Success with IP convergence depends on clear guiding vision

Additional effort needed to enable mobility applications to streamline business processes, enhance operational effectiveness

Defense Department organizations such as the Defense Information Systems Agency are instituting policies, strategic plans and guidance to migrate business and mission-critical networks to IP-based infrastructure. This represents an important step toward reducing infrastructure costs and standardizing and enhancing services to the warfighter.

Although convergence to IP represents a foundational step for DOD to transform its business and warfighting missions, the true value in IP convergence requires additional focus and effort to extend the IP platform to support mobile business application integration and automated processes with machine-to-machine connections.

During the past eight years, AT&T has successfully migrated nearly 80 percent of its frame relay and ATM customers from separate backbone networks to a common IP-based infrastructure. However, to take advantage of the value of using a shared infrastructure, the company’s current focus is to work with its customers to identify opportunities for integrated business applications and extend services to enable mobility applications that streamline and transform business processes and enhance operational effectiveness.

To work effectively with customers, it is important to create a guiding vision for how mobile and integrated business applications can use IP convergence to support business objectives. For maximum benefit, technology needs to become more of a pull — a qualified demand — from the business unit rather than just a push — a generic service offer — from IT. But how do you translate that vision into a set of detailed requirements and constraints? How do you gain consensus on those requirements? Ultimately, how do you change the service strategy and design creation dynamic into one of continuing, collaborative joint discovery?

The most successful strategies for any technology or set of technologies are those that are most closely aligned with and best support the needs and objectives of the business or organization. Obtaining this alignment requires the active participation of business unit stakeholders to develop a detailed demand set that includes business, technical, operational and financial requirements. These stakeholders must at least support the funding for a proposed deployment if not provide the funding outright. These people are also the best sources for identifying opportunities and potential benefits of using such capabilities.

However, the challenge often isn’t that the business and IT stakeholders don’t understand how they are going to use technology for business' benefit. In many cases, the stakeholders don’t have a solid understanding of what the technology is, especially in the context of an organization’s unique guiding vision or its current or proposed environment. For this reason, the most effective way of providing a common understanding of the tools and capabilities is to conduct facilitated working sessions that incorporate cross-functional IT stakeholders and key business representatives.

This cross-functional IT team should include representation from the groups responsible for overall enterprise architecture, security, engineering and operations for any existing or proposed service area such as enterprise voice/telephony, messaging (e-mail, voice mail and fax), audio, video and Web conferencing, mobility and shared workspace and document management, and shared services such as active directory, local-area network/wide-area network infrastructure.

The initial approach should be to provide basic information on how vendors, businesses, service providers and others define communications tools that can be integrated into a common user interface or embedded into critical business processes and supporting applications. It’s often helpful to discuss the types of solutions available in the market, including premises-based, hosted, managed and cloud-based offerings.

Equipped with this information, the next part of a facilitated working session becomes even more powerful. Participants can then be tasked and challenged to identify ways to leverage even just one of the capabilities for business' benefit. Using this approach helps to accomplish three objectives:

  • Identify both strategic and tactical opportunities for the benefits side of the cost/benefit analysis.
  • Change the service planning and design dynamic from a push to a pull.
  • Develop consensus on the real needs of the business and the priorities to leverage IP convergence.

Facilitated working sessions represent just one technique that can be used in this manner. The important thing is to ensure that input is sought from the most appropriate set of technical and non-technical stakeholders in your organization.

About the Author

David Blake is director of Defense Network Solutions at AT&T Government Solutions.

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