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Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Future of Convergence

Everyone talks about Convergence as if it has already happened, we have had a single device acting as the Mobile and Fixed phone, I have even seen Operators show the ability to integrate the billing of Fixed and Mobile phones as if they were just one device (Very cool by the way!). another great example is how we are now able to integrate Voice, Video and Data over networks seamlessly, something which up until less than ten years ago seemed both overly expensive and unlikely given the complexity. last but not least, having a deskphone in your laptop, for those of you who recall your first softphone how odd was it to see the same configuration you had on a physical Hardware device now floating on your desk top as Software . In my view this is merely the beginning of Convergence the foundation steps to "True" Convergence are now n place, we need to step back and think about the future of convergence, there are Technology Vendors, Operators, Service Providers, Systems Integrators all heading to the same central point in the belief that Fixed and Mobile, Hardware and software as well as Voice and Data are all on a rapidly approaching collision course of True convergence. What I am more interested in at the moment is what will result from this collision; some say that we will see a few “mega” providers with integration of SI, SP, and Technology to meet the complete needs of the end user. We have even seen some of this development, Hardware vendors like Cisco and HP moving into the software space, Software companies like SAP and Google moving into the Hardware and Communications space respectively, all trying to anticipate the next trend and what they should develop or acquire to stay one step ahead of the curve. However with everything that we communicate with, store and share increasingly being positioned in and around the cloud we call the Web, are we approaching a new phase of convergence that the market players will have to adapt to yet again?

Is the Cloud the Next Integrator?

Communications, Media and Data solutions are increasingly device agnostic, OEM independent and User Specific (Hope I didn't lose too many people there!), this situation represents a significant evolution from applications traditionally being forced to align to a particular operating system or device manufacturer. With increasing trends driving open source platforms or the more sizable operating systems sharing tool kits for application development; communication, media and data are all increasingly hosted, rather than stored on the device and in so doing is providing increased flexibility for users to access these platforms through any means they choose.

The Empowerment of the End user has happened. However, how long will this remain? When will we all get branded, categorized and driven to a specific “Super Provider” of our “Cloud” requirements? Vendors like Cisco, Huawei and HP are clearly aiming to be all things to all people, likewise Google, SAP and Microsoft are equally confident that their own development will meet the needs of the end user whoever he or she may be, for me the jury is out it is clear the key looking ahead will be partner Ecosystems, who can establish a strong enough framework that embraces standardization whilst at the same time provides sufficient options for businesses and the end user to shape their own requirements.

Speaking with a number of people there seems to be a developing view that we are about to see a rapid consolidation of providers of technology services into the market place, personally I believe we are on the verge of another boom, we have had the Internet Boom, the Content Boom and I now foresee the “Personalized Integration” Boom. This will be a new space where providers help to shape the tools we use, the date we store and the people we communicate with as best suits us as the individual.

For example if I prefer to use Google’s Gmail with Microsoft’s IM, Norton’s Security, Avaya’s Softphone, Motorola’s Mobile Phone and my local Hosting provider, then I will be able to do so without the need to manage the interaction between all of these elements manually.

Seems pretty far out there right? I can accept that, but if I look at the Integration options we have available to us today across Voice and Data, Hardware with Software, Fixed and Mobile it is surely only a matter of time that when we reach ubiquitous networking. We have reached the next junction of Convergence, it is time to assess and identify the opportunities this extended path to Convergence can offer SI, SP and technology vendors. As for the rest of us we are finally at a point to redefine the : How, Where, When and What Devices/Tools/Applications we will work with in our daily working and social lives ...  So get involved and keep challenging businesses for what you want!

Monday, 20 September 2010

Let's Just Stop Communicating and Start Talking!

Think about it – When was the last time you really talked to someone – no don’t worry this is not your next therapy session! But seriously, how often do you actually just pick up the phone or walk over to someone to ask them to help with the completion of a task or to provide you with a document or even dare I ask to catch up for a drink? Did you know that today you are 10 times more likely to send an email than actually pick up the phone? Or even more interesting, 20 times more likely to send an SMS or Instant message that talk on the phone or approach someone directly? I imagine many of you are reading this thinking … So what … it’s the tools we have to work with today – right? Well before I answer that question, let me as you another – how often have you been irritated with someone not replying to your message or for that matter being hounded by people demanding your response to that utmost critical question on a project status?


