Convergence was one of the most omnipresent buzzwords of the 1990s. Remember all the pundits yakking about how it would usher in a new era of computing and communications for the new millennium? Guess what? The pundits were right.Convergence was one of the most omnipresent buzzwords of the 1990s. Remember all the pundits yakking about how it would usher in a new era of computing and communications for the new millennium?Guess what? The pundits were right. Even though the convergence catchword has lost its cachet, the fundamental concept of integrating voice, data and video across a range of end devices and access types has quietly and steadily gained strength. Want proof? When you e-mail your photo to your buddy's cell phone, or call your business associate from your IP-based wireless PDA - that's convergence. And it's happening today.Moreover, several recent trends mean IT executives should make time to plan for how they'll manage convergence in 2004 and 2005. Specifically:More companies than ever are supporting remote workers. Approximately 65% of employees work outside an office at least some of the time, according to recent Nemertes Research findings. And the trend is upward. These individuals aren't on T-1 lines, but they're increasingly linked via IP over wireless or digital cable.Almost all major U.S. cable providers have announced plans to deploy IP telephony services broadly next year. Last week, Time Warner Cable signed a deal to roll out voice services to subscribers in 27 states (with the help from\u00a0MCI\u00a0and\u00a0Sprint). And Comcast, Cox and Cablevision plan similar rollouts in 2004.Wi-Fi hot spots are growing faster than anticipated. Rollouts in public locations are exceeding expectations, meaning that remote users increasingly have the option of IP-based wireless connectivity for voice and data.Infrastructure-independent service providers are emerging. Companies such as\u00a0Gric,\u00a0Fiberlink,\u00a0iPass\u00a0and\u00a0Megapath\u00a0continue to gain traction serving remote and branch enterprise offices via a range of local access technologies.Phone numbers go virtual. With\u00a0wireless number portability, phone numbers are now associated with users - not devices or locations.IT professionals should consider these trends in assessing connectivity solutions. For example, you might want to rethink the traditional strategy of paying a telco millions to manage your phone services. Instead, you might want to consider infrastructure-independent providers or aggregators for both voice and data services. You'll want to revisit your wireless services pricing in light of number portability (as we noted in a previous column). And organizations that are based in relatively new facilities might want to consider cable providers instead of telcos.But that's just the tip of the iceberg. What you need to think about is how your organization will work differently once applications are voice- and video-enabled, and when the standard end-user device is no longer a desktop, laptop or even palmtop computer, but a wireless headset.Interestingly, healthcare organizations seem to be at the leading edge of this assessment. Aided by an influx of dollars related to\u00a0Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act\u00a0and driven by the need to continually improve patient care, they're finding innovative and creative ways to bring convergence into the workplace.Stay tuned for more on this in 2004.