Monday, July 28, 2008

Unified Communications

I'm back from my first "into the wild" vacation and returning to the blog.

I was recently asked about the plan for implementing "Unified Communications" at BIDMC and HMS.

First, let's define Unified communications

1. Per Wikipedia

"An evolving communications technology architecture which automates and unifies all forms of human and device communications in context, and with a common experience. Its purpose is to optimize business processes and enhance human communications by reducing latency, managing flows, and eliminating device and media dependencies."

2. Per Microsoft

"Bridging the gap between telephony and computing to deliver real-time messaging, voice, presence, e-mail, and conferencing."

3. Per Gartner's Unified Communications roadmap

� Voice and Telecommunications: Includes fixed voice, mobile voice and softphones. Can include within building as well as remote access.

� Conferencing: Includes audio, video, and Web conferencing. Can also include meeting room technologies, multipoint Webcam approaches, and unified or integrated conferencing solutions.

� Messaging: Includes e-mail, voice mail and unified messaging.

� Instant Messaging (IM)/Presence: Includes IM, presence and rich presence
aggregation (the ability to aggregate and publish presence and location information from multiple sources).

� Clients: Includes thick clients, thin Web clients and mobile clients. This may also include limited software dashboard clients for embedding within IT applications.

� Applications: Includes applications that have integrated communication functions. Four key application areas are consolidated administration tools, collaboration applications, notification applications and contact center applications. Over time, however, many other applications will be communication-enabled.

What are we doing at BIDMC and HMS?

1. Enterprise Wifi is deployed over 2 million square feet, ensuring that Wifi enabled Blackberries, iPhones, and subnotebooks can connect anywhere at anytime.
2. Blackberry and iPhone 3G are supported for the enterprise via our Blackberry Enterprise Server (BES) and Active Sync.
3. Exchange 2007 is supported for the enterprise
4. IM via is supported for the enterprise via our new intranet portal which launches later this year.
5. Blogs are supported and encouraged
6. Wikis are supported and encouraged
7. Our Enterprise portals deliver RSS feeds, News, Blogs, and Wikis
8. Our Enterprise quality improvement efforts are managed via Forums and Wikis
9. We support Telemedicine and Teleconferencing extensively using both IP and ISDN teleconferencing.
10. We use Webex and other virtual meeting tools extensively. I have personally championed the idea of virtual meetings, flexible work arrangements, and remote access technologies which enable employees to work anywhere, anytime.

We have looked at Microsoft's Unified Communications platform and Office Communications Server 2007. These products integrate the experiences you associate with the telephone such as phone calls, voice mail, and conferencing with IM, email, and calendars. There has not been significant demand from my stakeholders to have voice mail or faxes delivered to email boxes. Most folks seem to consider their desktop applications to be separate from their phone, using their computer for social networking/virtual meetings/email/IM most of the time and their phone for voice calls on occasion, having little demand to integrate the two. Since the iPhone blurs the line between computer and phone, it will be interesting to watch how demand for different types of unified communication evolve.
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