discussUC

The Industry Hub for Communications & Collaboration

Unified Communications is just a passing phase, right? There is no real ROI or any solid reasons to move away from traditional business models of communication, engagement and working styles. And as such, it would be a waste of time to contemplate putting an argument forward for investment. WRONG!

UC is the foundation for increased productivity, improvement in business processes, flexible working and better customer service levels.

If you're embarking on your UC journey then you're most probably experiencing the pains of not having an integrated approach - not just with communication channels (internal and external) but also business processes - but how can you move your business forward to start to resolve these challenges?

Any business investment requires quantifiable evidence of strong ROI, increased productivity and a low total cost of ownership. Buzzwords such as business agility, collaboration, mobility/presence and multi-channel are bandied about throughout the IT community, but how can you start to define the true value of these in order to win the investment and resource you need?

Taking a simple approach such as the one below can help to shape your thinking and will drive you to identify measurable areas.

Identify and audit your current communications framework including Internet Protocol (IP), telephony, instant messaging (IM)/chat, and conferencing (voice and video).

  • What platforms are used?
  • Where are you in the investment lifecycle of these platforms? What are your current levels of investment (both direct and indirect)?
  • Who are the users of each channel and what are their experiences? Focus on business areas of high perceived value and understand where communication may impede their progress.
  • How do your customers communicate with you – are there any improvements to be made? Have you asked them? Do you have SLAs in place to help you benchmark customer service levels?
  • What business processes are supported within this existing structure? How protracted are these processes? Could they be shortened or streamlined in order to meet business objectives?

Identify overheads within your business where UC could present itself as the answer with cost savings.

  • Reduction of staff expenses including travel, subsistence and accommodation plus mobile phone bills.
  • Reduction of office space - allowing an agile business to increase staff without increasing facilities cost by supporting mobile working - resulting in a more profitable model.
  • Simplification and reduction of multiple legacy solutions (e.g. conferencing) to improve cost control and user adoption.
  • Employee productivity and reduction of re-work or duplication of effort. How do things get done in your business? Where are the bottlenecks and errors? Email trails, missed calls, delays in approvals etc are all caused by a disjointed communications and process approach.

Identify areas for revenue enhancement where increased collaboration and streamlined communication could bring about incremental or even game-changing increases in income.

  • Shorter sales cycles because of accelerated, collaborative ways of working between colleagues as well as availability to communicate with prospects and customers. What is your average sales cycle currently? What is your win ratio? Have you lost business due to poor or delayed communications?
  • Swifter go-to-market processes; with a more agile approach enabling faster decision making, ideas sharing and project groups working together better - your products and services can be presented to your marketplace quicker. Have you ever lost your competitive edge due to lengthy business processes?
  • Customer revenues and better cash flow. Through an increase in customer satisfaction due to improved communication (from the right channel to faster enquiry resolution), improved revenue collection (faster resolutions or fewer disputes) and rise in repeat business. If your organisation is easier to do business with, revenues will come from existing and new customers.

Understand overall business objectives, where UC may help - by aligning your IT objectives with these goals your business case will resonate with decision makers.

  • Corporate social responsibility. More organisations are expected to have a CSR policy and this is often requested within tender documents. Your business can demonstrate its green credentials by reducing carbon footprint.
  • A changing workforce with increased demands, where the business needs to encourage flexible and remote working but does not want to compromise on availability, accessibility and productivity. UC also delivers a familiar and consistent user experience to drive adoption of business procedures regardless of the device being used.
  • Regulatory control and compliance. Your organisation can reduce litigation and security risks throughout the business by specifying settings and policies within one integrated framework.
  • Extending into new markets. A UC structure enables businesses to quickly recruit and deploy knowledgeable teams into new areas.

There are many resources available as you start your UC journey. Use expert advice, case studies and statistics to help build a compelling business case. Experienced providers such as Intrinsic can help each step of the way, whether it's pulling together a solid business case or making sense of the various options out there. We hope you find our free Insight guides and webinars useful, from the planning phase to the moment you get the green light for your investment and right the way through to a successful deployment.

