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Reflections on the UC Market and the Second Law of Thermodynamics

Although the concept of entropy originated in thermodynamics (as the 2nd law) and statistical mechanics, it is very applicable to the current state of the UC market. In simple terms, entropy is the measure of the level of disorder in a changing system, a system in which energy can only be transferred in one direction from an ordered state to a disordered state. The higher the entropy, the higher the disorder and lower the availability of the system’s energy to do useful work.

As the entropy value of the UC market increases, the disorder is reflected in the increasing number of new hosted platforms, and the number of customers who are switching from on-premises platforms to hosted and cloud-based platforms. An increasing number of customers are also switching from one vendor to another in the hopes of finding more holistic unification of communication modes.

The results of a recent internal study that NextPlane conducted between 2012 and 2013 tracking the key trends in the Fortune 1000 (F1000) UC market, revealed that there was a 188% growth rate in the number of F1000 companies moving from on premises UC platforms to hosted or UC-as-a-Service (UCaaS) deployments. Another indicator of increasing entropy in the UC market in our study showed a 59% growth rate in organizations that are deploying both SIP and XMPP-based platforms. This shows a fluid market space fraught with migration activities.

As opposed to commissioning a customer survey, we wanted accurate and unbiased “repeatable” results. To achieve this, we wrote a DNS crawler application to examine the externally published XMPP and SIP records for known F1000 domain names. Analyzing those records revealed the following insights:

  • Federation-readiness
  • UC platform vendor
  • Hosted vs. on-premises

For example, the SIP SRV record for delta.com (sipfed.online.lync.com) shows Delta Airlines is an Office365 customer, and XMPP SRV record for gm.com (_xmpp-server._tcp.gm.com. 900   IN SRV 5 0 5269 s2s.gm.com.webexconnect.com) shows General Motors is a Cisco WebEx Messenger customer. The lack of a published DNS SRV record for a given UC domain is likely indication that the domain lacks federation readiness.

Despite this proliferation of platforms, services, and protocols  the study also showed that less than 25% of Fortune 1000’s (F1000) companies have the ability to collaborate with their business partners (B2B UC collaboration) outside of the company walls even though they have mature UC deployments. In fact, over the past year the number of F1000 companies that can be considered federation-ready only grew by roughly 15 percent. This means that companies are not positioned to leverage the advantages of B2B collaboration despite the competitive advantages of enhanced, accelerated decision-making and increased productivity that B2B collaboration provides.

Why such as low rate of federation among F1000 companies? The answer lies in barriers that companies are facing when they try to implement direct Do-It-Yourself (DIY) federation. Please read our previous blog posting, The Road Less Travelled: The Perils of “Do-It-Yourself” UC Federation.

Given the parallels between the second law of thermodynamics and the trends we see in the UC market, we have to pose the question, is there a way to decrease the entropy value so that organizations can fully leverage the value of unified communications and B2B collaboration?

Search and You Shall Find: Finding the right people in partner organizations

search-contacts_cropIn order to collaborate effectively, your employees must communicate in real-time with their colleagues across the different companies that form your organization’s business network. But, locating the contact information for their colleagues across different corporate boundaries can be frustrating and time consuming.

Short of federating your Active Directory (AD) with your partners, your employees are left with no choice but to find their way through 3rd party sources such as LinkedIn.

Research shows barriers to collaboration is resulting in nearly 200 hours per user, per year, in wasted productivity, and 46 percent of workers use LinkedIn for networking and finding colleagues.

But, what if instead of wasting hours on LinkedIn or page-clicking through company websites to find their colleagues, your end-users could search the “UC Phonebook” – a secure, centralized database containing highly reliable, validated and accurate contact information based on the employee profiles that are automatically updated by the participating companies.

Here’s how the UC Phonebook can make a big difference. Let’s say companies A, B, and C want their users to engage in real-time B2B UC collaboration. Once their UC platforms are federated, users in Company A want find their colleagues in Company B and C and vice-versa.

