Embrace API development to boost UC: Tata Communications
By Gabey Goh February 12, 2014
- Demand for UC tools, especially notably contact centre and video-conferencing, to rise in coming months
- Embracing power of APIs could potentially open up company’s ecosystem to untapped crucial resources
DESPITE the much-touted benefits of using collaboration tools within enterprise environments, not many companies have been able to fully leverage or maintain their adoption.
Anthony Bartolo, senior vice president of Unified Communications and Collaboration at Tata Communications, noted that collaboration isn’t a new concept, with chief information and technology officers (CIOs/ CTOs) having dabbled with it for decades.
“However, even in 2013, collaboration tools devised for the workforce have been low on usability, high on awkwardness, and frequently fragmented. For enterprises, they are typically low on customisation potential and high on cost. Email and telephony remain the dominant communication tools for most employees,” he said in an email interview with Digital News Asia (DNA).
Bartolo said that since the mid-1990s, technologists have been working on integrating workflow with a myriad of different communications channels, including instant messaging, telephony, video-conferencing, voicemail, email and text messaging. However, integration with workflow internally and especially externally remains the exception rather than the rule.
This has a lot to do with expensive, proprietary, technologies which impose high development costs and long deployment horizons on enterprises. The results include relatively low levels of customisation for individual enterprises.
“The way we communicate and exchange critical information has evolved with the times. Mobile workers are increasingly using new forms of communication such as virtual meetings, mobile video-conferencing and telecommuting.
“Such mobile workers account for between 7% and 8% of the working population. People are working from remote places, using different devices – collaboration warrants one common platform that’s compatible across devices and operating systems,” Bartolo said.
He also noted that this change in the workplace is to some extent driving adoption, pointing to a study of enterprise social media adoption by US-based AIIM (Association for Information and Image Management), which highlighted that 60% of enterprises are either using social technologies in an ad hoc way, have partially implemented social technologies, or are working on a strategy for targeted usage.
In 2013, Gartner ranked ‘collaboration’ fourth in its list of top 10 CIO business and technology priorities, and said it is one trend which will take centrestage in 2014. It is estimated that collaboration technologies could contribute US$900 billion to US$1.3 trillion to the global economy by improving productivity and consumer focus within and across enterprises.
In the Asean region, which includes Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam and Thailand, the 2014-2015 outlook for the unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) market remains positive with a year-over-year (YoY) growth expected to be sustained at between 6.2% and 6.5%, according to IDC.
The research firm reported that IP (Internet Protocol) telephony would continue to be the key revenue contributor (42%), followed by enterprise collaboration (29%), contact centre solutions (15%) and video-conferencing solutions (13%).
“Demand for UC tools is expected to rise in the coming months, notably contact centre and video-conferencing solutions, with double-digit growth in 2014, followed by enterprise collaboration and IP telephony with increments of 8% and 4% respectively,” said Tan Hwee Xian, market analyst for Communications at IDC Asia/ Pacific in response to queries made by DNA.
Barriers to collaboration
Tata Communications' Bartolo said that enterprises are beginning to make UC a part of their everyday work-life, so they’re definitely “committed to the cause.”
“However, the challenges can be significant. It can be difficult to connect closed and proprietary social platforms with the context of everyday workflow, which is necessary if they’re to become widely used.
“Mobile, social, gamification and video -- all can become part of the social enterprise’s toolkit. But we’re a long way from fusing these feature sets. Inside the enterprise, social platforms remain predominantly text-based,” he said.
IDC’s Tan (pic) said that there are two sets of challenges facing organisations in adopting UC tools.
“In terms of non-technical challenges, it is believed that most enterprises, notably small and medium enterprises (SMEs), are facing issues in obtaining budgetary approval for new capital expenses to upgrade a unified communications platform. This has inevitably accelerated the uptake of unified communication as-a-service (UCaaS) in the region,” he added.
In terms of technical challenges, most enterprises in Asean perceive security as the biggest challenge, followed by network issues (bandwidth, availability) and integration of various vendor technologies and platforms.
Tan said that organisations generally cited security issues as their major concern in new technology deployment, especially organisations that have strict governance and compliance rules, such as the financial services sector.
IDC’s own research also showed that network issues such as bandwidth and availability strongly resonated in countries where bandwidth is relatively more expensive, especially when video is part of the entire solution as it is generally bandwidth-heavy.
The third technical challenge faced by organisations is interoperability, thanks to the distinct collaborative technologies they may have adopted.
“Businesses will continue to watch how vendors can integrate in principle and practice, as well as how far they go down in embracing industry standards,” Tan said.
The IDC analyst also noted that while the UC&C market continues to be promising in 2014, the growth rate however is expected to be deterred by some key threats like cloud and freemium app services that are causing the traditional on-premise market to slow and be replaced in the long run.
“For instance, Unified Communications as a service (UCaaS) is steadfastly moving to be a mainstream solution as more and more carriers have offered 'as-a-service' as part of their core collaboration portfolio.
“More importantly, as-a-service solutions could help enterprises, notably SMEs, to significantly save up the up-front cost, streamlinie business processes, and provide better disaster recovery and flexibility that scale to fit one's business,” Tan said.
According to IDC's 2013 Collaboration Practice report, the UCaaS market revenue in Asean will hit US$56.7 million in 2014 and will continue to increase to US$185.1 million by 2017.
“This marks a 90% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) from 2012 to 2017. With widespread availability of as-a-service models in the marketplace, IDC is expecting more opex-friendly (operational expense) UCaaS offerings to appear in the market with increasing businesses, especially among SMEs, moving UC to cloud delivery or hosted services,” he added.
