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The Road Less Travelled: The Perils of “Do-It-Yourself” UC Federation

August 19, 2013

do-it-yourself_1Today, less than 25% of Global 1,000 companies are collaborating with their business ecosystem through UC federation. Moreover, across all industries, those companies that are federating are doing so with only a handful of business partners.

Why the low federation rate?  It’s been proven that real-time communication and collaboration with customers, partners and suppliers through UC federation increases productivity, reduces time to market, achieves higher profit margins, and results in competitive advantage.  

These benefits are not mere abstractions or wishful thinking. Actual studies show that UC federation can result in cost savings of up to 75 percent by reducing email trails and phone tag, and allowing companies to drastically enhance operational efficiency in a variety of ways.

Given the considerable advantages of federation versus the relatively low adoption rate, I think it’s worth taking a look at some of the barriers that companies are realistically facing when they try to implement direct Do-It-Yourself (DIY) federation:

Considering Open Federation

XMPP platforms have made DIY federation easy since all you have to do is publish a DNS XMPP SRV record. Once the DNS SRV record is published, any organization can send XMPP traffic your way. Microsoft Lync open federation option (which was in the response to the XMPP platforms) works the same way, except that you have to publish a SIP SRV record.

Open federation is one of those things that sounds good in a UC vendor’s marketing collateral but is not a practical option for the world we live in. You do not see many commercial organizations practicing it.

With open federation anyone out there, including Chinese P.L.A. Unit 61398 hackers, can add your employees to their UC client’s contact list, send an invite (pretending to be a legitimate entity), and engage them in unsolicited chat sessions. Unfortunately, you and your organization would come to know about it when it’s too late.

 Finding the right people at the right time

First and foremost, to establish a “Like-to-Like” direct federation requires knowing the other organization’s UC czar. Once you have discovered who the right folks are on the other side, you have to get them to agree to configure their UC platform to exchange communications with you. This takes considerable time as they will likely have to put together a business justification and get management approval for this. In the meantime, your management is asking for status and you have better things to do than chase somebody else’s UC administrator for updates.

Establishing Federation with Dissimilar Platforms

Secondly, the most likely scenario is that you are asked to establish federation with a partner that has a dissimilar UC platform. In this case, depending on your UC platform (and despite what the UC vendor may tell you) it is either not possible, or you may need to install and maintain additional components such as on premise gateways on your end. Worse still, you may have to also convince your counterpart to install one. (Good luck with that!)

Even if you do manage to endure the agony of installing a UC vendor’s specific gateway, it may take several months to complete the DIY federation (not counting the time it takes to get management approvals). Just tracking down the folks you need to test with is a huge time sink. Plus after all of this effort, your users are not going to be excited at the result – as these gateways often support only a very basic collaboration capability such as basic presence and 1-to-1 chat.

Maintaining Operability

Now comes the really tough part, once your DIY federation is working there is no guarantee it will keep on working. There are no monitoring tools that can alert you when the service is down or if it is operating in a degraded mode. You are basically going to hear it from your end-users through phone calls to the Help Desk. Heaven forbid if it goes down and your sales reps are not able to chat with their customers then all hell will break loose.

Reporting & Tracking

Finally, sooner or later, your management will want to measure and track the monthly use of collaboration with business partners. How can you accurately track your usage statistics? Once your management gets a taste of federation, they will want you to establish DIY federation with the entire business ecosystem.

No wonder DIY UC federation is the road less travelled by many UC administrators!

Keep reading our blog and in the next posting we talk about how UC admins are finding alternatives to DIY federations.

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