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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Where Is "Unified Communications" Really Going?

An interview with Art Rosenberg of the Unified-View

by Ed LaBanca

Art Rosenberg

After seeing numerous posts about Unified Communications (UC) in the media and business / social networks where professionals were addressing UC or trying to describe what it is, I decided to give Art Rosenberg a call. This article includes his initial reply and follow-on interview questions and answers.

Art: I’m not surprised by the confusion that “unified communications” is causing, since there are several perspectives that drive the concept. I have started to use the term “UC-enabled” to describe all applications and infrastructure elements that interact with a person, especially when they are mobile and using multi-modal devices. UC is not a product or even a single service, but a means towards device, network, and application interoperability in communicating with anyone, anywhere, any time, any way.

So, legacy communication technologies can be extended to become “UC-enabled” and the traditional technology specialists and VARs can also extend their expertise to help plan and implement UC-enabled applications.

Such implementations can include traditional on-premise products and/or hosted, cloud-based services.

“I have started to use the term ‘UC-enabled’ to describe all applications and infrastructure elements that interact with a person, especially when they are mobile and using multi-modal devices.”

Art Rosenberg

Ed: It is broadly understood that you originally came up with the term Unified Communication (UC) in the context of your company, The Unified-View, over a decade ago. The term has been embraced by virtually all vendors and professionals within the telecommunications industry and user communities. Could you provide some insight as to your understanding of UC when you first came up with the term?

Art: I originally got involved with business communications by pioneering voice messaging (voice mail) for traditional hosted telephone answering services. Telephone answering, handled by integrated business voicemail systems, enabled failed incoming telephone calls to automatically transfer the caller to record a voice message for the recipient’s voice mailbox (like a giant answering machine). Although company voicemail systems also allowed internal users to directly record, deposit and retrieve voice mail messages for their internal users, outside callers had to make the call connection attempt first to create a voice message.

“UC is not a product or even a single service, but a means towards device, network, and application interoperability in communicating with anyone, anywhere, any time, any way…”

Art Rosenberg

Voice mail technology expanded to “unified messaging” (UM), which enabled voicemail systems to interoperate with email systems for message storage and message management. However, the user interfaces for email and voicemail remained basically the same. Since voicemail systems did integrate with the telephone system, they allowed phone calls to become voice messages and voice messages to be responded to with an outbound call (“Call Return”). I wanted all types of messages to have that kind of flexibility.

So, back around 2000, I expanded “UM” to “unified communications” (UC) to be able to include asynchronous messaging, but also real time responses to a message. I also wanted to include all forms of messaging contact initiation (including fax) to a person (by a person or automated application), as well as all forms of reception/response by the message recipient. That would include “click-to-call/chat” options for responding to a message.

Ed: How did it unfold in ways you expected? How did it unfold in ways you didn’t expect?

Art: The big obstacle for UC implementation was getting proprietary hardware-based telephony to move into the world of software. IP Telephony or VoIP was the initial step forward in doing that, but was focused on reducing technology costs. What is finally starting to happen is the emphasis on business process performance that can be improved through more efficient and flexible means of contact and response with individual end users. The market is still in the process of gracefully migrating from TDM telephony to IP telephony, so there is still a need for supporting that shift through gateways and SIP trunking replacements. But the real benefit to business operations will come from UC-enabled applications that will benefit both individual end-user and business process productivity.

UC started to take hold in business organizations for internal users only. However, there was no real incentive for desktop users (information workers) to want the flexibility of UC. At first, desktop “softphones” looked liked the way to go, but the real driver for UC adoption was mobility and the adoption of multimodal “smartphones” (now tablets too). This brought person-to-person contacts together with automated business process “notifications” and interactive “mobile apps” for Internet information access and delivery. I had always suggested that mobile users would be the chief beneficiaries of UC-enabled applications of all kinds. So, when Apple announced its first iPhone, I wrote that the “UC Phone” had arrived, and with the iPhone 4S and Siri voice assistant, that UC vision is “getting meat on its bones.”

One big surprise has been the revolution in social networking services, which basically uses short text messaging to communicate and post personal status and opinion information on the Web for others to see and respond to. It is not really just “person-to-person” messaging but, because it is quickly and easily posted, it ties in well with UC’s big driver, mobile devices that enable originators to post and interested recipients to be quickly notified and respond to whatever the subject is. End users are rapidly exploiting this form of contact and information exchange for business contacts, which also lends itself to further UC flexibility in switching to other forms of communication (“click-to-contact”) and federated presence information on availability for ad hoc calls and conferencing.

