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Organizational Challenges For UC

The convergence of voice and data onto a single network has required some significant changes to the IT organization. But those changes may pale beside the effort that will be required to get the enterprise IT shop ready to implement and support Unified Communications.In the early years of this decade, telecom and "data" networking staffs often glowered at each other across a chasm of mistrust. The telecom folks didn't think IP networks could carry real-time traffic with adequate performance, and the data people didn't want that real-time traffic, with all of its demands, messing up "their" network. The mistrust often extended to the personal level as well.

There were plenty of exceptions -- data people who saw the advantages and potential for the enterprise, and telecom people who understood that, far from being threatened, their jobs could become even more secure: They were experts on something that it wasn't easy to become an expert on. And they were being asked to acquire understanding of IP networking, which everybody knew was the future. Eventually these exceptions became the rule.

Now comes Unified Communications. Though there isn't yet a standard vision of the UC architecture, the general belief is that it will likely rely on technologies like SOA to integrate with applications; LDAP or Active Directory to integrate with company directories; and could potentially run as an application centralized on servers in the data center.

In other words, just about all of the major elements of the IT organization will be affected by Unified Communications. If enterprise users are going to use UC as the technology is envisioned, they'll be drawing on resources developed and/or supported by the applications teams, e-mail managers, directory administrators, and data center staff.

And these communications will, by definition, be mission critical in many, if not most, cases. After all, the goal of UC is to integrate communications with business applications. If the whole point is to make it easier and more efficient for users of business process applications to communicate with colleagues, partners, customers, etc., to solve problems and take advantage of opportunities, then that communication has got to work and be rock-solid whenever the user needs it.

Not surprisingly, enterprise IT organizations are just beginning to grapple with the organizational demands of UC. But there are a few hopeful signs. I recently spoke with Akiba Saeedi, program director for Unified Communications and Collaboration Software at IBM's Software Group, who told me that she's noticed a change in the enterprises she meets with. A year ago, the folks who ran Lotus Notes and Sametime in customer organizations generally had little familiarity with their companies' telecom operations, Akiba said. The same meetings a year later showed that most had begun the process of including the voice group in discussions about leveraging the newest releases of Sametime.

The main difference between the first-generation IP telephony and second-generation UC, it seems to me, is that in the first generation, IT leadership was really brokering a peace treaty, or at least an equitable working relationship (insert your own Obama-Clinton metaphor here). With UC, it's more about broadening everyone's vision to include an understanding of technologies that they previously had little need to care about. There's less inherent competition or conflict, but much more technology and integration involved.

Eric Krapf is editor of No Jitter, a TechWeb site covering UC and IP telephony. He also is program co-chairman of VoiceCon events.