To find their colleagues, the users in company A, B and C, irrespective of their UC clients, simply add the following address to their contact list, search@directory.ucapps.net. To perform a search, users just double-click search@directory.ucapps.net in their contact list to open a chat session. They then type the command “Search” in the chat window followed by a combination of first and/or last names, company domain name, title, or location.

The search results, matching the search criteria, will display as a chat reply. The users can then add the UC addresses of their colleagues directly to their contact list and invite them into a chat session.

As an example, the graphic below shows the results of a search initiated from Microsoft Lync for a contact with the last name of “Jones.” The search generated multiple results, listing all the available “Jones” in the participating member organizations. These results can be filtered further by company name, title (if available), and location.

UC Phonebook is available to all UC Exchange members. To participate in the UC Phonebook, UC Exchange members use the NextPlane Active Directory (AD) Sync tool to synchronize their Active Directory with the UC Phonebook.

The NextPlane Active Directory Sync utility adds, deletes, and updates user and groups in the UC Phonebook to match each participating company’s Active Directory (AD) Server. When synchronization occurs, any changes on the AD Server are reflected in the UC Phonebook.  Synchronization can be scheduled so that UC Phonebook users and groups are automatically kept up to date with the AD Server. Exclusion rules can be added to limit the synchronization to select users or groups in AD.

Just think what your company might be able to do with those extra 200 hours per user, per year in saved productivity if each employee could quickly and easily find their collaboration partners without having to search the Web!

One for All and All for One –Joining the UC Exchange Community

As we discussed in our last two posts, the DIY approach to federation and the endless search for federation-ready companies can be onerous and time-consuming. So, you might be asking “if NextPlane offers a viable alternative, how do I federate once I sign on with NextPlane. What’s Nextplane going to do that I can’t do myself?”

All you need to do is join UC Exchange’s extensive community of “federation-ready” organizations, and then find, connect and collaborate with your business partners.

The Members Federation Directory is accessed from the UC Exchange Federation Management Portal – a secure web-based portal designed to simplify the process of establishing and managing UC federation with other UC Exchange member organizations and federation with other services such as Skype and Yahoo!

The Federation Management Portal has a simple and intuitive user interface. It’s designed to ensure that you can easily provision your UC domain(s) for external federation, attend to your federation tasks, and track your external federation requests.

Provisioning your UC domain(s) for federation is an easy three-step process that includes ‘on-boarding’ or providing information about your domain for federation, completing the federation readiness checklist, and self-testing the federation via the NextPlane Echo Bot – a unique federation test application.

Once you have successfully passed the self-test task, your domain will become active within UC Exchange and you will be able to make and receive federation requests.

Requesting a new federation is equally simple thanks to the portal’s Federation Wizard. All that you have to do is select the domain that you wish to federate, choose the external UC domain from the UC Exchange Members Federation Directory, and then review and submit your federation request. UC Exchange will do the rest of the work by notifying the UC Administrator of the requested domain.

You can also track the status of your outbound federation requests as well as incoming requests in your Dashboard, another convenient feature of the Management Portal. It takes one to three business days until your request is validated and activated at which point you can notify your end users of the new federated connection.

The Federation Management Portal offers additional powerful features like reporting and analytics for tracking your employee’s usage statistics; viewing and managing your provisioned UC domains and active federations; managing policies and disclaimers plus the ability to subscribe to additional services such as Social Media, Yahoo! or Skype federation.

So, if you want to federate with multiple business partners and consumer messaging platforms, while avoiding the headache of Do-it-Yourself (DIY) federation process, UC Exchange is an excellent choice.

To learn more about the UC Exchange, please visit www.NextPlane.net or contact our team for more information.

Thou Shalt Not Worship False Idols – Finding Federation Ready Companies?

As we discussed in our previous post, one of the perils of Do-it-Yourself (DIY) federation is trying to figure out if your external partners are “federation-ready.” Currently, there are limited external resources out there that can help companies attempting DIY federation.

