The '80s called and wants its business communication back

Business communication systems are not keeping up with today's growing mobile workforce. Learn in this Q&A what IT professionals can do to improve UC.

Would you drive to the post office to make an international phone call? Didn't think so. Yet outdated networks, like location-based communication, are holding back today's corporations. While a growing remote workforce hails the wave of the future, unified communications (UC) systems are still lacking.

Curtis PetersonCurtis Peterson

SearchUnfiedCommunications interviewed Curtis Peterson, vice president of operations at San Mateo, Calif.-based RingCentral, a cloud communication provider, to find out what's keeping business communication in the stone ages, and what can IT professionals do about it. Peterson has been developing Voice over Internet Protocol and hosted PBX systems since 2002, and has since been involved with carrier operations, Internet backbone design, and secure network operations.

How has business communication evolved?

Curtis Peterson: Not too long ago, [all] business communications were scheduled, formal, and occurred at specific locations. Even in my lifetime, just to make a call to Europe, you often had to drive to a place that would allow satellite calls to occur -- like a post office or a phone booth. Today, we're way past location-specific phone calls. If you fast forward, I think the unlimited bandwidth (for today's streams) and a high increase in mobility has changed communications from being this static, scheduled and formal interaction, to what is now a multi-threaded and dynamic communication. That is, people can carry four, five, six [or] seven conversations at once in a text or a chat session. That generally didn't occur 20 to30 years ago. And the younger workforce is just not aware of another way to do it. It has been in their blood since they were driving their parents insane with driving up the text bill.

Absent of having those [standards], you might be selecting technology that operates as an island, and that's not going to work in today's communication world.

Curtis Peterson,
vice president of RingCentral

How has mobility and unlimited bandwidth changed communication behavior?

Peterson: Text, email, chat, voice, HD video [and] telepresence -- all of this is on the fly now. The concept of reserved conferences is left for FCC compliance. And instead of a conversation taking place in one particular medium, I find that business communication conversations today, with something as simple as a sales pitch, actually goes through a full cycle of asynchronous [non-real-time, like text or email] and synchronous [real-time, like a phone conversation] communication at different levels of bandwidth.

How has business communication not kept up with the times?

Peterson: There are a few ways. I meet with businesses that are supposedly BYOD [bring your own device], but then comes all of the restrictions: Only this model purchased at this location [is allowed], so long as you put our asset sticker on the back of the phone -- which makes you look like a little dork -- and install our mobile device management system, [with] which we may or may not share how much information we track on you. Suddenly that BYOD is no longer BYOD, because you brought your business's device -- BYOBD. And kudos to businesses for convincing employees to go buy their equipment for them, but it becomes a challenge down the road in terms of trust and privacy. I think businesses have a lot to learn in that space.

More on the evolution of business communication

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The second one is … that tools to track [a communication] thread just aren't here today. It's expected today that some conversation you have using text/SMS stays in that SMS folder. But when you search that SMS folder, you get all of your SMS responses. What about the voice calls that were associated with that [conversation]? What about my video calls or meetings? So I think connecting these conversations needs development in the UC space.

You also have federation turf. [Businesses need] federation between different products -- like chat, presence and text -- [between companies] like Microsoft and RingCentral … [even when] you have companies like Microsoft that recently declared SIP is dead, which is certainly a rumored premature death.

What do IT professionals need to do in order to improve issues around BYOD?

Peterson: I think IT could come out with a 'you-and-me' mobile device strategy [that] protects company assets -- like the company phone number, business-based messaging system and business email -- but be very transparent with employees. [IT could say], 'I'm not tracking Gmail, and I don't care who you call with your personal number on the phone.' If you can have that dual persona on the phone, be very transparent about not micromanaging the personal side.

What might you envision as that "thread" that allows users to move between modes of communication, like video to email to IM?

Peterson: I think this leads itself into a … network-based or a cloud-based solution. There is definitely room for indexing in an organization across those mediums. … [IT needs to] build their systems on an open platform, get access to their data and tie it to other companies that store and retrieve data, and even get into a tagging system that can be shared across those platforms. For example, let's say you were able to store a voicemail or a document from a company, like RingCentral, [and were] able to tie that with Box account documents. It's important to look at that conversation in terms of a thread and not in terms of a bunch of disconnected islands.

What business communication issues can't IT fix?

1. Lack of broadband. Unfortunately, broadband accessibility isn't up to one IT professional, but it's needed for dynamic communications.

2. WebRTC patent wars. Peterson urges IT to wait WebRTC ratification out before investing too much in the technology.

What can IT do about communication issues surrounding UC federation?

Peterson: You have to make sure the platforms you're choosing are open and standards-based, because you don't run the application as much anymore. This isn't the software of the '80s where you bought the source code and modified it heavily into your own code. If you want federation to be working, [standards] better be in the solution already, and should be one of those things that companies are committed to doing in an open way so you can tie your different systems together, [like] your file storage and your communication threads, or your chat solution and your conferencing solution. I would pay a lot of attention to whether they are using SIP and XMPP. Absent of having those [standards], you might be selecting technology that operates as an island, and that's not going to work in today's communication world.

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