In this book, we will introduce you to the interesting subjects of communication and collaboration. You will see the present approaches and forms of information processing and what it means to stay connected. We will also look into future technological developments.
Before we delve deep into the technologies, software solutions, and innovative communication capabilities, let me first ask you several questions:
Have you ever considered how important communication is in your daily life?
How much do you communicate every day, or how many people do you converse with daily on various issues?
Is this exchange of information important and necessary?
Communication is not something which we consciously think about in most situations. However, let me urge you to start observing how often you communicate daily with others and particularly the ways and means you do this. I think you can then agree that communication and targeted exchange of information are basic components and a foundation of our lives. Living creatures communicate with one another via some form of tool or other means. In the prehistoric era, humankind communicated information using images, characters, sounds, and later music from the sender to the receiver. However, the uniqueness of this information was not always clearly given and messages communicated by this means did not always reach the intended recipient.
Looking into the past, the origin of cooperation was to create success, whether in career opportunities or social recognition to secure survival for his fellow men and himself.
In the course of time and history, many possibilities derived from technical-evolutionary ideas have been developed for communication, cooperation, and exchange of information over many centuries. Ultimately it is the human drive to be successful and efficient in communicating, processing, and transmitting information that drives this process.
Let us look back at the technological developments that have taken place at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. At that time, our "modern" information exchange and communication by telegraphy (1837, Samuel Morse F. B.) or telephony (1876, Alexander Graham Bell) were in their infant stages. Telephones were innovative pieces of equipment that had to be integrated into companies or offices in order to process information more efficiently and rapidly without having to go through an interconnecting party. These developments were tools of communication which eventually seeded the development of today's modern communication— an integrated solution for communication and collaboration, in short, unified communications/unified messaging.
A communication tool is not simply a tool for communication but it supports us in our everyday life and it is also a "tool" in our professional dealings at work, to give us information and knowledge to help us make more informed decisions better and faster. This technological advancement affects not only our individual lives but also structures in which companies and even the global economy cooperate and collaborate.
Communicating relevant, mission-critical information is an indispensable task in today's work environment as well as in our private lives. Success is in part based on how much knowledge we have, which itself ultimately depends on how we communicate and how fast we process information.
In the past few decades, for both our professional and private lives, we communicated using media such as paper and pen, typewriter, and the phone. In the business environment, the use of paper to communicate with companies outside caused vast quantities of paper to be transported over long routes, which resulted in long waiting times and inefficient flow of information. Introduction of the early phone system helped to greatly increase efficiency but was subject to the limited availability of the intermediate connector to the other party and allowed only audio data to be transferred. The inability to transfer other forms of data such as documents, screenshots, or other contextual information is a limitation when you are only able to communicate by audio.
This, however, does not mean that individuals or companies in the past were inefficient and unsuccessful because they were unable to communicate the way we are doing today. Being "successful" is a temporary condition, which once reached, does not automatically continue for a team or an individual. Success is the result of a consistent investment in the uniqueness of the company or of the individual, the use of performance-relevant core competencies, and the ability to learn faster than others and to change in a broader sense. The right strategies, visions, mission statements, organizational structures, competent managers, and especially employees are important for success. But correct and relevant information to make sound and informed decisions helps the organization to be continually successful. Thus, the critical role is to look into ways employees, departments, offices, and business partners communicate and collaborate with one another.
Fundamentally, basic communication, as you can imagine, is the basis for all these forms of modern communication and collaboration to take place. In order to better understand current and future possibilities for communication and collaboration let me first take you back once again to the past.
In addition to globalization, an important benefit for business was also created by countless technical developments. For example, the invention of the Internet was considered one of the biggest changes in the information community since the invention of the printing press. The initial networking of universities and research institutes which later spread into the commercial sector, and eventually to the private sector, had an unexpected impact on various areas of everyday life. In 1990, the Internet was given virtually free by the US National Science Foundation to the world as a communication network for various technology companies, research institutes, and universities to develop. The following diagram illustrates the development of telecommunication since the mid-eighteenth century and the innovations that were invented with software-based technology. In other words, traditional telecommunication- and software-based communication and collaboration technologies are coming closer together, merging and building a strong convergence for the future.
