Real Time Communications Featured Article

Enterprise Communications Trends, Challenges, and Solutions

March 17, 2015

Affordability, the cloud, ease of use, mobility, productivity, seamlessness among applications, and security are among the key things enterprises and other businesses are looking for in communications solutions today.

As Jon Jorgl, GENBAND’s president of enterprise, discusses in the upcoming April issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine, a TMC publication, companies want to be able to move forward with new and improved communications capabilities, but at the same time, not every organization wants replace its existing systems. In these cases, the companies that cater to them need to create bridges between the old and the new.

GENBAND says it delivers solutions to help businesses do that. For example, it offers organizations the ability to retain the existing voicemail systems with which their users are familiar while enabling them to enjoy state-of-the-art voicemail features.

The company also enables businesses to leverage their existing investments in endpoints and continue using existing PBX features. It achieved that by designing its EXPERiUS IP PBX application server platform to work with existing Nortel desk phones and moving many Nortel CS1K legacy PBX features to the SIP environment. 

The cloud is also enabling smaller businesses that might not otherwise be able to afford newer communications functionality to get it. For example, the just-announced BT Cloud Phone is very easy for customers to set up, and its related cloud phone service can be put to use even by a two-person business for a monthly cost of $39 and a one-time connection fee of $150.

"The barriers to adoption no longer outweigh the benefits of unified communications, and as a result there are fewer and fewer businesses not utilizing UC," said Diane Myers, principal analyst for VoIP, UC, and IMS at Infonetics Research. "Enterprises have a number of choices, from traditional premises-based solutions to a variety of cloud capabilities. This makes for a fragmented market for businesses to wade through, but it also provides options to best fit a wide swath of requirements."

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Providing workers with communications solutions that are easy to use is key not just for setup aspect of the UC solution, but also during the entire lifecycle of the UC solution to spur adoption and gain promised productivity improvements in the long run.

That may help explain the big success of Microsoft Lync, an enterprise unified communications platform that provides a consistent, single client experience for presence, instant messaging, voice, video and meetings. Businesses of all sizes are embracing Lync to enjoy its return on investment, its integration of voice with other popular Microsoft applications, its broad collaboration capabilities, its intuitive user interface, and its ability to easily support smartphones and tablets.

Lync is experiencing strong double-digit growth across all regions and verticals, even in traditionally conservative verticals such as financial services and health care, notes Tom Tuttle, vice president of the Microsoft practice at Nectar. He says licenses for Lync grew more than 25 percent worldwide last year, and research published by T3i Group in June 2014 says that of the more than 300 domestic enterprises and small and medium businesses it surveyed, 72 percent of the U.S. enterprises were either conducting or had completed trials of Microsoft Lync. That represents a giant leap compared to the 42 percent of such businesses that were in that position the year prior.

But although Lync delivers a wealth of benefits, it also creates some new challenges. That includes a lack of visibility related to end-to-end performance, says Nectar’s Tuttle. However, the Converged Management Platform from Nectar can be used to ensure peak end-to-end performance both during pre-assessment and in deployed Lync networks, he says.

“Nectar is the only complete UC monitoring solution in the market that can consume the Lync SDN API and leverage it with unique technology to provide unmatched visibility for Lync,” says Tuttle.

While Lync has caught fire, BroadSoft’s UC solution also remains popular.

BroadSoft’s Asif Rehman, director of solutions product management, recently told RealTimeCommunications that his company recently surpassed 10 million hosted UC lines installed with its BroadSoft UC-One solution. That, noted Rehman, represents half of the North American market.

“The fact that BroadSoft’s biggest customers have deployed over 500,000 hosted UC seats reinforces our market analysis that businesses are actively seeking out hosted UC solutions, and that adoption is occurring across all market segments – from SMBs to large enterprises,” said Myers of Infonetics Research. “Surpassing 10 million hosted UC lines deployed places BroadSoft well ahead of competitors, not just in the U.S., but globally.”

The global hosted PBX and UC services market is expected to grow from $8.5 billion in 2014 to $12.3 billion by 2018, according to Infonetics Research. North America is the largest market for hosted VoIP and UC services, with 49 percent of UC seats in the first half of 2014.

Rehman said the rapid growth of the UC market is happening alongside and in harmony with the mobile revolution.

“The office is really anywhere you need to be,” he added.

Indeed, work is no longer a place; it’s an activity. This statement became a popular utterance in business circles a few years ago. That still holds true today. In fact, at no time has it been more accurate.

That has been made possible largely by the expansion of wireline and wireless broadband networks and the rise of the smartphone. Research and consulting firm IDC reports that the world's mobile worker population will reach 1.3 billion in 2015, representing 37.2 percent of the total workforce.

Of course, the popularity of the smartphone and all the apps that can run on them create challenges for enterprise IT staff, which used to have total control over work endpoints and applications, and the security related to them. While we know that nothing is ever completely secure, there is good news in that a cornucopia of organizations now offer BYOD solutions to help businesses contend with the smartphone onslaught while still allowing workers to enjoy the devices of their choice and the possibility of using the applications they find most worthwhile.

The use of smartphones in our business and personal lives has become so prevalent that Dialogic has come up with a character called SmartPhoneMan. Jim Machi, vice president of product management at Dialogic, talks about him in his column in the upcoming May issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine. The column is basically a day in the life of SmartPhoneMan, who uses his innate capabilities to do everything from bypassing the line at his coffee shop to pay via a self-service kiosk, check social networks, touch base with his sister, get a coupon for a second cup o' Joe, receive an SMS from his pharmacy about a prescription, video and text 911 about a fire in the area, videoconference with his fantasy football league buddies, check work messages, and touch base with the wife. And he mentions the important role media servers play in enabling many of these real-time communications applications.

“Media servers provide the back-end voice and/or video transcoding to/from different networks or to/from different endpoints, play/record, mixing of voice and/or video into mashups or conferences, echo cancellation, text to speech and speech to text, text/picture overlay, and simple digit detection to name some of the functions of a media server,” writes Machi.

WebRTC is another technology that is helping make more seamless UC possible, as Machi also notes in his column. It allows for real-time voice and video interactions from a Web browser or other peer node without requiring special client software or requiring a server between the two endpoints.  It takes the components of a typical VoIP media engine into a browser or any other peer endpoint with a simple API that a Web server can control. That means developers can build real-time communication into web pages, existing software applications, or wherever else they want – and do so more easily and affordably than they could have in the past.

“The number of deployed and in-service applications may be relatively low today, but the potential is enormous,” Ingate President Steven Johnson recently told RealTimeCommunications. “I have now seen many exciting applications for the protocol from ad-hoc desktop chats to remote medical diagnostics, to call center applications and some other ideas that are too early to discuss. I believe that WebRTC will be rolled out more aggressively in 2015 and that the productivity enhancements will be substantial.”

The former Siemens Enterprise Communications, Unify recently took the wraps off a new SaaS-based workspace solution called Circuit that gives business users access to a range of collaboration and communications tools from any device, all via a single interface. Circuit is a WebRTC-based clientless platform that delivers voice, video, screen sharing, messaging and file sharing capabilities in an integrated way to drive productivity.

“People can focus on their work instead of focusing on the mode of communication to get the work done,” says Unify CMO Bill Hurley.

Corey S. McFadden of Voneto added: “WebRTC is now starting to become a more mainstream concept for folks who are not early adopters. I was very surprised when customers starting calling us and asking us to come in and talk about WebRTC, rather than the other way around, which is the way it usually happens.”

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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