UC And Social business

communication - looking hearing talking
(P. Shanks - Image)
When you think of social business does unified communication jump to mind?  When you think of unified communication, does social business jump to mind?  No?  My guess is that you are not alone but for me, they do go hand in hand.  Why?

Social Business is about improving communication and collaboration and sharing in real time, near real time, and non-real time.  The typical mechanisms used in social business include activity streams, discussion forums, question and answer, ideations, etc.  All tools that improve collaboration and communication. And these ideas translate very well into working with clients and customers.  But they don't provide every mechanism that people use to communication. 

So this is where unified communication fits in.  Imagine a scenario where an two employees are collaborating on a document.  Let's call them Jim and Judy.  Jim is actively working on the document and runs into a problem.  He needs to contact Judy to ask her opinion.   What does Jim do today?  he looks Jill's name up in the company directory, and calls her using his desk phone.  Or maybe he opens his chat application find her name in his contacts list and starts a chat session with her.  Or maybe he opens his video chat application and starts a video chat with her.  In each of these scenarios, Jim had to find the information or open the application to start the real time communication.  But why?  

Why couldn't Jim click Judy's name, which has been associated with the document and start a chat session her?  or call her?  or start screen sharing session?  or start a real time collaboration / co-authoring session with her?  If unified communication was integrated into the base system, this could be possible.

Let's imagine a second scenario.  Imagine that Jim is working with a client/customer named Jawad.  Jim and Jawad is a highly valued client / customer and has an initiative that requires both Jim and himself to work together on multiple documents and have many interactions together.  Today they use email and phone calls to make this happen. The documents that need to be edited are sent via email and versions are created on top of versions - with each keeping their own set of "versions".  The job gets done, but only after 40 - 100 emails and several phone calls that had to be scheduled. 

Why couldn't Jim and Jawad work together on a shared and secured social  business site?  Imagine them working on the documents.  The system provides presence awareness, allowing Jawad to see when Jim is available.  In fact, it provides more transparency, by providing not so common status' such as away from my computer, on the phone, or in a meeting.  Imagine that Jawad is working on a document and requires input form Jim.  He see that Jim is available.  Jawad clicks Jim's name to start "communicating" with him.  The system indicates a phone call will start (the system knew to call Jim on the phone rather other communication methods because of a set of rules defined by Jim, indicating that he didn't have video chat capabilities because he was working from home.  Both Jawad and Jim's phone ring and they start talking about the document Jawad is working on.  In the middle of the call, Jim suggest they convert the conversation to an online-coauthoring session, so he can show Jawad to get his point across.  

Social Business is about providing engagement between parties, employee to employee and employee to client/customer.  But it doesn't bridge the gap completely as there is always the next step.  Combining unified communication with social business provides that next level of communication to provide a better experience for everyone, employee, client and customer. 

Keep your friends close ...

changing goals or executive mayhem
 Horia Varlan - orig image

In one of Luis Suarez recent blog post he asks a great question. My initial response to his question is in a comment on google+, but I thought it would be better to respond to his blog post with a blog post of my own. My hope is that this blog post will spark some more conversation. For Luis' full blog post, feel free to go read Luis' entire post. It really is a great post and worth the read. In Luis' blog he frames and then asks the following question:
"... Remember when perhaps 3 to 4 years ago we used to go to all of these social networking for business events and suit and ties were just missing from the equation? You could hardly see one or two in a large room. They were the outcasts, to a certain degree, and perhaps frown upon for no good, nor apparent, reason. But if felt good. It felt disruptive, provocative, heretic, even a bit rebellious of what you have been experiencing all along. Well, fast forward to today and it looks like in a good number of social business related events the suits and ties are back! Have we become a bit too formal and given up on our outrageous, heretic ways? We are no longer seeing ourselves, social business evangelists as disruptors? Have we, finally, been assimilated by the corporate world, before our job is done and completed? What do you think?"
What do I think? I have a couple of theories. I am sure others have theories. Let's hear from you. I am interested in what other people think on this topic.

