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The Evolution of UCC: Integration, the Cloud and the Customer Experience


Academic year: 2021

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UCC is not a


solution. That’s why

it’s imperative that

businesses — as they

begin to experience


bottlenecks due

to disparate

implementations —

make sure the

technology they

implement be


Executive Summary

Unified communications and collaboration (UCC) is an umbrella term used to sell everything from transport to software to IT services. Performing an Internet search for the phrase returns hits that include network monitoring tools, productivity software, telephony software, as well as a list of vendors from the obscure to well-known industry leaders. Over the past 10 years, UCC has been defined and redefined as new approaches and solutions are encompassed under its scope, promising increased productivity and reduced costs.

Regardless of how you define it, one thing is clear: In order to achieve the ultimate goal of seamless unified communications and collaboration, an organization must first understand the critical components that can or should be integrated to create the intended experience for their users. In general, the vast majority of enterprises we interact with find themselves faced with the daunting task of integrating multiple technologies, vendors and solutions to accomplish this.

In short, UCC is not a one-size-fits-all solution. That’s why it’s imperative that businesses — as they begin to experience technology bottlenecks due to disparate implementations — make sure the technology they implement be interoperable. This is essential because an integrated UCC experience can depend on myriad variables — technologies that address business needs, such as email, presence and instant messaging (IM), video conferencing and mobility — as well as fundamental organiza-tional metrics, such as organization size, geographic footprint, budget and industry. Adding to the complexity is the fact that every organization’s needs are unique. A government entity may have a large number of users on an aging infrastructure and pressing security requirements. A legal firm may need a solution that meets its needs to collaborate with external partners for business purposes, such as billing. A National Research and Education Network (NREN) may require collaboration tools to reduce travel expenses, increase productivity, and improve user experience through fast access to knowledge and data.

Each of these organizations implement a different UCC solution tailored to its individual requirements.

Page 1

The Evolution of UCC:

Integration, the Cloud and the Customer Experience


Page 2


The transition

from Time Division


(TDM)-based audio

and Integrated

Services Digital


(ISDN)-based video to IP


ultimately opened the

door to soft phones

and video clients

that bring voice and

video communication

into a user’s desktop


So, what is UCC — Really?

Despite the seemingly disparate range of implementations and uses, the intended benefit of UCC has remained the same: increase user productivity by speeding the pace of communication. UCC solutions attempted to accomplish this by delivering to users (with easy and intuitive access) multiple communi-cation tools, generally from a single client. Another approach is to integrate access to these tools into the user’s preferred environment. These are not insignificant tools. They developed over the years as technology evolved and enterprises recognized their potential advantages.

There are a number of historic technological milestones that led to today’s UCC conversations.

IP communications

The transition from Time Division Multiplexing (TDM)-based audio and Integrated Services Digital Network (ISDN)-based video to IP communications ultimately opened the door to soft phones and video clients that bring voice and video communication into a user’s desktop environment. The availability of communication-enabled desktop clients allowed for a logical convergence of multiple communication modalities into a single environment. Initially, these clients were application-specific, delivering the functionality specific to their associated media server or service. Many providers offer a converged client allowing users to escalate an IM session into voice or video. However, they generally are unable to send or receive voice or video natively between different clients and currently rely on an intermediary to broker communication. That said, clients that aggregate services between disparate vendors are becoming more common.

In the social networking space, clients provide users with a dashboard that delivers updates from their social media communities. In addition, there is a growing wave of middleware and many proprietary gateway services. These solutions facilitate interconnectivity between proprietary communication services, allowing for presence, voice, video and text to be shared between vendor-specific software and hardware elements.

Another milestone that helped define today’s UCC experience is the concept of identity. This notion of our virtual self, which includes the permissions we have, the numbers where we can be reached, the email and Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) addresses we own. Today’s identity service layer grew from simple directory services like X.500, the historic telecommunications industry telephone directory structures, and evolved into the more IP-friendly Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP).

In a well implemented LDAP structure, an enterprise models every user and their communications preferences as a directory object that is shared, published, or filtered based on those preferences. The publication of identity is generally well defined within an organization, and can be shared across business-to-business (B2B) borders via federating with external directories. The best LDAP implemen-tations combine automation and user update processes to ensure the user’s information is as current as possible — having a stale directory can wreak


Page 3 which, in turn, allows users to determine the best method of interaction with

each other. Presence becomes more detailed as inputs from other sources embellish how presence is perceived. The combination of enhanced presence state, business process integration (BPI) and social networking will serve as a foundational component which will pave the way for a series of innovative collaboration layers. For instance, social networking groups collaborating on a specific topic now have the ability to leverage subject matter experts in a contextual window and link to similar social networking groups.