Published in UC
Tuesday, 03 June 2014 18:46

Tomorrow Is Today

This coming September I will be celebrating my thirty-sixth year working in media technology industries.  For nearly all of that time I have been reading about and chatting with others about the amazing future technology will bring us.  Those conversations would often delve into the world of science fiction – things like how cool having a Star Trek Communicator or Tricorder would be; how amazing space travel would be; how holograms and transporters would change the way we work.  As is often the case with future visions, one rarely stops to realize when we’ve passed landmarks because our imaginations always tend to point us further into the future.  Lately however, it has been difficult for me to notrecognize just how far we’ve come along.  Maybe that’s because of how long I’ve been involved in the industry, or maybe it’s because I see how different my sons’ lives are from mine at their age – but whatever the reason, the “ah-ha moments” have been frequent lately.  Here are just a few of them.

 

Forget BYOD, there’s no need to bring anything anywhere – For the last few years enterprise IT managers have been struggling to deal with employees bringing their personal devices into the office and expecting them to work. Consumerization is in full force, with people expecting their office environments to function just fine with their smartphones and other devices.  Well, forget all that – some information workers have begun to stop bringing anything to the office – including themselves - and just stay at home or work from wherever they are.  We are at the first point in human history when our homes are better equipped, better connected and more functional than most office environments.  This may be because offices have compliance and security regulations that are perceived to be overly restrictive, or because enterprises just haven’t found a way to continually modernize as quickly as individuals.  But whatever the reason, it is a stunning realization to stop and think about.  For anything that an employee wants to do that is not supported or permitted by his or her organization there are a half dozen solutions just an app-store and/or a click away.  In reality, it’s entirely likely that old-school, siloed enterprise environments will just never catch-up again.  People can connect just about any device they have to just about any service they can think of from just about anywhere they happen to be.  How can any organization’s IT department still operating out of divisional silos possibly catch-up to that standard?  The only way organizations will be able to keep pace will be to embrace new concepts and consumption models and to let actual user’s needs dictate priorities.

 

Forget Videoconference Rooms, every room is a videoconference room - I was recently working with a team designing a new, multi-floor office space.  They planned to put an IP telephone and a “starfish” speakerphone in every conference room, but only install videoconferencing in one room per floor.  I asked the client’s team why that was the plan.  Their first answer was because it was the architect’s recommendation.  My response was that we should explore the actual thinking behind the plan – why just phones in the rooms and not videoconferencing.  Naturally the reasons they came up with were the cost and complexity of video.  Continuing to peel the onion I explained that typical enterprise grade IP phones and speakerphones would cost this firm about $1K US per room to purchase.  An LCD flat-panel display with an entry level videoconferencing system (from a number of manufacturers) would cost them about $2K US.   Considering that they were already planning to install a flat panel in every room anyway, and that they could also use the video system to make their audio conference calls, the idea of cost being a barrier was debunked.  I went on to show how the next reason – complexity – was also a now dead stereotype.  I pulled out my iPhone and showed the team the new Cisco Proximity app.  All anyone has to do is take out their smartphone and start the app.  It pairs with the closest video system automatically and lets anyone dial a call from their address book.  (As I mentioned in my January Top 10 Disruptors newsletter expect to see more firms deploying interface solutions very similar to this.)  The idea that videoconferencing has to be difficult is also no longer true.  Ultimately, the team realized that there really weren’t reasons not to equip every room. The architect didn’t like that very much, but regrettably any professional trade that wants to keep designing and/or selling yesterday’s solutions because that’s all they know will be left behind.  The client, however, was ecstatic.  They left the meeting knowing that they had planned a facility that they could take into the future, not one that was locked into the past.

