Unifying Communications to Weather The Economic Storm

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While the focus during this recession may have turned to green IT and virtualisation for IT savings, Michael Bayer of Avaya argues the case for unified communications.

The cloud and virtualisation may be grabbing the headlines in these times that are more cost conscious than ever, but many communications experts say developments under the banner of ‘unified communications’ (UC) offer just as many productivity gains and cost savings.

“I was recently discussing our UC strategy,” explained Michael Bayer, Avaya president for Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA). “Many people still see UC as a vision and not a strategy, rather like cloud computing. The cloud is a vision, how applications are developed will influence its processes and flexibility. But the one thing that’s missing is the user and how these developments will affect the user.”

“Our strategy is built around the user, who will have ‘one experience’ with UC,” he continued. “With one number to call, you can reach wherever I am and on whatever device I’m using – soft phone, laptop, the fixed-line extension in the office or the mobile. You can have as many as seven different endpoints to a person, but then that’s with the understanding of what the convergence of voice, video and data convergence can do for you today.

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“In Avaya’s view, in a couple of years’ time there will be one enterprise business communications umbrella, beneath which you put all the communications features you need for your organisation. Today, we are already seeing a trend of consumers looking to interact with call centres via SMS or the web – so even they are becoming more like ‘communication centres’. The point is about figuring out how best to communicate with the people that interact with your organisation on a non-voice basis. Sometimes other forms of communication can be more powerful than voice – for example, one insurance company found it gets more calls back from younger people it texts than calls.”

Earlier this year, Bayer’s company launched a new communications middleware architecture, known as Avaya Aura, that it claimed would radically simplify complex communications networks and reduce infrastructure costs by integrating communications across multiple vendors, locations and business models. This development provided the key to understanding Avaya’s approach to UC, Bayer explained.

“It’s all about enabling the business process,” he said. “There’s always been voice switches and PBXs [private branch exchanges] in the enterprise. But the whole discussion is led by how voice translated to the user in the past? It was through the device. And we’ve seen, with more features and better devices. The VoIP [voice-over internet protocol] led a big transition 10 years ago. Why? Well, because there was no dial tone. And then, with an IP-enabled environment it became possible to put different applications on top, like messaging and voicemail. In fact voicemail can be much faster than email in terms of getting a response. Then we’ve seen the addition of presence and video is the next layer. So UC is now equally from a voice point of view as it is from the perspective of email and IM [instant messaging].”

Bayer outlined how Avaya Aura would allow organisations to consolidate their communications infrastructures to take advantage of UC features: “The key is the open standards, SIP [Session Initiation Protocol] based Aura Session Manager. It provides one cross-platform software or ‘middleware’ layer, which allows every mobile phone OS [operating system], for instance to interact as they are part of the enterprise network. That way, the network can accept that mobile phone even if it’s provided as the employee’s personal device. So many companies are trying to rule over corporate mobile phone use, when it would so be much easier not to have to demand which OS their people’s mobiles use, so they can just plug them into their PCs and go.”

But he said there was still some way to go to winning over enterprise minds to this brave new, user-led, UC world. “We’re trying to create more awareness of the requirements and benefits of UC in the enterprise among users, including SME [small-to-medium sized enterprise] and SOHOs [small office, home office] workers. We believe there is a change where business in general is leaning towards service provision of communications infrastructures rather than managing them themselves. We also look at how it can help cuts to power consumption and so have a positive impact on carbon emission reduction programmes, as well as how it facilitates flexible working. We talk much more to customers about mobilisation and flexibility before we mention UC. The real driver is cost reduction though, where UC can have a part to play in major activity around voice and video-conferencing, with the travel reductions and cost savings they can deliver.”

Bayer concluded: “Our UC strategy allows you to keep different legacy TDM components in the communications infrastructure and converge voice, video and data in the management layer, much like enterprise now do with applications, depending on IP readiness. UC is part of the journey towards fully IP-enabled environments.”

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