Over the past few years, we’ve had a few different names for our Interop track that focuses on communications technologies, applications, and decisions within the enterprise. We’ve gone with simply Communications; Unified Communications (UC), which has become a kind of generic name for this stuff, but one that (as you’ll see) isn’t really the right fit any more; and finally now, Collaboration.
Collaboration is the right name for this track because that’s what we’re trying to enable with communications technology: We’re giving end users the tools to work with each other in whatever medium is either available or preferred—whether that be voice, video, instant messaging, social business tools, or (increasingly) some combination of these.
As the Collaboration track chair, Interop comes at a great point in the year for me, because we’ve just completed Enterprise Connect, a sister event to Interop that’s devoted exclusively to enterprise communications and collaboration. I’m the program co-chair of Enterprise Connect, so I’m just coming off an intense week of engagement with enterprise decision-makers who are charting their next course to provide the best, most flexible and powerful underpinnings for the collaboration that their end users want to perform.
This is an area of rapid change, much of which is driven by technologies that spill over into other Interop tracks: Mobility has been a huge driver of new collaboration methods, and the cloud is becoming an increasingly important way of supporting communications infrastructures for collaboration. These subjects will almost certainly make their way into the conversations that we’ll have in our sessions during the Collaboration track.
But the sessions themselves are focusing on some of the core communications technology trends, and how you can use them to promote more effective collaboration for your end users. Of course, there’s no better place to talk about UC Interoperability than at Interop, and this is an area that’s increasingly becoming a pain point for enterprises. Communications infrastructures are growing highly complex, as enterprises attempt to interwork voice, video, messaging, social, and other systems. Enterprises want these systems to interwork more seamlessly and with less complexity, across multiple vendors’ products, but realistically, we’re a long way from getting there.
Even if we can’t have total, system-wide interoperability, there are still high hopes that, at a minimum, we can integrate communications technologies with some of the most business-critical applications, so as to enable better collaboration for the users who work in these applications. Our session on this topic includes a couple of powerhouses, Microsoft and Google, who will describe their different approaches to this challenge. Both the Interoperability and Application Integration sessions will be led by Marty Parker, who has vast real-world experience in these two areas.
We also have a panel on Session Management, which is the closest thing we have to a concept for a “next-gen PBX.” PBXs (which still run essentially all enterprise voice systems today) handle setup for voice calls, and the idea is that in the new world, a core platform will use the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) to set up sessions among two or more users, in all the media available to that system, dynamically within sessions. The classic example is: You begin by IM’ing someone, decide that you need to talk to them and so you click-to-call within the software client that you used to open the IM session. Then, at some point, you want to initiate a video, so you’re able to add that medium with another click, and when you decide it’s time to whiteboard with that person, you’re just a click away from desktop sharing or web conferencing. And when you need to add another person to your collaborative session to get their input, there’s a click or drag-and-drop (mouse or touch-screen) for that function as well. So how close are we to realizing this potential? Zeus Kerravala, a veteran analyst, will lead a discussion to help us understand.
We’ve also got two sessions devoted entirely to video, which has become a very hot topic at Enterprise Connect over the past couple of years. Video isn’t coming to the enterprise—it’s here. The question is what do you do about it—i.e., Who gets what kind of video, and how do you support video (and possibly also protect the rest of the network from video’s effects on bandwidth consumption)?
The first point—the Value of Video—has to do with who gets to do video at what level: Do you need “immersive” telepresence? What’s the business case for room video conferencing? What about the desktop—should you implement an enterprise system on the desktops, or let people just use Skype? Or, for that matter, should you not let people use Skype, for security reasons as well as the aforementioned bandwidth-management issues?
That leads to the technology/architecture questions about video; as we put it in our session description: “Whether video as an application is ready to move into the cloud (and what kind of cloud—public, private, or hybrid); and whether you’re ready to deal with the impact that video traffic will have on your network.” Those two questions may be related in your enterprise, or they may not—but if video is a significant part of your enterprise’s collaboration style, they’re issues you’ll have to deal with.
Finally, our track closes with a look at Social Networking for collaboration—specifically, its impact on the contact center, and the different approaches taken by the leading vendors in this space: Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, and Oracle.
If collaboration is a business imperative for your enterprise, I hope you’ll find some of these sessions helpful in making your plans to provide the technology underpinnings of those collaborative processes. I look forward to seeing you in Las Vegas!