Now that I have you thinking about the multiple ways of “easy” communication we have along with the continued frustrations we all feel (well ok maybe you are one of the lucky ones!) in managing these multiple facets of communication that now exist in our lives, therefore have these communication tools really made it easier for you to communicate with others?

Communication tools although originally created to improve our interaction across the globe have unknowingly to many of us become the single frustration of our working lives. Consider for a moment the SMS – Short Message Service – the very title outlines what this is for, but I commonly know of people who can send a 1000 character message to a friend or colleague and be exasperated that the message didn’t arrive or was not ready from start to finish, People .., it’s an SMS not a ILMS - Infinitely Long Message Service! If you need more than 160 characters send an email, which brings us nicely to the most hidden process in an organization … Office Tai Chi. You may not know it but there is a hidden process in every organization that gives you the power to allocate or forward an action to anyone in your contact directory ideally leaving you completely protected from responsibility, no it’s not SAP, or Sales Force or even the infamous homemade process flow, it is in fact your very own email account!

We live under this wonderful illusion of belief that once we have sent someone an email it is no longer our responsibility – think about it, how often have you told someone “Oh yes I sent him/her an email, but they haven’t responded, clearly they are at fault, I will send another email to make sure they complete the task”. Perhaps even better someone is chasing you for emails that you have already forwarded onto someone else as you are not responsible yet they keep hassling you, ah right you forgot to copy the other person on the email, once you do resend the message to the intended recipient “copying” the original requester, you have finally achieved the highest level of Office Tai Chi, absolved yourself from all responsibility – even if the person you forwarded the message to is not even responsible! :)

It’s okay though we can fix things now with the help of a wonderful tool called Instant Messaging (IM), why do they call it instant because we can actually see when a person is online and demand that they respond to us immediately! Right? That’s how it works isn’t it? Red status means in a meeting but I would rather talk to you via IM, Amber means I am away from my desk but please send me a message so as I can get back to my desk and Green simply means I am urgently awaiting you to send me a message I can respond to? Absolutely … that’s why I usually have up to 8 IM sessions active so as I can realize my dream of being your next virtual help desk! Sound Familiar? Or my personal favourite, it isn’t enough for us to have a 1:1 chat let’s invite everyone else we know – I was stunned to see one colleague having a 12 person chat on IM! Everyone has an opinion but you have the last word and don’t worry we record all of our IM sessions now so we have proof you were there!

Ok, so I have hopefully opened your eyes to how we are (mis)using these wonderful communication tools that the market has provided us with to make our lives easier and the people around us more accessible, but have they? I would challenge that the Communications tools of today have become so warped from their original purpose they are actually distracting us from our daily lives rather than empowering us. But how did this happen and who is to blame? Well simply put all of us – yes I know you expected me to say that, what I mean though is us as individuals, managers, organizations and the technologists who introduce them in the first place.

The purpose of this article was to talk about regaining control of the communication tools around us, and to get you thinking about how you use communication tools moving forward. Many of us have been introduced to these Communication tools by the companies we work for, in doing so we were not made aware as to how these tools should be used, or not used as the case maybe. For example – Email should be used to send important files, share minutes of meetings, highlight project plans, receiving process notifications (real processes not emails!  ) or inform staff of important updates. Therefore email should not be about blanket emailing 30 people if they know where the stapler went to, or asking someone’s opinion of the latest basketball or as is my case asking what people thought of the latest F1 race – yes sorry! IM is a very powerful tool, how about using it to find people who can help you when they are available. IM can tell us if someone is available, or if they are not which of their colleagues who may have a similar skill could help us out, and when set up IM in the right way even enable us to click on their name and be told the best way to reach that person at any time of day be it Email, Mobile, IM or simply not reachable as on Holiday. Neat right?

