Monday, August 1, 2011

Communication Convergence

Not so long ago, the world of communications was neatly compartmentalized. Companies used email for quick discussions, FedEx for contracts, fax for urgent documents, phone for business conversations, websites for digital media, and meetings usually required traveling. Each method was specialized in application.

Today, we look to do all that with a cell phone.

Or a tablet, or whatever we want to use. This shift to communication convergence is felt by many organizations today, but one may not be quite aware of it as a pattern, or that it can greatly benefit —or doom— a business.

However, once recognized, the communication convergence pattern starts to pop up everywhere. Communication convergence is a broad shift in business communication and messaging applications, including services, devices, software, network, and providers worldwide.

What may be driving this shift? Perhaps you can identify some causes in your own line of business, such as:
  • Users' changing expectations
  • Real-time pressure
  • Less cost, less waste, less people
  • Unfettered mobility
  • Replace older services (fax, voice mail, telex, help desk, ...)
  • Benefit from new technologies
  • More online services
  • Eliminate paper, improve availability
  • Integrate auditing
  • Simplify (billing, management, training, sales, ...)
  • Reuse investment
  • Promote revenue
According to Microsoft, the explosion of social networking with consumers has changed their expectations about how they can and should connect with businesses. Real-time is a new imperative.

While causes may vary by use and location, and differ in relevance for a particular business, what is relevant is that many businesses are finding that they have to keep continuously rethinking their communication strategies with customers, employees, and partners, and react fast. What worked last year may no longer work today.

For example, the ongoing communication convergence between the mobile and the fixed Internet is putting pressure on businesses to enable more of their services to be accessed and used seamlessly across different networks and provided over multiple platforms, including office systems, in an interactive way.

Communication convergence represents a broad shift from the traditional “vertical silos” architecture, i.e. a situation in which different services are provided through separate networks, to a situation that changes service boundaries, service
characteristics, and enables the offer of new services.

What to do when the “fear gauge” flashes red?

Communication convergence also means that systems that were never meant to interoperate are now able or even called to do so, and this can create unexpected problems on different levels, for example with users, administrators, and in auditing.

Everyone knows about well-designed webpages on the desktop that fail to show anything useful on a cell phone. Urgency may cause protected health information to be sent by email, exposing the organization to a HIPAA violation.

Convergence can also be misused, for example when different systems share a vulnerability that serves as a backdoor between them. Protocols and devices which were not designed to be connected together, all of a sudden can communicate as when using a jail-broken cell phone to hack into another phone or a web site. Limited-performance mobile systems can be tethered to powerful desktop systems and avail themselves of much higher computing and connectivity capacity than their software was designed to contain.

These issues are particularly important for businesses, where communication convergence must often meet contract, regulatory, and legal duties such as availability, accessibility, equal access, integrity, breach notification requirements and fines, and confidentiality (when needed).

That is when the “fear gauge” flashes red. Clearly, communication convergence militates against the IT security need to lock down systems and prevent unintended access. These concerns, repeated by media in frequent cases, can enforce consumer online fears, affect users, and influence whether they are willing to use an online resource provided by an organization.

And that is when enterprises meet the flip side of communication convergence, which is also made very expensive by regulatory compliance with HIPAA, HITECH, mandatory breach disclosure and other rules that impose large fines and cost.

Communication convergence increases the probability of hacking, can be quite messy, and seems to not yet work quite well enough with what users want.

NMA ZSentry is a unique middleware technology that takes in the difficult aspects of communication convergence and regulation compliance and balances them with a service/platform that creates "instant on" compliance and convergence, anywhere, anyhow. The result is communication convergence that is functional with the usability, security and privacy needs, not adversarial.

Continues in the next NMA Tech Note: Capability-based, Secure Convergence

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