There are several self-service directories for Microsoft Lync where UC admins can self-register their Lync or OCS domains (http://www.lyncdirectory.com and http://windowspbx.blogspot.com/). (As far as we know, there are no available directories like this for Sametime, Cisco WebEx Messenger, and other UC platforms.)  But, aside from the fact that these are Lync-only directories, they both have significant limitations.

First, the information they provide is neither qualified nor verified; in reality, anyone can fill out the form and register domains.

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Perhaps more importantly, the directories are not actionable. Assuming the UC platform info listed in them is correct, you still have to locate their UC admins to send them federation requests.

NextPlane’s UC Exchange Members Directory solves these problems. The NextPlane UC Exchange Member’s Directory is a platform with an integrated workflow that allows members to request federation with each other. The NextPlane UC Exchange Member’s Directory is secure, the information it provides is current and verified, and most importantly, members can immediately connect with their federation-ready partners.

UC Exchange member information such as UC Type, FQDN, etc. is not shared with the public. Only qualified UC Exchange members can access this information via the NextPlane secure Management Portal.

The UC Exchange Members Directory contains only qualified and verified information since all of the listed companies have already provisioned their domains for federation and are verified as “federation-ready.”

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Finally, once a company joins the UC Exchange, they can quickly search for federation-ready partners and send and receive federation requests to and from other community members regardless of their underlying UC platforms.

Joining the UC Exchange is easy and free. Simply go to www.NextPlane.net and fill out the membership form.

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

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.

Rediscover Hashtags through UC Federation. Keep an eye on Twitter feeds on your UC Client.

twitter-owns-the-hashtagIn your thirst for knowledge, be sure not to drown in all the information.  ~Anthony J. D’Angelo,

According to Wikipedia, the first high-profile application of the hashtag was by San Diego, California resident Nate Ritter, who included #sandiegofire in his frequent posts on the October 2007 California wildfires hitting San Diego County. Internationally, the hashtag became a practice of writing style for Twitter posts during the 2009–2010 Iranian election protests, as both English and Persian-language hashtags became useful for Twitter users inside and outside of Iran.

Did you know that on average, 400 million tweets are sent out daily! In today’s busy business environments, employees are inundated with information and it is challenging to keep up with new developments in a particular industry or area of interest.

To stay on top of new developments, follow a specific topic, or trending news in real time, NextPlane UC Exchange now offers a new hashtag update that allows you to search Twitter hashtags directly from your UC client.

Benefits

  • Focused/filtered search
  • Staying informed about a particular event or development with less effort
  • Minimum distraction during working hours
  • Ability to manage and control existing subscriptions

This update includes several new useful features including ‘search,’ “subscribe,’ ‘list,’ and ‘unsubscribe.’

Search Feature

The ‘Search’ feature allows you to perform a search for a specific hashtags on Twitter. It works like a regular hashtag search on the Twitter website, however it is a focused search, directly from your IM window without other news, updates or advertising that otherwise appears on the Twitter website.

You can perform searches for a particular topic of interest, e.g. #gamification and find relevant information about the gamification industry including references/links to the latest research and updates that have been recently mentioned in Tweets.

Subscribe Feature

The ‘Subscribe’ feature allows you to subscribe to a direct feed for a specific topic identified by the hashtag. In the Subscribe Mode, Tweets will display real time in the chat window once they are posted. If you close your IM window, you can still see notifications pop up as new tweets are posted. The subscribe feature is especially useful when you want to follow a particular development or monitor a specific news e.g. #Andrea – the hurricane that hit the East Coast at the beginning of June 2013. The tweets will appear conveniently in your chat window as chats.

List Feature

The ‘List’ feature lists all of the hashtags that you are currently subscribed to. This helps manage and control existing subscriptions.

Unsubscribe Feature

The ‘Unsubscribe’ feature allows you to unsubscribe from the feeds that you no longer want to follow.

The UC Exchange new hashtag search feature is currently supported on Microsoft Lync, OCS and LCS, Cisco Jabber XCP, Unified Presence Server (CUPS) and WebEx Messenger, IBM Sametime, Google Apps, Jive OpenFire, Isode M-Link and eJabberd.