Not only does UCC empower users by affording greater access to the enterprise knowledge base, it also is being adopted in areas outside of the traditional enterprise barrier. For example, UCC solutions are commonly leveraged by an increasing number of telecommuters. A growing number of solutions are allowing for federation into social networking solutions and bridging the gap to public IM services. These types of solutions are expected to become even more prevalent, effectively blurring the line between personal and work environments. Those solutions that successfully moderate the flow of information, providing effective filters for the user, ultimately afford access to a greater knowledge base. This trend reinforces an increasingly transparent environment, since users not only have the ability to mine a new customized and personal cloud for data, but can write to the same cloud. This bidirectional flow of data has both positive and negative implications, and must be managed appropriately through organizational policy and process.


While there are many other milestones influential on today’s UCC experience — faster PC processing power, bandwidth availability, network QoS implementation — the introduction of the SIP standard may prove to be one of the most important evolutions in UCC. SIP provides a basic, flexible standard for IP-based communications. Those service providers that embrace SIP ultimately empower their subscribers with flexible, future-proof communications solutions. SIP’s inherent flexibility opens the door to interoperability challenges, but at the same time allows interoperability discussions to start on a common ground. In addition, SIP is not tied to any specific media type, i.e. voice, video or IM. This is critical to ensuring your user experience is truly converged, rather than specific to a given media.

These milestones set the foundation for today’s UCC experience. In order to achieve the ultimate goal of seamless UCC, however, an organization needs to understand the complexities that it might encounter when establishing UCC.

Page 3

Not only does UCC



The most successful

approach to a fully

converged communication

experience requires the

enterprise to establish a

communication program

that provides technical

and solutions-based

guidance across all silos

of communication and

strikes a balance between

technology, cost and user


Getting Started

Let’s start with the planning and implementation process required to create successful UCC experiences.

An enterprise interested in creating a new UCC environment should be conscious of the disparate technologies and solutions that must coalesce in order to create the target experience. It is common for organizations to set technical strategy in a silo, based on the solution in question. An enterprise that wants to establish a best-in-class UCC experience needs to ask: “Is my video conferencing strategy aligned with my telephony strategy, with my email strategy, etc.?” The common answer is “no.” The most successful approach to a fully converged communi-cation experience requires the enterprise to establish a communicommuni-cation program that provides technical and solutions-based guidance across all silos of commu-nication and strikes a balance between technology, cost and user requirements. Without a central guiding program, the ability to tie all communication solutions into a cohesive user experience becomes more challenging.

In addition to a central-program approach, organizational structure often must be re-evaluated when establishing a UCC experience. Telephony, video, email and network teams often reside in different functional areas of the organi-zation. Successful and aggressive deployments often evaluate and implement organizational changes that model the convergence of their user experience. A UCC experience does not technically require a soft client that can accept Voice over IP (VoIP) audio and IP video. However, many commercial, off-the-shelf UCC products focus on deploying a chat client that doubles as an audio/ video-enabled soft client. Many enterprises deploying UCC already have a VoIP deployment, allowing them to leverage the same infrastructure for their UCC audio. However, adding video to the desktop often raises additional capacity and Quality of Service (QoS)-related issues.

In addition, many VoIP deployments do not provide VoIP to 100 percent of the enterprise. Satellite offices, smaller sales offices or other locations are often left behind in a VoIP deployment due to the fact that the return-on-investment equation, on which TDM-to-VoIP conversions are based, assume a large number of employees at the same location. In these cases, wide area networking (WAN) connectivity to the satellite office may or may not be sufficient to carry VoIP traffic to that office.

Directories are another critical component of UCC — perhaps, the most critical. The directory is the center of an organization’s identity model. Each user, their respective permissions, and their communication options are modeled at the directory layer. Many organizations run Microsoft®

Active Directory®

or some other LDAP variation. However, some organizations, especially those that have a history of mergers and acquisitions, find themselves with multiple, uncon-nected directory structures. Providing a seamless presence engine that allows all users to see each other’s availability, collaborate fully with external organiza-tions, and provide a contiguous experience requires a well maintained internal directory structure.


Page 5 sales team is focused primarily on mobility, while the training team requires

specialized data and presentation solutions.

These disparate requirements are often multiplied when looking across vertical markets — pharmaceutical, legal, finance, and manufacturing markets all have variations on the same communication theme. One market that highlights this challenge is today’s National Research and Education Networks (NREN) organization. An NREN is a specialized Internet service provider dedicated to supporting the needs of the research and education communities within a country. Elements of UCC — high-definition video, E-learning using VoIP, real-time video conferencing and telepresence, desktop video, video playback, webcasts and chat tools — are playing an important role in serving the growing needs of universities and institutes of learning that want to implement inter-active virtual classrooms. The core user population consuming an NREN’s collaboration tool set is in a state of constant flux. Students come and go regularly, move between classes and, ultimately, graduate. The NREN’s provi-sioning, distribution and security requirements are highlighted as it strives to balance quick access while limiting abuse of their UCC solutions.

