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New battleground in enterprise technology

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Businesses today are grabbling with the challenge of using new technologies and new sets of data to improve performance, create excellent customer experiences, and empower their staff to innovate and collaborate more fluidly, says Vishal Barapatre, CTO In2IT Technologies South Africa.

With these goals in mind, the chief information officer (CIO) is tasked with managing an increasingly complex collaboration environment. The sheer multitude of channels is staggering: traditional telephony, e-mail, video conferencing (VC), instant messaging, meetings and calendars, document sharing and editing, content storage, and much more.

Staff are using any number of mobile devices, running on different mobile operating systems (OS), and carried over different networks: 3G, HSPA, WiFi, ADSL, Fibre and Satellite. Furthermore, to make matters even more complicated, colliding with all of this is the deluge of Big Data that is flooding into the organisation in gigantic, unstructured waves. Capturing and then delivering the relevant aspects of this data flood to staff members just adds to the complexity that the CIO must deal with.

Essentially, we can look at this complex unified communications (UC) landscape from the perspective of staff, and of customers. In terms of staff, the dominant themes today centre on simplifying and consolidating collaboration tools – this involves standardising on certain architectures and vendors, to give staff the broadest possible access to collaboration applications. With the right network design, security policies, device strategies, and applications, staff will be able to connect to each other and safely share information via multiple channels – irrespective of their device and location.

For customers, the emphasis is on creating true “omni-channel” customer care – customers may choose to communicate via the channel of their choice: walk-in, phone, SMS, social media, video, chat, e-mail or website. Deploying and integrating the right customer care tools into the organisation empowers agents to achieve first-call resolution, and to communicate back to the customer on the channel of their choice. The ultimate goal is to transform customer engagements into brand-building opportunities where customers come away with a better impression of the company in question.

However, managing the masses of data that is being generated by all of these interactions doesn’t necessarily mean that everything must be uploaded into a central cloud environment.

A new maturity to the cloud debate is emerging, where many are advocating that by bringing certain computing capabilities to the edge of the network (on devices like switches, routers and IP video cameras), not everything needs to be added to the cloud.

This ‘no-man’s land’ between the devices themselves, and the central cloud architecture, often referred to as “fog networking”, is emerging as a new battleground for organisations to gain an advantage and compete with their rivals.

Within the fog, applications, storage and compute capabilities reside closer to the “things” like sensors and other connected devices. By having scalable aggregation points and sophisticated edge management layers between their connected devices and the cloud, organisations can more easily process this ever-expanding flood of data.

Certain key data sets can be autonomously transferred to the hosted cloud environment, to be melded into other data and used to generate business insights. Other data sets can be held locally on edge devices for a period of time, and information that is requested can be submitted to the cloud, on-demand.

In this way, data can be consumed as and when it is required, and the mass of “unnecessary” data doesn’t put pressure on the cloud infrastructure.

Fog networking is not only possible in brand new “Greenfields” technology deployments. It can apply equally well to equipment such as factory machines that were previously built without any thought of connecting it to IP networks. For example, rail systems can be retrofitted with fog devices that capture information on things like brake wear, vibration and passenger numbers.

In this new battleground for business supremacy, the fog that settles between edge devices and central cloud infrastructure, those organisations that successfully capture and use their information may well turn out to be the winners.