 

Forget Rooms, effective collaboration takes place from anywhere – Remember that Star Trek Communicator and Tricorder I mentioned above, and how they were used by the Enterprise crew to communicate and collaborate?  WellTrek nownot everyone has realized it, but those tools are here now.  They may not look like what we saw on TV, but if you examine it based on function, we’ve already achieved everything we saw.  The Tricorder scanned all of the things around it, providing information on its surroundings.  We have that today in our smartphones.  They connect to public sensor networks to show us such things asapproaching storms, and private sensors to show us things like our blood pressure.  Oh yeah, and they’re also phones and videoconference units too.  As for the Star Trek Com badge, it allowed people to communicate with colleagues using voice commands and at the same time tracked where the wearer was located.  We have that today in advanced headsets (like the Plantronics Voyager Legend.)  These units can respond to voice commands and speak to us to tell us who is trying to contact us.  It knows if we’re wearing it or if we’re not and it knows how close or far away we are from our desks or terminals.  The next generation of this device also knows what you’re looking at, if you’ve fallen-down, if you’re nodding yes or no and a whole bunch of other amazing things.  Equipped with these two tools (and a decent wireless connection) I can collaborate with colleagues from anywhere I happen to be as effectively as I could have from any videoconference room of the 1990s.  Sometimes I may need a bigger screen (tablet, wall-mounted display) and sometimes I may need a better camera (to see more people) but those really just become accessory issues.  Sure, I’d rather have the call from my home office desk or one of the video equipped rooms I mentioned above, but when I can’t be at either place I can still communicate and collaborate effectively.  The most important point though is that this communication can take place regardless of the brand or type of endpoint the party I’m calling is using.  When an organization plans and installs an appropriate communications ecosystem, everything just works with everything else – straight out of science fiction into reality.

 

Is any or all of this news to you?  If so I suggest that you’re not working with the right ICT (Information and Communications Technology) partner.  Organizations have to stop looking for “vendors” or “VARs” to “buy” communications technology from.  Effective unified communications is not something you can buy – it’s an outcome that happens when detailed planning takes place.  This planning has to include end-user input and an adoption plan from day one.  That effort leads to correct decisions about things like infrastructure, endpoints, services and consumption models - each customized to meet the specific and unique needs of an organization.  When approached correctly (and with the right partners) the world of simple, affordable, any-to-any communication and collaboration just works. 

The science fiction of simple communication that Star Trek showed us is here today.  If you’re not experiencing it within your organization send me an email and I’ll help show you how you can.

Published in Collaboration

Creativity, and its corporate twin, innovation, are increasingly seen as indicators of business success. By 2020, the UK is expected to have an innovation and ideas economy rather than a purely knowledge economy.

As that takes shape, collaboration will be the means to improve problem solving, increase creativity, and deliver that all-important innovation.

Extensive research - formal and informal - has been conducted into how collaboration can best harness the creativity within organisations. Neurological studies have shown that laughter helps people be more nimble and creative.

Office planners have attempted to boost collaboration by attaching desks to treadmills, building centre-piece staircases, and adding musical instruments to break-out areas.

Collaboration

Essentially, the mainstream view is that only truly collaborative enterprises that can tap into everyone's ideas in an organised way will compete imaginatively enough in the 21st century.

Indeed, much research backs up this view; for example, IDC recently predicted that by 2016, over 70% of CIOs will change their primary role from directly managing IT to becoming an 'innovation partner'.

Also, according to a study of 3,500 employees across the UK, France, Germany, the US and Japan conducted by the Future Foundation on behalf of Google, when given the opportunity to collaborate at work, UK employees are nearly twice as likely to have contributed new ideas.

However, face-to-face brainstorming can be badly timed for participants or even have a negative effect on overall creativity. In "The Brainstorming Myth", Adrian Furnham says that: "Talented and motivated people should be encouraged to work alone when creativity or efficiency is the highest priority." Clearly, collaborative processes need to be carefully managed if they are to deliver.

Collaboration technology can facilitate interactions between staff located in separate sites, but the risk is that it replaces rigid, hierarchical silos with more horizontal – but equally rigid – structures.

The Fourth Dimension

A far more flexible, hybrid approach is necessary. A more responsive technological infrastructure that enables collaboration is critical, and evidence suggests that businesses are embracing this idea.

For instance, investment in video conferencing and unified communications is on the rise, with 87% of enterprises planning to add video conferencing to their Unified Communications architecture by summer this year, largely because of new abilities to interact with content.

Whilst this is fantastic, investing in teleconferencing screens and smart phones misses some of the most crucial parts of a true collaborative system, which should cover note taking, minute sharing, idea capture and brainstorming.

