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Converging on Collaboration

COLLABORATION SOLUTIONS COVER a range of technologies, including instant messaging, presence, video conferencing and teleconferencing. Most have been outsourced as separate services or not at all. As a result, some have flourished and others, such as video conferencing, have not. With the convergence of data, voice and video solutions onto one secure network, organizations now can bring these applications in-house, allowing for their integration and an increase in productivity and efficiency.

In some cases, especially when both group-based and peer-to-peer solutions are required, several products may need to be integrated. Thats where solutions providers come in. There are several questions that must be answered before the most effective collaboration solution can be designed.

Business Requirements.

Discovering an organizations business requirements and goals is key to understanding which features to include. Unfortunately, business requirements dont always map directly to a products features. A solutions provider may need to propose a formal assessment to uncover these mappings.

Aside from obvious features, such as audio bridging, application sharing and whiteboarding, some important requirements include:

  • Archiving This usually equates to recording the audio, video and sometimes the data portion of a collaboration session for later retrieval. This capability is particularly important when an organization plans to use the system for training, or to meet regulatory requirements pertaining to storage of certain types of communications.
  • Mixed-Mode Support Participants in a given meeting may have different communications media available to them depending on their location or system capabilities. Some may have only audio capabilities while others have video. Mixed-mode solutions ensure that all users can participate in the same session, regardless of available features, and still have a useful collaboration experience.
  • Security Security requirements can map to a wide variety of features in any collaboration solution. For some, it might mean encryption; for others, it might mean bringing the solution on-net in order to control access. While this can be one of the more complex requirements, it can be an important deciding factor when building a solution.

When evaluating these requirements, its important to consider input from each line of business within an organization since they typically know more about the requirements and can explain them better than their technical counterparts. They also tend to have more influence during the selection process.

On-Net vs. Off-Net?

Some organizations are hesitant to bring collaboration services in-house because they prefer to let someone else handle the management and maintenance. However, a converged collaboration solution, properly integrated, can provide an easy-to-manage on-net solution that offers productivity enhancements that off-net solutions cannot. A converged solution can leverage the corporate directory for authentication or the messaging platform for scheduling and notifications. It also can offer enhanced security, ease of use and tighter interactions between various parts of a collaborative session.

However, on-net solutions are not without drawbacks. Providing access to off-net participants may require deploying a server in a demilitarized zone to allow Web access, or installing additional PSTN circuits to support outside callers. These issues can add complexity and cost to the overall solution, and they should be accounted for in the planning stages. In many cases, the ROI still may cover these additional costs, but not the additional complexity.

If a business is hard-set on an off-net solution, there are many options that still will provide some level of application integration. Companies should look for solutions that allow for migration to an on-net solution at a later date. It may be beneficial to utilize both on- and off-net solutions in the first iteration to accommodate all requirements, such as annual all hands calls.

Product Selection.

Group-based solutions typically include several components, such as an audio bridge, Web collaboration tools and, in some cases, video conferencing. Group-based solutions best serve organizations that hold many large audio/video sessions and may require some form of Web sharing, as may be the case with sales organizations.

Peer-to-peer systems are more suitable for organizations (or lines of business) that require a more virtual workspace environment with rich presence. These solutions enable application sharing between two or three users and are well-suited to organizations, such as application development houses.

In an ever-flattening world, collaboration technologies are a key competitive advantage that is forcing companies to rethink the value converged networks bring to their organizations.

Kurt Brown is a senior solutions architect for Dimension Data North America, a global IT service and solutions provider.


Converged Collaboration Benefits

Interactive Discussions:

Information is seen and heard by all participants. Remote employees and partners now can interact as if they were sitting in the same room.

ROI:

Businesses can achieve hard ROIs from the reduction of access and toll charges, and soft ROIs from increased productivity.

Reduce Costs & Resources:

Collaboration can help organizations reduce the cost of training and new product rollouts, coordinate disaster recovery events, and facilitate communication that traditionally requires travel or a significant use of physical facilities.

Secure Communications:

Convergence enables secure communications in ways not possible in legacy environments.

Scalability:

Convergence allows for solutions that scale from peer-to-peer collaboration to large group-based presentations.

Increased Talent Pool:

Collaboration technologies allow businesses to employ the right person for the job based upon qualifications, rather than physical location.

Source: Dimension Data

Links
Dimension Data www.dimensiondata.com

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