Intelligent communications: the complete solution

Intelligent communications: the complete solution

Roger J. Cochetti

Information is power. In today’s business environment, immediate access to information translates into competitive advantage. Fax machines, on-line information services, e-mail systems, notebook computers, pagers and personal digital assistants (PDAs) are all designed to facilitate instant access and communication.

Almost every day, technology and information providers are introducing new services and devices to supposedly improve communications and information retrieval. Instead, professionals are finding that these offerings just complicate their lives.

As mobile professionals become increasingly dependent on information age devices, they are also confronted by the limitations of these products, services and networks. Equipped with a variety of sophisticated communications devices and services, professionals must not only learn how to use the devices, but they also have to master the intricacies of each different system and service. They end up navigating through a maze of networks, sorting through a jumble of access codes, passwords and mailbox addresses, and still they cannot access, monitor and respond to information the way they want.

Today’s mobile business professionals want to communicate simply and efficiently and seem to have five basic communications needs: to integrate messages and information; access information remotely; have efficient message distribution; have improved fax transmission; and have increased access.

In a nutshell, professionals want convenience, personalization and flexibility.

Corporations also are looking for effective communication solutions for mobile workers. They want to employ mobile communications tools, networks and services to increase productivity, mobilize their organizations and improve customer satisfaction. However, these tools, networks and services must be open and provide secure access to vital corporate data.

The communications market today is flooded with new devices, networks and services–but still lacks a simplified method for users to access and receive information and messages. One industry observer has compared it to selling cars without first building adequate roads.

Mobile professionals, for example, rely heavily on cellular and wireless communications networks that, unfortunately, are still being developed. Efforts are under way to improve mobile communications, but even this is only part of the solution to meet today’s communications needs.

Some of the solutions include:

* Packet-switched radio networks such as those offered by Ardis and RAM Mobile Data. These networks have proven to be reliable and cost-effective for accessing and sending electronic messages across wide area networks. But approximately 20% of the U.S. population cannot access these networks because of their remote locations.

* Cellular phone networks. These networks are another option to wireless data networks, but cellular networks are not designed for transmitting data. Cellular companies are upgrading their networks with cellular digital packet data (CDPD) to resolve this problem. CDPD, which IBM helped to pioneer, will allow data senders to quickly connect to cellular networks and lower the time and cost of sending and receiving data messages. Although a number of carriers are testing CDPD networks today, they are still being developed.

* New modems. Manufacturers are developing moderns that will send data from notebooks or PDAs to a standard cellular telephone network. Once again, this solution is inefficient and burdensome since the modems are still difficult to connect to cellular phones.

Although these developments are impressive, the underlying problem still remains–professionals cannot integrate their disparate communications services, networks and devices to enable immediate information access anywhere at any time. In fact, these solutions add to the complexity rather than consolidating the products and services into a simple solution.

A New Era

The need to integrate communications devices, networks and services has never been greater. Analysts estimate that the next generation of personal communication services (PCS) will attract 60 million subscribers by 2002. Existing services such as cellular and paging will see growth rates as high as 40%. The United States International Trade Commission released a report in mid-1993 projecting that PCS will generate a $30- to $40-billion market for services and equipment in the United States by the year 2000.

In addition, analysts predict that by 1995 there will be 27 million e-mail users sending approximately 14 billion messages a year. Frost & Sullivan expects the mobile computing market to grow from $7.9 billion worldwide to more than $69.9 billion in five years–which represents 36.7% compound annual growth. Clearly, the personal communications market is poised for explosive growth.

There is a definite need for a new class of communications services that IBM calls intelligent communications.

In short, an intelligent communications service provides a single, personal source for messages and information. It involves the integration of all communications devices, networks and services into a single open platform that is easy to use, comprehensive and can be personalized to meet a user’s needs. Personalization and integration give users choices, freedom from specific devices, networks and services, and the ability to customize a service to meet their unique needs and preferences. Intelligent communications is not one size fits all–it is just the opposite–customized service at no additional cost.

To meet the communications needs of professionals today and in the future, an intelligent communications service will include three key characteristics: integration, personalization and openness.

Integration

An intelligent service must consolidate disparate communications into one system using a single interface for all message and information needs, providing one source for public and private e-mail, voice mail, fax, paging, voice and data.