Technological development of the Internet also created changing conditions in the market economy. Initially, these new possibilities on the part of many companies were more or less declared as "utopia" or only short-term achievement.
The initial technology was available but insufficient to provide a real benefit for companies. However, in 1993, through the development of new communication protocols by Tim Berners-Lee (who is considered the inventor of the World Wide Web and the HTTP protocol) and CERN, there was a rapid boost of the Internet by increasing the efficient exchange of information.
E-mail as a carrier of information in business and for private users was usable with these extensions and innovations of the Internet. On closer inspection, the exchange of information via e-mail probably created the first milestone for trends such as the "paperless office", to create savings in shipping and telephone costs.
Today, e-mail is not a trend but an established type of communication that is deeply integrated with our communication and business processes. Although "paperless office" and telephone cost savings using this technology have been realized, communication in companies significantly increased because you spend less time and less cost to transport information from point A to point B.
What is the relationship between technologies, such as the Internet, e-mail, and the phone and the information processing and collaboration for businesses?
The very same question is asked; how can we make cooperation within and outside companies more efficient?
How can we communicate easier and quicker? Can companies achieve their goals more easily with these tools? Are there ways to avoid/reduce costs to increase savings? Can we make it easier to deal with this knowledge change? What potential gains and advantages exist here for the companies? What kind of changes will we need in the company and how will the changes affect the person who has to implement them? How can in-house projects be realized in order to improve the communication?
To answer these questions, it is important to look at the communication trends in recent years. In the past five to ten years, with combined usage of previously developed and established milestones in communication technology, the Internet and the telephone, we were able to benefit from efficient client information while constantly developing communication technology.
Wi-Fi, which has only existed for several years as a standard in companies and in public places such as airports, cafes, and so on, is now used by nearly all mobile communications devices. Wi-Fi allows us to communicate with words and images wirelessly to the Internet/local area network.
The fact that almost every workplace has an Internet connection these days shows the need to simplify all communication possibilities for all users. This includes the Internet, e-mail, landline phones, mobile phones, video conferencing equipment, tablets, PCs, netbooks, and smartphones. It is important to highlight that connectivity to the Internet and telecommunication services is still a challenge in some areas of the world and even a luxury for some developed countries and regions. Even in these developed places we will find some remote locations with limited (slow) Internet connections.
More often than not, new software promising better benefits in communication and cooperation tends to overwhelm employees in the company. Year after year, companies have invested over and over again in new technologies trying to get a competitive edge over other companies, by improving their internal processes and procedures through more efficient communication methods or technologies.
In the past few years, the number and complexity of technologies and processes has escalated so much that these developments and investments are showing signs of having a negative impact on the efficiency and effectiveness of the company.
Also, many business owners believed that pure investment in new tools, new software programs, and new communication equipment is the sole solution for better structural communication. This circumstance is still one of the top challenges and problems for IT and change processes in organizations.
Since the 1990s, according to international studies (such as the Federal Reserve Board of Governors) a large percentage of the available budget is used for communications and information technologies.
The chart shows that companies are continuously upgrading and investing in their technology. Even though the study begun in the last century, it is a fact that this same development has progressed to today. Through the investments made, it is obvious that IT investments are an above-average priority for many companies.
The dotted line "Actual real IT investment" shows the IT investments realized in the North American region, the solid line "Target real IT investment" shows, on the other hand, the "target" IT investment is based on financial planning and forecasting of organizations.
In the other chapters of this book, we will specifically focus on the "pure" IT investments (which are the actual IT investments). Through more expensive investments in information and communication technology, we will be able to see clearly that we need more than a wealth of different complex technologies to communicate and collaborate amongst employees, customers, partner companies, and so on.
Precisely for this reason, software and technology companies that were developed a few years ago started implementing solutions in this field of communications so that technology "should unify the main day-to-day communication tools".
