Speaking at the analyst company’s annual IT Symposium last year, Gartner’s Neil Rickard foretold a dramatic shift in the role of the CIO. Voice-over-IP technology, Rickard explained, will render telephony an IT application, redefining the way it is managed and the skills required to do so. To describe the CIO that masters these new challenges, Rickard coined the phrase “the communications czar”.
The convergence of voice and data onto a single network will raise issues for unprepared companies. Voice and data teams have traditionally operated in isolation, but will now share common responsibilities. Maintaining the quality of service suitable for real-time communications requires expertise unknown to voice specialists, while considerations such as audio quality and time lag may be new to data experts – as will many of the billing issues. There may also be other networks to manage: alarms, security cameras and sensors may all share the IP network. It will fall on the CIO to ensure that the right skills are available and organised appropriately.
Whether these issues mean acquiring personnel with fresh expertise, or simply reorganising the existing departments, will depend on the company’s resources. “It could just be a case of helping the current departments to communicate better,” explains David Critchley, director of strategy and planning at networking vendor Cisco.
Either way, the convergence of such a critical function as telephony on to a single network will result in new responsibilities being placed on the CIO’s shoulders. And the voice application is just the first of many to be hosted on the network.
“There needs to be a change in the way applications are thought about,” warns Alex Black, strategy director of enterprise network expert Omnetica. “Not only voice but video and even storage will converge onto the network. Organisations need to recognise that applications are becoming part of their IT infrastructure.”
Those in charge of IT, Black explains, must think about their work as managing business processes rather than just technical resources. These processes must be defined from a customer-centric point of view – a perspective that has often eluded the CIO.
Developing a business process-centric view of the network may involve restructuring and rehiring, but the extra responsibility for the CIO will bring its own rewards.
“The convergence of applications such as voice onto the network will potentially enhance the standing of the CIO in the company,” says Cisco’s David Critchley. “At the moment, a lot of IT infrastructure is regarded by some as just cabling. Telephony is one of the most visible applications a company uses, however, and its value to the company does not need to be explained.”