So what can we do? Two things, first of all challenge your organization to drive a policy as how best communication tools can be leveraged to strengthen how we communicate not detract from it. Secondly think to yourself then next time you are sending an SMS, Email or IM is this really the best way to communicate, would I be better off getting out from behind my desk and asking the person directly, or if you can’t see them, Call them!

Therefore I leave with the question I started with … When was the last time YOU really talked to someone?

Sunday, 12 September 2010

It’s a Battlefield - Business vs. Technology

We are all familiar with the Bell curve of uptake of technology; we have the leaders, the majority and the laggard’s right? We have always assumed that the businesses that are adapting new technology were taking a managed risk to drive efficiency in their organizations and that by the time it reached the majority and even more so for the laggards that the bugs and integration issues of the technology into the businesses way of working would enable us to accelerate the implementation of a new technology into our own organization. This is probably one of the biggest Fallacy’s in the ICT space today.

I regularly hear from people how there company is about to embark on a transformation project which is going to save them millions, improve the way they work and in some case provide a new platform for growth, on the surface it sounds great and I always wish people every success in realizing the benefits that these projects COULD provide. HOWEVER, I very rarely see a project that meets its objectives, not from lack of ambition of the company or the individuals to want it to succeed, but due to unseen obstacles.

What many people don’t realize is that there are number of factors that MUST be addressed when implementing a project and likely more so for the Majority and laggard businesses seeking to adapt the latest technology. When introducing a new technology it is crucial that it is the business that is defining the requirements of the technology to be implemented and not the other way around. What? Well that’s straight forward right? Well perhaps but you would be amazed at how many organizations find themselves rewriting processes to adapt to the limitations of the technology they are deploying or the limitations of other technology previously deployed not being interoperable with the new technology. I have seen two extreme cases of how organizations have attempted to adapt to a technology, the first was the introduction of a manual process to connect between a CRM system and a BSS as the two were not interoperable, but standalone worked great! The second is a company who had adopted a brand new unified communication system that was to be integrated into their systems, processes and empower their organization, after paying Millions in Change Requests the organization eventually chose to simply re-write some of their process to work around the integration limits of the software. These two cases are not rare, I am sure if you were to ask yourself or your own colleagues about a recent project your company implemented and the changes that business had to undertake to adapt that technology to work within your organization – I am sure many of you will be surprised.

Another leading challenge that businesses struggle with when implementing technology is understanding the people aspect. The impact that technology will have on an organization will be determined by the weakest link or in this case least understanding user. To put it another way once a technology has been implemented, if people don’t understand how to use it they will create their own workarounds to achieve their own objectives/deliverables, immediately resulting in a cascade effect of the technology not realizing its full potential. I have seen a few unique cases one a while ago of a Team Assistant downloading a corporate email directory for more than 5,000 people every Monday as she did not understand how to access the information for her team in real time through the database. Her approach achieved her required outcome to provide her team with the latest email directory every week, shortly after some of her colleagues started updating in the same way following her path to solving their problem. All of this was due to staff not being trained on the technology from their perspective, that is to say how do they need to use the technology in their daily lives and what functionality can be leveraged from the software to meet their needs. Another great example was an organization that had developed short code dialing to drive calls on-net rather than use IDD calling rates, seems very straightforward, however the business leaders had felt that sending an email to all employees would suffice on how to use this great software development. Needless to say six months into this project it was terminated as they management were not seeing the savings they had expected, three months after the project closed employees were asking why the short codes were not working anymore. Despite the business not training staff on how to use the new solution, through a process of the more technically aware staff passing information across to those less so, more than 35% of the business started to use the new on-net voice system.

As organizations and as leaders in defining the implementation and use of technology there are a number of actions we can take that will seek to improve chance of a successful introduction of technology. Businesses need to define how technology will be integrated with the way their business works or how they want their business to work moving forward and not to fall prey to reshaping their working environment or even processes around the technology they are trying to introduce. Define the business need, deliverables, what the change should bring and only then engage the technology provider with those mandates in place, ensuring any deviation from that plan is reconsidered internally as a “business first”.

