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Monday, July 21, 2008

"I Want My Unified Communications!"

July 20, 2008

What Will Business People Call “UC?”

Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View

As a result of the complex convergence of communication application functions, network infrastructures, and user interfaces, technology providers are being forced to redefine their telecommunication product and service offerings within the context of unified communications (UC). One of the better objective descriptions of all the application functionality that the industry is starting to offer to the enterprise market can be found in a new and comprehensive UC market analysis report from long-time analyst and UC Strategies co-founder, Blair Pleasant, CommFusion, LLC. For anyone contemplating getting into business communications, this experienced and objective analysis of who is doing what in the industry is a "must read."

Everyone may agree that “UC” and IP Telephony will be gradually swallowing up traditional voice telephone communications in both the business and consumer markets, but it has not exactly become a useful term for end users, nor yet created any viral demand from end users. There are practical reasons why this is so, including:

· UC technologies are still evolving and not as a single “package,”

· Communication functions are becoming more software based and device-independent, and therefore evolving differently from different technology providers,

· New multimodal devices are offering a variety of different form factors for UC capabilities and flexible user interfaces (visual, speech) through 3G mobile “smart-phones (e.g., Apple iPhones), desktop PC “softphones” and IP screenphones,

· New interoperability standards for end-to-end network contacts are still being defined, especially for person-to-person, real-time presence and availability (“federation”),

· Technology staffs are getting reeducated and consolidating their responsibilities for supporting IP telephony and data applications.

These factors are delaying the pace of actual implementations of “UC,” and are also causing confusion in the marketplace about how to migrate cost-effectively to a UC environment. More importantly, however, is the need for individual end users to understand what UC will do for them as contact initiators and contact recipients in all forms of business communications. Without that understanding, there is little end user demand for implementing UC, which makes it easy for IT to postpone UC migration planning.

Will “UC” Ever Mean Anything To The End User?

It is also unfortunate that there are different value perspectives of UC that cloud understanding of business use of UC. We have enterprise business management, who are primarily focused on why and what UC technology will do to improve operations and the “bottom line.” We have IT management who worry about the cost of technology implementation and support, including replacing legacy telephony investments, integrations with other technologies, information security, system reliability, operational administration, regulatory accountability, and Total Costs of Ownership or Usage. And last, but not least, we have the individual end users, both inside and outside of the organization, that will need to adopt new ways of communicating enabled by UC, in order to realize expected efficiencies and operational benefits.

While it is all well and good to define UC from a technology and business operations perspective, end users will still only see their own communication application user interfaces, not the infrastructure. So, for them, email will still be text messaging, but, with UM/UC, exploiting the flexible use of speech interfaces and responses in other forms of message delivery and callbacks. With the new ability of the contact initiator to function more independently of a contact recipient, the two parties may not even know what technology each is actually using – they only see a message or a call (voice or video) request notification.

For this reason, end users will still focus on the specific communication applications they want to use, i.e., voice conversations, real-time or asynchronous messaging (with information exchange), exploiting the flexible choice of user interfaces they need/prefer at the moment, but not really caring how the infrastructure works to allow such flexibility. For the user, UC may mean the convenience of selecting how they want to communicate, but it won’t replace the specific communication applications they want to use. All they want from UC is seamless interoperability between all the modes of communication they can access from their communication device of choice.

Needless to say, the communication device they use will have to be “multimodal” in order to enable the flexibility of UC, particularly necessary when mobile. So, its no wonder that the arrival and rapid adoption of ‘smart-phones” by consumers will be the biggest driver for UC demand. The question is, will this demand be viewed by end users simply as part of their “mobility” requirements, as opposed to “UC” requirements for their desktops?

Unfortunately, enterprise IT has been very resistant to supporting end user mobile “smart-phones,” but perhaps that will start to change now that Apple’s new version of iPhone software provides more functionality for the needs of business users. Like the PC in the past, end users will decide what tools and services they want to use to do their jobs and probably what to call them. So, don’t expect the names of the major application “piece-parts” of UC to disappear in favor of just “UC,” nor will a proprietary software “UC” suite be able to lock out best-of-breed service options.

What Do You Think?

You can contact me at: or (310) 395-2360.