Overwhelmed? Maybe it’s Time to Share or Delegate

There is no denying IT and communications technologies are evolving at a head-spinning rate, requiring continued investments in infrastructure refresh, staff training and organizational restructuring. Managed and hosted services can help relief the burden on overwhelmed IT staff and provide access to superior expertise at predictable monthly costs. But are businesses seriously considering managed services?

Frost & Sullivan’s 2010 communications & collaboration technologies end-user survey, which targeted 200 North American C-level executives, reveals that 62% of respondents’ organizations currently use managed services. Of those current users, 63% plan to increase usage over the next 12 months, and an impressive 42% of non-users intend to implement managed services within the near term. The main reason (stated by 36% of respondents) why businesses choose to pursue managed services is the need to consolidate multi-vendor relationships and solutions management, followed by limited expertise in new/specific products and technologies (34% of respondents).

Here is how respondents ranked the drivers for using managed services:

Businesses can use managed services from a variety of market participants, including vendors, VARs, systems integrators and telcos. The following chart shows that most of our respondents choose to outsource managed services from their vendors:

No surprise there – no one know Avaya better than Avaya, and no one knows Siemens better than Siemens. Also, most vendors are better equipped with remote technologies and NOC facilities to provide QoS and performance management than their smaller resellers.

But almost a quarter (23%) of respondents indicate they use several different managed services providers. While this scenario presents the advantages mentioned above, it is not very cost-effective. Frequently, each vendor relationship is managed by a separate group of people adding a significant overhead. Each contract needs to be negotiated separately and it’s hard to leverage any significant discounts or economies of scale.  Businesses find themselves in this situation because they typically manage disparate, multi-vendor infrastructures as a result of  M&A or due to varying technology requirements by site or remote location.

As businesses look to consolidate their infrastructure and develop a more coherent roadmap for the evolution of their IT environment, a strategic partnership with a single managed services provider can offer the greatest benefits in the long term.

A recent announcement by Siemens Enterprise Communications about enhancements to its OpenScale services portfolio point to vendor efforts in the following key areas:

  • Portfolio standardization and simplification (3 standard options based on degree of support required)
  • Flexibility for potential customization (site-selectable SLAs, custom reports, ability to add modular components to the main package – e.g. MACs, proactive software updates)
  • Channel benefits (active monitoring exclusive for channel partners, possibility for e-bonding with partner billing and management systems; sell-through and sell-to options available)
  • Multi-vendor managed services (across Siemens and non-Siemens data networking and call control platforms and applications)
  • Comprehensive package of application, server and network management
  • Global delivery

Other communications vendors, VARs and systems integrators are ramping up their managed services capabilities as well. I put together a table comparing the different types of managed services providers based on a set of criteria, which I believe are important for end users looking to select a managed services partner:

Each customer case is different, but a systematic approach to selecting a managed services provider could ensure that all enterprise requirements are properly addressed in the contract:

What’s on your desktop? Now there’s an app for that, thanks to the Mac App Store.

The new Mac App Store is launching today it would seem, although one needs to install the new 10.6.6 OSX to get it. Will the new Mac App Store have the same profound effect on our desktop that the existing app store had on mobile apps? Likely not. iPhones, iPod Touches, iPads are mobile devices and usually accompany their users on every outing, not so with laptops and desktops.

With that being said we will likely see a great number of apps from the existing App Store make it into the Mac App Store.

First thoughts around this are positive for me. I like apps that update themselves, as a developer it would also be helpful not having to build up an ecomm system as I suspect in-app purchases will accompany the new SDK for apps in the Mac App Store as well. Of course, Apple will take a healthy chunk of the revenue from the app.

At any rate, apps on iPhones, iPods, iPads will now be ubiquitous across (nearly) all Mac devices.

What do you think? Will this revolutionize the app distribution methodology for desktop apps? Or is this just another cash grab from Apple?


CEBP: What Does it Mean to You?

The faster technologies evolve, the more overwhelmed we become with acronyms and technology terms we can hardly understand and pronounce, let alone remember, evaluate and properly implement. CEBP is one of those terms that has been around for a while and is frequently part of UC discussions, but is still poorly understood.