This 'fourth dimension' of collaboration, where team members can come together from any location and any device, and are able to interact with data and colleagues in real time, is yet to be reached.

When true collaborative technology is used to facilitate the user experience and channel the outcomes of creative thought, it can transform a business.

Companies that maximise the potential of their employees and foster creativity effectively will be those that adapt most quickly by adopting state of the art technology to enable a variety of working styles, allowing individuals to contribute and flourish.

Published in Collaboration

So much for all that video conferencing and telepresence as a collaboration panacea.

According to IDC, sales of video conferencing equipment in the first quarter fell 15.9 percent compared to a year ago. Global enterprise video equipment revenue in the first quarter was $473.5 million and units sold fell 6.2 percent from a year ago.

IDC called the results "dismal," but noted video is "a key component of collaboration." The issue with the first quarter video conferencing system sales is that the market is transitioning from hardware-focused approaches to software and cloud only.

Among the key data points:

  • Immersive telepresence equipment revenue fell 33.5 percent in the first quarter compared to a year ago. 

  • Room video systems fell 10.1 percent in the first quarter compared to a year ago. 

  • Latin America had the smallest decline in first quarter, falling 5.1 percent compared to a year ago. Other regions all had double-digit declines.

  • Cisco has the most market share in the space with 40.1 percent followed by Polycom at 28.9 percent and Huawei at 7.8 percent. All of those leaders had year-over-year declines with Cisco taking the biggest hit.

IDC analyst Rich Costello noted:

"We continue to see the impact of delayed customer buying decisions, lower-cost systems, more software-centric products, and competitive cloud-based video service offerings on the worldwide enterprise video equipment market."

In other words, hardware-based video collaboration systems will continue to stumble in the quarters ahead.

Published in Collaboration

When it comes to unified communications solutions, few offerings can match Microsoft Lync’s capabilities. Lync provides high-quality performance on a wide range of channels, including presence, instant messaging, voice and conferencing. And that’s just to start. As Network Computing contributor Kristin Burnham recently highlighted, Microsoft Lync includes many features that can have a powerful impact on a business’s performance. However, to see these benefits, business leaders must fully leverage their Lync solutions, and ensure their employees do likewise.

Lync to meet
Burnham noted that many people operate under the mistaken assumption that Microsoft Lync is essentially an instant messaging platform. While it’s true that Lync offers instant messaging capabilities, this is really just the tip of the iceberg of what businesses can do with their Lync tools.

This is particularly true when it comes to virtual meetings. Businesses are pursuing video conferences and related remote engagement options as a means of uniting employees and partners for whom in-person interaction is impossible or inordinately expensive. With the right UC tools in place, these meetings can be just as informative, engaging and valuable as more traditional meetings. Microsoft Lync meets these criteria.

For example, Burnham pointed out that Lync enables users to share their desktops with one another during a team session. This allows whoever is leading the virtual meeting to show one or more participants exactly what he or she is viewing at any given time, making it far easier to provide tutorials and demonstrations of complex materials. Furthermore, Lync features a variety of optional settings to determine precisely which aspects of the desktop are visible to others and which are not.

Additionally, whoever is leading a conferencing session can quickly and easily grant control to another user at any time, and then take back control whenever they so desire. If a user comes across a problem that is difficult to describe, sharing his or her screen can help the leader and everyone else better understand the issue and how to resolve it.

Further collaboration
Microsoft Lync also helps users connect to one another in ways beyond the virtual meeting. Say, for example, that a user requires some assistance from an expert with a very particular skill. In a large, diverse company, this may be a somewhat difficult, time-consuming task. However, as Burnham pointed out, Lync allows users to search through their contacts for keywords, including skills. If any colleagues have that particular skill listed on their SharePoint profiles, their names will quickly pop up.

Or say that a user needs to get in touch with a co-worker who is very busy with meetings and phone calls. Rather than repeatedly checking in, hoping to connect at a free moment, the user can tag their co-worker for status change alerts. That way, the user will receive a notification as soon as the colleague changes his or her status to “Available.” No time wasted chasing each other down – workers can go about their days, remaining productive, confident that they’ll know at the earliest opportunity when they can reach one another.