Companies can sign up for a free UC Exchange Directory Membership that includes a one-month free trial of Twitter federation as well as free trials of Skype, UC to Social Media, Yahoo! Messenger and Facebook Messenger federation. This membership also includes free federation with Google and a listing in the UC Exchange Members Directory, enabling other UC Exchange members to find and connect with them.

Companies can also upgrade to a paid Community Membership to UC Exchange, which provides further benefits including UC to UC federation services, the ability to make federation requests to other UC Exchange members using NextPlane’s unique Federation Management Portal, and benefit from guaranteed service levels and support.

To find more information on how to use this new feature or how to become a member of UC Exchange, please visit our website http://www.nextplane.net or contact our team.

One part of knowledge consists in being ignorant of such things as are not worthy to be known.  ~Crates 

Resources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hashtag

It’s the Little Things That Matter The Most (for UC End-Users)

“Enjoy the little things, for one day you may look back and realize they were the big things.” Robert Brault

Collaboration is critical to business. However, the term means different things to different organizations, vendors, and people, as Dave Michels recently wrote in his article, What Is Collaboration? Business problems occur when organizations assume they agree on its meaning when in fact each employee, partner and vendor have a different idea in mind. Collaboration drives many essential business functions to an even higher degree, particularly:

1)      Fostering real-time communications;

2)      Introducing faster and improved levels of team interaction;

3)      Enhancing decision making;

4)      Driving team innovation;

5)      Increasing productivity among workers.

Collaborative technologies have become a key ingredient to a well functioning company and the driving force making business more competitive. The umbrella term for collaborative services generally includes:

1)      Share presence via IM, video, voice, and mobility

2)      Document management and sharing

3)      Social networking in a business context

4)      Task management and project management tools/ functionality

In a perfect world, there should be universal interoperability among the wide range of UC and IM platforms available. Despite open standards, however, many UC platforms and services remain deliberately walled gardens.  NextPlane’s UC Exchange removes these barriers to UC federation by providing a cross platform federation service that enables connectivity among diverse UC platforms including Microsoft Lync and OCS, Cisco Jabber XCP, Unified Presence Server (CUPS), and WebEx Messenger, IBM Sametime, Google Apps, Jive OpenFire, Isode M-Link and eJabberd. In addition, NextPlane adds richness by not just supporting presence and IM federation, but has mapped out features across all possible supported UC platforms. To add simplicity between connected end-users, as if they were all using the same platform — helping to break down barriers between business silos. Real-time communications such as these are examples of the “little things” that make connections so painless.

Some examples of the “little things” that make a big impact to business communications are:

  • Using UC Exchange, UC clients such as Microsoft Lync, can display contacts as e-mail addresses or as friendly names. For example, if you choose to view contacts as friendly names, Kim Akers would appear in your contact list as “Kim Akers.” If you choose to view contacts as e-mail addresses, Kim Akers would appear as “kim@example.com.”
  • The NextPlane UC Exchange UC-to-UC federation service supports friendly names across different UC platforms, so essential messages will not be missed because business partners cannot find each other – especially when time is of the essence.
  • UC Exchange goes beyond standard presence states of either “Available,” “Away,” “Busy” or “DND” on UC clients. It allows end-users to share custom status messages and enhanced presence states with federated colleagues. The enhanced presence capabilities enable connected colleagues to make informed choices about the best way to contact that user.
  • End-users can tag their federated colleagues, the same way they can tag their internal colleagues, so their UC client can notify them when they become available.
  • Being notified instantly when a message is on its way through allowing each communicator to see when a message is incoming.
  • UC Exchange enables end-users to see their federated colleagues’ v-card contact information (when allowed by UC Platforms and Policies), so partners can stay connected.

It is these little things that make all the difference to smooth business interactions and are really not so little after all. Driving seamless communication forward requires productive, efficient aligned teams – regardless of location.

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