My colleagues Melanie Turek and Robert Arnold took it upon themselves to take a closer look at current vendor CEBP strategies and assess the market potential for CEBP solutions. They defined CEBP as follows:

“Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP) connect people, processes and information with the objective of reducing inefficiencies within business processes. CEBP solutions automate and optimize business processes by bridging the silos that exist between various business applications, and between communications and business software. These connections make information from multiple sources accessible, manageable and actionable to users within the context of workflows. By embedding communications capabilities into business applications that are part of the workflow, CEBP automates the connection of people to processes and information. The embedded communications functionality empowers users to take action and make decisions based on information provided within the context of their business processes.

Communications integrated into business applications is not synonymous with CEBP. The former usually consists of click-to-communicate or displaying user presence/ availability status within an application (i.e., word processing, email, CRM, ERP, etc). Such applications are commonly utilized in ad-hoc, unstructured ways that lack the ability to create contextual links between business processes and communications. CEBP is also not the same as BPA, BPO, BPM, self service or outbound messaging. Rather, any and all of these can be incorporated as part of overall CEBP solutions which enhance well-defined, structured workflows by providing users with contextual access to communications and information.”    

However, as Rob points out in his blog post, “Our most immediate discovery was that CEBP continues to be ill-defined. In a sense the concept and terminology has become like UC, a catch-all marketing term that has been overly used and in many cases abused. It has become watered down to the extent that it now describes a very loose and broad array of solutions and capabilities.”

The key value of CEBP is in accelerating decision making, reducing human latency, increasing worker accountability, and meeting compliance regulations. Therefore, it is considered most appropriate for people-centric, heavily regulated industries such as healthcare, financial services, government and education.

However, to make CEBP most effective for their organization, businesses need to gain good visibility into their business processes and identify process bottlenecks and inefficiencies. Unfortunately, many businesses skip this very important step in assessing and deploying advanced technologies. In a recent conversation with Bill Vass, former CIO of Sun Microsystems, he shared the following:

“You need to spend a bit of time on the business architecture. I can’t tell you how many companies don’t understand it. I go to so many places, where I hear “Our IT systems don’t do what we need them to do”; and every time it turns out they have not taken the time to understand their business architecture and what their business is. So you start with the business architecture, and then you do a system architecture, and then you do a technical architecture. What most businesses try to do is jump right into the technical architecture, because that’s what they understand and they leave their business hanging around, and they claim their systems don’t do what they need them to do, and they are totally mis-communicating.”

Rob and Melanie identified some additional factors deterring CEBP adoption, such as the lack of formalized CEBP offerings and programs from the leading communications and collaboration vendors, complex marketing messaging, lack of interoperability and pre-built product integrations, and the need for extensive (and expensive) professional services.

Yet, they recommend that businesses leverage CEBP to gain a competitive edge. There is a significant opportunity for a first-mover advantage with CEBP, since few companies are doing it. Further, businesses need to think strategically when developing communications and IT investment plans and seek to improve internal communications and collaboration, employee productivity and efficiency, and customer relationships through investments in advanced communications and collaboration technologies.

Vendors are engaged in a more fierce competition than ever before. Customers can exploit this opportunity to require exceptional value for their money. They need to explore various packages and bundles that can provide them with a broad set of features and capabilities at a very reasonable cost. A free trial, a small-scale pilot, etc. could be helpful in making a final decision.

Businesses should look to their current providers first when investigating CEBP. Through the existing relationship the incumbent is likely to have greater insight into the customers business culture, cycles, processes, budgets, staffing resources as well as longer term plans with respect to communications and IT tools. Such a foundation can allow solutions to be planned, implemented and expanded/modified over time at a measured pace. Additionally, customers should request references of other businesses that have implemented CEBP solutions to address similar pain points. Certifications and qualifications for providers should also be checked out.

For further insight into CEBP strategies and solutions offered by Avaya, BT Global Services, IBM, Interactive Intelligence, and NEC Corporation of America, please check out our recent study titled: “CEBP Takes Shape to Address an Emerging Opportunity.”

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