Making Lync work
As Burnham’s examples highlight, Microsoft Lync has a great deal to offer businesses of all kinds, especially those with many employees or physically disconnected workers. By investing in this UC solution, organizations can vastly improve their collaboration and communication capabilities.

However, I think it is important to reiterate that firms will only see benefits from their Microsoft Lync investments if they actively encourage the use of this tool among their workers. Too often, businesses deploy these solutions, but then fail to truly leverage them on a complete or regular basis. Workers are slow to adapt to change, including new communication strategies. Business leaders must encourage them to embrace the tools at their disposal.

Published in UC

For those with a somewhat long memory you are more than aware that Unified Communications (News - Alert) (UC) has been around for many years. The allure, going all the way back to when we used to call UC “Unified Messaging” is the ability to reduce costs and speed decision-making and responsiveness by giving all of us access to things like voice, all types of messaging (email, voice mail, text, chat, video conferencing, presence, etc.), and now includes the exploding population of enterprise apps and collaboration tools.

You also know, particularly if you are a small to mid-sized business (SMB), that the promise of UC has been elusive in terms of it being realized in your company. For a variety of reasons, first series of interoperability concerns, but ultimately relating to a lack of financial and personal resources, the now well-documented value of a UC environment has been beyond the reach of a vast number of enterprises.

The good news is this no longer has to be, and more importantly should be the case. All one needs to do today is look to the cloud. Vendors have developed extremely robust cloud-based hosted UC offerings which allow entities of any size to literally take a “try it, you’ll like it” approach to introducing UC into their organizations.

In fact, along with all of the benefits trumpeted about the cloud—in terms of CapEx reductions, anywhere and all the time access and taking a significant load off on in-house IT to free them to focus more on business critical tasks—a huge benefit of hosted UC and collaboration is the fact that you can pay-as-you-go and pay-as-you grow. What this means for SMBs for example is that they can start with solutions that meet basic needs and add capabilities over time according to their unique requirements.

With the installed base of legacy TDM systems never having been older, and with retrofitting them to take full advantage of next generation UC and collaboration capabilities, it is not surprising how many enterprise globally are evaluating hosted UC and collaboration. The big question that arises is whether your organization is ready to take the plunge.

The value of UC no longer is a promise that needs to wait for another day. Thanks to hosted UC, you can start realizing all of the benefits of UC and universal access to all of your apps and collaboration tools a lot sooner than you think.

Published in UC

Unified communications is on the move.

The unified communications (UC) segment is forecast to grow from $22.8 billion in 2011 to $61.9 billion by 2018, according to Transparency Market Research.

UC is viewed by businesses of all sizes as a way to cut costs and improve both productivity and collaboration. It cuts costs by using the latest Internet technologies instead of more costly solutions such as traditional corporate video conferencing solutions, and it boosts productivity by reducing the number of places that employees need to check to stay connected with colleagues. It also enables workers to easily employ the communications medium that best suits the type of information being shared, whether chat, email, call or video conference.

Further, UC boosts collaboration by giving employees more face-time and a sense of working together in the same office even when they are on the road or working from home. UC—when properly deployed—can reduce the lost collaboration that comes from the mobility revolution, a necessary corrective as the physical office loses importance.

Unsurprisingly, then, that the enterprise collaboration market also is projected to have healthy growth in the next few years. According to research group Market and Markets, the enterprise collaboration market is expected to expand from $47.30 billion in 2014 to $70.61 billion by 2019.

The enterprise collaboration market focuses on solutions that drive this crucial UC collaboration among employees as they move out of the office and more into the field.

A third segment that will benefit from the growth of both the UC and enterprise collaboration markets is UC-as-a-service (UCaaS). Combining two of the biggest trends in IT, UC and the cloud, UCaaS is generating substantial interest among enterprise customers.

It is not hard to see why, too; one of the challenges that still plagues the UC market is its relative deployment complexity. While the promise of UC is simplifying communications, as a new technology many firms are still struggling to select the right vendors and put together a solution that works.

 

By using UCaaS, businesses can eliminate the setup difficulties by outsourcing it to a UCaaS provider that specializes in UC and offers it as a service instead. This offloads the complexity to the provider, making adoption turnkey for businesses.

