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March 9, 2010
6 Min Read
For years, unified communications and collaboration tools have been telling a compelling story about the tools businesses use to communicate with each other and with their customers. The tech tale been unfolding for years, and now that story is beginning to solidify and take shape.
No longer regimented into segments of just voice, just data, or just video, the communications industry is marching toward a multi-modal and multi-dimensional vision of enterprise communications.
Voice, data and video are combining -- with portions of each mode embedded into the others -- to redefine the enterprise communications landscape.
This saga will be detailed by the players themselves, in the company of industry experts at VoiceCon 2010, taking place at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Conventions Center in Orlando, Fla., March 22 - March 25. InformationWeek caught up with Fred Knight, general manager of VoiceCon, to see what's in store for this year's event. To register, click here.
"This year we've reached the third wave of true convergence," said Knight. "A lot of enterprises' internal organizations are structured for convergence. They've completed a lot of work on their infrastructure to support it. Convergence offers improvements in productivity, supply chain management, customer relationships, and in revenue. We've seen the ways of thinking about communications evolve, and it is all based on the growing power of technology itself. VoiceCon 2010 will help people think about communications in an entirely different way."
Watch the trends and you'll see the direction enterprise communications is moving. VoiceCon offers programming on the most prominent trends.
The marriage of wide-area networks and session initiation protocol trunking, for example, has played a large role in defining the industry's trajectory. SIP trunking can extend voice over Internet protocol capabilities beyond a private network and across the public internet or public switched telephone networks.
"Extending VoIP features and costs has been a real problem in the last six to eight months," said Knight. "The availability of new WAN services like SIP trunking that are finally commercially available -- and affordable -- in a wide number of locations is a key technology to pay attention to."
Another hot area is that of mobility. Spending on cellular is the fastest-growing part of IT budgets. Convergence has three dimensions, voice, video, and data. Mobile adds another dimension -- how to converge mobile versus fixed communications services.
This year, VoiceCon has planned a session that demonstrates how mobile convergence can work. Organizers have asked nearly a dozen vendors to create mock requests for proposals that will then be examined together to see how each company approaches them.
"We're going to explore in-depth how mobility can be integrated into unified communications and look at the devices enterprises are migrating to," indicated Knight. "A lot of enterprises are looking at smartphone platforms. Should they standardize or not? Which platforms are they going to support? The theme of mobility is permeating everything we do here. It needs to be accounted for in virtually everything."
It has shown promise for ages, now unified communications appears to have finally come of age. UC has been highly touted as an enterprise solution for years. Now, there are actual products available that companies are really buying into. VoiceCon has a lot of programming on this topic, and will teach enterprises how best to design UC systems and fit them into their overall strategies.
The idea of unified communications goes hand-in-hand with cloud communications. A growing number of unified communications services are being hosted in the cloud. This places the future of traditional desk phones in serious doubt. While knowledge workers may be able to exist with only a mobile device, other workers -- such as those in call centers -- won't be able to cut the desk phone cord as quickly.
Outside of clear-cut cases like this, enterprises may need guidance in choosing the right ratio of mobile-versus- fixed. On average, the physical telephones that land on an employee's desk can account for up to 30 to 35% of the cost of an entire communications system. Can that be reduced with different tools? Cell phones? Are there other devices and/or systems that are up to the task?
Last up? Video. "We're seeing an awful lot of pickup for video," said Knight. "This year, as much as or more video products are being sold as traditional voice products. Travel and expense budgets are playing a role in the uptake of video technology in the enterprise. It helps to contain travel costs."
Whether or not video is a slam dunk for your enterprise depends on your organization's particular needs. There is no simple math equation that magically lets enterprises determine if videoconferencing can pay for itself. The number of options is large, and the biggest players will be at VoiceCon to help enterprises decide what might work. "The question is what's the right mix? Who needs what? How does it integrate? What about mobility telepresence?"
This year, the event is being broken up into six main tracks to address key issues facing the enterprise:
Planning and Implementing IP Telephony and Converged Networks
Managing Staff, Technology, and Costs
Communications Applications and Application Development
Next-Gen Communications Technologies
These six topics will help attendees create the experience that is best suited to their organization's needs and interests.
In addition to the six main tracks, VoiceCon 2010 will offer keynote addresses by industry executives and thought leaders; coffee talks; breakout sessions; workshops; deep dives; and general sessions for information gathering.
Rather than serve up an unhealthy dose of hype, VoiceCon presents facts that enterprise decision makers can put to real-world use.
VoiceCon 2010 is focused on the enterprise, and, according to Knight, is the dominant event for business communications. The keynote list includes execs from Avaya, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Siemens, and others.
The industry has reached a transition point in the past year. One of the largest vendors in the world, Nortel, has disappeared, as unit by unit it has sold itself off. Portions of it were swallowed by Avaya and other companies. The impact has hit a tremendous number of people: Most enterprise networks of any significant size have at least some Nortel gear installed. Many enterprises were large Nortel customers. All of those organizations now need to make decisions about what to do going forward.
They may consider Cisco, which is expanding its portfolio, lumping everything it does under the collaboration banner. Microsoft's presence in the communications space has also been on the rise over the past few years. This year, reports suggest that the software giant will make a significant announcement at the show.
"There's nobody who's not at the show," said Knight. "If they are in the enterprise communications business, they are at VoiceCon and exhibiting on the floor. Our track record of delivering the right mix of attendees, industry players, and executives is part of why we have over 5,000 people registered for this year's event. It's the reason we're able to deliver the keynoters that we're offering."
Many enterprises face a pressing need to make serious strategic and tactical decisions with respect to their communications systems. VoiceCon 2010 can help provide the answers.
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