The overarching industry challenge is to find a solution that addresses an infinite number of organizational needs and an equally infinite number of configurations based on the combination of target experience, existing infra-structure, and unique end-user requirements. In reality, organizations typically end up with a hybrid implementation that results in a homogenized, disjointed experience and, potentially, stranded users. It’s a daunting task — no doubt.

Communications as a Service (CaaS)

To help businesses cope with these challenges, Level 3 has adopted a Communications as a Service (CaaS) approach that addresses the challenges of disparate networks and hybrid implementations.

The fundamental premise behind CaaS is to deliver easily integrated, standards-based communications options to an organization, regardless of size, using several technologies.

The Old Model:

• Mix of hosted and premises-based collaboration equipment • Various stages of voice technology in production

• Each communication technology in its own silo


Page 6


The New Model:

• SIP-based consistency to all services

• Entire solutions available in a hosted environment with deep service control APIs and advanced portal capabilities to interact with any premises needs

• Flexible mediation of technologies on a per-site basis allows for a common commu-nication plane

• A common communication plane provides consistency for collaborative audio, video, IM and presence

• Audio and video SIP collaboration that can be tailored for specific customer needs Here are the elements in more detail:

SIP Trunking

A SIP trunk can be viewed as a “smart pipe.” It establishes a logical connection between an enterprise and their service provider. By implementing a SIP trunk, an enterprise can gain seamless access to a hosted SIP-based service layer, which provides access to toll and toll free services, as well as long distance and international long distance services. By combining a SIP trunk with these telephony services, an enterprise ultimately leverages a carrier’s VoIP telephony infrastructure and reduces capital and operational expenses required to build and maintain a complex gateway infrastructure.

SIP-based collaboration services are positioned to meet the needs of any enter-prise’s UCC direction, regardless of the technical ecosystem in question. A successful collaboration solution includes carrier-class audio, video and data conferencing services, delivers application integration via a standards-based API service, and ensures the transport includes the SIP standard as an option. This combination ensures that the hosted collaboration service can be accessed by and integrated into an enterprise’s communication ecosystem, regardless of the core technology.


UC as a Service (UCaaS) provides, at a minimum, hosted IM and presence, but generally also delivers converged access to hosted email, collaboration and other services, depending on the vendor. Think of CaaS as the framework for an array of tightly integrated applications where the components contribute to an overall collaborative experience. Many organizations take an “a la carte”approach when determining which components to implement and manage within their environment, and which to consume from the “cloud.” A successful cloud-based offer recognizes many organizations prefer a hybrid approach, and must ensure their cloud-based service offering is standards-based and includes hardened, carrier-class API services that allow for a modular integration into any enterprise’s unique ecosystem.

Level 3’s approach is to integrate our cloud-based solutions into an organi-zation’s environment, making CaaS a transparent addition to the enterprise’s existing technology. This spares the organization the burdens of network maintenance and services evolution and support. One key benefit of leveraging a service provider’s standards-based communications infrastructure is service providers often can provide integration across multiple layers of technology deployment.


Page 7 at 500 users each, but their satellite offices vary between 10 and 100 employees.

Alpha deployed a telephony-based UCC solution to 50 percent of their user population but stopped when the cost of additional gateway infrastructure at smaller offices turned their ROI model upside down. This created pockets of stranded users who relied on aging PBX infrastructure and were unable to take full advantage of the UCC solution. However, by leveraging their carrier’s SIP trunking offer, they are able to eliminate the need for local gateways and can deliver hosted telephony services — DIDs, long distance and international long distance from the cloud. They are able to decommission their existing gateway infrastructure, leveraging their carrier’s global voice gateway deployment.

Seamless Overflow and Disaster Recovery

Beta Inc is a 50,000-employee operation with personnel stationed on nearly every continent. They deployed an email-based UCC solution, which included text, telephony and conferencing experiences. However, their collaboration traffic generally spiked around the time of day when certain regions overlapped, taxing their data center infrastructure and requiring inefficient build-out to meet the unique traffic patterns. Beta’s carrier delivered an integrated audio and video conferencing solution, consumed via their SIP trunking offer and integrated via a standards-based API. With this solution in place, users can escalate their communication into an audio or video call with a few clicks in their standard UCC client, but send the actual audio and video calls to their carrier’s cloud. This reduces the need for capital investment to build their own solution, reduced operational cost by leveraging the carrier’s support team, and delivers the five 9s of performance they require from their conferencing platform.

