In the field of unified communications, consumer technology adoption often remains a step ahead of enterprise IT departments. Employees use Web 2.0 communications applications that come easy and free on the Internet for unified messaging, one-number dialing and voice over IP (VoIP). Unfortunately, this grass-roots adoption of consumer tools leaves enterprises in the tricky position of trying to track and control which consumer applications users adopt on the fly.
The convergence between enterprise and consumer technology through Web 2.0 communications apps may increase productivity and save money, but IT departments must find the right balance between security and enabling users to communicate in the medium with which they're most comfortable. Otherwise, enterprises will have no idea what business is being done via Twitter, Google Voice, AOL Instant Messenger or Skype on personal computers and devices.
"Some companies are being more proactive than others," said Irwin Lazar, a vice president at Nemertes Research. "We're starting to see increasing awareness of [the convergence of] consumer and public apps and how to leverage either the apps themselves or the concepts within the enterprise."
Enterprise and consumer communication technology has been merging in three ways, according to Lazar.
- Extensibility: Corporate UC tools have expanded to interoperate with consumer applications. "For example, being able to call a Skype user from my company phone, IM an AOL user from Microsoft [Office Communications Server] or [IBM Lotus] Sametime, [or] tweet from my company micro-blogging service," Lazar said.
- Feature crossover: Vendors are looking at what makes Web 2.0 communications popular and developing "Facebook for the enterprise" or "YouTube for the enterprise" platforms.
- Conversion: Some corporate IT departments that have traditionally used enterprise-grade services such as Microsoft Office and Exchange are swapping those out for Gmail and Google Apps.
But many enterprises are hesitant to fully embrace this evolution, Lazar said, because of concerns about compliance, data leak prevention and unauthorized data transfers.
If enterprises do nothing else, he added, they should at least craft and enforce a social media policy that is firm enough to protect the company but flexible enough not to be dismissed as too strict.
"If you lock everything down, people will just use their iPhones or netbooks," Lazar said. "You have to have policies that train users that using things like Facebook or Twitter for work isn't allowed -- and teach them the risks."
UC vendors offer enterprise-grade Web 2.0 communications solutions
Meanwhile, suppliers are responding with solutions that mimic Web 2.0 communications or use social networking sites as a medium -- with enterprise concerns about security, compliance and reliability in mind -- and have aimed to price those solutions competitively.
"One of the things Google Voice drove us to do is extract out the one-number service and offer it as a low-cost or one-cost service capability," said Paul McMillan, director of UC technical vision and strategy at Siemens Enterprise Communications. "You're not going to [change] it, and you're not going to [stop] it from coming , so what can you do to leverage it and add value?"
Looking to its future end users, Siemens has been working with universities to suggest enhancements to the company's OpenScape platform to make it look and feel more like consumer Web 2.0 communications applications.
"[As a vendor], you have to step outside your own view of things and say, 'What are other companies doing well?' McMillan said. "We're looking at things like what Apple and Google are doing well, how they are doing it and what customers are latching onto."
Driving rapid adoption of consumer Web 2.0 communications apps is the fact that they come at low or no cost to end users, according to Vivek Khuller, CEO and founder of DiVitas Networks. To keep up, DiVitas has utilized "a very clever use of open source and adding value on top of that" for its IM, presence and micro-blogging applications, Khuller said.
"Consumer technology is perceived to be [far] ahead of enterprise technology, but not because the tools aren't available," he said. "The enterprises are going to lag behind the consumer, but it is more due to the slow decision-making process involved."
Enterprises that are cagey about users turning to YouTube for streaming video have options from Cisco Systems and Kontiki, a Silicon Valley startup that launched its "YouTube for the enterprise" last month.
Enterprise social networking tools have also hit the market. Siemens recently announced a "mash-up" between Twitter and its OpenScape platform, allowing its UC application to update presence by crawling employees' tweets for phrases such as "just landed." Avaya launched "Facephone," an application that creates a private channel through Facebook for its UC product.
Security vendors are also delivering solutions to "police the use of public applications," Lazar said. FaceTime, a longtime Web gateway and IM security vendor, now offers monitoring and control for Web 2.0 communications, social media and unified communications.
On the flip side, Lazar said, consumer services are delivering stronger privacy and security controls to mark up and sell their applications to enterprises.
"Google's enterprise email is a good example," he said. "They were recently able to win the city of Los Angeles over to Google Mail by giving them the tools to meet security and compliance needs."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Jessica Scarpati, News Writer