21 Dec 2011
Three recent trends in communications technologies – network convergence,
social media and consumerisation – have on the surface appeared to be about
simplification, but they have actually made life more complicated for some.
Convergence takes all of the silos of proprietary telecoms functions –
voice and data, fixed and mobile – and blends them together around a single
common set of universal open protocols borne out of the IT industry and the
internet. All services are becoming combined and unified.
It sounds simple in principle, but all these proprietary technologies
existed for a reason – commercial control – so the reality is that many
vested interests need to be dragged sometimes kicking and screaming into
line. The fallout has been the emergence of dominant vendors like Apple,
Google and Amazon from the IT world and some casualties in the telecoms
industry, perhaps most notably Nortel, but also the significant weakening
of giants like Motorola and Nokia.
While the economies of scale achieved through the unification and
convergence on common standards are evident in the massive boosts in
performance and reductions in the cost of sending data anywhere on the
planet, it is not without other challenges.
Converged networks can struggle to deliver differentiated and predictable
performance for services that need it. While common protocols mean that all
traffic looks the same, different needs mean it should not all be treated
the same. Network neutrality is a worthy aspiration for equality of access
to technology, but it is not adequate for the deterministic transport of
packets of data.
What of social media? It democratizes the provision and supply of content.
Anyone, anywhere can be a citizen journalist, organise an uprising or share
pictures of funny looking cats with an army of friends, followers or
like-minded ‘individuals’. The opinions and wisdom of the crowd has never
been more accessible, but the signal-to-noise ratio has dramatically
worsened. Finding relevant, accurate and accredited information is getting
harder even for those organizations with the power to search ‘big data’,
let alone for individuals.
As for consumerisation (in particular the use of mobile devices) this means
that the same tools are available and usable for business or personal
activities – the work/life division is completely blurred. Many individuals
find this liberating, but those tasked with managing services, costs and
security in organizations consider it a nightmare.
Many of the historical barriers – between work and home life, between
network services, between friends – might have seemed arbitrary and often
opaque, but they provided some control and resistance to anarchy. Without
some elements of structure and separation, systems become error prone,
difficult to test properly, impossible to identify root causes – in short,
unreliable and insecure.
Many will suggest this is not a problem; this ‘hyperconnectivity’ (a term
once promoted by the now absent Nortel) is the natural evolution of
technology and its total adoption is vital for employing the digital
generation. This smacks of an abdication of responsibility by those who
suggest a ‘do nothing’ approach.
There are others, who will argue, like King Canute, that these changes
should be stopped, the clock turned back, the genie squeezed back into the
bottle. They ban social media in the office, ignore the appearance of
tablets and impose departmental firewalls to keep telecoms, office
facilities and IT functions apart. This is not a realistic approach for
Effective solutions need to emerge not for imposing total control, but
applying coordination – herding cats – keeping data safe, not behind
firewalls, but in ‘bubbles’ and protecting business processes in virtual
pathways. This co-ordination has to be built not around the vested interests
of suppliers, but about the needs of end users – business, social and
The barriers of old have crumbled and been torn down, but without some
shape and definition the revolutions that led to their destruction will
lead only to inefficiency and insecurity. Business processes no longer need
top down re-engineering, they need to be rebuilt from the bottom up from
their constituent tasks, virtualized and properly co-ordinated. Otherwise
these communication trends may not have created democracy, but anarchy.
Rob Bamforth, Principal Analyst, Communication, Collaboration and
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