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Three Ways IoT Impacts IT for Unified Communications

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I began this series with a brief overview of IoT – the Internet of Things – and how it expands the concept of connectedness by including both people and “things”. We’re still very much in the discovery phase with IoT, and while nobody really knows where this will take us – and nobody really is in charge – there should be little doubt that it will have a major impact on communications. This isn’t just about how we communicate, or who we communicate with, but also why we communicate.


We’re pretty good with person-to-person communication, but person-to-machine is something else. The latter has been with us for a long time, but when you factor in things like machine learning and AI – artificial intelligence – it’s finally reaching a point where we can do a lot more than follow IVR prompts. Think about IBM Watson, and it’s not hard to imagine future scenarios when the “thing” you’re communicating with “knows” more than you do about the matter at hand. Without getting dystopian – then we’d be talking about HAL 9000 from 2001 – in time, you’ll be communicating with “things” – basically any Internet-enabled device or endpoint – in different ways than today.


Peeking into that future is a topic for another time, but now the focus is on what this means for UC. More specifically, I’m going to touch on the implications for three stakeholder groups within a business – IT, end users and the contact center. Each stands to benefit in distinct ways, and I’ll begin with the people who usually drive the move to UC, namely IT. Here are three ways that IoT will have a – mostly – positive impact on IT when deploying UC.


1. Automate more processes


When considering UC – or any new technology/solution for that matter – IT must factor in two sets of needs. The bigger picture need is doing what’s best for the business overall, mainly around properly supporting employees as end users, as well as ensuring that the strategic objectives of management are being met. This is always a difficult balance to strike, and I’ll address some of that as this series continues.


Closer to home, however, IT must also address their own needs. These will vary by size of business, but even within SMBs, there will be core requirements around right-sizing the network and managing everything connected to it. When it comes to UC, IT will have new demands to meet, especially around supporting real-time communications in a distributed environment.


With good planning this shouldn’t be problematic, but in the context of IoT, where connectivity is more extensive, there is a lot more to keep on top of. That can be daunting on one level, but it can also serve to make IT’s job easier. As more “things” become connected to your network, there will be more opportunity to automate functions and processes related to UC.


Think about using sensors embedded in audio or video devices for a collaboration session. With intelligent routing, this level of connectivity can allow your network to determine which meeting room is best for the session, which endpoints each participant should use, and during the session it could automatically adjust variables such as room lighting, audio levels, camera positioning, etc., to optimize the experience.

Another example would be leveraging the connectivity across all devices and applications an employee may be using to provide personalized self-guided tutorials when on-boarding for UC. Otherwise, IT would have to invest time and effort with each employee needing help, and that will greatly slow down the adoption timeline.


2. Better management of network and IT resources


This is a separate discipline altogether, but there is an ongoing need here, as resources for IT continue to shrink and organizational demands become more complex. Both the adoption of UC and the impact of IoT will impose higher network performance requirements, and to keep up, IT will need enhanced capabilities.


One example will come from the devices themselves. As more smart or Internet-enabled devices are attached to the network, IoT will create new flows of real-time, two-way data that will help IT in many ways. Think about how this will help IT prioritize bandwidth allocation to support large-scale collaboration or HD video sessions with important customers.


Another opportunity would be more extensive trouble-shooting capabilities to both identify and remediate issues across the network or even with endpoints. Then consider needs such as implementing upgrades or software patches on the fly, or blocking network access in real-time for endpoints that suddenly pose a security threat. These are just a few examples of how IoT can make IT’s job easier, and by extension enable UC to be more effective.


3. Can create a new role for IT


On a more strategic note, IoT can be a great opportunity for IT to take a leadership role in leveraging technology for competitive advantage. This is yet another aspect of IoT that warrants far greater discussion, but the point is by proactively embracing IoT, IT can take ownership of the opportunity. There are no guarantees of success – which is why many IT departments take the opposite tack – but steering clear of IoT may be detrimental to the business if competitors start pulling ahead on this front. At that point, IT’s strategic value falls to near zero, and you can be assured that management will move on to cloud-based alternatives to get the job done.


To be more specific, IoT feeds the trend towards Big Data, and without taking the right steps, IT will be overwhelmed with all the new data these connected devices are creating 24/7. The key to managing this is developing analytics expertise, and this will come from two fronts. First, this may quickly become IT’s top priority for investment, since developing or acquiring this expertise will enable IT to drive the management and usage of Big Data.


Second, this is a fast-growing area where UC vendors are developing their own applications. IT should view this as a key competency when considering UC vendors as it can help shorten the learning curve for getting a handle on Big Data. Either way, there is a lot of opportunity here for IT. As management follows the trend to metrics-based decision-making, having some form of analytics expertise will become a necessity for IT, not a luxury.




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