|Topic:||Unified communications – necessity vs. cost|
|Author:||Edward T. Higase|
|Title:||Managing Director EMEA|
As Global Crossing’s Managing Director for Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Edward T. Higase is responsible for the company’s sales, marketing and operations efforts in the regions. Previously, Mr Higase was Executive Vice President and Chief Customer Experience Officer for Global Crossing. Mr Higase also served as Global Crossing’s Executive Vice President, worldwide carrier services in which capacity he oversaw the wholesale carrier voice and data business worldwide, serving fixed and mobile telecom carriers, cable TV, ISP, and ASP customers. Mr Higase began his career with AT&T in Japan where he held a wide range of senior and executive positions in marketing, sales and business management across AT&T’s business markets division, consumer markets division, outsourcing unit, and the international business unit. He last served as Service Line Director for networked voice premises management at AT&T Solutions’ world headquarters in New Jersey, U.S.
Communications technology has revolutionised businesses; telephones, email, mobile phones, mobile Internet devices all change the way people work and interact. Unified communications provide a common interface to link geographically dispersed employees, customers, and providers in unified virtual environment, cutting travel and costs and enhancing productivity. Converged IP technology can improve companies’ competitive advantage, simplify their internal operations, increase productivity and optimise costs. Today, companies can readily outsource these highly sophisticated communications services to reduce investments and concentrate on their core competencies.
Small to large corporate organisations, aggressively looking for ways to cut costs and add value, have had to re-evaluate their business models in order to survive this turbulent economy. Businesses have been forced to streamline their processes and increase productivity to remain competitive, whilst the need to improve communications amongst customers, colleagues and partners across the world remains critical. Convergence is indeed the future for business communications, but do the long-term benefits of this way of communicating outweigh the initial set up and migration cost for a business? Although it has been talked about for some time, we are only now beginning to see a true 21st Century way of working as businesses become mobile and collaborative. The current economy may prove the tipping point for many businesses, forcing them to start taking the latest technologies more seriously, to adopt new technology-centred working practices, and to treat technology as an added-value cost saver rather than as a cost centre. Communications technology has frequently revolutionised the way business is conducted. Telephones, email, mobile phones, mobile Internet devices have all changed the way people work and interact in ways big and small. Network-based collaboration services are another increasingly familiar element of the communication ecosystem. With the right solution, geographically dispersed employees, customers, and providers can be linked in a virtual office, eliminating the burden of travel, its associated costs, and the productivity lost away from the office. Conferencing solutions are designed to lower the total cost of ownership (TCO) and add increased value. As well as cost optimisation, conferencing solutions reduce the company’s carbon footprint and help companies meet their responsibility for the ‘greening’ of the environment as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR). IP and demand for bandwidth Post recession, we are likely to see the emergence of new business models that are lighter, more nimble and flexible, due in large part to the technology and networks put in place to connect customers and partners around the globe in real time. Businesses will promote a greater level of openness and interconnectedness and be more willing to obtain IP (Internet Protocol) resources from others rather than create their own facilities from scratch. Accordingly, businesses are beginning to see outsourcing as an attractive option that frees them from managing the migration to IP and the ongoing maintenance of complex systems; outsourcing frees them – and their resources – to focus closely on their core competencies and the resolution of their business problems, rather than worrying about tools for effective communication. Today, almost all businesses need to be connected online, via the Internet or their private networks, to run effectively. Businesses are also beginning to see the value in social networking sites – as a cost effective way to market their business and engage in rich conversations with customers, partners and prospects. However, as these uses grow broadband usage grows and put added pressure on bandwidth. This increasing demand for data communications is forcing enterprises of all sizes to re-evaluate their current networks. With next-generation enterprise applications, such as disaster recovery, storage, and packet voice and video all driving steep increases in bandwidth demand, enterprise IT managers have quickly realised that traditional data services using legacy technologies (such as private line, Frame Relay, and ATM) simply do not suffice. Traditional data services are expensive to scale, limited and inflexible in their service options, operationally complex, and