The old wired phone of the past has evolved over the years to include more uses and functionalities, and has been transformed into today's phone, which is effectively a mobile communication link. A telephone using its own PBX (Private Branch Exchange = Telephony system) in the company is very different from a modern mobile phone with the integrated mobile phone operator services.
Global companies led the integration of different technologies to improve communication. Internal studies and analyses that were conducted showed that the average employee uses many devices such as a PC, a work phone (landline), possibly several mobile phones, a tablet, a fax, a notebook, and/or a Netbook.
Perhaps you can still remember the "Pager", which was expensive when released but has long since been replaced by innovations from the mobile industry (excluding a few regions and certain professional areas such as the hospitals that are still using pagers for urgent communication).
Of course, such studies on consumer communication are not solely used to find out the number of devices per user, but other important data such as the frequency and intensity of usage on the various devices so that companies can invest in the appropriate technology and the staff to facilitate communication and collaboration with others.
Such studies revealed high costs for the workplace equipment and loss of efficiency was caused by an overlap and a "flood" of technologies. Due to this confusion of numerous devices and their associated communication chaos, many companies have invested increasingly in the so-called unified messaging solutions. The focus of such solutions is to provide individual employees a standardized tool to carry out their job functions more efficiently.
This represents a portion of unified messaging known as CTI, as mentioned earlier. CTI solutions are a specialized kind of software which is used for the integration of workplace phones into workstation software solutions such as Microsoft Office and Exchange, Lotus Notes, Novell GroupWise, or others. A use case scenario could be a PC with Microsoft Outlook installed, where an information worker can click to call from an e-mail or from the address book and also use basic CTI features such as to put the call into a conference call, put a call on hold, or forward and hang up a call.
The goal of unified messaging solutions is to take the load of the various complex technologies away so that we could communicate rapidly and efficiently manage human resources within the business.
CTI-solutions linked to telecommunications with the electronic data processing allows functionalities such as adoption, termination, and the automatic dial-up telephone calls from a personal computer (PC) to be possible.
Fax and voicemail are also part of unified messaging. Electronic fax can be dispatched and received from any workstation. Voicemails can take and playback voice messages using unified messaging applications.
By using these solutions there is not only comprehensive efficiency but also cost saving without investing in more new telephone systems, add-ons (plugins), proprietary software, fax machines, telephones, and more.
However, the integration solved the problems of unified messaging applications and technologies only partially because there are more and more new communication possibilities existing within the company, on the Internet with additional phone numbers, e-mail addresses, and various web communication options.
The number of communication possibilities a person can have grows significantly to be complex. To illustrate this, let me use my fictitious business cards to show you a small example of today's available communication avenues.
Do you see the problem that arises when there are many different accessibility options?
We know that the trend of communication has changed considerably and is still undergoing change. A software solution without integration into specific business processes and activities will not provide a competitive advantage. Overall, unified messaging is an interesting and rather innovative approach of simplifying communication tools.
Since 2000, new possibilities for digital collaboration have been developed based on previous experiences and these should benefit not only technical areas in companies but should also be adapted into the business processes and goals of the company to produce real and measurable value.
Among these new possibilities, in addition to the previously mentioned unified messaging technologies, there is Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephony, intelligent intranet and Internet platforms, collaboration portals, instant messaging solutions, IP video conferencing, and presence integration (which provides the availability information of the employees, customers, partners, and so on).
The relevance of "support business processes" with technology optimized for the end user has become clear to the solution providers and technology vendors. This rethinking is motivated by the increased competition, the need to increase profit margins, and problems of market growth in the global economy. In the process of unifying communications, more and more thoughts from a technical perspective are incorporated into the concept of unified messaging and telephony/mobile telephony.
Unified communications offers a measurable benefit for companies by value-enhancing usage to allow easy communication combined with simultaneous exchange of information among users in their daily communication.
