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Bennie Langenhoven

Bennie Langenhoven

After obtaining a Masters Degree in electronic engineering from Stellenbosch University, Bennie spent a few years with Denel as a development engineer.  He then moved into a R&D management position in the navigation field, which included hardware and software design at the CSIR.  Thereafter, he managed a related business unit within the CSIR until 2000. At this point, Bennie became involved in the Telecommunications industry.  He joined Tellumat as a project manager and has since held a number of positions within the company, including Technical manager and Manager of Managed Services.  Bennie currently holds the position of Managing Executive of Tellumat Communication Solutions*, bringing to it his extensive knowledge of the Telecoms market and business communication systems.

* Tellumat is the South African distributor of ShoreTel systems.

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UC projects fail when they don’t heed cultural impact on organisations

Unified communications (UC) is changing the way organisations operate, as their employees tend to be more available, productive and effective when invested with UC tools.

But report published in July from analyst firm Canalys points out that many UC deployments fail or don’t meet their goals because their cultural (people) impact and the related contexts of IT consumerisation ‘BYOD’ (bring your own device) and workforce mobility are ignored.

In Tellumat, we are in agreement that many UC failures can be avoided by approaching projects as a business transformation process in which the user experience is central.

Three key trends

Consumerisation is the increasing use by employees of technologies like smart phones, iPads, video and social networking tools in the enterprise.

As Canalys points out, organisations that fail to assimilate and take advantage of consumerisation (for instance, with a BYOD strategy) will find themselves increasingly at a disadvantage against competitors.

For example, organisations that aren’t visible on in social media will become remote from customers who want to communicate via an increasing number of channels. (Conversely, UC solution providers that do not recognise the touch points of the technology with consumerisation and BYOD will at the very least miss the opportunity to leverage existing consumer platforms.)

Vendors and partners must also advise customers on the impact of workforce mobility, on processes and information accessed by employees.

Workforce mobility is not a new concept, but due to the consumerisation of IT and BYOD, it is a rapidly accelerating trend, making it an IT priority.

The proliferation of mobile devices provides employees with greater access to tools like video collaboration. Increasingly, employees want to access business applications and social media while on the move. If mobility is not considered as an integral part of future UC strategies, then the investment will be wasted.

Expert guidance

To accommodate these trends in employees’ everyday workflow, organisations will need guidance from experienced UC partners. Issues that have to be thrashed out include:

  • The decision about which platforms to support (iOS, Android or BlackBerry),
  • The changing security ecosystem, and
  • Networking (the number of devices without Ethernet ports is on the increase).

But it goes deeper than processes and architecture, touching the very core of an organisation’s objectives. Technologies like UC, BYOD and mobility have impact far beyond the scope of just an IT department purchasing decision. They affect management, HR, marketing, sales, R&D and back-office integration, in countless new ways.

To prepare for the impact of the new technologies and accommodate them, organisations must ask themselves what they want the technologies to achieve, and within what parameters. The following considerations are common:

  • Organisations must work through changing access modes and trust accords very closely and apply corporate policies as well as IT security measures accordingly.
  • Education of employees is a crucial aspect of a holistic UC deployment: employees must understand their responsibilities and obligations in a world where they are able to freely move sensitive data from device to device and location to location.
  • Equally, the corporate culture of the organisation must embrace trust and openness in a mobile, UC-driven, BYOD environment, so that employees are able to take more rapid but well-informed decisions.
  • UC deployments that incorporate collaborative tools and social media work most effectively when the deployment is aligned with business goals such as improving customer satisfaction or streamlining decision-making processes.
  • Collaboration must enable individuals to identify other individuals in order to be able to freely form communities that can quickly come together to tackle specific company issues.

All these and more must be keen focus areas in the purchasing decision, to ensure that the organisation is prepared for the big changes that UC can bring, and that benefits will be realised.

Working in the Cloud

The annual SME Survey released in May this year has showed that only 9% of SMEs made use of the Cloud at the end of 2011, but the outlook for cloud delivery of unified communications platforms seems to be getting brighter. We’re seeing bandwidth supply restrictions lifted and high costs lowered – all of which could drive businesses to the cloud.

It’s not surprising if one considers the benefits of cloud-based computing – not only with unified communications (UC) but also for most other applications. The low upfront cost and predictability makes it easy for businesses to enter the market, giving those who didn’t have prior access to a high degree of functionality/scalability an instant tech upgrade.

Gone are the capacity issues that has been a bane to the existing of growing companies – your business can be opened like a floodgate one minute, and then slowed down to a steady trickle the next, depending on your needs. Likewise, you never have to worry about investing in technology that gets old or broken or in need of an upgrade – adoption, upgrades, support and maintenance are all in the hands of your cloud provider. Not to mention the fact that the cloud is as eco-friendly as it gets with just-enough, centralised server and electrical power and cooling. The cloud promises to transform your business instantly, at a fraction of the cost of traditional computing.

At least – that’s the theory.
Many companies who rushed to the cloud have experienced what is now being referred to as “the broken promise of the cloud”. For one thing, it is not as inexpensive as the hype has promised. The South African telecoms environment has all but overcome its history of high-priced, under-supplied bandwidth – which means that cloud solutions do not scale as well as it could. Although SMEs may be benefitting from wholesale cloud delivery of UC, larger companies aren’t in the same position, opting to run hybrid UC environments that embrace the efficiencies and functional enhancements of cloud computing without running up high incoming bandwidth costs. Others combine the best of both worlds by opting for an on-premise solution at Head Office, and cloud-delivered UC at their branches.

At the end of the day, there is still some peace of mind that goes along with knowing that your equipment and data is on hand – particularly from the point of view of data security, reliability and quality of service (QoS). If you’re willing to make the investment in solid access technology with extra-line redundancy and other means of assuring QoS and business continuity, then a remote service need not be a scary prospect. But keep in mind that data security often enjoys a high priority with enterprises, in which case the hybrid model makes sense yet again.

In terms of private cloud configurations, where the infrastructure is dedicated solely to the customer, there may be a way out of the dilemma – whether hosted on- or off-site – as it offers dedicated security and reliability while handing over the headache (and cost) of managing the solution to the service provider. On the whole, private cloud solutions are suited to top-scale enterprise clients like banks, and not everyday computing environments.

In my opinion, the cloud is a viable prospect with 30 to 50-user clients as well as corporate with branch networks. To serve these, UC technology and platform providers will increasingly adapt their business models, moving from on-site integration experts to remote delivery managed service partners and infrastructure hosts in the medium to long term. Customers should also have a good understanding of why they’re considering a cloud solution. If it is purely financial, a managed service offering from a vendor may provide the same benefits in terms of scalability, pay per use and with remote management, they same response time in terms of moves, adds and changes.

This will not only provide a solution to a market increasingly spoilt for cheap bandwidth and mature, virtualised computing applications, but to service providers will find a source of annuity revenue that safeguards their business when times are tough. And more importantly - users will have the benefit of accessing their entire computing environment from anywhere, on any device.

Businesses considering a cloud strategy should avoid the hype and take note of the trade-offs in order to be successful.

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