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Challenges ahead for collaborative convergence

While the lines between standalone communications applications continue to blur, a Burton analyst says real-time collaborative convergence is still just a vision.

SAN DIEGO -- The worlds of VoIP, instant messaging (IM) and collaboration applications are colliding, but a 2005 Burton Group Catalyst Conference speaker said the future of communication convergence may still be up to the stars.

Irwin Lazar, senior analyst with the Midvale, Utah-based research firm, said standalone communications applications will converge into a unified, presence-based infrastructure comprised of real-time voice, IM, video, conferencing and collaboration.

But he said several challenges -- such as systems, standards and security issues -- must be overcome to enable internal and external interconnection of all real-time communications applications.

Presently, Lazar said, the idea of enhanced communication and presence has created more confusion than efficiency.

Even though multiple forms of real-time communications exist, the communications paradigm is shifting to IM. Though there is a growing use of enterprise collaboration services, he said the combination of communications is only the beginning.

Lazar said the ideal end result is a virtualization of communications where users don't have to think about which form of communications to use because of the built-in logic managed by presence and user preferences.

Tangible benefits of communication system convergence, according to Lazar, include:

  • Improved productivity.
  • Improved efficiency and responsiveness.
  • Quicker reaction to changing conditions.
  • Ability to integrate with legacy systems such as PBX.
  • Ability to centrally manage users and provide for regulatory compliance.

    But before anyone can reap those benefits, Lazar said Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), a VoIP call-control and application protocol technology that serves as the Internet Engineering Task Force's standard protocol for initiating a multimedia interactive user session, and SIP for Instant Messaging and Presence Leveraging Extensions (SIMPLE), which extends SIP to support presence and IM services, must be widely adopted. That way, one company can easily exchange information with another regardless of which vendors' collaboration products they use.

    Buyer beware, Lazar warned, as SIP and SIMPLE offer the potential for unification, but vendor implementations of advanced features relying on proprietary extensions offer a much different reality.

    "If you have a SIP or SIMPLE label on your product, you probably think everything will collaborate," he said. "But it's just not that simple, pardon the pun."

    Lazar said SIP standards development needs to push into high gear to move open standards collaboration into the practical realm.

    Attendee Kenneth Tobias, network architect with Thousand Oaks, Calif.-based biotechnology firm Amgen Inc., said he doesn't feel there is a concrete way to measure the benefits of real-time communication convergence.

    Tobias said while VoIP makes sense in a greenfield implementation, there are still security and regulatory issues with presence.

    "But I see [advanced collaboration] as inevitable," he added. "It's a priority from a cost-savings perspective and enterprises need to be ready because it will happen."

    This article originally appeared on

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