The Comms conundrum

InsightaaS: There is a space in the technology spectrum that is difficult to define, and which as a result, is difficult to develop. You find it at the juncture of communications technology, collaboration systems, and mobility. The label we use is "unified communications and collaboration" (UC&C), but in most cases, the "unified" aspect is lacking. The HP whitepaper "Spark collaboration" provides some guidance on the roots of this issue, and how it can be addressed by rethinking the technology approach to supporting communications services.

UC advantagesConnectivity and productivity share an uneasy relationship. There is a stream of thought (based at least in part on work by MIT professor Iqal Quadir) that connectivity is productivity. However, not everyone agrees; there are many reports of people who have found that adding connectivity technology has made it more difficult for them to allocate their full attention to the tasks that they are responsible for.

What is behind this divergence of opinion? As is so often the case with IT, it is rooted in the gap between the promise of a technology — here unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) — and the reality of connectivity within many real-world environments. As the HP whitepaper Spark collaboration points out, in theory, "UC&C combines voice, email, IM [instant messaging], audio conferencing and video conferencing with presence awareness, facilitating instant contact between individuals." In practice, though, we find that "many organizations are realizing that even though these communication channels provide new business capabilities, their discrete, siloed existence has introduced much complexity for both the users as well as information and communications technology (ICT) shops that manage them."

This is the crux of the conundrum. IT managers are looking for solutions that are simple to manage, affordable and reliable, but finding that legacy communications systems don’t meet their evolving needs, in which telephony infrastructure is an attribute of the company’s network, servers, storage and client device infrastructure.

The "Spark collaboration" document examines how HP combines its services and infrastructure hardware with Microsoft Lync to address these challenges. Lync is an application that has been attracting a great deal of attention: it offers standard IP-PBX telephony features (such as call answer, hold, resume, transfer, forward, and divert), software-based contact lists instead of limited, legacy speed dial keys, and IM in place of the intercom features that are rooted in the analog world. Because it is software-based rather than rooted in telephony hardware, though, Lync seamlessly extends across other key business platforms, such as Office, SharePoint, and Exchange.


The role of the hardware solution partner

It’s interesting that the "Spark collaboration" paper documenting the benefits of Lync is published by HP, rather than Microsoft. What does a hardware/services supplier contribute to a software-centric UC&C platform?

As the document shows, the answer is ‘the focus, components and support necessary to completing the solution.’ HP has tailored its Lync approach to "small and midsized companies with 250 to 2500 users." To do so, it has assembled networking, server and storage infrastructure and HP IP phones, resulting in solutions that are scalable and easy "to adopt, use and maintain."

Drilling down past UC&C to the broader compute platform context, the value of the HP/Microsoft ecosystem approach becomes evident. By looking at the UC&C solution as a component of an even-more-widely integrated IT/business platform, HP and Microsoft — and their thousands of SMB-focused channel partners — con offer a cost-effective, truly unified approach to communications.

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