Although the concept was not new, the shift to IP connectivity opened the door to putting people connectivity and information into the “cloud.” This trend is rapidly being adopted by both small and large businesses as they migrate from their legacy premise-based technologies. In effect, mobility and UC enablement of all types of software applications will best be served by being “virtual” and in public or private clouds. Security and privacy issues, of course, must be handled properly, but physical location of servers should not affect manageability.

Voice mail systems remained tied to proprietary Touch-Tone telephone systems and their Telephone User Interfaces (TUI) and independent companies like Octel and more lately, AVST, specialized in integrating their voice mail system offerings to many popular telephone systems. This was particularly useful for distributed branch locations where different telephone systems were in place. They also tied in TUI-based IVR applications as a logical self-service offering. However, the combination of UC flexibility, mobile devices, and accurate speech recognition technology, will change the role of IVR to combine optional visual screen output along and voice/finger input (IVVR). This will bring the personalized mobile smartphone into the domain of the PC.

Ed: How do you view UC now? Are there any differences such as context in today’s architectures and people’s perception?

Art: One big thing that is slowly changing is how blind, ad hoc real-time contacts (telephone calls) will be displaced by “contextual intelligence.” That is, a real-time contact will be initiated within the context of the caller’s purpose for making a call and also with “availability” (presence information) about the person to be contacted. The caller no longer will have to know location-based phone numbers, nor will they have to make a phone call just to end up in “voicemail jail.”

Instead, callers will start using contact center technology for getting to the right person associated with the context of the issue they need to discuss. However, with CEBP (Communication Enabled Business Process) applications, they can start with either the information issue or the specific person (directory) to contact before a call connection is attempted. Obviously, if there is no urgent need for an immediate connection, any form of messaging will do. I see this approach being taken for contacts from any type of end user.

Call center technology exploited the use of both voice and text messaging with customers, but was not hugely successful because most consumers used telephones, not computers, and agents could not efficiently switch modes of interaction dynamically. However, the call center was the model for the “contact center,” which was supposed to exploit inbound and outbound messaging tied to “availability” (presence) of qualified agents or experts.

To the extent that consumers are rapidly becoming more mobile and multi-modal, and that staff personnel are working remotely or are mobile, the future of the UC-enabled contact center (“UC Contact Center”) will expand to cover everyone in an organization in different ways (e.g., the “Help Desk, “Nurse Call,”etc.). Even more change will come from the universal growth of public social networking capabilities to people and information.

Ed: Can you help clarify what UC is today in your view looking at it from various perspectives:

- Users?

Art: End users don’t know what “UC” is or really care. All they see is the multi-modal user interface (UI) for a variety of computer-based applications, which has to be simple, non-error-prone, and fast. They don’t need to know if the application is in their device or in the “cloud.” Unfortunately there is no good name for consumers to describe UC flexibility, but they know what it lets them do when they use their smartphones for initiating or responding to different types of contacts. “Mobile Apps” that exploit smartphone flexibility is probably the closest label that consumers will recognize. So, they will want to be able to use “mobile apps!”

- Enterprise executives?

Art: There are several different levels of executives, but the ones that are responsible for business operational performance are the number one target for exploiting the benefits of UC-enabled business processes. They are the ones that need to identify the existing business processes that can be improved with specific UC-enabled applications. They also have to identify “who” will be the end users involved in the business process, whether they are inside the organization or not. Finally, they are the ones who can help prioritize UC implementation planning.

IT management can contribute to the above by evaluating the different implementation alternatives, providing tools to evaluate the performance of business processes (current and future), and for recommendations for choosing technology providers.

- Vendors / Value-added Resellers?

Art: The vendors have to realize they can’t “lock” in UC-enabled applications the way the old telephony did. End users, both inside and outside the organization will be using mobile smartphones of their choice (BYOD) and will choosing different modalities of contact and information access, depending on their situational circumstances. So, they all have to be “open” when it comes to interoperability of their software and network connectivity.

The situation with Value-added Resellers (VARs) is also going change because of the shift to application-based software that has to flexibly accommodate different mobile User Interface needs. They have to change their business model from big hardware purchase commissions to ongoing service subscription revenues. They also have to be able to work together with application specialists in various vertical markets as part of a team that will include independent consultants and different software/hardware vendors. Finally, they need to provide the analytic tools and metrics for evaluating application performance and trialing new customized self-service apps.

Since “VARs” will be shifting to selling and supporting hosted services for a variety of UC-enabled applications, I have labeled them as “UC VARs.”

- Consultants?

Art: Consultants will continue to play a strong role, especially with larger organizations that may need a strategic plan for migrating to UC-enabled applications. They will need to be able to identify the mission-critical business processes and associated communication problems that require UC-enabled applications to be customized. They will help select appropriate “UC VARs” that can fulfill a client organization’s UC migration needs.

