the enterprise.. Consultation is the key! If you're thinking about introducing mobile and or flexible working, ensure that what you are considering will be valued and is workable.
Security – never off the agenda and never off the CIO priority list…
How can we be confident in adopting consumer technologies and a virtualised environment, en route to the full cloud services model – within our businesses without exposing ourselves to additional risks? All of the presentations had a reflection and perspective on the specific security risks… mobile devices specifically…
And Virtualisation and Cloud technologies more strategically…. These are the trends arising over recent years that are changing the way we work. Some recent key trends are:
- Consumerisation – Users want to have access to the latest devices. Whilst some organisations are providing users a budget with which to buy their own devices – many are supporting BYOD.
- Mobility – Mobile devices are being increasingly used for access to corporate data.
- Newly sophisticated users – Users entering the job market today have been used to using the Internet and social networking most of their lives.
- Virtualisation – the most cost effective way of supporting growing infrastructure requirements.
- Cloud Services – the most flexible model of supporting IT operations.
- Endless Data Growth – the many different ways of accessing and using information are leading to an explosion in the amount of data stored.
Sian John, Symantec shared a thorough enterprise approach….
The fully Unified Business and Virtual Desktop Infrastructure is on the radar of most CIO’s and IT Director’s and has to be one of the hottest topics around at the moment. And whilst most of the evidence including the pulse point of the room is that less than 20% of corporate enterprises have virtualised their desktop environment, with a tough economic climate and cost savings paramount, there is little doubt that the Unified Business and VDI adoption will grow exponentially throughout 2011/12.
Thank you for your contribution to the day…. I hope this summary is of value…
All comments are welcomed…
NCC, Head of Research & Content
Tel: 0161 605 0856
Mobile: 07880 788985
The full slide deck can be viewed at: www.ncc.co.uk/mobileworking