Published in UC

From the discussUC Staff – this is just one part of a good series of articles from Tech Target…… part five of the series on mobile collaboration, extending unified communications and collaboration applications to mobile devices poses different challenges from UCC for traditional laptop and desktop access. If you're evaluating mobile UCC for your employees, here are 10 critical questions to ask UC vendors before making any decisions on how to extend traditional UC.

1. Can you describe your services?

Do you offer physical appliances, virtual appliances or Software as a Service/cloud services? Describe each service and whether or not it can be managed by a service provider. What platforms do the virtual appliances and purpose-built appliances require? What licensing arrangements do you offer to clients? Is the expertise of a system integrator or professional services consultant required for implementation? If so, do you offer these services, and can you provide a fairly reliable quote with limited data?

2. How does your product extend for mobility?

How do you extend unified communications and collaboration capabilities to mobile devices -- via a native app, a Web-based nonclient app or configuration script, or an implementation of a virtual desktop interface? What mobile operating systems do you support, and what technology do you use to extend UC capabilities? What integration capabilities do you leverage for each mobile OS you support, such as native or core VPN access, device dialer integration and fixed mobile convergence functionality?

3. What is your definition of mobile collaboration?

Since mobile collaboration means different things to different vendors and organizations, what specific mobile capabilities do you offer in your service: instant messaging, presence, native voice integration, third-party voice integration, secure workspace, secure document repository (SDR), document collaboration, video and audio conferencing, or screen sharing?

4. What is the range of your product’s mobile capabilities?

We already have some UC services, such as IPT, audio conferencing, Web conferencing, Lync, Jabber, etc. What single-vendor dependencies, if any, does your product have for UC capabilities? Describe all of your services' capabilities that can be accessed by mobile devices, to what extent, and whether there are any prerequisites or infrastructure requirements. If we use Lync or Jabber as our primary UC capability, what integration points or application programming interfaces (APIs) do you support to ensure cross-platform compatibility?

5. What security and compliance features do you offer?

Describe how you integrate with security software, such as with mobile device management or any partner relationships you have with security or mobile security vendors. Do you support secure messaging, email, texting and other features from UC suites to mobile device? If what you are offering is a cloud service, what features do you provide to ensure industry compliance, such as HIPAA or PCI regulations?

6. How would your service impact our network’s security?

How does your service fit into our network security infrastructure? Can you provide a description or architecture map? Do your products play well with firewall devices or deep packet inspection? Is your product IPv6-ready? If so, describe any extra required to make it work.

7. How would you resolve configuration issues?

We are using or planning to use role-based purchasing and maybe bring your own device. What capabilities do you offer in areas like auto-configuration, decommissioning devices for UC access, app/agent/configuration script recall, unified access, split work and personal communications?

8. Are references from your mobile UC clients available?

What are some characteristic usage examples of how clients use your services that your clients find strong? What industries do you normally sell to and for what reasons? Can you provide contact information for clients so we can ask how they use your services and their experiences with them?

9. Does your product play well with WAN integration?

Understanding how integration between UC and mobility will affect our WAN or WLAN is important to us. Describe the capabilities in your product, either as a single-vendor UC offering or just the software and hardware that extends UC to mobile devices. For example, does your product compress traffic? Does compression work across streams? Across appliances? How does your product deal with traffic that is already compressed? Does your product do traffic shaping and prioritization? What kinds of traffic can it shape? Does it interact with other quality-of-servicemechanisms?

10. Do you support secure document collaboration?

If we use SharePoint, Box or DropBox for SDR, content management or document collaboration, what integration capabilities do you offer? Do you integrate with cloud-based document collaboration software? What mobile OS do you work with? Do you have your own integration APIs or do you rely on the SDR provider? Please describe all capabilities within the document space.

Finding the right mobile UC vendor for your company

Now that you're armed with a wide range of essential questions to ask your vendors to help you decide on mobile UC options, here's a representative list of mobile UC vendors to consider.