An intelligent communications service will be simple and convenient and will recognize and work with whatever devices, information services, networks and other services an individual subscriber chooses, over wireless or wireline networks. It also will transform messages and information so that they reach a subscriber, whether by fax, phone, pager, e-mail or PDA. And it will allow both the sender and the receiver to select the device or service to be used.

Personalization

Professionals want more than just integration–they want personalization.

Intelligent communications empowers professionals by giving them control and choice. In fact, recipients have the added power to control not only how they receive the information, but also if and when they want to receive it.

Professionals can personalize the “look and feel” of an intelligent communications service. If users want an overview of their day’s calendar, their e-mail messages sent overnight or that morning’s headlines from The Wall Street Journal to appear first thing on their screens the next morning, the service will provide it–in the format and order they prefer.

Personalization is also about assistance and action. Intelligent communications provides professionals with personalized assistance, including evaluating and prioritizing incoming and outgoing messages based on users’ instructions. It allows users to instruct the service to take action for them, according to their individual needs.

A user can instruct the service to immediately notify him or her via cellular phone as soon as a message from an important client arrives, or a manager can automatically forward an incoming memo to all employees. Users’ messages and information can be filtered and prioritized, professionals can be notified of important messages, and routine chores such as monitoring on-line information services can be handled automatically. Personalization adapts the technology to complement individual preferences, rather than forcing individuals to adapt to technology.

An integral component of personalization is intelligent agent technology, which will enable monitoring, customization and service optimization. With a master intelligent agent, the service will work for the user 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The intelligent agent will serve as a user’s “alter ego,” learning from an individual’s actions to meet the user’s business and personal preferences. When appropriate, intelligent agents will also make recommendations for simplifying professionals’ use of intelligent communications.

Openness

To meet both current and future needs, an intelligent communications service must be comprehensive and serve as an open platform. It must support existing and future devices, networks and services. It must also be a robust application development platform, giving corporations and developers the ability to provide enhanced applications and solutions for mobile professionals.

From recent developments, one would expect intelligent communications to emerge first in consumer-brand “information highway” services, those services that boast of “magic” personal agents that will shop for users electronically through the TV. Although these emerging consumer services are certainly exciting, they will not be the wellspring for the intelligent communications services today’s professionals require.

Instead, business needs will drive the demand for intelligent communications. Rather than electronic shopping, it will be critical business functions like fax forwarding, e-mail filtering and integration of communications like phone, fax, paging and e-mail systems that will meet the most immediate market demands.

Telecom carriers, information service providers, application developers and traditional systems companies such as IBM will partner to share their expertise, technology, services and experience.

Carriers will provide transport and network infrastructure. System vendors will provide the intelligent communications platform that provides not only the integration and personalization, but the security as well.

And application developers and service providers will customize information services and develop applications for an integrated communications service.

The market as a whole will shift its focus from providing disparate products and services to adapting existing products and services and developing new products that will be seamlessly integrated into an intelligent communications service. This will allow carriers to provide customers with additional services and capabilities. Using an intelligent communications service, carriers will be able to go beyond existing network offerings.

There will be five key system components of an intelligent communications service: network infrastructure, intelligent communications platform, information components, applications and devices.

The network infrastructure is the foundation that will provide telephony network operations and billing and support the integration of existing and future communications devices and services.

The intelligent communications platform is the underlying technology that facilitates access to content, messaging and collaboration within and across infrastructure boundaries. The platform will handle network access, gateways, protocols and communication traffic, and include advanced security and encryption capabilities. It will be open, providing an industry standard for global network-delivered solutions, and it will provide a single, personal source for all messages and information.

The personal agents will act on behalf of users to monitor, retrieve and prioritize information, helping users customize the service to meet their needs and preferences.

The information components are the array of on-line information services, corporate databases and public and private e-mail and voice mail systems that will be integrated into an intelligent communications service. Solutions will include existing and new services developed for an intelligent communications service.

Software will use the capabilities of the intelligent communications platform to provide end user solutions. Finally, communications devices such as fax machines, PDAs, pagers and telephones will be integrated by one, seamless platform.

Roger J. Cochetti is Program Director of Business Development for IBM Personal Communications Services Group, Boca Raton, Fla.

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