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Thousands of parts flying in close formation

October 24, 2011

One of the most compelling scenarios for unified communications (UC) is inter-company federation (see ‘How did we ever get by without Federated Presence?‘). Being able to leverage presence indications to reduce communications friction with your business associates is invaluable in the general case. However, in the days of lean inventory and just-in-time delivery, inter-company federation goes from being a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘must have’. But this notion doesn’t only apply to manufacturing.

Every company is part of a ‘value chain’: the combination of upstream suppliers and service providers and downstream customers. Each firm depends on its partners for day-to-day or even, hour-to-hour, operations. On a good day things operate like a well-oiled machine, but on a bad day, as we all know, ‘stuff happens’. Mishaps and outages aside, the business environment is dynamic: customer requirements change and there is constant volatility in things like costs, demand rates, supply rates and even adherence to quality standards.

In a recent article on MSNBC (‘Hundreds of suppliers, one Boeing 737 airplane‘), the Chief Engineer for the Boeing 737 stated: “We kind of pride ourselves on being a large-scale systems integrator.” Boeing ships 737s at a rate of 372 per year, each one comprising 367,000 parts, and each customer wants different parts in their order. Staying on schedule in any given day must require Boeing’s production managers to be highly adaptable and be in constant communication with their value chain partners. Of course this is an extreme case, but every business person can relate to this example.

So one might wonder why anyone would need federation if Boeing can get by without it. The answer is that before UC came along, they had to get by without federation; but now that federation is available, a quick Google inquiry* reveals that in fact they do use it, as described in a recent Microsoft case study. In that document, a Boeing IT product manager said:  “We will often federate with a supplier so they can easily interact with our engineering teams. Our teams can see their presence information and out of office notifications just as if they were part of our deployment. This has helped to speed development of parts and reduce costs.”

Clearly, Boeing has the purchasing power to dictate to its partners which UC system they are going to use; not every company is in that fortunate position. Furthermore, in a ‘greenfield’ scenario where business partners have yet to make a UC investment, it may be possible to influence a partner’s choice of UC vendor so that both firms can benefit from same-vendor federation. However, if any given partner has already made a UC investment, or if they have prior vendor affiliations, there is no guarantee that same-vendor federation will be an option (see ‘Inter-company Federation – the Bad News‘). Any attempt to establish UC federation across the range of all your value chain partners will reveal that there is only one option: NextPlane.

*Google: ‘Boeing communications federation supply chain’

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