Expect the Unexpected, an article by Neal Shact on the UC Strategies web site
How do you plan for unexpected events in the future?
Following September 11, 2001, Disaster Recovery (DR) planning, preparing, and responding to man-made or natural disasters has escalated in importance, even though the probability of these events actually occurring is low. Meanwhile, the pace of technology continues to escalate and the implications of a shift to increasingly software based, Unified Communications technologies continues to loom. Game changing technological advances from software entrants as well as traditional suppliers are impacting the business world. More profound changes are occurring in the consumer space as even more disruptive technologies reach vast markets. Facebook and MySpace have emerged as the second most used means of young people communicating (after cell phones), When it comes to technology, we cannot predict the unique road map that each organization will follow but we can take steps to ensure that each of those organizations are ready for the future.
Even with a huge budget for all kinds of DR plans, unanticipated events will still occur. There are simply an incalculable number of possibilities. This is also true with technology. Unanticipated breakthroughs that come into widespread use can be counted on to occur. Planning for them is difficult but we can facilitate their arrival by developing a pragmatic strategy of having the right building blocks in place to keep options open as long as possible.
What does that mean in Unified Communications? First and foremost it means retaining the flexibility to choose best of breed solutions now and in the future. To do so, you need to understand how committed your suppliers and equipment providers are to making their software and interfaces “open”. Traps abound, so be careful.
Supporting open standards is a start but you have to also see if your vendor is truly committed or is just “talking the talk”. One major industry player recently announced that they support open standards and SIP, but that only applies if you buy into their infrastructure which happens to use their own non-standard wideband codec. Another essential element is a vendor’s commitment to work with other suppliers, even ones that may offer overlapping product lines. It is about you having choices and not being trapped by supplier lock-in strategies. You need to make the right choices on the building blocks you choose now in order to have choices later.
Industry heavyweights are touting their monolithic, single vendor solutions with enormous marketing budgets,which is not always apparent because of the presence of having choices from their “ecosphere partners.” How tightly are those solutions integrated and for how long is impossible to determine. While it is easy to follow that path, what if the “industry leader” does not correctly guess the market shifts and does not have the best and most flexible UC strategy for your goal? Despite a vast investment in their next-gen operating system (OS), it is clear that Microsoft’s Vista was an enormous disappointment. It is obvious that the plan was to bring out a better and improved OS but for whatever reason (many point to legacy backward compatibility as the cause) they failed to deliver. If Microsoft misfired when it came to releasing a new OS, their strong suit, is there any reason to believe that they have the wherewithal to correctly divine the path to Unified Communications?
The end game for Unified Communications is to have a positive impact on the way you run your business. Simply put, it is about increasing revenue or cutting costs. On the revenue side, the greatest gains come from getting information to the appropriate party more quickly. UC provides the opportunity to cut costs as well. Gains from business process improvement (BPI) need not be in the distant future. Uncovering them warrants your attention. Traditional call control and messaging technologies have migrated from proprietary hardware and software platforms onto commercially available server platforms with open source operating systems, driving huge costs out of the equation both from initial purchase and operating expenses.
The emergence of new and disrupting technologies is a certainty and will impact most organizations. By contrast, the occurrence of traditional natural and man-made disasters is unknown and may never strike a particular enterprise. Still, traditional Disaster Recovery planning is a priority and those plans continue to be prepared and are updated on a regular basis, even though most organizations will never experience these problems.
Planning for Unified Communications has not received as much attention as Disaster Planning. While predicting technological trends is difficult, there are a variety of prudent steps that can be taken now. Organizations need to be thinking about what their emerging Unified Communications roadmap should look like. It should be their own, not their key vendors, though it should contemplate integrating the various technologies that are already in use but sit in unconnected silos. The roadmap should take into account emerging technologies that are occurring in the consumer space. The emerging technologies from a few years ago of Instant Messaging and “buddy lists” are now appearing as Presence in the enterprise. It is inevitable that the latest emerging technologies that use social networking and virtual worlds such as Facebook, MySpace and Second Life will also find their way to the enterprise. Will you be ready for their arrival?
As Jack Welsh, former CEO of GE said, “If the world is changing faster outside your organization than inside, the end is near.”