A new way of doing business
Once agencies have made the initial investment in integrating their voice, video and data networks, they soon discover the real payoff: the ability to deploy a new generation of collaborative applications.
The concept of unified communications is taking on new life in federal agencies.
At one time, the idea of managing voice, video and data on an integrated network was primarily seen as a matter of efficiency. The case for efficiency is certainly compelling because an integrated network is easier and less costly to maintain.
But federal agencies are beginning to realize that the real payoff from UC is a matter of performance. By integrating their different streams of information, agencies can build an environment in which employees can work both efficiently and collaboratively.
This is especially important with the emergence of increasingly sophisticated collaboration technologies, including video, mobility and enterprise social networking tools. In such a complex IT environment, an integrated communications strategy is more important than ever.
Market research firm IDC expects to see more and more large organizations upgrade their networks and invest in UC and collaboration technology.
“For many end users, UC&C has moved from an ‘if’ to a ‘when’ proposition for making strategic plans for their organization’s deployment,” wrote Rich Costello, senior research analyst for UC and enterprise networking infrastructure at IDC, in an August 2012 study.
That is certainly the case at the FBI. As part of its Next Generation Workspace (NGW) program, the FBI is consolidating a four-tiered network design into a common IP-based network core that can support voice, video and data traffic, and related applications, according to the bureau’s fiscal 2010-2015 IT Strategic Plan.
“NGW will equip FBI users with new and efficient ways to communicate and collaborate with their fellow employees across the globe,” the plan states.
As part of its strategy, the FBI is also looking to break down existing information silos at the bureau by streamlining systems development and data repositories across different mission areas. The plan also calls for the development of a knowledge management strategy, with hopes of fostering a culture of data and information sharing.
UC is also expected to play a major role at the Defense Department in the years to come.
In its 2013-2018 strategic plan, the Defense Information Systems Agency describes its vision of a Joint Information Environment that would support collaboration and information sharing across DOD. DISA officials see UC as part of the foundation of JIE.
One of DISA’s top objectives is to “deliver integrated voice, video and/or data services ubiquitously across an interoperable, secure and highly available IP network infrastructure…to provide mission effectiveness to the warfighter,” according to the strategic plan.
DISA has developed a Unified Capabilities Master Plan to guide defense organizations in moving toward this vision.
The growing interest in UC has not gone unnoticed by the IT industry. According to an August 2012 report (log-in required) from the technology research firm Gartner, vendors continue to bolster their UC-related offerings, which is good news for buyers.
“During the past year, UC vendors advanced their increasingly full suites of functionality, with particular progress on the key areas of mobility, video and hybrid deployment options,” researchers wrote.
In the year ahead, the ongoing evolution of enterprise IT could lead to an evolution in the concept of UC.
When many people think of UC, they think of a single infrastructure supporting multiple streams of information. But the proliferation of social, mobile and cloud solutions might force some organizations to take an “integrated” communications approach, said Hyoun Park, a research analyst focused on telecommunications and UC at the Aberdeen Group.
That does not mean organizations should abandon the goal of UC. But they should also look for ways to incorporate resources outside the enterprise, including social networks and cloud-based computing resources, all of which might be accessed through a mobile device, Park wrote on the Aberdeen blog.
“To maximize productivity, [organizations] are challenged to integrate these personal IT ecosystems with a corporate ecosystem that may lag behind the employees’ available resources,” he wrote.