Mark Leigh is President of Avaya Asia-Pacific. Mr Leigh was the Chief Operating Officer for Asia-Pacific and China in the Business Communications Systems division of Lucent Technologies, from which Avaya spun off in September 2000. Before joining Lucent, Mr Leigh was Director of Corporate Operations for Asia-Pacific at Philips Electronics. His experience includes directorships of various companies, general management, sales and marketing, business evaluation, business development, joint ventures, merger and acquisitions, reengineering and management turnarounds. Mike Leigh has won a number of awards in the industry for his leadership. Mike Leigh was born in the United Kingdom, where he completed his studies in engineering and management. Having started his career in Europe, he moved to the Asia-Pacific region, where he has spent most of his working life.
Sales pitches from hardware vendors about their network infrastructure solutions that can transport voice and data - and, increasingly, video - are of little interest to business owners and managers today. The ability to deliver a robust infrastructure that works well, stays up and scales as required, is but the price of entry in the competitive communications market. The fact of the matter is the network has become a commodity that affords little differentiation. What industry leaders are interested in is how else they can exploit the network infrastructure to become more competitive, more efficient and more profitable. Unified communications, which refer to integrated solutions that enable users to access a variety of communications and messaging via telephone, fax, email or the Web, are increasingly seen as the best way to achieve this. They are looking for the intelligent business applications that sit on top of their networks - both wired and wireless - which address cross-departmental needs and different categories of users. So, the race is on among communications vendors to see who will lead in a new environment where software applications and supporting services, running on open, multi-vendor infrastructures, will be the main battleground. Applications that connect According to IDC’s ten major telecommunications predictions for the Asia-Pacific region (excluding Japan) in 2006, it was a year of shifting business models and strategies driven by changing regulatory environments and disruptive technologies, like Skype. Based on a variety of analyst inputs, we estimate that the business communications applications market, including software and surrounding services, will amount to more than US$30 billion in 2006. This new breed of business communications applications will act as the glue that brings together end-users, networks and other enterprise business applications by connecting workers, customers and business processes to the right people, at the right time, by the right communication medium. Vendors in this space need to adapt their strategies to focus on delivering unified communications that enable streamlined integration of their solutions with existing networks and popular applications. This includes ensuring that their unified messaging products can be easily integrated with applications such as Microsoft Outlook and IBM Lotus Notes, the two most popular desktop interfaces, and to extend mobile enterprise communications to mobile and PDA personal productivity devices. Other applications like, IP telephony, can enable a whole new level of business agility, improving organizational speed, responsiveness and control across globally distributed processes, supply chains and value chains. Because these applications are embedded in mission-critical applications and processes, and because they run on any network, they can help enterprises leverage their investment in network infrastructure to deliver business value. By connecting people to people, and people to applications, intelligent communications applications enable employees and partners to deliver differentiated customer service faster and more efficiently. Their independence from the network infrastructure allows them to be network-vendor-agnostic and run on a wide variety of network types, including LANs, WANs (private line, PSTN), cellular, wireless and over a variety of network protocols, providing investment protection to the organizations concerned. Adopt a structured approach While intelligent communications applications are destined to fill a powerful position within an enterprise’s operational architecture, the move into software-led communications requires a structured approach built around three pillars: intelligent communications; interoperability; and, high availability and security. By building your future communications strategy around them, you can ensure that every important issue is addressed, from connecting people to processes to embedding the necessary robustness and protection your business needs. Let’s examine each one in more detail. Intelligent Communications - This is the capacity of the application to connect people and processes globally by intelligently incorporating communications into real-time business operations. It accomplishes this by embedding multi-modal communication awareness and presence capabilities into business applications, including supply-chain and value-chain applications. This integration of functions makes employees more productive, processes more intelligent and customers more satisfied. Specific applications might include the ability to route customer contact - whether it’s Web, email or voice - to the right agent with the right skills located anywhere in the world; automated alerts in case of any supply chain failure; providing anywhere, anytime access to road warrior sales personnel; and extending full IP telephony capabilities to remote branch office workers who are directly interacting with customers. Open Interoperability - Since the new communications applications will need to interact with a wide array of enterprise applications, access devices and network topologies, it is important to select those built on open standards and protocols, for example, Session Initiation Protocol, SIP. This enables simpler application insertion into ongoing business processes, by reducing the complexity of integrating the new applications with existing applications and network infrastructure. A longer-term benefit of open interoperability will come from the ability to tap the applications from a larger software development community. A modular framework provides further flexibility as the organization adapts to the evolving ecosystem of applications from other software providers. Select vendors who have proven their commitments to open standards, compliance testing and interoperability support. High Availability and Security - The quest for a highly available and secure infrastructure is an ongoing one for most organizations today. Too many companies have been brought down by a single lapse - such as in security availability - which in turn led to the collapse of customer confidence and consequently business viability. Industry leading vendors are delivering on the reliability element by creating self-healing survivability at many levels, starting with redundant failover servers at the core of the applications structure to redirect processing from a failed system to a backup. Security is an even greater concern given the grave consequences of any - real or perceived - breach of customer and investor confidence. Organizations expect their new communications applications to be as secure as they have come to expect from their older, dedicated voice networks. For example, built in encryption support of IP soft-phones and IP desksets can provide secure communications capability regardless of location or underlying network. New failover options can use distributed platforms to take over applications delivery automatically in the case of a network fault or specific platform crash. Ready for the new world order Connectivity is a major priority for Asia-Pacific countries that want to drive economic growth in the Internet age. For example, Singapore will be offering all residents two years of free wireless connectivity from almost everywhere in the country from January 2007. Under the Infocomm Development Authority, IDA, of Singapore Wireless@SG programme, the number of public hotspots will grow a whopping five-fold from 900 to about 5,000. In addition, a recent IDC report found that the convergence of voice and data over a single IP network in Australia continued at an accelerated pace in 2005 and 2006. The analyst group also advised vendors in this space to target specific industrial verticals and provide value it and usage-based solutions - rather than technology solutions - if they want to survive in this highly competitive space. This puts the ball firmly in our court. It is up to us to make the change starting today, and transform our approach from one of providing point solutions to delivering a unified communications suite with modular solutions that cover the entire gamut of communications equipment, applications and services required by our customers. We can add business value to enterprises by targeting each of their requirements, for instance, by giving mobile employees the connectivity they need at home and on the road, with specific services and applications that emphasize utility rather than nice-to-have features. Moving forward, intelligent business communications applications will represent a new and important category of tools coming at a time when customers are demanding 24/7 service for enterprises to achieve increased business agility and competitive differentiation. Executives responsible for charting their organization’s strategies for the new world order will do well to incorporate these high-value applications into their action plans for the 21st Century.