However, big technology providers like Avaya and IBM have already started using their strength in the marketplace to offer consultative services for evaluating and managing business process requirements for UC-enabled applications.

- The media?

Art: The media is slowly getting to understand how UC-enabled applications are replacing the old siloed communication products and services. They have tried to come with new labels to describe what “UC” is all about, including lumping “collaboration” as part of UC. I simply call such functionality as “UC-enabled Collaboration.” The basic business processes for collaboration include meetings and multimedia conferencing, which have a number of associated applications to support them, e.g., planning, notifications, distribution of relevant information, etc.

The media still focuses heavily on ad hoc, real-time person-to-person contacts and is slowly understanding how automated business process applications can also exploit Mobile UC via outbound notifications and responses.

Ed: What are your thoughts on enterprise adaption?

Art: It is going to be slow because it requires a lot of change and a lot of preparation by user organizations that just don’t have the experience or financial resources to move forward very quickly. In addition, the technology providers aren’t finished yet with their product or service offerings. It is also going slowly because it is not clear who is in charge of migrating to UC-enabled applications, business managers or IT. So, it will be a slow evolution.

I believe that accommodating the newer modalities of communication, e.g., Mobile UC and Social Networking, coupled with expanded contact center operations, should be the first targets for UC-enabled applications. This will be particularly important for UC-enabled self-service applications to replace legacy IVR applications, as well as for automated proactive, outbound notifications (CEBP).

Smaller organizations will be able to move more quickly by going for hosted, “cloud” services. The larger organizations will be more cautious because of their existing technology investments, their IT staff responsibilities, and security/privacy concerns. However, larger organizations will start to use “cloud” solutions (public or private) as a starting point for the new modalities of UC-enabled applications, particularly for social networking.

Ed: How do you see UC in today’s context going forward?

Art: The emphasis must be on the “UC-enabled” applications, not just “UC, ”i.e., automated business process applications and communication applications. These applications can all be independent software applications, but now must be multi-modal, “open,” and inter-operable to support UC flexibility. Access to each type of application should be simple, flexible, and fast, and the user interfaces have to be multi-modal to accommodate user choice with mobile, multimodal smartphones and tablets. Analytic tools must be also available to track all application activity from a usage and performance perspective, which will vary by type of user involved (customer, agent, expert, field sales, field support, business partner, etc.).

Analytics will play an even more important role in evaluating communications content (what end users do and say) that will be accessible from “public” and “private” social networking activities not protected by privacy features. Such analytic information will be necessary on an ongoing basis in order to manage the dynamic activity changes that will constantly take place at both the business process level and the communication level.

For more information related to this article or regarding UC vendor solutions contact: Your comments, questions and ideas are welcome. CollabTel (formerly CollabGen) provides consulting services for vendors / VAR’s, and end-user enterprises ( Analyst reports are available via

Sunday, January 22, 2012

IBM's "Social Business" Needs To Be "UC-enabled"

Copyright (C) Unified-View, All Rights Reserved.

It’s all about branding new business communications technology in order to associate new products and, more importantly, new services in the marketplace. The trick is in the definitions of the brand and catching the interest of who in a business organization will be interested and responsible for new business communications capabilities. This is particularly tricky as both business processes and communications with people converge as software that all can exploit the Web as services.

The biggest target used to be telephony for real-time person-to-person contacts, but as more consumers started using screen-based endpoint devices, text messaging communications (email, IM, and mobile SMS) have rapidly become a practical alternative to real-time voice interfaces and connections. This shift was accelerated with the advent of multi-modal smartphones and tablets that not only make individual end users more accessible for both business and personal contacts, but also support “UC-enabled” applications to exploit voice or visual user interfaces.

Since Microsoft came in to the UC game at the desktop and mobile smartphones with its Lync software products, IBM has now jumped into the marketplace with a new brand, “Social Business,” that is intended to include US-enabled applications of all kinds. At their recent Lotusphere conference, IBM upgraded their older enterprise technologies to be part of their “Smart Cloud” and “Social Business” product and service offerings. In particular, they reinforced their role in consultative services to organizations that need help in identifying requirements and managing the migration to what I call “UC-enabled” applications.

One analyst who attended the Lotusphere conference was very impressed with the new directions of IBM, but never mentioned “UC” as part of his review (Bruce Guptill, Saugatuck research Alert). On the other hand, Irwin Lazar, from Nemertes, highlighted the need for “UC Management” in his No Jitter review of the Lotusphere conference. (See

“UC” is not going away but is being embedded under new labels for business communications. As mobile computer applications proliferate, they need the flexibility of UC for interoperability and, perhaps more importantly, the end user "experience" for multimedia User Interfaces. As far as I am concerned, “Social Business” is really another form of communications that has to become “UC-enabled!”