|Content in a network context
|President and CEO
Bill Wignall serves as President and Chief Executive Officer of Sangoma Technologies. A technology industry veteran for over 20 years, Mr. Wignall has held CEO and executive roles at Truition, Electronics Workbench, Northern Telecom, BNI and Telezone.
Bill Wignall is a Registered Professional Engineer in Ontario and holds a B.A.Sc., Electrical Engineering from the University of Toronto. He is also a graduate of Stanford University’s Executive Program for Growing Companies.
Demand continues to grow for rich and relevant content, but, it is still a challenge to deliver content reliably wherever it is needed. Today’s communications infrastructure has evolved over the last 50 years; it is a patchwork of disparate systems that, amazingly, manage to interconnect. Unified Communications (UC) solutions glue together this collection of disparate technologies, business processes and infrastructure. Simplified UC deployment will be the key to getting the most out of the available resources and information.
Many of us in the telecommunications world place a premium on creating the latest, fastest, most powerful technology solutions, applications, and services for targeting particular markets or solving special challenges. We tend to pay these innovations extra attention; perhaps, in some cases, more than they deserve. This rings especially true when one considers the mind of the individual end user who stands to benefit most from these emerging technologies. The focus is almost always on the sizzle — the flash, the productivity, or the entertainment value consumed by the user. No surprise, it’s all about the content.
Communications technologies that were once considered blue-sky thinking, such as multimedia communications, collaboration tools in the workplace, presence management and more, have all become not just part of our daily lives, but indispensable tools and capabilities for living and competing in today’s high-paced global village. While many are looking for the flash and entertainment value of rich and immediate access to content, in the business world, content is regarded in a somewhat different, more crucial, light. Communications information in any format — voice, video, text, email, and more, as well as the inputs or outputs of any business process — are elements of content that can have a profound impact on the profitability or even survivability of an organization.
Whether personal or professional content is the subject, one fact remains clear across the board: There continues to be an ever-growing demand across all markets and walks of life for rich and relevant content. As the saying goes: Content is king. Content keeps users and consumers busy, happy, and productive. Yet, if truth be told, content is nothing if it cannot be steadily and reliably delivered to the many endpoints where it is consumed. So, in this respect, though content may be considered king, if there are no dependable, robust, and seamless systems to ensure its uninterrupted delivery, this king has no kingdom.
Behind the closed curtain
When we peel back this thin surface veneer of exciting content, we reveal the frightening truth that the technologies, networks, standards, and environments that comprise our communications infrastructure, one that has evolved so dramatically and disruptively these past fifty years, is nothing more than an underlying patchwork of disparate systems that somehow, amazingly, still manage to interconnect – well, most times, though perhaps not very efficiently. With each new wave of technological evolution, from the first digital telephone circuits straight through to cellular, Voice-over-IP, mobile data, SMS and text, video chat, and “free” Internet calling services today, this hunk of legacy infrastructure continues to have new widgets and gadgets bolted onto its top, sides, bottom, and even its inside.
This is not to suggest that nothing has been retired or taken out of service in all this time, of course, but it doesn’t take too long or too hard a look to still discover lurking within today’s systems the residual working pieces of nearly everything invented since that first fateful telecom connection was made so many years ago — when Alexander Graham Bell first called Watson from that, now famous, adjacent room. Further complicating modern communications is the fact that no single person or business ever sits still. Today’s organizations seldom operate from a single monolithic location. Rather, their offices, systems, and information assets are distributed throughout the world — whether down the block, or downtown, or across cities, countries, and continents. In addition, they increasingly rely on a workforce that can prove just as widely distributed, if not more so, with remote teleworkers conducting business from wherever they happen to be. With so much distribution to span today, with so much territory to be efficiently and cost-effectively covered — both physically and virtually — it’s little wonder that the rally cry for the last decade has been “Unified Communications!” But again, for content to rule as king in our circles, systems need to be continually integrated to ensure its non-stop delivery.
UC to the rescue
Now, an enterprise or their trusted system integrator can certainly deploy a UC solution that glues together all of the different parts and pieces of business processes, systems, and networks — and many have done so using media gateways, routers, PBX platforms, session border controllers, and a broad range of database engines, dialers, call servers, and workflow management systems. However, as time and technology continue to march on, and businesses continue to focus on serving customers with the effective use of content, the skills necessary to knit together a patchwork of disparate elements are becoming more difficult to find in any one organization. For many, overarching solutions that can take the complexity out of deploying UC will be the key to getting the most out of the resources and information available.
