Improving business collaboration with your data

If there is one thing that defines the Internet age, it's collaboration. This is what the web, the Internet, and their underlying networking technologies were invented for. But we have only really scratched the surface of what is possible so far, particularly in business, despite the huge benefits available. What businesses really need are the right tools, when so much attention has been on the consumer, leading to a cacophony of competing options. This means choosing a partner that can supply integrated solutions, providing the unified experience that is essential for effective collaboration.

One of the issues facing business collaboration is the inherently global nature of today's enterprises, and the rise of the mobile workforce. Both require variants of the same communications technologies, and these benefit greatly from being joined up into one worker experience, rather than individually provisioned. Voice, email, instant messaging, audio and video conferencing, file sharing, and location-aware functionality all gain from direct interoperability. Using separate, standalone solutions in these areas can mean that workers fail to connect in a timely fashion, missing phone calls, mails and messages because they weren't using a particular service at the right time.

The key factor here is speeding up the business decision-making process, so that communications can switch between modes depending on the devices that a worker has to hand, the speed of their connection to the network, and their current needs, such as not taking a voice call when in a physical meeting. In a standalone system, a call that goes to voicemail remains on that system until the recipient connects with the system. Or the recipient doesn't know an email has been sent until they have an Internet connection. This is an issue for mobile workers, but is particularly problematic where global travel is concerned, or where companies have merged or joined forces in a more temporary fashion. The two organisations could be using different platforms for the same thing, such as instant messaging.

Also fundamental to the collaboration process is the ability to share data in a mutually compatible way. Business communications often comprise a request for information, where time is of the essence. So finding the right person, who has access to the right data, as quickly as possible is crucial to reducing the time overhead, or "business latency", in your operations. This is where HP's unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) services come in. With partner Microsoft, HP has brought all the key conduits together to form UC&C. A HP StorageWorks storage area network running on HP ProLiant servers and ProCurve networking products makes the perfect platform for Microsoft Office Communication Server, Microsoft Exchange Server and Microsoft Office Sharepoint Server, which can supply the desired integration, with the ability to scale to conferences with hundreds of participants.

Another tool that can aid integrated working is HP Enterprise Collaboration (HPEC). This structures processes and discussions into conversations based around context. Replies can be via HPEC, email or instant message, and all end up as part of an instantly searchable archive. This is particularly useful for businesses focused on customer service, but can also provide a knowledge base across departments for any communications-based data, breaking down the barriers between silos. HPEC integrates out of the box with HP Service Manager, HP Application Lifecycle Management, HP Business Service Management, UCMDB Configuration Manager, and the Closed Loop Incident Process, so existing data and experience with these products can be enhanced by the HPEC facilities, without the need to change user work practices greatly.

Key to the data needs of collaboration is the ability to share documents and information, which is where cloud-based storage services come into play. HP has a full range of services available via its public cloud offering, with very reasonable pricing. Its Block Storage option costs $0.10 (£0.06) per GB per month, which also includes the ability to store snapshots. HP's Cloud Object Storage option is just $0.09 (£0.05) per GB per month, plus $0.01 (£0.006) per 10,000 user data requests. HP's integration of the open source OpenStack technology, which is also backed by other key vendors including IBM, means opportunities to build interoperability into the system are wide, with no vendor lock in. OpenStack is also hypervisor neutral, so companies can integrate with their existing cloud provisions easily, as well as developing their own custom implementations. HP's Cloud Object Storage service also has the facility to enable Akamai Content Delivery Network (CDN), for the fastest and most available delivery of cloud-based data to your workforce.

Microsoft's software strategy also pays dividends for collaboration. The explosion in heterogeneous device usage thanks to the growth in popularity of smartphones and tablets has created issues for interoperability. Workers are accessing and editing their data on these devices, which often aren't supplied by the company and frequently use platforms like iOS and Android that don't integrate directly into the corporate network. But Microsoft's Windows 8 and Windows Phone present a convergent platform for desktops, notebooks, tablets, and smartphones. Not only is the user interface common across all devices, but data and applications can be shared easily between them as well. The go-anywhere flexibility of Microsoft Office 365 further enhances this, with web-based document access making collaboration possible even when the worker's own business devices aren't available.

Bringing all these technologies together, there are clearly many opportunities for improving business collaboration, many of which companies have not explored. Improving the connectedness of the various communication systems used by your employees with a platform like HP's unified communications and collaboration will enable your employees to get through to each other more quickly, speed up decision making, and reduce business latency - even when a significant proportion of your workforce is mobile and global in distribution. A service like HPEC can help share customer service and other communications between departments, turning it into a useful data resource. Affordable public cloud-based storage can make all the important data your company uses available to your workforce, wherever they are. Throw in mobile devices based around an integrated platform and you have some very powerful tools to improve your company's ability to make much more collaborative use of its data.

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