While you are reading this, engineers at every major telecom company, both traditional and wireless, are rethinking the way telecommunication works. The small master device isn't available yet, but you can expect to start seeing changes in the way technology and telecommunications work together in the coming years.
"If you are sitting there as the CEO of one of the (telephone companies), one thing you have to wrestle with is how can we change the way we use the telephone and make it less intrusive," says Dean Douglas, vice president, IBM Global Services. "If you get an e-mail, you don't have to respond to it right away. Even with an instant message, you can take a few minutes to get to it.
"The question is, how do you create that dynamic with voice?"
Douglas envisions a system in which callers are ranked and sorted by importance. Some are requested to use e-mail, some would ring through on the office phone, a select few would come through on a cell phone.
Other changes will affect remote workers -- those who have no office and work from home. Some companies have call centers that reroute overflow calls to people based out of their homes. Douglas expects technology to adapt to these needs, allowing companies to form seamless communications between employees regardless of location.
One phone will be used regardless of whether the employee is in the office or on the road; it's just a matter of what type of network the phone uses to communicate with others in the organization.
As technology continually improves the speed of wireless communications, the capabilities of the devices are also increasing. The first wave of applications is games, but soon businesses will be taking advantage of this capability as well.
Applications that allow businesses to communicate with suppliers and customers more efficiently are the next evolution.
"What it does is it allows for carriers to start to think about their networks as fundamental to the operation of the enterprise the same way IT is fundamental to the same enterprise," says Douglas. "Data and voice have converged. The network and IT should be viewed as one entity.
"For example, I have a laptop, a PDA and a cell phone. In my laptop is a card from Sprint. In places I can't get Wi-Fi access or it's too expensive, I'll power up the Sprint card and roll onto the cellular network and get my data without having to worry whether I'm near a phone jack or not. It allows for the ultimate flexibility."
Douglas says he sees IT and telecom services moving toward a service delivery framework.
"We call it 'on-demand'," says Douglas. "It is the ability to provide resources in a fashion that addresses the specific needs for a set of users at an enterprise when they need it and only when they need it."
For example, a company might run a financial program at the end of the month from 300 workstations for one day only. The company would pay only for the eight hours of usage, and then the program would be removed.
"When you think about it like that, the network becomes more important," says Douglas. "It's the network that provisions and manages resources available to the person or entity. It makes those resources available and brings them together in a cohesive fashion."
Companies that are slow to adapt to this emphasis on network connectivity will suffer.
"You do not have to be on the bleeding edge, but you need to be a fast follower," says Douglas. "The economics of it have such positive effects, you will find yourself out of sorts with the competition, not only in costs but also the ability to access ad hoc information across a number of different platforms."
How to reach: IBM, www.ibm.com/services