Over the years the \UC solutions developed by global UC leaders, has given us the means to deal with the challenges that bubble to the surface in nearly every implementation. Even though these providers sell technology suites and comprehensive solutions, there is still an incredible amount of complexity involved in deploying and implementing them. The ‘out of the box’ experience does not really lend itself to a ‘set it and forget it’ mindset. Almost every installation has unique requirements and ecosystem tie-ins that require additional pieces that facilitate the seamless bridging of old and new systems and networks. It’s these little chinks in the armor of the total solution that can present the biggest challenges – and where vendors can apply what they have learned to hammer out these final wrinkles.
To put this argument into tangible perspective, let’s consider for a moment, as a working example, the latest innovation in Unified Communications (UC) from Microsoft — Microsoft Lync. This is a powerful suite of business process tools and features that easily combine communications, common files and databases, real-time collaboration with the convenience of desktop sharing, presence management capabilities, multiple forms of messaging and media interactions, as well as business processes such as those typically used in contact centers and service bureaus just to rattle off a few scenarios. Now, that’s a great deal of stuff to pack onto a single platform – a heck of a lot of content! – and it’s almost never spread across easy ‘greenfield’ landscapes. In fact, in most enterprises, a UC solution such as Lync will have to seamlessly integrate with multiple disparate platforms and systems within the business ecosystem, both old and new, both proven and emerging, and must likely make multiple and varied network connections to the outside world. And yet, of course, we assume all of this heterogeneity will merge neatly, unify seamlessly, and work without a hitch, completely transparent to all who use it. Because if not, what’s the point?
The complexity of such an undertaking was once considered daunting. Today, such unification is not only doable, not only preferable, but expected. Working on the front lines of business communications we see this dynamic manifesting itself in multiple ways every day. In fact, according to reports from the global systems integrator Ingram Micro, small and medium enterprises see the efficiencies and flexibility offered by UC as not just a business preference, but, indeed, a competitive necessity. However, without large in-house IT staffs, most of these companies require a solution that can bridge not only the server and application environment in the LAN (and sometimes in the Cloud), but can also unify the different outside world connections, including SIP trunking, Internet access and security, Public Switched Telephone Network (PSTN) connectivity, and multiple video and application sharing features.
The good news for many is that, along with the crush of technological innovation across the industry, a focus has emerged from unique market leaders for bridging these varied and disparate ecosystems in simple and efficient ways. The Lync Express appliance from Sangoma is one such all-in-one solution that covers all of the common integration pain points that can make UC and Lync a major headache for smaller companies that are running lean. This was precisely the case for Euroline AS, a distributor of telecommunications equipment and solutions based in Drammen, Norway. A small enterprise with locations in Norway and Denmark, Euroline’s management team was eager to replace a failing PBX and gain the advantages of UC through deploying Lync. However, without the correct internal expertise, they required a simple and comprehensive solution. According to technical manager Rune Jacobsen, who had no previous experience with Lync, the configuration was quite intuitive and easy to navigate, and the change was completed without disruption to everyday business.
Without consistent delivery, content is inconsequential
What has driven the need for this and so many other innovative solutions for unifying communications in the business world? The same hunger we have in our personal worlds: an ever-constant demand for delivered content. Think about it. Every professional in the business world is also an avid consumer of content in their personal worlds, and the same expectations that drive them at home are those that, either consciously or unconsciously, are also driving them at work. There exists a constant demand for immediate access to rich content, delivered in ubiquitous and unimpeded ways. Granted, this is easily said, but not so easily done; however, and at the risk of invoking yet another cliché, necessity is the mother of invention.
Thus, in markets around the world, enterprises of all sizes continue exploring UC-like solutions such as Lync to satisfy their content-hungry workforce. They want that familiar unified frontend that accesses the myriad of applications, networks, and technologies residing in the backend — separate, but connected – to deliver the seamless and consistent content we all so commonly crave.
The desire and expectation of the business owner is not just for content, then, but for continuously connected content, with dependable distribution and delivery to all company-related constituents and consumers – both internal and external – without the prohibitive costs and complexities associated with such connectivity. This is why, for my money, sure, content may be king… but delivery will always reign!