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6/7/2006
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Stowe Boyd
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Irwin Lazar on The Real-Time Enterprise

I finally cornered Irwin Lazar, a senior analyst from the Burton Group, in a Campfire chat room yesterday, and got a foretaste of his presentation for the upcoming Collaborative Technologies Conference.

Stowe Boyd:  Irwin - Could you tell me about your presentation at CTC2006?

Irwin Lazar:  Hi Stowe. My presentation is about the way the office environment is changing as a result of new technologies such as presence, voip, mobility, and integration of voice/instant messaging/video and conferencing. It talks about the impact these technologies will have on enterprises, some of the pitfalls, the opportunities, and the best practices for implementation.

Stowe Boyd: What are some of the pitfalls, and how can people avoid them?

Irwin Lazar:  I think there are numerous pitfalls.

On the technical side, enterprises have to rethink how they plan for communications integration, taking advantage of emerging protcols such as SIP and SIMPLE to enable integration of disparate communications systems. They need to ensure they keep abreast of development of faster mobile wireless technologies, enabling always-connected computing.

On the social side, they need to figure out how to avoid information overload, how to help people manage their time properly so they aren't always being interrupted by communications requests. They also have to educate users of the importance of properly managing presence, for example keeping all appointments in the company calendar server rather than in a paper notebook so others can see when you are busy. Finally, there are work-life & social issues, the expectation that someone is always available because they are always connected. Companies need to work to educate their employees not to put work ahead of the family, e.g. checking e-mail when you should be listening to your kids.

Stowe Boyd:  Many people suggest that the people side is the easiest thing to do wrong. Is it really just the pressure of 24/7 connectedness, or other social factors?

Irwin Lazar:  There are a couple of aspects. Many people just don't like the idea of always being available, especially if they aren't in areas where it's operationaly critical that they always be reachable.

The second part of the challenge is that presence systems aren't reliable unless they are automated and behaviorial based. You can't rely on people to change their presence status, they just won't do it.

You need to learn behaviors and trends and then make reasonable guesses. For example, most IM systems will change your status to "idle" if you don't touch the keyboard for 15 minutes or so. That won't be foolproof, but it is better than asking a user to keep changing their own free-busy status.

Stowe Boyd:  I spent some time with folks in Sun, a year ago, and the availability of web conferencing on everyone's personal computers and the large number of transient employees led to profound changes in the conduct of meetings. Have you seen that elsewhere?

Irwin Lazar:  Yes. In most of the companies I work with, meetings are primarily conducted via audio conferencing. Audio conferencing is a lousy medium for conducting meetings. Meeting organizers have to take attendance, and figure out who drops off and who joins, disrupting the meeting. There is no way to know who is speaking. And in many cases, attendees are busy reading e-mail or surfing the web rather than paying attention. Web conferencing changes the dynamic, especially when coupled with video. Participants are able to see one another, thus collaborate more effectively and be less drawn to distraction.

Information can be shared in real-time. Of course, the web conference is only as good as the system. I've used very poor systems that don't work well, and that cause disruptions in meetings. Systems need to be cross-platform as well. I can't tell you how many times I've been unable to particpate in web conferences using systems such as GoToMeeting which don't support the Mac platform.

Stowe Boyd:  I've had the same headaches with GoToMeeting , trust me. What products do you see as most advanced in web conferencing?

Irwin Lazar:  I've only used a couple, so I don't want to sound like this is an extensive product review. Internally at Burton Group we replaced WebEx with Microsoft Live Meeting a few months ago. LM works well, and it has, believe it or not, a better Mac client (well, actually a Java client) than WebEx for conducting large presentations to our clients. It also integrates nicely into our Outlook/Exchange environment (sadly though, not for Mac/Entourage users like myself).

I've also demoed the Convenos product and I was very impressed. Cisco MeetingPlace is a good product as well for those organizations that want to buy a platform rather than use an external service.

Stowe Boyd:  You started by talking about opportunities. Maybe you could end this chat on an inspirational note about where this is all headed?

Irwin Lazar:  Sure, I think we're on the cusp of a fairly radical change in the way we use technology to communicate and collaborate.

The first step is the unification of applications such as voice, instant messaging, video, and presence. Beyond that we start to embed communications capabilities throughout the application environment. As an example, the ability to initiate a voice call becomes a web service that any application developer can embed into any application. This will end the idea of the "phone system" as we now think of it. We're also going to see tremendous growth in mobile capabilities as phones get smarter, and wireless networks get faster. It's a very exciting time to be in the real-time communications and collaboration space.

Stowe Boyd: Thanks, Irwin. See you in a few weeks.

Irwin Lazar: See you there, Stowe.

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