Next page: Making the case for UC&C
The case for UC&C
While the opening up of the UCaaS market is expected to lower the barriers for SMEs to leverage on such tools for their business, it remains a slightly different ball game for large enterprises.
Tata Communication’s Bartolo (pic) said that while there are many free tools and apps available, collaboration isn’t as simple as deploying an app on the employees’ desktops or smartphones.
“Ideally, enterprises need to consider how they are going to make information assets discoverable. While there are many popular free apps available, simple aspects such as search, for example, are underrated components of collaboration.
“If a company wants to help employees locate information more rapidly to make sales activities more effective, targeted and productive, it will need to formulate and enforce policies for metadata – the tags that allow documents, messages, images and other forms of unstructured data to be discovered and used. The results shouldn’t be underestimated,” he said.
Bartolo said that developing collaboration platforms involves making the right data available to employees, in the right context, at the right time. Embedding collaborative tools within frequently used workflow applications may well require those applications to be redesigned.
“Increasingly, IT professionals need to become accustomed to demands of this kind. Collaboration enables the creation of value from data – not just among C-level executives, but also right across the organisation.
“IT is pivotal to delivering on the promise of the company as a storehouse of know-how, enjoying a competitive advantage against the broader market on the basis of employees’ willingness and ability to share,” he added.
Bartolo said that companies needed to balance their outbound agility by focusing on the need to boost collaboration within the enterprise. By doing so, enterprises will generate their own “social dividend." The future of internal collaboration is a natural evolution of the social and mobile trends that have shaped business over the past few years.
“Additionally, it is important to recognise that improving collaboration isn’t merely about deploying an application; it involves important decisions about culture, organisation and infrastructure. There are risks to be managed,” he said.
These risks for enterprises, according to Bartolo, include:
- The need to secure intellectual property;
- The need to protect brand reputation (if it’s on an external platform);
- Potentially negative productivity effects from poorly designed collaborative tools;
- The risk of poor quality employee-generated content; and
- The need for enterprise-wide social media literacy.
Tata opens up with APIs, SIP Connect
Tata Communications is determined to capitalise on the positive demand for UC&C solutions, and Bartolo claimed that the company is “widely perceived to be an expert” in the Asia Pacific video collaboration service market.
Key to the increased adoption and better usage of UC tools is the use of open APIs (application programming interfaces, which increases flexibility and interoperability to address enterprise challenges, he said.
“If CIOs and CTOs embrace the power of APIs, they could potentially open up the company’s ecosystem to untapped crucial resources, with the ability to scale the business quite cost-effectively – all while saving precious time.
“While traditional business partnerships, joint ventures and product integrations are costly and complex to maintain, APIs have known to bring ‘nearly effortless, asymmetric scale’,” he claimed.
Bartolo said that next-generation collaboration tools that extend seamlessly across the enterprise and beyond are a natural extension of mobile and social trends in consumer markets. If enterprises can deploy tools of this kind to liberate information workers, the potential for productivity gains are substantial.
“Because of their accessibility, enterprises can customise the API-based tools they build. This will allow enterprises to design and refine social tools until they are a perfect fit for the enterprise business processes and IT architecture and their employees, thereby maximising participation and productivity gains as workforces become geographically disparate and as businesses look to expand their customer and partner base into new markets,” he said.
To illustrate, Bartolo pointed to WebRTC, an emerging open source technology platform that embeds real-time voice, text and video communications capabilities within web browsers.
He said that because WebRTC is browser-based, it also opens the door to collaboration where it’s needed: not within yet another stand-alone application, but within the browser, where most of us do most of our work.
“Open APIs available with WebRTC can enable the ultimate aim of enterprise social networking development efforts: A fusion of mobile, social, gamification and video into a single collaboration platform for end-users.
“They have disruptive potential as a platform for enterprise collaboration, one that integrates text, audio and video interaction in a way that’s highly customisable, and which integrates tightly with existing workflows,” he added.
In line with this trend toward better interoperability, the company recently expanded its UC portfolio with the launch of Global SIP Connect.
This latest upgrade enables the replacement of legacy trunking services with the latest in SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) based public switched telephone network (PSTN) access, including compatibility with the Microsoft Lync unified communications platform.
“Enterprise customers will now be able to aggregate voice traffic using Tata Communications’ network. This not only reduces complexity but also brings significant cost and infrastructure savings,” Bartolo claimed.
Tata Communications also launched its mobile VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) platform, a hosted white label solution that allows mobile network operators (MNOs) and other retail voice providers to deliver and monetise innovative converged IP communication services.
The company claims the mobile VoIP platform can give MNOs the ability to offer customers a simple, converged communication service across voice, chat, video and file sharing, enhancing the customer relationship value chain and thereby improving customer loyalty and Average Revenue Per User (ARPU).
“APIs may prove to be the missing link that allows developers of enterprise social networks to focus upon what really matters: Building collaborative tools.
"These could have the potential to relentlessly pull new users into their orbit, extending the reach of enterprise collaboration inside enterprises and between organisations substantially,” said Bartolo.
He added that the increase of SIP connectivity and open API-based collaboration tools are the key to seamless collaboration for enterprises.
They are expected to gain visibility as they essentially bring video, text and audio to the browser, offering a simpler, faster and more flexible way for businesses to work together, thus enabling seamless collaboration and ultimately leading to "liberated employees."
“Like a startup, IT departments developing collaboration tools for the enterprise need to launch minimum viable products – and watch to see what works and what doesn’t. Increasingly, the reduced costs associated with API-based development will allow enterprises to work this way,” said Bartolo.
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