Interview: The Changing Landscape of Unified Communications

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evren aker
Evren Aker, Pre-Sales Manager, Interactive Intelligence Middle East

Evren Aker is the Pre-Sales Manager at Interactive Intelligence Middle East. He spoke to Arabian Gazette about the latest buzzwords in the field of communications systems and explained how technologies are evolving around the planet, especially in the Middle East region.

Unified Communications (UC) was a buzzword sometime in the past and seems to be picking up again. What are the reasons UC adoption has not been picked up as quickly as it should have been?

As the UC industry grows, the understanding of UC has changed too. In the past voice mail, fax and email into a common mailbox and management of it was kind of considered UC. However, in todays world it is more of a combination of business applications, data, voice & video, IM, email and SMS. While the adoption of additional channels and the scope of UC is getting bigger, we are also seeing Social Media added to this chain.

What are the major hurdles a company faces when deciding on migrating their legacy telephony system to an IP-based communication system?

As with any IT investment, the level of investment must match the impact of the system on the business. As UC systems are an emerging technology, the impact on the business may change as end-user acceptance and dependency evolves. Ongoing risk assessment and involvement of business leaders is critical to ensure that the appropriate investments in infrastructure and staffing are maintained.

A key concern for businesses wishing to transition to IP is to ensure they protect the inherent value of their legacy investments. PBXs, phones and cabling represent a major facet of most organisations IT spending, and many companies actually went through a complete systems upgrade in recent years to counter concerns regarding the so-called ‘Millennium bug’. Many organisations are therefore keen NOT to rip out and replace but rather look at ways of gradually, and incrementally, moving to IP telephony.

Of necessity, migration to IP will normally need to be done on an individual, per-site basis, taking into consideration the specific requirement of that sites infrastructure and business needs.

While companies love the idea of potential benefits that may be derived through integrating various elements of a Unified Communications such as e-mail, voice, fax, instant messaging, etc. the process to integrate is hugely complex. How can a company plan for such complex projects? What are the pitfalls to avoid?

Involvement of the network and security teams early in the UC planning is important. Pilots are also necessary before full-scale deployments. It is also wise to set proper expectations among end-users that during periods of peak demand some services, particularly video-based services, may have to be limited due to network bandwidth constraints.

UC deployment can significantly increase capital and operational costs for networking and security, so including these additional costs in the overall return on investment (ROI) calculation for UC is a requirement.

UC requires the integration of many previously independent functional components, or replacement by a pre-integrated platform. Without careful consideration, integration of the pieces will be prohibitively costly, or will fail to provide the seamless migration among services that users require. Lack of an enterprise-wide UC governing strategy makes this far more likely. Lack of a clear vision and strategy for UC will delay needed investments, as decision makers will have concerns that these investments will become obsolete before they have delivered the returns stipulated in the business case.

Lack of standards and interoperability with different vendors and products have always been a pain in the neck for Unified Communications technology adoption. How are standards like SIP helping overcome these difficulties?

Sessions Initiation Protocol (SIP) is a foundation component of a UC environment that supports voice, instant messaging (IM), presence, video, unified messaging and collaboration.

The implementation of SIP trunks, session border control and session management can help the IT organisation support an increasing number of secure, low-cost, reliable communications channels with high transmission quality.

SIP-based architecture enables a centrally managed, enterprise wide UC architecture using physical or virtualised servers. A key feature is session management, which centralises shared applications that can be deployed based on location-independent individual user profile.

Can you name a few leading system integrators in the Middle East who have the expertise in helping companies move to a full IP-based communication system?

There are various known system integrators on the ME field, and some of them we have worked with are Ejada in Saudi Arabia and Omnix in UAE.

With services like VOIP still not legal in some countries in the Middle East, what are companies like Interactive Intelligence doing to help overcome the obstacles and create awareness of the benefits of IP-based communication systems?

For an enterprise, usage of VoIP would be OK within their branch network or usage of IM or so. There are various companies operating in the region (such as Global Crossing network) that offer end-to-end connection solutions to enterprise customer. Du and Etisalat also have MPLS networks that can be leveraged between organisations residing in different regional locations. So we advise the use of local telco providers for such communications and stand as a layer on top of their cloud, and also utilise the links between their branch networks to enhance seamless communications.

If you have one wish that you would like to see in action which will help companies adopt IP-based communication system faster, what would that be?

I will answer this in a Q&A format that will help CIO’s understand the process:

  1. What problems/inefficiencies are we trying to solve?

Looking at both users and administrators. The problem might not look like a communications problem

  1. Which legacy systems should stay and which should go?

This is both an economic and a functionality question

  1. Is the underlying technology infrastructure in place?

It all starts with VoIP

  1. What are the real savings? What are the real costs?

Demand the analysis from potential vendors

  1. What is the real value of the technology and increased functionality?

Interactive Intelligence offers:

  • CIC offers the best Unified Communications because of our feature-rich applications and All-in-One Platform design.
  • You have extreme flexibility to integrate and deploy at your own pace because of our open standards foundation.
  • Communications Based Process Automation (CBPA) will help you streamline workflow processes and automate key activities to eliminate latency caused by human interaction.

Next Page: Read Evren’s insightful article on IP based communication systems>

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