 

Adtran Inc.
Alcatel-Lucent
AT&T
Avaya Inc.
BandTel LLC
BT
Cisco
Computer Science Corp.
Dimension Data
EarthLink Business Inc.
Genband Inc.
Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories Inc.
Hewlett-Packard
IBM
LookingPoint Inc.
Level 3 Communications Inc.
Microsoft
Mitel Networks Corp.
NEC Corp.
NTT Communications Corp.
Orange Business Services
ShoreTel Inc.
Siemens AG
Sprint Corp.
Telefonica SA
Telstra Corp.
Toshiba Corp.
TW Telecom Inc.
Verizon Business
Vodafone Group PLC
Whaleback Managed Services
XO CommunicationS LLC

Published in UC

 

WebRTC's ability to embed video and voice communications within a Web browser -- without plug-ins -- is an exciting proposition, especially for business that communicate directly with consumers and enterprises whose employees need to collaborate with external partners. However, there are WebRTC security implications that enterprises must first address.

 

"WebRTC is the logical next step for communications on the Internet, but it could open the door for both good and bad applications," said Michael Brandenburg, industry analyst at Mountain View, Calif.-based Frost & Sullivan Inc. "As soon as users are able to click Web links and agree to that communication, [WebRTC] is potentially exposing the internal network if enterprises aren't prepared from a security standpoint."

 

WebRTC security is a priority for all enterprises

 

Most Web browser developers have focused on consumer experience, but they haven't necessarily thought about enterprise requirements and what it will take for WebRTC to work through a firewall. Enterprise security and privacy, however, is still top of mind for the developers of the WebRTC protocol, said Cullen Jennings, distinguished engineer and fellow at Cisco.

 

"The [WebRTC specifications] have to support what enterprise users need, and make sure the [developers of] browsers correctly implement those standards," Jennings said. The standards work for WebRTC is a joint project by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). Jennings is a co-author of the W3C specifications for WebRTC, and is a co-chair of the IETF WebRTC working group.

 

Many enterprises are looking forward to WebRTC applications, but IT teams are uncertain about the security of browser-based communications. "Organizations are still concerned with little things -- like accidently enabling someone else's camera when it's not supposed to be on, all the way up to corporate espionage level," Jennings said.

 

There are already some fundamental WebRTC security techniques in place. WebRTC will encrypt data, voice and video as it travels from a website to a user, or between users, he said. WebRTC-enabled browsers will notify users that a website wants to access a device's camera and microphone, and the user will have the ability to deny permission.

 

Some websites currently have a "long-term permission model." Users who permit to a site once to access their camera or microphone one time may not realize the site still has access even after their session is complete. "We want to develop ways of indicating to the user that this is happening … and what could happen if those websites are compromised," Jennings said. "If hackers can use those permissions to access information, then it's definitely a risk that enterprises need to be concerned about."

 

Even though WebRTC will be standards-based and will be reasonably secure, for every system that gets built, there is someone else trying to break it, Frost and Sullivan's Brandenburg said.

 

The WebRTC working groups are also working on desktop-sharing options, which would have strong permission models in which users would have to grant permission to share their desktops with another user, he said.

 

SBCs can promote secure video conferencing and collaboration

 

Enterprise IT teams have to strike a balance between giving users the tools and applications they want while protecting the corporate network. Though WebRTC is not finalized, some vendors are already developing edge monitoring systems that will allow enterprises to understand what traffic is flowing over their network.

 

Session border controller (SBC) vendors like Acme Packet, Dialogic and Sonus are working toward delivering platforms that can apply policies to WebRTC sessions, said Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director at Mokena, Ill.-based Nemertes Research Group Inc.

 

"WebRTC is another signaling mechanism for a real-time protocol, and it's the responsibility [of the SBC vendor] to protect the application against a denial-of-service attack, and also to encrypt WebRTC sessions from the end client, all the way to the host," said David Tipping, vice president and general manager of Sonus' SBC business unit.

 

Once the standard is finalized, Sonus' SBCs will have the ability to authorize WebRTC sessions the same way other voice and video sessions are authorized, Tipping said.

 

"I suspect that once WebRTC is fully baked, most enterprises will require routing of all WebRTC sessions through a [SBC] to manage policies and security," Lazar said.