My first theory is that the executives have actually decided that they like some of the ideas being proposed. But have they bought into the entire vision or just part of it? Could it be that the executives are following the old old adage, "keep you friends close, and your enemies closer". If this is true, then what executives have done is to fool the practitioner into a lull by bringing the practitioner close, keeping a close eye and providing support in some areas but squashing other initiatives. The outcome of such an activity is that the vision will never come to complete fruition and the revolution is squashed before it gets too far downstream.
My second theory is similar. The executives have bought into the plan. They believe the ideals that are set and are working with the practitioner. But in this scenario, the practitioner has become complacent, not pushing the limits because they have had success and have become more conservative in their approach. The successes have fed the practitioner into not wanting to risk losing the success by continuing to push hard. Basically, "why would I want to buck the trend? I am in line to move up in the company. I have made it,no need to continue to push."

My third theory is following a totally different path. Maybe we (the practitioners) lost track of the end goal. For me, my end goal changes every year. I am always looking for the next thing to improve collaboration, communication and mobility. Have "we" lost what the end goal is or have we just lost the collective end vision because everyone has taken the initial idea and gone in a different direction with different goals?

What reasons can you come up with on why we, as practitioners, have appeared to become complacent? Or maybe we are not complacent. What evidence do you see across the industry that proves the differing opinion?

Social Business, Mobility, and Security

security, social business, mobile
Lock by xserve (Lok Leung) from Flickrhttp://www.flickr.com/photos/xserve/368758286/
Time for some viewer participation.  Raise your hand. If any of the following statements is not true, you can lower your hand.

  • You work for an organization that strictly enforces security?  
  • You work for an organization that is strictly regulated and require lots of compliance?  
  • You work for an organization that does Social Business?  
  • You work for an organization that allows you to mix mobility and social business and compliance together while doing it securely?
If you are still raising your hand, look around and count the number of people with their hands still raised. I would guess that you could count the number of people with their hands still raised on one hand.

The solution of building a secure social business solution with compliance buy-in is tough enough as it is, but once you decide to put it on a mobile device, all bets are off.  Why?  Instead of answering the question directly, let me ask you more questions ...  Is your organization willing to lose that valuable information that occurred when two or more employees collaborated on a solution?  How about if that collaboration occurred between an employee and a customer? Partner?  What happens if that collaboration between employees and customers included privacy data or confidential data?  So think of this scenario if you are not worried.

Joe, your star salesman is out and about, meeting with one of his best clients, Jill.  Jill asks a question about how the next version of software will work.  The information she is asking about is confidential at this time, as the company does not want its competitors to know about the new features in the next version of software. 
Unfortunately, Joe doesn't know the answer to the question and would like to get the answer quickly. He would rather not have to get back to Jill and prefers to provide a thorough but quick answer.  He knows the development team can answer the question and uses his mobile social business application to ask the question.   
Jan, one of the developers sees the question from Joe and quickly responds back to Joe, but warns him that if this information gets out, they could have some serious issues.  Joe trusts Jill to not spill the beans and since Jan responded quickly, Joe is able to respond to Jill with the latest information (since he was gabbing it up with Jill).
After Joe meets with Jill, he heads to the airport and while there, leaves his phone in the bathroom.    

What do you do?

The organization has the ability to remotely wipe the device. The organization manages the device and enforces the use of PIN/password on the device and the organization enforces the use of encryption on the device.  
But are those security mechanisms enough?  Managing the device is difficult.  If the device is taken off line, remote wiping the device is not possible.  While a pin/password is good, hacking a PIN (typically 4 digits) is not difficult (9999 combinations).   Passwords are harder but not that much harder.  The device can have a policy set to wipe the device if too many attempts to type in the PIN or password occur.  But in all honesty, who cares about the PIN when you are most interested in the data on the device. Cracking/rooting the device without the use of the password/pin is easier and safer to ensure the data on the device is not wiped.  And once you do that, the device's flash memory(think disk drive) is available to be read.  

So how secure is that confidential data on the device?

You can decide to wait until the device manufacturers and O/S developers play catch-up to make this type of  "security" more "secure".  That could take years.   What do you do?

There is another solution, build an application that is secure.  Have you ever heard of the term, managed application (as compared to managed device).   Managed devices dictate what the owner of the device can and can't do on their device.  It enforces the encryption of the device, forces passwords and other security mechanisms.  In contrast, a managed application allows the developer to dictate what is available for the application and enforces its own security, without relying on the device manufacturer.

