... cyberspace was something you went to your desk to visit. Now, cyberspace is something you carry in your pocket. Paul Saffo
Not so long ago, the world of communications was neatly compartmentalized. Companies used email for quick discussions, FedEx for contracts, postal mail for sales brochures, fax for urgent documents, SMS for alerts, phone for business conversations, a stand-alone desktop with camera for videoconferencing, websites for digital media, and meetings usually required traveling. Each method was specialized in application.
Today, we look to do all that with a smartphone.
Or a tablet, or whatever we want to use. This paradigmatic shift to communication convergence is felt by many organizations today. However, after so much focus and investment in the past on using specialized means, people may not see the need for a broad-application tool, or even be aware of its use.
But communication convergence is available today, is not a passing fad, and can greatly benefit —or doom— a business. You may find this emerging paradigm also under different names, including unified communications, mobility, and online collaboration.
The communication convergence paradigm is becoming more and more evident and powerful. For example, when instead of a whole office you can now use a smartphone, and the phone is free. Because other gadgets and applications, such as sound recorder and GPS, also come with the phone, they no longer have to be separately purchased and connected either.
As with all paradigms, once recognized the communication convergence paradigm starts to pop up everywhere. Just as it was with the Internet paradigm years ago, people who use this new paradigm also start to “speak in tongues” as they look for new words to describe their new experiences. Communication convergence is a broad shift in business communication and messaging applications, including services, devices, software, network, and providers worldwide.
What may be driving this shift?
More and more, employees, business partners, and customers want to connect in real time and interact across multiple groups and work spaces. Organizations also want to simplify business processes that depend upon human interaction. Perhaps you can identify these and other causes in your own line of interest, such as:
While causes may vary by use and location, and differ in relevance for a particular business, what is relevant is that many businesses are finding that they have to keep continuously rethinking their communication strategies with customers, employees, and partners, and react fast. What worked last year may no longer work today.
For example, the ongoing communication convergence between the mobile and the fixed Internet is putting pressure on businesses to enable more of their services to be accessed and used seamlessly across different networks and provided over multiple platforms, including office systems, in an interactive way.
Communication convergence is also at the forefront of convergence as an evident trend in other areas, according to Egon Zehnder International. From business models to consumer behavior, convergence is gaining ground as a dominant paradigm for change in markets such as IT, energy, automotive and healthcare.
Communication convergence represents a broad shift from the traditional “vertical silos” architecture, i.e. a situation in which different services are provided through separate networks, to a situation that changes service boundaries, service characteristics, business models, and enables the offer of new services.
Communication convergence or... confusion?
The shift to communication convergence, however, makes it harder to... communicate. For example, if you want to send a message to a customer, should you send it to her desktop email? To her cell phone? Is the cell phone a smartphone or not?
It also makes it harder to ensure security. Some of the most significant enterprise security concerns today include device diversity and the consumerization of information technology, both brought in by communication convergence. Today's workforce doesn't sit all on a company's payroll, or are solely within their IT control span. Rather, more users bring in their own devices. More workers also come from outsourcing.
Convergence is an amplifier, and can increase both signal (what you want) and noise (what you do not want).
What to do when the “fear gauge” flashes red?
Communication convergence blurs the lines not only among services, but also among devices, software, network, and providers. Convergence means that systems that were never meant to interoperate are now able or even called to do so. This can place previously unknown demands or create unexpected problems in different levels of service, for example with users, administrators, and in auditing.
Quality is harder to achieve at all times, anywhere. The user’s expected quality of experience may become harder to achieve consistently as users cross over fixed and mobile networks. Everyone knows about well-designed webpages on the desktop that fail to show anything useful on a cell phone. Urgency or even a mistake may cause protected information to be sent by email, exposing the organization to multiple regulatory compliance violations (for example, HIPAA & HITECH), fines and lawsuits.
Convergence can also be misused, for example when different systems share a vulnerability that serves as a backdoor between them. Protocols and devices that were not designed to be connected together, all of a sudden can communicate as when using a jailbroken smartphone to hack into another phone or a web site. Limited-performance mobile systems can be tethered to powerful desktop systems and avail themselves of much higher computing and connectivity capacity than their software was designed to contain.
While communication convergence is good for business, and the mobility promise entices everyone everywhere, convergence must also meet contract, regulatory, and legal duties such as availability, reliability, performance, accessibility, equal access, integrity, breach notification requirements and fines, and confidentiality (when needed).
Further, exactly because communication convergence plays an increasingly strategic role in day-to-day business operations of customers, the negative business impact from faulty convergence or security can cause cascading damage and reduce customer loyalty for otherwise satisfactorily working services.
That's when the “fear gauge” flashes red. Clearly, communication convergence militates against the IT security need to lock down systems and prevent unintended access. Privacy and security concerns, repeated by media in frequent cases, can enforce consumer online fears, affect users, and influence whether users are willing to rely upon an online resource provided by an organization.
And that is when enterprises meet the flip side of communication convergence, which is also made very expensive by regulatory compliance with HIPAA, HITECH, mandatory breach disclosure and other rules that impose large fines and cost.
In short, some difficult aspects are quite clear. Communication convergence can increase the probability of hacking and regulatory compliance faults, while the mobility promise may be elusive to achieve as users’ expectations and devices are increasingly diverse. Other difficult aspects are harder to express, but may play an even greater role, such as fear, uncertainty, lack of familiarity, and distrust.
The Solution is in the Middle: Read Part II >>
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