 

Published in UC

Takeaway: Social media for the enterprise is about much more than Facebook or Twitter on the corporate cloud or server. It is poised to spur changes in CRM, BI, and collaboration, just as starting points.

When enterprises consider setting up their own social media networks, it’s to offer much more than just a place for idle chatter or a technological replacement for the watercooler. In fact, many people now think that using social processes within the business will be transformative across the enterprise. That’s because putting social into business processes leverages the untapped potential of employees, partners, and stakeholders, while also returning control of data to the brand and improving customer relationships.

Jonathan Frappier, director of technical operations at LightWire, Inc., and an independent consultant and blogger at VIRTXPERT, dove into the enterprise social media waters with one of the first companies he worked for when it built a web-based community for CIOs. Ever since then he’s advocated their use. Frappier says the variety of names being used to describe these enterprise social media efforts really only denote differences in complexities and at their hearts they’re all about new ways for people to have conversations, instead of relying on just email.

He cites the advantage of opening up communication to everyone in the organization, across all departments, and how empowering that can be for bringing in new perspectives and ideas. Other advantages he points to include:

  • Creating a searchable knowledge base that everyone in the organization can benefit from even if they weren’t directly involved in the original conversations.
  • Allowing companies to connect with their employees much like public social media allows individuals to do on the personal level.
  • Offering a more modern document management system allowing collaboration on documents that used to be passed around in email or file sharing.
  • Expanding business intelligence efforts so every document, and even perhaps conversations, are indexed.

The public side of social in the enterprise

There is also a public side to enterprise social media where companies set up communities allowing the general public to interact with their brands. Rob Howard, chief technology officer for Telligent, recently predicted that companies will be increasingly shifting their social media investments from the public social platforms to their own, on-domain communities. That’s because businesses recognize the content created by consumers is invaluable, that consumers want online customer service, and company websites are the number one sales resource. He said:

“What we’ve heard from a lot of our brands that we’ve been talking with is that, while they do agree with our philosophy that Facebook is great from a consumer point of view and from a personal relationship point of view, it’s not where a lot of these consumers are going to make decisions. Secondly, a lot of these organizations care very deeply about data ownership and as these customers are going through the process of sharing information — whether it’s asking questions, answering questions, providing data about their experiences with the brand — brands want more control and ownership over that.”

Howard espouses the Telligent philosophy as being one where social is not viewed as a destination but rather as a set of experiences. He sees social categorized into social media (Facebook, Twitter), social networks (LinkedIn, Chatter, Yammer), and social communities (the company interface with customers), and he says that businesses will have to balance their investments across these multiple channels. He maintains that social communities are one of the most valuable channels to invest in because it’s there that companies can control the brand, the data, and manage the customer experience much better.

He cites information from Forrester dealing with the customer experience management lifecycle claiming brands have thought of the customer lifecycle as being a linear process. Companies would take each activity in the cycle and segment them out to different units in the business. Typically though, the disconnects with the customer occurred because oftentimes the various business units didn’t interoperate with each other.

Howard says new evidence suggests the customer lifecycle isn’t linear, but rather circular, and made up of repetitive processes where customers continuously come in and engage with the brand. Those different aspects of how the brand touches its customers through sales, marketing and support, are interrelated, and so a lot of brands see social as the way to connect all those interrelated experiences together.

Understanding enterprise social pinch points

As with anything there are always challenges. Frappier, speaking mainly about internal social media efforts aimed at employees, partners, and stakeholders, says just using the name “social media” creates hurdles since many people have a limited idea of its usefulness. Beyond that he cites the difficulty in tracking the benefits of the investment and finding a solution that meets the needs of all the various groups, although he says there are vendors now that offer an app-centric approach to building these networks.

Howard says the challenges he sees include:

  • Dealing with negative reactions to the brand;
  • Growing successful communities; and
  • Getting organizational commitment.

Regardless of the name used to describe it, social media in the enterprise offers a very different way of collaborating, managing customer relationships, and finding new value in the infinite stream of data companies are creating and managing. Many are betting “the social way” will be the next big step in the continual evolution of how business is done.

Published in Collaboration
Page 1 of 4
Joomla SEF URLs by Artio