Federation has been a very important topic at UCStrategies from the beginning (see “Presence Functionality,” July 2007), primarily because the new tools of Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) are so effective in optimizing business processes and user communications. Federation is the technology that allows connection between multiple UCC Systems so that the benefits of UCC are not limited to the local domain, inside an organization’s firewalls.

In this article, we’ll explore NextPlane and the power of new UC tools, showing why federation is so critical to successful communications for both your people and your operations. In addition, we will look at how NextPlane is delivering a very successful and distinct service that minimizes federation costs while maximizing federation reach to a rapidly growing community of federated enterprises.

The Importance of Presence

Presence changes the communications game. When an enterprise or a community of workers has presence, they are no longer flying blind, as they have done for decades with enterprise telephony PBX systems and with e-mail systems. With most PBX systems, unless you have a softphone client or a busy lamp field attached to your phone, you have no idea who is busy on the phone or who is out of the office but reachable on their mobile device. With most e-mail systems, you have no idea whether the person you’re emailing is available or not, at least until you receive an out-of-office message.

Presence gives you the visibility you need by indicating the availability of people who are on the same presence system or on a federated presence system. This eliminates the waste and delay of incomplete phone calls, voice mail messages, and unanswered e-mail messages.

It is also possible to have presence “search” tools, so that a person or a user’s software application can automatically search for available people with the required skills and knowledge. In this way, presence goes beyond the buddy list and beyond personal knowledge of skills or expertise to help find the best available person for the immediate problem, anywhere on the federated network.

Once an appropriate person is found, you can then just “click-to-communicate” with the intended party. Often this is just a short IM chat. Or, it can extend to voice or video conversations and even to information sharing, depending on the available features of the UCC system.

Benefits of Federation

Federation can extend presence and IM beyond the enterprise boundaries to another enterprise, and even to the public presence and IM systems, such as Skype, AOL, Yahoo!, Google and others. In some cases, depending on the enterprise’s base UCC platform and on the federation service or the other enterprise’s UCC platform, this can extend to include voice or video calls.

The benefits of federation come in four major categories:

  • Speed: Since most delays are eliminated, things get done faster, whether that is a transaction being completed, a service being delivered, a decision being reached, or a collaborative effort being completed.
  • Time: The personal time spent, which represents the labor cost of the transaction, service or collaboration, can be dramatically reduced, since no time is lost in wasted, duplicative communications.
  • Cost: The communications flow securely across IP networks and are not subject to public switched telephone network charges. Toll costs and trunking charges are replaced by lower cost Ethernet bandwidth.
  • Competitive Advantage: In addition to savings of time, labor and out-of-pocket costs, federation can be used to create new, more effective relationships with customers or clients and new, more efficient workflows with supply chain partners – increasing profits and market share.

The case for presence-based UCC is compelling within the enterprise, and even more compelling when it is extended outside the boundaries of the enterprise.

It is important to note that it isn’t necessary to federate with everyone in every enterprise. Most operational processes between businesses or between businesses and their high-value customers are only directed to a subset of the employees. Thus, a federation service between enterprises may only need to be provided for a specific group of users in order to get almost all of the benefits – the old 80-20 rule still exists in this case.

The Challenge of Federation

So, what’s the catch? If Federation is this great, why isn’t everyone doing it? The answer is that federation can be challenging if you are connecting to one company at a time. The systems provided by today’s UCC vendors require specific set-up, testing and maintenance for each one of the other systems or public services with which they want to federate. Adding just one more company to the list can mean going through an entire process of approvals, testing, and certification before the first presence is shared, the first IM is sent or the first call is made. Even then, it’s not easy; the entire cycle has to repeat every time a partner firm changes systems or makes an upgrade to a new release.

Some enterprises will open their systems up to federation by anyone else, but in most cases that is limited to systems of the same brand and vintage, or perhaps restricted to systems using the same protocols (e.g. XMPP, SIP/SIMPLE, Skype, or several others).

