Business-to-Business UC Collaboration
I recently had the opportunity to speak with Farzin Shahidi, the Founder and CEO of NextPlane, about “business-to-business collaboration.” This is the term that NextPlane uses to describe what others in the industry often call “federation.”
Business-to-business collaboration (aka federation) allows you to use your communication tools to connect with people outside your organization as easily as you can with people inside your organization. Business-to-business collaboration (B2B collaboration) with your key partners allows you to see presence status, exchange instant messages, and, in some cases, you can conduct voice and video conferencing and desktop sharing across organizational boundaries.
I often talk about “federation,” and previously wrote an article entitled Federation is The "Game Changer" for Unified Communications, but quite frankly, I prefer NextPlane’s “business-to-business collaboration” term. On several occasions, I have spoken passionately about the benefits of federation, simply to be met with blank stares. Outside of the UC industry, the term “federation” is not well understood. Even inside the industry, some SIP trunking providers are starting to usurp the term when they are talking about a SIP version of toll bypass. B2B collaboration speaks to the desired benefit of interconnecting UC systems between organizations, but uses non-technical jargon.
However, regardless of what it is called, interconnecting UC systems between customers, partners, suppliers, etc., especially when these systems are on different platforms, can be very difficult or impossible. This is where NextPlane can help.
NextPlane supports presence sharing, custom status, IM and multi-user chat between the major UC platforms, including those from Cisco, Microsoft, Google and IBM. For federating between Microsoft Lync and Google, NextPlane also supports voice, video and voice conferencing.
I was already aware of the platform interconnections supported by NextPlane, but my discussion with Farzin shed light on an issue I wasn’t previously aware of. According to Farzin, an increasing number of organizations are turning to NextPlane for “like-to-like” connections; that is, choosing to connect with partners through the NextPlane service even though both organizations are running the same UC platform and could theoretically connect directly. This was something new to me.
Why would organizations involve a third-party when they could arrange their B2B collaboration directly? As it turns out, there are several reasons:
1. Even when you know an organization supports B2B collaboration connections, finding out who to contact at the other organization can often be challenging. Many organizations have some kind of approval process that is required to enable the connection, even though technically it can be set up in minutes. Unnecessary bureaucracy may occur.
NextPlane eliminates this problem by providing a directory of “federation-ready partners.” Requesting a federation connection with any other organization using the NextPlane service is “as easy as clicking a checkbox.” The organization receiving the federation request only needs to click “accept” in the NextPlane Management Portal in order to have the B2B collaboration link established.
2. Organizations want to provide different disclaimer messages depending on who employees are chatting with.
The NextPlane service allows customized internal and external disclaimer messages to be displayed on a per-domain basis. This allows you to remind your employees who are collaborating with outside business entities about certain information policies. This also allows you to inform your external partners about certain policies, such as the fact that you may be archiving the conversation.
3. Organizations can still engage in B2B collaborations despite having different security requirements. For example, company A, which requires XMPP over TLS connection, can still connect to company B which uses XMPP over TCP with dial-back. Two different types of secure connections within the same protocols.
4. Organizations need finer control of which modalities are supported for collaboration between external organizations.
You may have implemented a great UC platform that provides “rock solid” voice, video and conferencing services on your corporate network. This likely means you have implemented QoS on your WAN and Expedited Forwarding (EF) on your LAN. The trouble is some of your partners may have not done this. This means that while you are happy to collaborate using IM and presence, you do not want to have your employees attempt to use federated voice or video with this external partner, because the experience will be poor. The NextPlane service policy enforcement features give organizations control over which types of traffic (IM, presence, voice, video, and file transfer) are allowed or denied across any of the federated domains and/or users (internal and/or external) within their domains.
5. Detailed external collaboration usage reporting is needed.
Most UC platforms provide some form of usage reporting. Microsoft Lync provides especially detailed reports; however, even with Lync, getting a clear picture of collaboration traffic between external connections is sometimes difficult. The NextPlane service augments any of the reports built-in to your UC platform providing charts and reports that help you to measure user adoption of the B2B service.
(Of course, all of the above NextPlane features are also available when connecting disparate platforms.)
Way back in 2011, Russell Bennett wrote about the advantages and disadvantages of federation in his article for UCStrategies. It would seem that the NextPlane service addresses many, and perhaps all, of the disadvantages cited by Bennett, while retaining all of the federation advantages.
Certainly the NextPlane service is not free. However, in today's fast-paced world, the ability to quickly contact key partners may provide a value to many organizations that greatly exceeds the cost of the service. I would suggest it is at least worth investigating.
Do you federate today? Do you see the value of federation? Do you use the NextPlane service? I would be happy to continue the discussion in the comments below or @kkieller on twitter.
This paper is sponsored by NextPlane.