Alignment between the technology function (e.g. CTO or IT) and the business units who will be the recipients of the technology to be introduced are absolutely crucial. There is a common misunderstanding of CTO’s thinking they know how to run a business and likewise business units believing they understand how the technology they use works! A crucial stage in the introduction of technology is a joint team of Business unit stakeholders and technology owners to balance the needs of the business with ease of integration into the existing IT systems and tools. You will find it very rare that the objectives of both are ever perfectly met, HOWEVER a common understanding between both sides will ensure a greater chance of success and in so doing create an impetus to consider other technology changes in the future in a mutually beneficial and understanding work place.

One final key point for consideration remains the assimilation of technology by an organization. I can imagine right now you are thinking that “well surely having completed the first two points this should be achievable” … right? Unfortunately the first two points will only provide the framework for technology to be introduced, the key step in any technology introduction is ensuring it is embraced by the organization it is destined for. I am sure many of you have seen technology projects go awry due to the users not embracing the technology through either lack of understanding or preference for the old ways of working. One method to introduce new technology is to consider a phased approach, look to those who embrace new technology and/or are technically savvy enough to be able to explain how it works and the benefits it provides to others. You will quickly see that as there are an increasing number of users embracing the use of the newly introduced technology it will be much easier to convert the technology laggards in your business through the implementation of policy updates on ways of working. Policies on using new technologies can be very useful for driving the remaining staff to the new way of working, as well as ensuring new staff are quickly up to speed on how to leverage the new technology introduced by your business. I can hear some of you thinking, “Hang on – your contradicting yourself! Now you are telling us to adapt to the technology!”, but that is not the case, what I am saying is it is important that once the new technology is introduced, whether it is communications tools, IT or new processes we always need to ensure we are clear in our own communication of how the new technology will be integrated with our current or new ways of working (???)

The challenges faced in introducing new technology into an organization remains complex and I hope to open your eyes to look at the relationships between technology and the way in which we use it in our organizations today. Technology IS an enabler to us in how we work as individuals and to the organizations we work with, it is absolutely critical that we continue to challenge the benefits that a technology will have “supposedly” have on our way of working BEFORE the project starts. There is a battle raging, but it is one we can win, as long as we take control of the goals of our business and limit technology to playing a role in the success of our business not the restriction of it.

Monday, 6 September 2010

How Secure is Our Information in a Ubiquitous Communication World?

Security has traditionally been a fixed Network discussion due to the historical limitations of what Mobile networks were able to do and more importantly what Mobile devices could actually understand.

Over the past 5 years all of this has changed with a number of key developments:

o The evolution of the Handset into a Smartphone – in some aspects doing more than what a Desktop can do today!
o The rapid technology development in Mobile, starting with the introduction of 3G, Mobile Broadband and now WIMAX and LTE
o The increasingly blurring of the boundaries between Fixed and mobile networks as perceived by the end user.

Security has become a Holistic communications concern; various forms of communication which were previously only possibly behind a desktop are now possible on almost any device than can connect into the meshed communications environment today. Whether for Fixed or Mobile Networks, Subscribers and Network Operator Security all share a growing unease as to how Secure our information/content is in this new world.

The implications that traffic of any kind can now be seamlessly routed between Fixed and Mobile Networks raises the concern on how do we manage this increased complexity? Historically a firewall or spam filter on your desktop would have solved most of your security fears, of course this was before our Mobile Phones became a critical aspect of our working and social lives with all of the tools and communication mechanisms to go with it. – Think about it how much of your email do you now send via a mobile device compared to 5 years ago? Did you ever think you would be updating your friends on forums through your mobile device or even using your mobile as a mechanism for paying bills, buying movie tickets or even network gaming! We used to think that our Mobile device was anonymous and only when we made mobile calls would anyone see our caller id, however the applications we are now accessing or the services we are now subscribing to online are doing so under the same principles as your home PC, that is connecting through the internet. Once we connect to the internet we are establishing an electronic identity that can be tracked to us as a user whether fixed or mobile, in doing so our existence in the use of these applications, services or even social network forums is not as anonymous as we might like to believe.

