Friday, April 2, 2010

Blending Mobility with Unified Communications….the final frontier?

Jay McBain, Director of Small and Medium Business, Lenovo

Jan 1, 2010

Listening to a group of Channel Partners with Unified Communication (UC) expertise today was fascinating. Questions ranged from when it will become ubiquitous in small and medium business to the industry players that are going to make it a reality.

As always, my thoughts turned to the hardware side of the equation. While there is general consensus that the amount of information will continue to grow exponentially, our ability to access and comprehend it will be highly reliant on the right devices being available at the right time and place. These devices will continue to evolve with a move towards more natural and relevant presence in our everyday environment. I write often about pervasive computing and our basic needs to communicate and keep up with the pace of change will be a key driver of the hardware evolution.

Nostalgia.

I remember buying my first PC webcam in the 90’s and having the grandparents see and talk to the grandkids was exciting at the time. I would be remiss if I didn’t dial it back further….including concepts dating back to 1878 (only 2 years after the phone was patented in the US) called the telephonoscope. It seems that every generation since then improved the technology including quality of audio and video. It also morphed from a personal communication device, which society has never been truly ready for, to a business device. Videoconferencing dates back to the 1930’s but was analog and very expensive. With improvements to bandwidth, including digital and public broadband have spawned dozens of low cost, low quality solutions such as Skype, MSN Messenger, etc.

Today, when most small businesses are presented with Videoconferencing, Telepresence, or other cost saving measures, many conjure up images of choppy, low quality grainy images with monotone audio cutting in and out and delayed by a few seconds. It is usually surprising to them when they demo today’s technology and the feeling that you are not only communicating effectively, but could be mistaken for being in the same room as the other individuals. The key hurdle is cost – high quality communication comes with hardware, software and services that, while cheaper than travel, seem beyond the budget resources.

Enter the PC.

PC’s have had a wonderful history of stepping into many different uses because of the decisions made by IBM and others in 1981. Keeping the product open, industry standard, and infinitely expandable, has allowed forward-looking entrepreneurs and companies to expand upon the basic idea and solve real business issues. Lenovo has had a long history of working with UC firms in bundling technologies and features to assist in communications and bring it mainstream. For example, a unique agreement with Avaya in May of 2007 to turn the PC into a “softphone”.

Several things have happened in the past few years that make a PC a more viable UC device:

1. Stereo digital high-definition speakers with 10 band equalization and dynamic range compression improve sound to audiophile levels

2. Digital array microphone technology including the placement on either side of the camera providing for a more natural environment producing balanced sound input.

3. High Definition light adaptive camera’s including digital zoom and HD LED displays improving the visual size and quality.

4. OC tools allowing switching between MIC, headphones and speakers seamlessly.

Working with industry leaders to optimize the technology has been the largest benefit. In fact, Microsoft recognized Lenovo earlier this year as the only PC Manufacturer to build to these new ultra-high quality standards and awarded a certification of “Optimized for Microsoft Office Communicator” to several products including the ThinkPad T400, T500, T400s and X301. This is a broad array of affordable Notebook products that enable business to deploy advanced communications on the same products they are rolling in for their everyday computing needs.

Now the interesting part….

If one of the major objections to UC and videoconferencing include cost and complexity, and now you have an affordable, certified Notebook (that you are buying anyway), a unique opportunity for Channel Partners arises to counter those objections.

Blending the Mobility message into UC is another huge opportunity. How many times are business people travelling and need to reach back to the team back home? Whether from a hotel room or a customer or suppliers boardroom, they can bring on the extended team with that 4 pound Notebook under their arm. With WWAN mobile broadband, WiMAX, or simply any 802.11 access point, the possibilities are endless where UC can be used. Again, high definition video and audio output, enabling communication anywhere in the world, without the need for additional expensive hardware.

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