Project Ansible and the Need for an Enterprise Communications Hub
I find that having all my calls and messages and tweets and whatnot in one place is incredibly convenient.
I've been spending the past couple weeks learning how to use my new mobile, a BlackBerry of all things. Don't worry, I'm not going to review the Z10 in detail, or at all really. Smartphone reviews are best written by folks who can't get enough of their mobiles...whereas I've been seeking ways to free myself from the tyranny of the monitor and spend less time staring at a phone, tablet, PC, or TV.
The OS 10 feature I want to quickly highlight is called BlackBerry Hub. It aggregates texts, email, voice mail, missed and placed calls, tweets, LinkedIn updates, and--via APIs--info from sports, financial, and other data sources. Users can display them in a jumble or customize how they are presented. This is of course old hat to all you iPhone addicts and Android devotees, since the Hub is essentially BlackBerry's answer to Notification Center in iOS, which in turn was Apple's answer to Android's notification system.
I find that having all my calls and messages and tweets and whatnot in one place is incredibly convenient. With a single glance I can see who called, texted, IMed, DMed, voicemailed, Skyped, and otherwise tried to contact me via the ridiculous number of channels of communications I'm now expected to monitor. But once I'm off the mobile and on my PC, this convenience comes to a screeching halt. This is because despite a decade of UC solutions being developed, communications for enterprise end users are anything but unified. For years we've seen the rise of a plethora of standards, open APIs, and years of talk about--and actual, meaningful work for--federation and integration. But options for an enterprise communication hub remain elusive.
I've seen Microsoft Lync described as an "enterprise communications hub"--and the earlier-generation LCS too--but it's just not. I mean, Microsoft has made it possible to federate Lync and Skype, so users only need to use one client...unless their IT department has disabled External Access. (When it comes to federating end users' Lync and non-Lync clients I know of several IT directors who have an OMDB (Over My Dead Body) policy firmly in place.) And of course Lync, IBM Sametime, Siemens Enterprise's OpenScape UC, and other corporate IM software can be integrated with various third-party PBX systems...so you've got voice and IM in one place, and there's a certain hub-ishness in that I suppose. But even with IM, email, and enterprise social networking clients providing various levels of integration with one another, none are delivering the sort of communications hub for business users that notification software is providing to mobile users...and that would be so useful to business users.
While there's no "Notification Center for the enterprise" solution out there (if I've overlooked one, please let me know), Project Ansible from Siemens Enterprise certainly comes close. You can read Zeus' post about what Ansible actually is (or older ones from Sheila, Dave, Blair, Mike, and Ken). The aspect of Ansible that I'd like to highlight is its name, which is some kind of sci-fi reference. You see, Ansible is the machine Lieutenant Uhura used to warn Chewbacca about Voldemort attacking the Tardis. Something like that.
Ok, let me start over and I'll try to stay serious this time. The aspect of Ansible that I'd like to highlight is how it's expected to bring together:
* Voice systems from Siemens Enterprise, Cisco, Avaya, and eventually others;
* Voice services from Verizon, Telefonica, Deutsche Telekom...at least that's my assumption since these operators were mentioned in connection with Ansible, though it's not entirely clear to me if these carriers are reselling it, building cloud-based versions of it, integrating it with their existing business services, or all of the above;
* Video systems from Cisco, Polycom, LifeSize, and others;
* WebRTC voice and video sessions;
* Voicemail and audio conferencing apps, which Ansible will transcribe into text (video conferences will also be transcribed);
* Email and calendaring apps from Microsoft and IBM;
* Enterprise social software from Jive and IBM;
* Consumer social software such as Twitter and LinkedIn;
* CRM data from Salesforce.com;
* Document repositories such as SharePoint and Google Docs.
Now, mind you, Siemens Enterprise hasn't actually committed to each and every one of these integrations. I imagine some will be part of the beta software that will be introduced later this year, others in the GA product late next year, and yet others on the long term roadmap. But at the heart of Ansible is a set of connectors, APIs, and SDKs that combine various communications, collaboration, messaging, content management, social, and other apps, presenting them to end users via a single interface--a "single pane of glass" in Siemens parlance.
So Ansible is a helluva lot more than the comparatively simple enterprise communications hub that I'm dreaming of. It aggregates not only communications, but content and collaboration as well. Rather than navigating from document repository to IM client to web conferencing environment, the end user has a single place to go to review meeting notes, ask subject matter experts for help, launch collaboration sessions, and so forth.
Ansible is more of a content and collaboration aggregator...a shared workspace, search engine, and voice transcription server with access to real-time communications. Presumably there's a WebRTC gateway somewhere in the mix. In a sense it's CEBP without the four-letter word that CEBP has become. Ansible has got a little bit of everything. At the end of the marketing video there's even a "deskphone dock" of the sort I profiled in my last No Jitter slide show. Not entirely sure what that's got to do with Ansible, but let's just roll with it.
I still think a hub just for business communications, a simple "Notification Center for the enterprise," is low-hanging fruit when it comes to UC solution development. It would cure a communications and messaging headache that end users have here and now.
Ansible is quite a bit more futuristic. It will require me and everyone I work with to change how we collaborate with one another...something that I fear could be a barrier to Ansible adoption in the near term. But it's great to see developers like Siemens Enterprise taking the long view, anticipating where all this collaboration stuff is leading, and preparing an interesting new solution to problems we're only now realizing that we have.