Ford introducing the conveyor belt changed everything. It might seem like a simple change but up until it was introduced in 1913, building a car was about teams of people adding elements to skeletal chassis’ that would stay in situ until the car was ready to be driven off the factory floor. Although possibly an early example of parallelism – with many elements sometimes running in sequence – the method was massively inefficient. It lacked specialisation, duplication of tools that were often left idle for long periods of time and delays while dependent tasks were completed in series. The switch to using conveyor belts reduced car manufacturing time from over 12 hours to 150 minutes – a dramatic shift that helped Ford to quickly establish the Model T as the flagship and most cost effective vehicle of its era.
Fast-forward to our days and a similar shift is underway in communications as organisations begin to use cloud technology to fundamentally remake how people, devices and, in a few use cases, artificial intelligences (AI) share information to ultimately improve the collaborative process.
You can spot the shift in loads of different ways. On the vendor side wholesale is moving towards software and specifically cloud based technologies as the primary communication platform. Other indicators include the rise of video as a viable communications media and the willingness of people to adopt real-time chat and file sharing. However, one of the most fundamental changes is the adoption of development and operations, or DevOps.
There are similar but slightly varied descriptions of what it means. I think Amazon Web Services says it best: “DevOps is the combination of cultural philosophies, practices, and tools that increases an organisation’s ability to deliver applications and services at high velocity: evolving and improving products at a faster pace than organisations using traditional software development and infrastructure management processes.”
This definition crucially recognises that DevOps is more than just technology and that at its heart it’s based around empowerment of individuals. Communications technology – both internally to foster a DevOps culture and externally to allow applications and services to interact with users, customers and each other – is possibly the most vital component of many transactional systems. However, up until quite recently, most communications platforms from the legacy PBX days were pretty much closed ecosystems. The arguments around reliability were often a mask for vendors keen on locking customers into a particular upgrade path and discouraging rival third party add-ons.
The cloud’s first vendors within communication have in many ways broken that outdated model by embracing application programming interfaces and actively seeking third party developers to add more value to unified communication ecosystems. To give just one example, RingCentral’s Glip platform offers real-time text, voice or video conferencing opportunities as well as file sharing and task management tools. Importantly, platforms like this support a huge number of third party apps such as Google Drive, the ZenDesk customer service software, MailChip email management and Stripe e-commerce and payment platform. For organisations that develop their own bespoke software, this type of platforms not only provide interface but also act as a glue to make integration easier between disparate software and services.
This level of openness means that these type of applications are morphing to become customer specific and not just cookie cutter communication platforms. As part of a DevOp ethos, organisations are building truly unified environments that are designed for the value propositions that underpin each business model. More importantly, they can do this quickly and adapt even faster as circumstances change.
However, there are still some challenges to overcome before this new tech and DevOp ethos can completely transform companies’ production cycles. The first is a lack of skills. Although software development and integration has been made easier through more open systems, there is still a shortage of developers with cloud native skills. This situation is changing but technology and in particular the cloud era is running at a faster pace than people can graduate or retrain.
Moreover, security is still a concern for some, as applications merge multiple code elements into a more complex whole. But to date, there haven’t been ant major security breaches in any cloud based communication platform but some fears remain. On a security front, it could be argued that legacy applications that have become overlooked and consequently unpatched pose a much more significant threat.
What is clear is that the velocity of application and service development and delivery show no signs of slowing down. Elements such as AI are now moving from gimmick to a real value added benefit. Innovators such as IBM’s Watson and even Amazon’s Alexa in the consumer space are becoming productised into a fashion that allows for easier integration. The general direction of travel is exciting and this generation of unified communications may well deliver efficiency improvements that would make even Henry Ford envious.
This article comes courtesy of Curtis Peterson, SVP of cloud operations at RingCentral, the cloud-based communications and collaboration solutions experts.