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Unified communications translates to intelligent communications

Unified communications and its business benefits were the underlying themes of the keynote presentations yesterday at VoiceCon Spring 2007.

Unified communications (UC) has been called many things but remains something of a theory and a set of technologies that are mostly undefined.

In his keynote speech yesterday, Avaya CEO and president Louis D'Ambrosio took that definition one step further, stating, "The technology by itself doesn't count," but it's the people and processes that matter most when deploying UC.

D'Ambrosio outlined Avaya's vision of Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP), which essentially translates to intelligent communications designed to transform a business.

D'Ambrosio's vision focuses on the "no delay enterprise," where events trigger communication and that communication triggers action, eliminating the latency created by the human element.

UC, he said, brings together multiple people in the ecosystem.

As an example, D'Ambrosio focused on Whirlpool, which linked its telephony system to its ERP applications. When inventory falls low, an alert is sent out. Key decision makers are contacted automatically by their preferred method -- desk phone, cell phone, IM or another communication method -- an impromptu conference is created and the problem is solved.

Essentially, D'Ambrosio said, Whirlpool is taking data, turning it into information and turning that information into action, all with very little human interruption.

"This arguably complex dream has become seamless to the user," he said.

John Roese, Nortel CTO, echoed those sentiments in his keynote but added that UC has to advance in order to fulfill the visions many enterprises have.

He chided some vendors for "setting the scope [of UC] too narrow." For UC to succeed and have a noticeable impact, it must adapt. It must be available on all mobile devices, real-time communication must be made available in typically non-communication-oriented applications, and it must be a multimodal experience.

In addition, Roese said, UC must allow users to have their identity on any device, wherever they work, and presence must allow for true location and proximity services. Lastly, some features touted as UC, such as follow-me and click-to-contact, must evolve and become "interact with me" and "click to collaborate."

Roese called it a "reinvention of the enterprise communication experience."

For Johan Krebbers, group IT architect for Royal Dutch Shell, the UC deployment is based on one simple principle: "Work is brought to the staff, rather than bringing staff to work."

Royal Dutch Shell has more than 100,000 employees in more than 100 countries, Krebbers said. Flying them around the globe to collaborate was getting extremely expensive.

"We can't afford it anymore," he said. "We need the capability to bring the work around the world to people wherever they are."

Krebbers said he's planning to integrate -- over several years -- voice, IM, email and peer-to-peer applications based on a Microsoft Office Communicator model. For IP telephony, Royal Dutch Shell chose Nortel. In the end, he said, that model will allow users dispersed around the globe to connect and collaborate via videoconference, audio conference, Web conference, peer-to-peer videoconference, peer-to-peer audio conference, IM, or desktop sharing.

"Voice is not on its own anymore," he said. "Those other means are now as important as voice."

While Krebbers has a future vision on how to leverage UC within Royal Dutch Shell, many users on the VoiceCon show floor are still in the early stages of considering UC deployments, and very few said they've implemented more than some of UC's basic components.

Charles Weissmuller, with the network/telecom group of Philips Lighting Elect, said his company currently uses Lotus Notes for messaging and is examining deployment of Cisco Systems' TelePresence; but the company is still in the early stages of evaluation.

"We want more enhanced conferencing as opposed to all of the travel," he said, adding that having a level of UC can "bring more reality" to meetings and conferences.

Emmanuel Chick, information architecture leader for the city of Calgary, Canada, said that no matter which buzzword is used to describe UC, it's becoming a necessity for his city. Chick said that Calgary is a Microsoft shop that uses Nortel for voice and Alcatel switches. So far, he said, he's deployed collaboration applications such as whiteboard and videoconferencing.

The main driver for Calgary to deploy UC is not essentially the same as most, however. It's safe to say they have their sights set on "greener pastures."

"We want to cut down the amount of driving, to cut emissions and pollution," Chick said. He quickly added that time, productivity, efficiency and cost savings also play a role in Calgary's UC plans. In addition, he said, the city is looking to UC to stay afloat in the event of a pandemic.

"A phone call is just not enough anymore," Chick said. "We can offer a small part of [UC] now and work from there to evolve it and expand it."

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