Not surprisingly, few industries have used digital technology to streamline processes and transform operations as quickly or as well as high-tech manufacturing. During the last decade, global high-tech companies have taken advantage of rapid advances in information systems and enterprise solutions to connect their internal teams with partners across the industry. In the process, they have strengthened their ability to bring innovative new products to market with greater speed and at lower cost.
At the heart of these changes are new communications technologies that have fundamentally transformed the way we create and access information and collaborate with colleagues in the workplace. The ability to share information instantly and communicate in ways that transcend the boundaries of time and distance has enabled high-tech companies to achieve new levels of productivity and operational excellence.
But some of the same communications and collaboration tools used by high-tech employees and partners to overcome the limits of time and distance can create serious unintended risks. The reason for the risk? A significant portion of the communication between people inside and outside high-tech organizations takes place through non-company e-mail and instant messaging. That means your company's most sensitive data and information may well be moving unprotected across Web-based public e-mail networks like Gmail or Hotmail, or, for larger product planning documents, via public FTP.
A recent survey of technology decision makers (such as IT managers and chief intelligence officers) at 200 major high-tech companies indicates how widespread this problem is. The survey, conducted by KRC Research, a Washington D.C. research firm, found that 43 percent of technology decision makers said employees use public e-mail to communicate with partner organizations. In addition, one-third of technology decision makers surveyed said personal instant messaging such AOL and Yahoo Instant Messenger is used by employees.
According to the survey, the types of information that are shared with these public tools runs across the full range of a company's critical competitive information, including product plans, technical data, pricing data, and contracts and legal agreements. It's not hard to imagine how damaging that kind of information could be in the hands of a competitor, something that can happen all too easily to sensitive data sent unprotected over a public network.
There's a reason that employees use these tools, however. And it's not necessarily because they don't understand the value of your company's proprietary data. The root of the problem is the disconnected nature of the communications and collaboration systems that many companies use today, and the inherent complexity of sharing information across the boundary between corporation and partner. In a world where success depends on the ability to trade ideas and transmit information as quickly as possible, circumventing that boundary makes sense. After all, the risk of failure from acting too slowly always seems more immediate and pressing than the risk of compromising protected data.
Fortunately, this will change in the very near future. Today, new software-driven enterprise communications innovations are eliminating the boundaries between organizations while providing a layer of security that dramatically improves our ability to protect sensitive data.
These technologies will enable people to reach coworkers, colleagues, and customers instantly and securely, no matter where they are. And they will provide real control over how people can be reached, and by whom. When they are busy, software will know whether to interrupt, based on what they are doing and who is trying to reach them.
These new software-driven enterprise communications solutions will also make it possible to move seamlessly between voice, text, and video and from one device to another so that an exchange that starts in e-mail, for example, can switch to voice on a mobile phone, and then automatically become part of the video conference as an employee's location and communications needs change.
In addition, this new generation of communications solutions will include video conferencing and collaboration tools that will make virtual meeting more like meeting people face-to-face. The fact is that right now, video conferencing is one of the unachieved promises of the digital era. It's difficult to set up and the interaction is unnatural. More processing power and better bandwidth is starting to change that. And fundamentally new ways of facilitating interaction between people in different locations such as 3D holographs will make it feel like someone on the other side of the globe is in the same room.
One of the most important changes that will make this all possible is the fact that every individual will have a single digital identity for all of their communications. Today, most people have phone numbers for work, mobile devices, and home, along with multiple email addresses and different identities for instant messaging and all of the communities they belong to. Soon, all it will take is a name to reach someone. Based on the context, software will know who that person is and will automatically figure out the best way to reach them.
All of these new communications technologies will deliver built-in protection for business communications that help protect against spam and malicious attacks, address compliance and privacy concerns, and ensure business continuity. Microsoft already offers products that include enhanced encryption features to help maintain message confidentiality and sophisticated transport rules that allow for better enforcement of information protection policies without disrupting employees' ability to share important information with colleagues or partners.
These new communications technologies represent the next steps toward streamlined, integrated communications that will enable people to be more productive, more creative, and to stay in touch more easily without being limited by the device they have at hand or the network they are connected to.
This new generation of unified communications technology is laying the groundwork for dramatic change. Standardized, software-powered communications technologies will be the catalyst for the convergence of voice, video, text, applications, information, and transactions, making it possible to create a seamless communications continuum that extends across global manufacturing operations. This will provide the foundation for new products, services, and capabilities that will change the way all companies operate. And for industries like high-tech, which thrives on cutting-edge technology, the benefits promise to be particularly profound.
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