Business Rule-based Traffic Management

Charlie Company is a global conglomerate with 100,000 global employees. They have deployed an end-to-end UCC solution capable of delivering all layers of the communication spectrum. However, because of the complexity of site-by-site network connectivity, pockets of aging infrastructure, and unique collaboration requirements within their employee base, they rely on a combination of their premises-based solution and their carrier’s collaboration audio, video and web collaboration services. Rather than requiring their employees to determine which solution to use, they have integrated both experiences into their internal IM client and Intranet portal. Engaging in an internal audio conference or one hosted in the cloud is enabled from the same converged environment. The carrier’s SIP trunking offer delivers the DID and 800 service, while their central network routing layer determines which environment to send each PSTN-based conferencing caller. The standards-based API ensures the client experience remains the same and allows Charlie Company to integrate their services into existing and future web-based services.


Page 8


The Video Leader

Delta Division has embraced video with a global deployment of desktop video users, High Definition and legacy standards-based video rooms, and a recently deployed telepresence solution. Their executive mandate is to ensure that all levels of the videodeployment interoperate — a challenge considering they leverage technology from at least three different vendors. To minimize the interoperability challenge, Delta relies on their carrier’s cloud-based video hosting zone to act as the common bridge between and among all layers and technologies. This also allows them to connect to various external video rooms at companies they do business with without the complications of adding the external sites to their gatekeeper infrastructure and establishing cross-company VPN connectivity.

Communications needs should not be compromised as enterprise technology decisions shift. CaaS allows enterprises to easily snap in modern components that are compatible and saleable. These communications components are built with the express intent to integrate into the environment unique to each enter-prise. To do this, providers must strive to establish a virtualized platform to deliver the service, allowing for rapid deployment and flexible, customized configurations. SIP-based communications also is key to ensuring maximum interoperability with the broad universe of communications technologies. And one of the most important and emerging solutions within the CaaS conver-sation is the delivery of an API infrastructure that meets the same scalable and high performance attributes of the communication solution it supports. A competitive, carrier-class API should be as intuitive to work with as possible, and include all support materials required to successfully and easily utilize it. The best approach to delivering competitive API-based experience includes a support organization dedicated to the integration experience.

These benefits illustrate why CaaS elements are critical to customer business metric success and address the “infinite configuration” challenge. CaaS is flexible, delivered by the cloud, provides dynamic capacity and rapid service delivery, and allows businesses to evolve. Just think of the possibilities — an organization can maximize the value of its aged infrastructure while delivering a new user experience, and, ultimately, use the momentum within the cloud to evolve more rapidly through technology innovation. No more barriers. No more inconsistent experience or stranded users.

But before an enterprise embarks into the cloud, it should assess its business and the needs and requirements of its users, so it can mitigate risks associated with its technology decision. This type of examination ensures each element contributes to the overall UCC direction. To that end, a business should ask itself: • What is the nature of my business (Common Vertical Identification)? • What are the communications requirements specific to this business? • Does it apply to all communications or segments? • Are there compliance or regulatory requirements? • What systems (and how many) and processes are used today? • What volume will my internal communication pattern generate? • Are there time-of-day considerations I need to be aware of?

CaaS is flexible, delivered


Page 9 • What does the budget allow?

• What do the users want? • What do the users need?


Ultimately, the greatest power of UCC is its ability to reduce communica-tions latency and enhance the decision making process. A well deployed UCC solution ties an organization together, allows employees to access knowledge and information quicker, and reduces cost. However, a poorly planned or deployed UCC solution can create redundancies, confusion, and, ultimately, add costs. Maintaining a solid focus on an enterprise’s core communication needs and leveraging best-in-breed solutions between the enterprise and the cloud position an organization to maximize their return and utility of their UCC ecosystem. And to do that, all elements must be interoperable.

The possibilities are endless.

As this field progresses and the cloud becomes a true extension of an enter-prise’s capabilities, users bask in a standard, unified experience across environments. The benefits inherent in cloud are numerous: Automated service delivery, geographically dispersed disaster recovery, enhanced speed-to-market, improved flexibility and scalability, reduced idle capacity, lower capex, reduced obsolescence, and others. A user’s communication options extend further into the Web, allowing for new, virtual, and user-specific communication dashboards that deliver the information required on a user-by-user basis. VoIP and IP video live comfortably in this environment, delivering both call control and content into the same virtual dashboard. The services delivering this experience are be equally comfortable integrating between the enterprise’s premises and the ever-expanding cloud.

© 2012 Level 3 Communications, LLC. All Rights Reserved. Level 3

Communications, Level 3, the red 3D brackets, the (3) mark and the Level 3 Communications logo are registered service marks of Level 3 Communications, LLC in the United States and/or other countries. Level 3 services are provided by wholly owned subsidiaries of Level 3 Communications, Inc. Any other service, product or company names recited herein may be trademarks or service marks of their respective owners.

A well deployed

UCC solution ties an

organization together,

allows employees to

access knowledge and

information quicker, and

reduces cost. However,

a poorly planned or

deployed UCC solution

can create redundancies,

confusion, and,


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