Business in the age of hyperconnectivity

Philip Edholm, Chief Technology Officer & VP, Network Architecture, Enterprise discusses hyperconnectivity and convergence above the network

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By  Mark Sutton Published  March 25, 2008

Philip Edholm, Chief Technology Officer & VP, Network Architecture, Enterprise discusses hyperconnectivity and convergence above the network

You describe your focus as being on how hyperconnectivity will change the enterprise - what do you mean by hyperconnectivity?

In Nortel we look at hyperconnectivity as having several aspects around networking and connectivity. One of the things that is obviously happening is that we are becoming hyperconnected - the average person today, the average business user, has more than one connection [to communications]. The projection is that by 2010-2011, we will see ten connections for every employee, including things that don't involve humans - sensors, video cameras, other machines and devices.

We all have multiple devices, we all have cell phones, most of us have a PC, we may have a PDA, we may have different telephony devices in different locations, so most people have three to five devices that they think of as theirs.

We are also essentially connected for a significant percentage of our time, on any one of those devices, to any one of those connections, so the net result is that our connectivity time has gone up dramatically. When you add all those things together, the experience that you can get becomes independent of where you are and what device, that is really the power of hyperconnectivity.

What will hyperconnectivity mean to businesses?

From an enterprise perspective there are two very interesting impacts. The first is you don't have to go somewhere to do your work anymore. We coined a phrase at Nortel a few years ago, ‘work is not a place you go to you, it is something you do'. For employees, that is a powerful concept because it frees them from the tyranny of having to work in an office.

Last year 97% of the time my PC was not connected in my office - I connected at home through a cable modem; 70% of the time my telephony was done on IP outside of the office. I work much more outside of my office, it makes me a much more effective employee, but also it has saved me from making a 40 km commute to go to the office.

From the business perspective this means that once we have the concept of hyperconnectivity, a company can do business wherever it can place an employee. If you think about a bank you can talk to the company online, but you still have to go to the branch to do many things - what if you didn't have to go to the bank, but could go to the wherever the bank employee was?

Another part of hyperconnectivity is the integration of information and interaction, bringing together applications and communications - the concept of convergence 2.0. Convergence 1.0 was bringing everything together on one network, we are now converging above the network, converging applications and the interactions that happen.

My personal tools are beginning to integrate, then the back office applications begin to integrate, and that once again changes how we do business, because I now can link what I know about my employees, my customers, my partners with the ability to interact with them immediately in real time. The value to businesses of that is to reduce the time to decision. Typically today 70-90% of business is wait time, if we can reduce that, we can begin to change business strategies, business processes, so we can actually make time to decision a critical business strategic advantage.

We think that those two things together - business anywhere, integrating interaction - really change the way companies do business. The big opportunity for business is to do the same thing with these new tools that we did back through the 90s - take technology and change the process of business.

Does the idea of home workers have traction with the customer?

I think there is a combination of adoptions by industry and by region. Nortel took a lead in telecommuting six or seven years ago. If you look at real estate costs, they are a very significant part of employee costs, but the challenge with telecommuting is not just a technical challenge, there is a management challenge as well - if a manager manages by attendance, obviously telecommuting is a real problem. You tend to see management by objectives, where you have specific goals, before you see a move to telecommuting.

In the last two years we have seen an explosion in remote agents, in the early 2000s we saw tools emerge where the supervisor monitor and manage the agent - the supervisors found they weren't leaving their desks and they found employee morale was actually better. So you can move the agent to their home, using the same tools.

What is implication for operators of delivering this level of broadband connectivity into the home?

If you look at bandwidth to the home, there are a set of services that people use at home. The first is human-to-human telecom, primarily voice, but that could extend to familial video conferencing. The second is information access, the third is entertainment; internet access and entertainment are blurring. What people want is real time human communications, on devices that aren't limited, and they want the capability to be entertained, and potentially interact, with what they want, when they want it. That s the big difference - it used to be we had three TV channels, we now have on a typical cable system 400-500 channels - the capability to choose something that is more focused to your interests becomes much higher, that is driving this new culture of not watching as a shared event, it is becoming personal.

What that means is you might have several high definition digital cable boxes in your house, receiving multiple high definition channels simultaneously at 10-12-15 megabits per channel, along with voice and data. This is where either fibre to the home, or fibre to the kerb, with high speed to the home, or cable television technologies will be absolutely critical. We are probably ten years away from where wireless will be able to deliver that to most homes.

Are the operators, particularly outside of the US, moving in that direction to provide that level of connectivity, or willing to make the investment?

I think to a greater extent they are looking at it, they are monitoring it, I think it is just a question of letting some of the western European and US operators prove out the technology and the business model, and that has been very typical of technology adoption around the world.

In terms of integration of applications and communication, how is Nortel putting these together?

There are two very different ways we think this convergence will happen. The first is in the informal, personal environment, and the second is the formal business environment.

If you look at the informal environment it is the tools you use every day, the documents you use, email, calendaring etc. What we concluded was that there are three things - there is information, which I often call documents, there is workflow, which is tools like calendar, and then there is communications and the real value is making them work seamlessly together. If I could bring those together, so that when I sent a meeting invitation, I could send it from the relevant document, which logged it into your workflow and then your calendar would automatically dial you into the meeting at the right time.

The problem for all communications companies is that we don't do documents and workflow - the companies that do are Oracle, Microsoft, IBM and SAP, in the informal space it's IBM and Microsoft. So we decided to partner with Microsoft first, through our Innovative Communications Alliance (ICA). What ICA is about is bringing those elements together seamlessly - if you have a Nortel telephony environment, you can very easily interface that into the Microsoft environment, and now, if you initiate a call from your email, it is realized from the phone on your desk. We did that in 2006, and extended that to IBM in 2007.

This informal environment is for knowledge workers, who use information and interaction in an undefined process with undefined results. The second part is the formal business applications, which is for information workers, who use information in a fixed process with defined results. These workers are using big applications that define business processes, so the question is how do we integrate communications into business processes?

There are two reasons to do that - one is you can improve the process by adding communication - for example if two people need to talk for the next step of the process to happen, why doesn't the process cause them to talk to each other, instead of waiting? The second is processes when they break, how do you get them going again?

So this is all about using web services and SOA to integrate up into web services and applications. We have created the Nortel Agile Communications Environment with IBM, using some of their Websphere technology, and it integrates up into the SOA environments like Websphere, .Net and eventually SAP. The idea is when a programmer develops an application they can put objects in the application that interact - the programmer doesn't have to understand the underlying infrastructure they can drag and drop from a repository of web service objects.

What we see is a huge number of services that can be built where you integrate communications into the business process to create strategic advantage, and the Nortel Agile Communications Environment is really a new class of technology and products that will enable this.

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