The re-alignment of the Communications Management Association (CMA) as an independent subsidiary company within BCS enables BCS to have a stronger offering in the field of communications and provides CMA with access to new resources and a wider community of IT professionals.

But the underlying impetus for this management convergence lies in the accelerating development of communications services that exploit the near-universal convergence of technologies. Carolyn Kimber provides an overview of the UK's telecoms trends.

In the UK, the convergence example that will gain the highest profile over the next two years is BT's 21CN. Their new all-IP network will replace 13 different legacy switching systems, deliver a more flexible, lower-cost platform and enable the company to develop future services.

21CN is the most fundamental change in any utility infrastructure since the conversion from DC to AC mains electricity but, paradoxically, it is planned that this massive changeover, costing BT something north of £10 billion, will hardly be noticed by the vast majority of telephone customers.

Several services will be discontinued, some communications applications will need alternative solutions, some old customer equipment will no longer function, but where these exceptions occur they will primarily impact on business customers, enterprises, utilities and public sector organisations.

CMA has always served the business community; our members are collectively responsible for an annual expenditure of more than £13 billion in networked services and equipment. So it's not surprising that the major communications providers (telcos, ISPs, systems integrators and solutions providers) are keen to support our programmes, events and surveys. The regulator Ofcom also finds that our position as a 'critical friend' makes a significant difference to the development of better regulation.

BT's 21CN migration is considered by many economic analysts to be UK mission-critical. From a regulatory viewpoint it should also enable greater customer choice, service innovation and more competition. For CMA and BCS the year ahead will require much effort in making UK businesses management aware of the need to prepare for (and take advantage of) the 21CN changes but there are many other aspects of networked communications that are also on our agenda.

Pipe dreams?

Earlier this year the UK's Broadband Stakeholders Group (BSG) published a milestone report outlining the challenges of moving from a predominantly copper local distribution towards a fully fibred nation. At the time of writing, both government ministers involved, James Purnell and Stephen Timms, have publicly embraced the intent of the report's conclusions - that our future lies in a fibre infrastructure.

The work programme for next generation broadband is urgent - the report sees only a two-year window before the UK begins to fall seriously behind the global competition. The challenges fall into four categories: policy, commercial, regulation and, perhaps inevitably, the thorny issues of public sector intervention.

Sometimes, however, it is helpful not to be the lone brave pioneer. There can be advantages in picking up on solutions that have been technologically and commercially proven elsewhere providing, of course, that these can be implemented rapidly without lengthy planning delays.

A fully-fibred UK should, in theory, add up to a collective investment of between £10 billion and £15 billion over five years but all manner of awkward issues need to be put under the spotlight. We may all be trying to be environmentally sensible but this particularly spotlight does not need a low-energy bulb.

Why, for example, should the universal service obligation still only mandate internet access at an old-world 28.8kb/s? Why in a (supposedly) near 100 per cent broadband country do we confuse the rules governing provision of access (basic connectivity) with those concerning services? Why has the UK not moved to a more relevant commitment to universal service? Why should new competitive fibre distribution be taxed via the rating systems at rates 75 times higher than BT's old copper loops? Why has the UK not moved to a more relevant commitment to universal broadband access?

The CMA is providing input to the BSG's programme and to Ofcom's latest consultation on next generation access. Not surprisingly our inputs will be very much informed by the needs of business enterprises. We welcome involvement from BCS members who can help us illustrate the power of innovation that could be unleashed if we did not have the bottleneck of the copper local loop.

We know why we have today's asymmetric digital subscriber line (ADSL) compromise but what will be the impact of high-speed symmetric services or even reverse asymmetry? Surely somewhere in our system designs it is better to give than to receive?

The negative impacts on the UK economy of today's hotchpotch of not-spots and performance limitations caused by line-length issues are thrown into sharp relief whenever any organisation gets serious about flexible working and business continuity.

Enterprise mobility

While fixed telecoms has been preparing for their next generation all-IP platforms much the same has been happening in the world of enterprise mobility. The gradual improvement of mobile data services is treading a similar path towards an all-IP future.

What customers want or expect and what they can actually get from today's service are often miles apart. In this arena the BCS and CMA share another common agenda in education. Consumer expectations are often fuelled by marketing hype and sci-fi fantasies but there is a serious job to be done in both educating the market and encouraging innovation at the interface between systems and networks.

Many enterprises are experiencing rapid cultural change. Young people setting out in the world of work bring expectations that often run counter to the 'way we do things around here'. It's not just the security issues of instant messaging and unfettered web access but also, and more constructively, their experience of a flexible mobile-enabled Web2.0 world. Three years ago few IT or comms managers would have considered Facebook, YouTube, RSS feeds, Wiki's or Basecamp as valuable business tools - and even fewer would have been seriously thinking about how these can be delivered to employees on the move.

Channel partners

Another fascinating change in the comms industry is the increasing significance of resellers, and systems integrators. The old model of a few major suppliers dealing directly with their loyal end-customers is breaking down.

Under regulatory pressure BT has separated its wholesale and retail arms to better manage the growing ranks of ISPs and others who unbundle the local loop and compete in all manner of niche and territorial markets. BT has seen huge growth in its enterprise ICT services directed at larger organisations. Meanwhile many smaller businesses now regard their systems provider or local network maintainer as their guide for wide area connectivity.

For many small businesses the only use for a phone line is that it acts as the bearer for an ADSL broadband service. They use internet-based VoIP services such as Skype for all of their non-mobile telephony and remain happily connected wherever in the world they can pick up some form of broadband connection.

In this richer and more-complex multi-channel environment, the old lines between computing and telecoms expertise are increasingly irrelevant. The CMA has found that the case study experiences that are most useful to enterprise managers more often come from those who are very close to their customers and intimately engaged in making innovative systems work to high standards of reliability - and the networking aspects cannot be treated separately from the transactional interoperability of different businesses using different systems.

And on the horizon

The digital switchover in the broadcast TV world, the challenges that will be driven by events such the 2012 Olympics, the urgency of choosing between hibernation or fibre-nation, the need to discover the business benefits of 21CN, the education of consumers and policy makers, and the opportunities for innovation (not least in developing networked services as part of the answer to curbing CO2 emissions), all these add up to an important mission for BCS and CMA as we work to ensure that our members are 'connected with success'.

Carolyn Kimber is chairman of Communications Management Association (CMA). For more information about CMA or to become a CMA member, please visit