• United States
IDG Enterprise Consulting Director

Convergence: Hype no more

Apr 29, 20045 mins
Data Center

A desk is a dangerous place from which to view the world.John Le Carre

Dear Vorticians,

I’m out from behind the desk and I bring you good tidings from the road. This is a bit of a departure from our recent discussion about service providers, but I hope you’ll find it worthwhile.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of hosting a roundtable among a group of Nortel customers who have built converged networks. I came away from that meeting, and the discussions that preceded it, with a profoundly optimistic view of the rapidly emerging convergence opportunity.

What I heard from these customers convinced me that we’re on the threshold of an explosion in convergence applications – a market shift that creates vast potential not only for the organizations that deploy these converged networks, but for network and software companies, service providers and investors looking for The Next Big Thing (or a least A Next Big Thing).

If you’re skeptical, I hear you. Believe me. It has been easy in the past few years to become jaded about convergence, when the buzzword was vying for inclusion in the Hype Hall of Fame.

It’s not that we didn’t buy into the inevitability of convergence. Rather, it’s that convergence was always coming but never arriving, or so it seemed. To morph the old saying about the weather – everyone was always talking about convergence, but no one was doing anything about it.

Convergence was a central focus of the early VORTEX conferences and we heard many heady promises about the new world order in IP-centric communications. Convergence was going to reshape enterprise and telco networks, and rock the established world order among the computer, communications, even entertainment industries. The world order got rocked all right, but convergence wasn’t the cause.

Even after three years of rousing rhetoric, the illuminati attending VORTEX 2000 graded convergence’s progress at a D+ – we queried them in preparing a Convergence Report Card. These were the people pushing the world toward convergence. Depressing.

What happened? As with many things deeply desired and oft-discussed, convergence proved hard to achieve and the blood, sweat, tears and money that go into building a converged network often were more daunting than the expected payoff seemed to


But the story today is changing, maybe faster than we all realize.

Don’t misunderstand me – it’s still not easy to build a converged network. My panelists – representing a city government, an energy company and a major research firm – agreed that getting to convergence was a tough bit of work with many lessons to be learned along the way. And, when I call them “lessons” here, you should keep in my mind what my older brother once said to my father: “Dad, every time you call something a learning experience, I get…” (fill in your own expletive).

For example, the IT executive from the energy company detailed the difficult and ongoing job of re-organizing the entire technology group to reflect the realities of deploying and running a converged network. That non-technical undertaking was more difficult than building the network itself.

But what all of these executives made crystal clear – and what seared itself indelibly in my mind – is that they believe they have built the next great application platform. They have deployed an infrastructure that will enable them to continually roll out new systems that will change how their companies operate forever.

In fact, the gentleman representing the municipal government pulled out a list of current and future applications that spanned two pages. His quiet mission is nothing short of transforming how government operates in the 21st century, reaching out to citizens in new ways, cutting costs, streamlining interdepartmental operations, making information more widely available, dealing with new reporting and compliance demands.

We’re not talking Los Angeles or New York here. This is a relatively small city, one you might not have even heard of, but one with a big vision grounded on a foundation of convergence.

The panelists talked about things like video- and audio-conferencing, follow-me communications, virtual workspaces, workflow optimization, enhanced telework applications, virtual call centers, presence-aware communications, integrated messaging and lots, lots more.

In a couple of cases, the converged network grew from existing voice and data networks. In another, it was a green field deployment. But in all three cases the customers plowed ahead because they believe convergence and the IP environment give them the freedom – and power  – to roll out an almost limitless array of new apps. Apps they will build themselves, buy from existing partners and seek from a new generation of companies that understands convergence.

One customer said he’d find it hard to explain a few years hence why he hadn’t made the move to convergence. More and more customers share that view and are making the move. IT executives used to ask if convergence made sense or was technically feasible. Today they’re asking how best to deploy a converged network and what applications are available.

Convergence has sneaked through the back door and – quietly this time – it’s ushering in that New World Order. As some wonk once said, we tend to overstate trends in the near term and understate their real long-term potential. We should start focusing more attention on convergence’s long-term potential.

Your thoughts? Deliver them unto me at Bye for now.