To further explain the term unified communications (UC) at this point, the word unified means to bring everything together in real-time communication (RTC). In contrast to unified messaging (integration of telephony, fax, and voicemail), the idea behind unified communications is a merger of all available communications services, especially instant messaging systems (which are the integration with presence features) to facilitate the accessibility of communication partners.
The further integration of this technology in our work and business processes is an important focus and also an increasingly frequent request to the technology vendors and manufacturers. Unified communications can be understood as an extension of unified messaging because unified messaging refers to the integration of messages in an application and is in fact a form of asynchronous communication. Unified communications takes this a step further to create real-time communication as it aims to integrate synchronous communication media together.
Also note that the possibilities of unified communication from the portal and social networking platform technologies have also increased. You will certainly have heard of Google+, Netlog, SkyDrive, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, XING, and other platforms. These platforms allow not only the exchange of personal and business-related information, but also the integration and availability of further real time communication and collaboration add-ons like instant messaging, document-sharing, Internet telephony and even integration with line of business applications.
We do not only focus on the way information within the companies is changing but also we have to keep an eye on how the consumer environment is changing. The integration of such services has shifted from a pure consumer to a business or consumer/business mixed variant and very often, communication with business and private contacts overlap.
Let's take a look at Facebook. Facebook created at first a social networking platform to give people the opportunity to get connected, exchange content like pictures, personal information, friend lists, and more. Several years later, Facebook created a new platform inside the original Facebook application with the name Branchout. Branchout's idea was derived from Facebook. Branchout sets out to provide similar features to Facebook but for business. The idea is comparable to other social networks like Linkedin or XING where people get connected, create business, or find jobs and career opportunities. With Branchout, Facebook went into a more business related and focused area—integrated in the private social network.
Social networks offer an important platform for product information and sales. International studies have shown that in the future, more products and services through social networks and platforms can be distributed and rated, just like departmental stores or shops.
The technology allows us to communicate with "friends" and contacts about the quality of the product and to write a review providing information on the product. This is only one example of social networks. Another good example is product marketing. How companies provide information about their services and products changed completely with the development of social networks. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and other companies changed how customers receive information when shopping for products and services. The technology trend is clear: this change will continue. Online shops, marketing, and access to products and service information through social networks will be the standard for the new generation of end users and buyers.
Other trends include increased networking with business applications for companies. Many manufacturers and software companies also increasingly offer their solutions to integrate and coexist with social platforms. For example, Microsoft, Cisco, and IBM offer networking with Facebook and other social networks in its collaboration solutions. They are simplified to integrate communication, information, and contact databases. It will be no surprise that solutions available on the desktop and office computers will also be further extended to mobile devices such as tablets in the near future.
The next most obvious immediate change in IT and telecommunications is cloud services, or even cloud computing. Many of the aforementioned communication solutions and social networks are pure "cloud" solutions.
But what exactly does this mean? At this point, I would like to give a rough overview of the solutions-based cloud and its conceptual idea first and revisit it in more detail again in the later chapters.
Cloud services by global providers are not the "typical" new IT solution as cloud offers complete integration or a combination of cloud with the IT environment and needs of a company. In other words, cloud services are theoretically accessible from any device and platforms and also the actual computing power is provided centrally in the cloud.
In addition, user data or other information is located in the cloud, so PCs, tablets, or mobile devices tap into the cloud-based applications like how we get our utilities such as electricity and water from a central supply.
Another advantage is that the cloud has a simple solution-based offering, at least for most common services like e-mail, social media, or basic real-time collaboration, so it requires no special knowledge to get the actual services to work/operate. When we talk about the cloud, it is important to differentiate the several different types of cloud computing. There is the "consumer cloud", which usually offers free or inexpensive communication, collaboration, e-mail services, data storage solutions, and many others. Then there is the business cloud. The business cloud computing offers small, medium, and enterprise companies a variety of different services and technologies that are usually not free and also need more planning before they can be used for business purposes. Anyone who dives into the field of business cloud services will very quickly recognize that the core concept of these services is not new at all. For many years, companies always had the choice to invest in their own IT, telecommunications services, data, storage, security, and also web services. The alternative is "hosted services" offered to business customers by companies like IBM, Verizon, and AT&T. The evolution of cloud computing is in reality the convergence of hosted services into cloud computing—in other words, hosting 2.0.
