'A' is for Architecture -- Enterprise Communications Architecture, That Is

Happy New Year! 2017 is going to be a great year, but a year full of change. Traditional enterprise communications, particularly as provided by IP PBXes with desk phones, will still work, but that's not where the innovation will be happening. The great thing about the innovations we are seeing is that almost all of them move in the direction of providing more value for the users with less infrastructure and lower total cost of ownership.

Because of these changes, one of your most important tasks for 2017 is to review the architecture for your enterprise communication systems, services, and solutions.

Let's start with the drivers of the changes that we're seeing and will want to embrace.

  • Usage Profiles - One size no longer fits all users. We can see that communications solutions are now being customized for eight unique usage profiles and one universal profile. The distinct profiles are for collaboration, field, contact center, retail, information processing, production, administration, and management, as well as for universal, or foundational, usage, as introduced in my September 2016 No Jitter post, "Usage Profiles Key to UC Success," and expanded on in the UCStrategies.com series, "Usage Profiles -- A Guide to Effective and Economical UC Solutions." Cloud-based solutions are providing specialized applications with built-in communications for most of the usage profiles. With the Collaboration Usage Profile, for example, we have Slack, IBM Connections, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Spark, Unify Circuit, Atlassian Confluence, and many others, while for the Field Usage Profile we have all of the vertical industry adaptations of Salesforce.com, Microsoft Dynamics 365, and SAP. With these new software packages and smartphones, users may not even need IP PBX accounts, as long as they can connect to the enterprise via the corporate directory or a directory-enabled gateway. Obviously, this is a major architectural shift for communication system deployments.
  • Cloud Services - Almost all new enterprise software applications, such as those mentioned above, are being provided as cloud-based services. Of course, we are also seeing cloud-based versions of the IP PBX and of the email, IM, application sharing, storage, and conferencing systems that are part of the Foundational Usage Profile. Thus, an increasing proportion, probably even the majority, of new investments in 2017 will be for cloud-based services.

    One of the major architectural aspects of this shift to the cloud is that for those usage profiles that are mostly off-premises, such as Field and Production, and for those that mostly interact with external parties, such as some Collaboration and Administration profiles, the necessary bandwidth will be delivered by the 4G cellular network, internal or public Wi-Fi, or the Internet (all using secured transmission) or the cloud provider's infrastructure. This can mean a big shift in on-premises network design, deployment, and cost.

  • Mobile Wireless Device Capabilities and Apps - It has now become very affordable and effective to use mobile devices -- smartphones, tablets, and some laptops -- for the full range of business communications for a number of the usage profiles. Thus, mobile devices may have already become the starting point for the user experience and the resulting communication systems architectures. An important choice for 2017 is whether to think of the mobile device as an endpoint for the IP PBX, which has had miniscule adoption by users, or as a self-sufficient communication experience, using the cellular networks with unlimited voice calling. This change of perspective may be one of the biggest architectural shifts you'll see this year.
  • Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS) - Here's another major trend that is sure to revise most enterprise communication architectures. Communication technology can now be built into almost any application, Web page, or mobile app simply by calling on those services from the many highly capable CPaaS providers. At Enterprise Connect, March 27 to 30 in Orlando, Fla., we'll hear a keynote from Jeff Lawson, founder and CEO of Twilio, a leading and now publicly traded CPaaS company. Further, most of the leading on-premises and cloud PBX providers are offering CPaaS capabilities. This includes Kandy from Genband, Nexmo from Vonage Business, and Cisco Tropo. Since CPaaS providers usually also offer connections to the public switched telephone network at very attractive rates, on-premises SIP or T-1 trunks may not be necessary in the new enterprise communications architectures.
  • Hybrid, Multi-Provider Solutions - With all of the changes noted above, we are certainly going to see multiple communication systems and services used within most enterprises. This will require an architecture that encompasses the hybrid model that blends on-premises and cloud solutions, as well as IP PBX, CPaaS, and communications-enabled applications. We'll be presenting this at Enterprise Connect in the Tuesday, March 28, session at Enterprise Connect Orlando, "Architecting Hybrid Cloud: More Art Than Science?" Hope you'll join us.

One of the major architectural aspects of this shift to the cloud is that for those usage profiles that are mostly off-premises, such as Field and Production, and for those that mostly interact with external parties, such as some Collaboration and Administration profiles, the necessary bandwidth will be delivered by the 4G cellular network, internal or public Wi-Fi, or the Internet (all using secured transmission) or the cloud provider's infrastructure. This can mean a big shift in on-premises network design, deployment, and cost.

So, in 2017, "A" is for architecture. It will be the right time to review and even rethink your enterprise communications architecture, if you haven't done that in the past three years.

Again, hope you have a very Happy New Year!