Mobile Networks add challenges as unlike fixed networks they are – as the name suggests – “mobile”, how do you protect your network and equally important your subscribers from all of the threats that have now evolved from the fixed network into the mobile space

o SPAM

o Fraud

o Remote Accessing Mobile Devices

o Content Filtering

o Terrorism

o National Security

o Adultery

The growing demands of Personalization by end users have increased the complexity in service management as well as the enormous diversity of content they areaccessing through their mobile device. The Openness to which ends users are willing to share their personal information – in many cases unknowingly is only adding to the growing concern that many advisers in the Security field have been raising with Network Providers and Operators around the world.

Governments, Regulators, Operators and Vendors all need to take collective responsibility for improving security requirements / solutions that will capture all aspects of communication and their associated platforms. It is no longer sufficient to consider that a Firewall, or a Filter on SMS will suffice to address the various security concerns mentioned earlier. The Industry MUST look at security wholisitically, how do we provide Security from the network to the content being accessed or downloaded to the protection of the end user – particularly the younger generation (Mobile Phones are increasingly common place in the hands of 8-10 year olds!) who are not likely to be aware of the risks that may confront them through their use of the mobile phone.

This not meant to be a doom and gloom message though, there is good news in a lot of these developments. The fact that networks are becoming increasingly blurred, the fact that applications and services that end users are accesing from both fixed and mobile networks are increasingly the same and finally the trend of all communications to an IP base provide a common framework from which to work from. The Industry needs to look at how we can address these common elements. Therefore knowing that the convergence of platforms, content and device capability we need to ask the question of How?

o How do we protect the end user with personal security irrelevant of the device they use to share, download or communicate information?

o How do we ensure Networks are secure from attack through flooding, remote control, and fraud?

o How do we ensure National security both in terms of terrorism and protecting national interests? (this could in fact be considered equally important for Corporations concerned with corporate espionage!)

I can imagine you are expecting to find the answer at the end of this article, there is no one answer to addressing security, as every requirement is unique, however this article does seek to provide you with a series of suggested guidelines that should be considered in establishing a security framework that addresses the above.

1.) Awareness – this is the most important aspect of any Security Strategy, by improving awareness of employees within an operator as to the critical role the network has in protecting its subscribers and also itself is a great start to driving improvements in all functions from Procurement, to Product Mgt through to Customer Service & Support. Improving awareness of end users with regards to actions they can take in ensuring greater self security and what they should do should they identify a security concern.

2.) Policy Management – It is important to capture the security requirements across all communication platforms to drive a set of standards making it easier to manage and providing assurances to subscribers that they can continue to realize the benefits that personalization brings without worrying which communication tools is more secure than another. Mobile Operators today will find this an even greater challenge given the multiple platforms they are now looking at managing – SMSC, MMSC, Mobile Broadband (on 3G, Wimax and soon LTE)and Wi-Fi, although the access mechanism is different the communication tools and content that is being shared is increasingly similar.

3.) Supply Chain – Ensure that All vendors Partners and even subscribers not only understand the policies being enforced to ensure Secure platforms and Services but also the expectations on those vendors, partners and subscribers on the expectations you have on them in maintaining that Security framework.

4.) Managing Change – Security needs to be a Dynamic element within any Operator (fixed or Mobile), it is not sufficient to simply run a program within a business and maintain, security threats, user behaviours, technology ALL continue to evolve and increase in complexity, it is therefore crucial to continue to look forward.

5.) Sharing Best Practices – Too many Operators feel it is critical not share the security concerns with other operators, this can actually create greater risks if they are not aware of Security threats that have been addressed by some operators but are not yet on the radar of others.

This article is not meant to dissuade operators and subscribers from continuing to maximize the benefits that these development s in the mobile communication space are providing, but more importantly to provide insight as to how we can continue to evolve our communication and content sharing tools and platforms but with an increased degree of awareness and security that Ubiquitous Communications demands.