With cloud computing for business customers, we no longer talk about having specific cloud services that are not working properly or have temporarily disrupted services. They have high service level agreements between the business customers and the provider of cloud computing solutions. Companies usually think about cloud computing, and transferring or merging their current in-house solutions and IT platforms to cloud services due to one or more of the following reasons:
Need to save cost and to reduce IT and telecommunication equipment inside the company.
High Return On Investment (ROI) when investing in cloud computing compared to the traditional in-house solutions.
Pay only for the actual use. For example, data storage – how much hosted storage space is needed? E-mail services – how many mailboxes, what size and configuration are required?
More effective outsourcing strategy and not be dependent on only one provider (cloud services can be migrated quickly between different providers if required).
Less need to invest and upgrade IT and telecommunication technology for the company. In other words, the upgrade cycle and need for an investment on this is practically not required anymore.
Hand over the IT and telecommunications services to a provider who is specialist in it as it is not our core competency.
Want to concentrate on core competencies and drive innovations faster in order to have a faster "time to market" for their own product or service.
These reasons given are usually for business justification when planning for cloud computing. Some of today's cloud services even migrate from the consumer space into the business area. An example is the company Dropbox (www.dropbox.com), which offers a free service for consumers to store photos, documents, music, videos, and other content easily into the cloud. Dropbox was founded in 2007 by Drew Houston and Arash Ferdowsi, two students from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), who invented the idea of this service when they started e-mailing files to themselves from home to work and to more than one computer. The idea of Dropbox was born.
Another example is Microsoft's SkyDrive, which offers consumers not only storage but also e-mail services, sharing and security options between multiple devices and technology, the automated synchronization of selected folders between multiple devices, and much more. Microsoft and Dropbox are not the only ones offering such services. What we see is that consumer cloud services can also be extended for business purposes. This is probably the case for many different technology areas and even the choice of devices and operation system platform.
Internet and connected technologies will continue to undergo rapid changes with advancing technology. We can only vaguely dream how and what we will use to communicate, cooperate, and conduct information exchanges twenty to thirty years from now.
On the whole, it is obvious that traditional IT and telecommunication will move towards cloud computing or a form of cloud hybrid implementation and usage of technology services. When we look back to this point in time in the future, we might remember the emergence of cloud technology as the first step into a different world of technology and services. Just like how the first mobile phone or Internet was developed and changed the way we communicate, share information, and even how we purchase services today.
If you compare a telecommunication provider's traditional service and their present day service, it is important to recognize that the business model of such companies has changed and will continue to dramatically change in the next few years.
It is not only important to offer minutes and data bandwidth to customers; it will be important to understand the customers' business and business requirements but also their communication, collaboration, and cloud strategy. Only with this level of attention and partnership, will it be possible to stay in the market and grow from a business perspective together with technological changes, especially in the areas of communication and collaboration. We would look into cost advantages in unified communications and its cloud services options in the later chapters.
The field of unified communications & collaboration (UCC) and social networking arose from the global trend of devising new methods using new technologies to allow cooperation between employees, customers, partners, corporate collaborations, networks alliances, and economic interactions between business organizations.
In addition to these new collaboration opportunities, UCC offers increasingly sustainable cost savings for organizations utilizing cloud services. Cloud service is an alternative to the standard IT environment and could perhaps lead the emergence towards the next new standard.
The drive to improve as an individual and organization supports all of these innovations to the next stages of development, which is to make it easier to transfer information among the recipients. Thus, technological and organizational structures will become an even more relevant and decisive competitive factor in the future.
However, unified communications, collaboration, or social networks would be just another technical invention or additional terminologies if not used efficiently for communication, information exchange, or in areas of knowledge or cooperation management.
You will learn in the next chapters the benefits and potential for success from unified communications using these technologies.