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In reading previous articles from UCStrategies, it is clear that the cloud in all its various forms has had an impact, and will continue to have an influence on enterprise decisions regarding communication solutions in general and unified communications specifically. We can see two solutions moving fast towards each other like two storms, while actually enabling one another to create new innovative solutions: cloud technology and mobile technology. Cloud evolution is enabled by mobile devices such as smart phones and tablets that need something that connects them to the enterprise. Mobile technology, led by smartphones and tablets, makes the business case for enterprises who are investigating cloud services such as Google Apps and others more interesting as they enable the mobile users to become truly efficient. Cloud and mobility are two symbiotic advances that allow access to tools that in the past required a well-equipped laptop; now all you need is access to the Internet, and you are ready to go.
At Enterprise Connect in Orlando this spring, the cloud was discussed at length and also as part of the main sessions. At this event we were formally introduced to three different types of clouds: Cloud deployment, Hybrid deployment and the Private enterprise cloud. Many vendors presented a goal to move towards the cloud and the customers seemed to be going in the same direction. Mobility has been a theme for some time at Enterprise Connect and VoiceCon before that and many in the industry hoped that mobile UC would make UC in general more interesting to invest in than fixed solutions. Now we see these two areas colliding like a nuclear reaction creating both user interest and technological innovation.
Siemens Enterprise Communications (SEN) have been on a long journey that started in 2004. In 2008 they launched a totally redeveloped software-based voice and UC application based on SIP and web services, moving away from technology dependence from other vendors such as Microsoft. In 2011 they now address the challenge of multiple types of cloud deployments by allowing their customers to move “skywards” into the cloud in the way they choose. “Larger enterprises, with their scale of operations and skill sets, can choose to build their own cloud, a private enterprise cloud, for their unified communications solution,” said Ross Sedgewick, Vice President of Voice Solutions Marketing at SEN. By using the same software and technology, Siemens enables customers to either establish a private cloud for communication services and UC, or take advantage of those services from a cloud provider. SEN’s cloud service is offered by their partners but handled by SEN via a hosting provider today. To ensure good integration to business systems, they now have an integration platform they call OpenScape Fusion allowing out of the box integration to major vendors such as Microsoft, IBM and and Google Apps, while also providing an integration package as well as professional services. So far they have not yet moved the contact center into the cloud, but I expected future plans can reasonably be anticipated.
The cloud changes the way companies deploy applications, as companies move away from thick windows applications to thin, web-based clients or slim clients that use client-server solutions where the intelligence moves away from the desktop. This introduces many new issues that must be addressed. First, a cloud solution, however it is being deployed, must be reliable. If an enterprise is dependent on its services and move those services to a cloud deployment, they must be as reliable as what can be achieved through a local IT environment. Mr. Sedgewick agrees that this is key and adds, "...the solution must be reliable and secure. If it is not either of these, the CIO’s will never move their communication solution onto the cloud.” Security in the cloud is also a hot topic with many European countries where government agencies are investigating and rating how secure some vital features from the cloud are. Laws stating where data is stored physically are another point that must be considered for verticals that are mandated to store customer and user data within physical borders of a country or region. Perimeter security is the foundation for enterprise security; however security attacks target the applications that enterprises use. Malware attacks via email and social media platforms are one way, but also web services expose the organization.
SEN is evolving their security solution to provide even better application control and security as well as support for virtualized infrastructure. Already they offer secure unified communications via their OpenScape platform.
A cloud must also be manageable. The architecture used must support a large number of users, in any number of locations using different clients. This requires mobile device management and IT deployment processes to be in place. The SEN platform is scalable up to 100K users and their UC platform up to 10K users/system, and they rely on third-party mobile device management products. To bring this all together they use its worldwide professional services organization to deliver vertical projects. Over time as cloud services evolve and become productized, certain integrations will be out of the box. SEN will not predict what services will have a productized integration since the industry is moving so fast, but they are committed to be where their customers are.
The contact center solution is an obvious focus for social sites integration, such as Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. SEN is investing research into UC and social site integration to introduce something they call ‘social collaboration’ combining social interactions with collaboration features where employees, partners and customers seamlessly share information, work together and create value. This area is still under development, but the concept is compelling in many ways.
But the cloud needs a compelling user experience. And enabling mobile clients is a key criterion for the cloud to become really interesting. SEN has plans for an interesting mobile user experience where they combine new user experiences such as swipe movements across clients, mobile and desktop. They are not there yet, but their story is interesting. Today their clients vary depending on what device the user has, this is going the change. Other vendors have developed tablet-based communication devices that offer new user experiences. These tablets and handsets focus on the enterprise communication system such as the call manager, conferencing systems and UC functionality such as presence and instant messaging. However the mobile experience needs the cloud capabilities to enable a true mobile experience. SEN provide a UC experience for those customers who use Google Apps or Salesforce.com. Via their systems integration group and the Fusion platform they can provide custom integrations to a number of cloud providers.
Proprietary devices or limited choices are not a way forward; instead SEN plans to support a wide array of smart phones and tablets. SEN supports Windows devices and Android today, but they plan to support iOS devices as well. Having a thin client strategy is the way forward and SEN does have some interesting ideas for their OpenScape UC Suite. Services such as Google Apps integrated with unified communication features provides users with a new level of usability where users can dial directly from an email, see presence information of a colleague working on a document or sharing a spreadsheet while on a call independent on where they are and what device they are using since they are connected to the same cloud service.
Or, in the words of Siemens: “The power of the cloud is not about technical capabilities. It is about the ability of companies to redirect their business focus and know-how and resources to their core business.”
This paper is sponsored by Siemens Enterprise Communications.
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Communications Integrated to Optimize Business Processes.
UC integrates real-time and non-real time communications with business processes and requirements.
Uses presence capabilities for coordination, and presents a consistent unified user interface and experience across multiple devices and media types.
Learn more at What is Unified Communications all about?