Unified Communications Content and Collaboration

Recent conversations with analysts, vendors and customers reveal that they are wrestling with an interesting collaboration issue, but from different angles. The issue centers on generating greater business value from the content created during a unified communications (UC) session. A session could be a videoconference, WebEx, LiveMeeting, instant message discussion, or even a generic conference call. The driver is – these sessions are important sources of information that are more often than not lost once the session ends. We have all been trained on how to run meetings – have an agenda, take notes, manage to do’s, etc. But, rarely are these things done properly. The problem in need of a solution is – “how can technology, UC in particular, help the enterprise get more business value out of each session”?

As UC solutions from vendors such as Cisco, Avaya and Microsoft become more common, organizations are now starting to recognize the potential business (as opposed to sheer technical) value of these sessions. But, how do you easily take that “unstructured” session and integrate it into the organization’s business processes and systems. The approach most often being discussed is to wrap structured data around the session in the form of tags or metadata so that the session can be retrieved, re-used, and referred to by other applications in the enterprise. Analysts are interested in understanding which companies are providing usable solutions, vendors are searching for standardized solutions that can be delivered at a low-cost and customers are looking to get more value out of their UC investment.

One approach is to slice the problem into transactional vs. non-transactional (IP) information. Integrating UC-sessions into transactional data can be done, but the project can quickly get tangled in industry specific terminology. The solution becomes too complex and therefore non-repeatable. If we can start out with simple tagging concepts – not industry-specific – there is a higher chance of the UC-session being utilized within the company as well as potentially across the company’s partner eco-system. But what are those “simple-tagging-concepts”? One proposal is to use the basic building blocks found in every company in the world (CUSTOMER, PRODUCT, EMPLOYEE, and SUPPLIER). By attaching the UC-Session to corporate databases via a set of overly simplified common data models representing these common business entities, the expectation is that the customer gets incremental value out of his UC session by easily integration the session with already existing data constructs. That conference call you had last week, in which someone suggested a new product solution but you forgot to write down who actually said it, could now be retrieved not just by the date/time of the meeting but also by the product idea. This added data-dimension to the session not only makes it easier to retrieve and act on the information, but ensures that in the coming months, the entire product development team has that discussion attached to the project’s collaboration site.

For the vendor, the oversimplified data tagging solution can help UC-vendors be more successful because the data constructs are common across industries, therefore the solution can be built once and sold many times across their customer base. Lastly, for the analysts, they now could have a smarter framework of standardized metrics from which they could measure actual business value of the solution in addition to the more common penetration and usage of UC across the landscape of vendors who compete in the UC marketplace.

There is a lot of detail behind this component of an overall UC architecture. I will follow up in subsequent blog entries with the details of a common data model and the challenges associated with automated vs. manual tagging, but I would like to hear your thoughts on the potential for this type of simple solution in your business?

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