painfully slow to upgrade. Enterprise IT managers have the extremely difficult task of satisfying rapidly increasing bandwidth requirements with dwindling budgets and services that cannot meet their needs. Ethernet, therefore, is rapidly becoming the primary communications technology for organisations of all sizes. Most businesses already have Ethernet local area networks (LANs). By extending Ethernet beyond the office or campus to the metropolitan-area, region or around the globe, businesses can gain greater reliability, performance, and flexibility than they could with other wide area transport methods, often at lower cost. Ethernet has become the preferred transport for advanced services such as IP telephony, video streaming, medical imaging, and data storage. Factors contributing to its popularity are reliability, ease of adding bandwidth in small increments, potential lower costs and interoperability with traditional broadband access technologies used over wide area networks (WAN). In essence, Ethernet lets businesses cost-effectively connect multiple sites to each other and to the Internet and can flexibly adapt to individual needs. The case for convergence Convergence is the logical step towards creating scalable, adaptable network infrastructure that can be changed as business needs require. Convergence is still in an early stage; it offers a roadmap and a destination, but the pace of network evolution can vary greatly by company. Convergence is more than integrating your data and voice services over a WAN, it is an end-to-end service environment where all networking applications – voice, video, data and rich media – are managed and delivered on a single IP-based infrastructure. This holistic approach to convergence includes convergence of the network, applications and operations. The vast majority of global enterprises today are migrating to MPLS-based (Multiprotocol Label Switching) network IP VPNs (virtual private networks) because they have become the foundation for facilitating the evolution to convergence. The benefits of convergence depend greatly on the business needs of each enterprise, but the main advantages are cost reduction and productivity. Savings result from the consolidation of multiple services onto a single access and connection using a single network infrastructure with a streamlined IP LAN environment. This results in efficiencies due to network simplification and resource optimisation. Unified communications Convergence provides the necessary infrastructure for unified communications (UC) – the integration of non real-time communication services such as voicemail, e-mail and SMS with real-time communication services such as IP telephony and video conferencing. UC provides a set of products that offer a consistent unified user interface and user experience across multiple devices and media types. By optimising bandwidth utilisation for voice and data, converged networks greatly reduce the direct costs associated with phone calls, as well as the indirect costs associated with network management and maintenance. The benefits of UC have been touted with enthusiasm for quite some time. By integrating disparate communications systems, media, devices and applications, UC promises to free up time, increase productivity, streamline communication channels, and provide better customer experiences. Although many enterprises have deployed VoIP, the widespread use of UC applications for collaboration, telecommuting, presence, automated call centres and automated business operations have only just begun to materialise. Convergence, on the other hand, has generated proven results and tangible cost savings for several years running. At the user level, organisations are using both Ethernet wired and WiFi SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) phones to connect to the VPN and place calls which bypass tolls. Some remote workers have completely eliminated landlines, using IP softphones to send and receive calls via laptop and Internet connection – services like Skype have gained widespread mainstream usage, for example. Industry trends indicate broader acceptance of SIP phones and software-based solutions like Microsoft’s Office Communications Server 2007 as time goes on. The lures of long distance call savings and reduced maintenance costs have driven many global enterprises to embrace VoIP technology and merge their voice and data networks. However, convergence is driven by business requirements beyond the cost savings offered by VoIP. It has a much wider scope – the convergence of work, home and mobile communications with a wide variety of applications that work seamlessly across one IP-based infrastructure. With the right IP infrastructure, companies can realise significant cost savings and a quick return on investment. Enterprises can utilise converged IP technology to improve their competitive advantage, streamline and simplify their internal operations and increase productivity and cost optimisation. This evolving infrastructure will also enhance the experience for customers through improved communications – vital in highly competitive environments where business is difficult to obtain and maintain, so customer care becomes paramount. Those that survive the recession and come out ahead of their competitors will be those that do not shy away from spending, but rather invest wisely for the future and long-term growth, and make best use of the communication channels they have available to them.