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July 31, 2007
Its hard to miss all the hoopla surrounding unified communications, especially since the biggest software powerhouse came in off the sidelines last year. Whats interesting is that unified communications capabilities arent really new, but Microsoft Corp. behind unified communications certainly is. In fact, its presence means so much that even the industrys networking leader, Cisco Systems Inc., quickly filed in right behind, umbrella branding all of its voice-related products as the unified communications family. In turn, most IP telephony vendors now are mobilizing around this new term, vying to align and illustrate their role in unified communications.
The question is, what else is going on? What is the next big thing we will all be hearing about?
In communications, the next big thing is service orientation, part and parcel to service-oriented architecture (SOA). In the business software community, SOA is a very common topic, arguably on par with unified communications in the IP telephony community. These two technologies are coming together very quickly and for very good reasons.
SOA is not a new protocol, it is not a standard, and it is not a product you buy. SOA is an architecture that relies on service orientation as its fundamental design principle. In an SOA, independent services can be accessed without knowledge of their underlying platform implementation. Service orientation is important to businesses primarily because access to loosely coupled services supports the requirements for business processes and users.
Here are a few key reasons why this is happening and why service orientation is so important to understand:
SOA in enterprises is real. Depending on your choice of surveys, more than 60 percent of enterprises have investments underway on SOA programs. This is not just for the sake of interesting technology. Today, CIOs must be business-savvy and are challenged to tie technology to business objectives. In this case, SOA has the goal of leveraging technology to implement business processes to make the business more effective.
People collaboration is a process. Most back-office business applications provide data or tools for tasks that need to be accomplished in the business. However, at the root of every effective collaboration among people is still the predominate factor in how effective a business is. Therefore, people collaboration can be thought of as a set of business processes in and of itself, and the need to collaborate effectively (i.e., communicate easily) is a factor in business process planning.
Unified communications will become embedded in business apps. IT organizations find the benefits of unified communications features to be more intuitive than measurable. More importantly, most unified communications products have a fairly fixed set of features that are dependent on that vendors equipment most built and sold in a way that simply emulates the older PBX world. Conversely, business applications are implemented in ways that allow businesses to adapt the software technology to their business, or rather, business processes.
Unified communications apps have become software. The transformation of PBX capabilities as software is perhaps one of the most significant changes. Today, anything you can do in a legacy PBX system you now can do in software completely replacing proprietary hardware. Moreover, the hardware-centric approach is highly specialized, often requiring dedicated telecom personnel, and serving vendors more so than customers. The software approach better serves the customer, providing more flexibility to utilize the software as its business needs it.
Buyers beware. One of the well-known results of the technology shift underway is the innovators dilemma as described by author Clayton M. Christensen. Many legacy hardware PBX companies are experiencing this today. Let me explain: As the market shifts, their lack of new innovation results in an inability to respond to the changes. In fact, more recently, weve seen one of the largest, Avaya Inc., transform into a private company, likely forced to totally rethink its business model to compete in this changing market.
Now, lets assume that unified communications features are available as loosely coupled services that can be accessed without knowledge of the underlying platform and its implementation. Business applications developers can utilize these services in the development of their business applications. As developers and architects develop their companies SOA plans, communications is part of their dialog and their planning. As a result, new purchasing influencers and decision makers enter the picture, along with new requirements open systems designed to operate in the context of an SOA.
Naturally, software-based communications platforms will require the resiliency and features to provide mission-critical services to the organization. However, this has long been proven with todays software technology. As a result, applications developers, enterprise system architects, CIOs, business application resellers and consultants are finding new opportunities to add value and create business solutions that bring human collaboration into the equation. Centered on business processes, new serviceoriented unified communications platforms are leading their way into enterprises, providing a solid platform for mission-critical communications while opening up their rich services for use within an enterprise SOA.
Todd Landry is senior vice president of product management and business development with Sphere Communications, a software developer of IP PBX and services-oriented unified communications technology. He can be reached at [email protected].
Sphere Communications www.spherecom.com
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