Federation is powerful enough that some enterprises do budget the staff and do go to this trouble. But many others just put federation off to the future when things will, hopefully, get simpler. Fortunately, that is now happening through agnostic Federation Services such as those from NextPlane.

The Value of Federation Services

If you can see the value to your enterprise of real time collaboration with your business partners, it is probably a great idea to subscribe to a federation service. With a federation subscription, your enterprise needs only connect to one outside entity, a federation service provider such as NextPlane. Then, your business partners, suppliers, or customers can also connect to that federation service and, voila, you have all the federation tools you need, with minimal hassle and cost.

In addition, the federation service can provide the service reliably and can keep the federation connections maintained even as the various vendors and public services continue to update and modify their presence and IM UCC systems system or online services. This management of the ongoing changes in the market is crucial since the UCC marketplace is in a state of rapid change in vendor and service capabilities.

How NextPlane Stacks Up for Federation

Based on several briefings and detailed demos, we find that NextPlane has a very attractive federation service, known as UC Exchange. Here are some of the highlights:

  • NextPlane is growing and successful: NextPlane UC Exchange already has over 300,000 federated users across 300+ member domains, generating over half-a-billion federated messages per month. This number is growing rapidly. NextPlane’s user community is a Who’s Who of leading businesses, including IBM, GM, Shell, HP, Group M and many more.
  • UC Exchange is easy to on-board: NextPlane provides a cookbook approach for on-boarding the leading UCC platforms, including Microsoft Lync/OCS, IBM Sametime, Cisco Jabber, Google Apps, and Jive OpenFire. The implementation can include direct federation to the UCC platform, as well as federation to an organization’s Active Directory to enable contact search functions.
  • NextPlane covers most of the market: In addition to the list of UCC platforms above, NextPlane’s UC Exchange includes connections to Skype, Yahoo!, Facebook, and any XMPP-capable presence and IM system. NextPlane did not tell us a specific percentage of the market coverage, but with Microsoft, Cisco, and IBM delivering the majority of the UC clients worldwide, it seems likely that most enterprises will be able to federate to their intended partners and/or customers using the NextPlane service. Since NextPlane supports many of the free, consumer-based IM/Presence/UC Calling services, it would be easy for any of your clients or partners to sign up for one of those services in order to federate via NextPlane.
  • NextPlane has broad functionality: In the briefings and demos we saw much more than just presence and IM federation. On specific platforms, the federation includes voice (over IP, i.e. VoIP) and video communications, so that the IM session can add voice if needed. UC Exchange also supports group chat, access level controls to manage usage privileges, automatic activity sensing to keep presence as current as possible, and user tagging for notifications when a user’s presence changes. A management portal and granular reporting are also part of the service, and Service Level Agreement (SLA) guarantees can be included.
  • NextPlane is economical: The prices for the service will vary based on enterprise size and the types of service included, but as a guide – the annual subscription price for a base federation service for 1,000 users would be approximately $12.95 per user (yes, that’s not a typo – this is equivalent to around $1 per user per month). Also, this is a per-user cost only for those users who are actively subscribed, and not needed for everyone in the enterprise directory. If, for example, your purchasing department of 50 users wants federation with a key supplier, the annual total cost would be less than a $1,000 per year.

This review of NextPlane certainly shows a picture of a proven, growing, economical and functional federation service, which should be a very well-justified investment for almost any enterprise.

Summary

Presence is one of the most important capabilities in the entire constellation of UCC service, as it reduces or eliminates the delays and duplications in communications, supports rapid decision-making, and enables streamlined workflows. The presence client then becomes the user’s interface to IM, voice, video and more. Given the proven benefits of these powerful new tools, the case for federation with your partners, channels, customers, and clients is very compelling. My recommendation is that you seriously consider federation for your enterprise and that you put NextPlane on your list of potential federation service providers to review.

View the full article at: UC Strategies

The NextPlane Team