How?  A managed application ensures that all of the application data is encrypted, separate and potentially in addition to the device encryption.  A managed application enforces a password for the application.  In the above example, the social business application and the messages sent are secured in transit and if they are stored locally to the device, they are encrypted by the social business application (managed application). If compliance is needed, build it into the system, either capture it at the server side, or provide some means to capture it from the device.

What does Unified Communication mean to me?

mobile device, unified communication
Courtesy of Dru Bloomfield
This blog post is a future looking, what I believe should happen with respect to Unfiied Communication in an organization.  Some of the concepts below push beyond what the current Unified Communication vendors provide today.  These thoughts and ideas are from my own personal perspective.
Before you read on, I want to make sure that the reader understands that I am making an  assumption that 1) you understand what Unified Communication means from the industry perspective.  2) you understand what technology and tools are included, based on what the industry provides.  If you don't understand these items, I suggest looking around for the definition of Unified Communication and talking with some of the technology leaders and vendors to get a more in depth perspective.  

Unified communication must be:

Multi-technology.  UC tools must be able to work with all types of technology: video, audio, video call, phone, IM, Presence.  It must be able to deal with multiple consumer based technologies and work on all types of devices. UC has to work for the customer and the employee.  

Cross over.  UC tools must be able to provide a means for the consumer/client to dial in and have it routed to the correct person. UC tools must provide a way to dial out to the consumer/client. And this has to work across all of the types of technology.  Consumers should be able to see employee status (for those special relationships) and the UC tool should provide an online/real time collaborative environment for the consumer/client and employee to work within.  And in it all, this cross over UC tool needs to integrate with the offline collaborative environment, such as a social business tool.

Flexible (integrated).Say that I am at work, taking care of a customer.  The transaction I am working on requires some special skills.  In line to the application that I am using, the application should provide me a list of experts or group of subject matter experts to talk to if I have a question about the transaction or to obtain special approvals.

Mobile.   UC tools need to be available from anywhere, anytime, on any device.  A phone on my desk at work.  A phone on my desk at home. My personal mobile device.  My company provided mobile device.  My personal computer. My company provided computer. And when I am out and about, the system better provide a means for me to connect, even on an old / slow data connection.  Any device, anytime, anywhere.  (in data connections are not high enough to support video, the system should recognize this and make that type of communication not available).

Security. The UC tool better be secure.  On any device, anywhere, anytime.  When a message is stored local to the device, it better be encrypted in case someone were to hack the device I use. The way the tool connects to the companies systems better be done in a secure manner (e.g. encryption).  Security is important since inevitably, the UC tool is going to be transmitting confidential information.

Intuitive.  Gone are the days that I have to type in #'s to get through a menu system.  Visual is the way of the future.  Simple intuitive touch screens, via the desktop or mobile device.  Don't make me use the system the way it used to be done. Don't translate those menu systems directly into the UI interface.  In fact, don't assume I am going to use the system the way you expect me to use it, make the system intuitive enough that it prompts me for thing I do most often, or shows visually the items that I am most interested in based on my previous use of the system.

Virtual.   UC tools must be able to work in a virtual environment - and I mean all features, video, audio, etc.  None of this, it audio only works and you are out of luck.  The virtual desktop is near upon us and these tools must work reliably and easily within a virtual server and desktop world.

Highly Configurable UC tools must be able to provide a way to configure them, so that I can  indicate I am available or not available (presence). In addition, I should be able to say that I am available over an audio connectin (e.g. phone) but not over video (think, bad hair day).  The system should be able to change the status based on rules such as time of day, the person trying to contact me, and the channel they are trying to connect with me.  Remember, if UC is available on any device, any time, any where, employees are going to need to setup ground rules of when they are truly available and when they are enjoying time with the family and are "off the clock".

A UC tool better be a tool that provides value to the way I talk and communicate with other people.  It better be easy to use, to find the person I am looking for quickly and easily, especially in in the context of what I am doing and better have the full range of ways of communicating included in the solution.  It better be integrated into my job, in such a way that it is intuitive and provide business value to my companies bottom line, via improved customer relations to improved methods of getting the job done.