What’s unified about Unified Communications?

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On paper it sounds like a great idea, and vendors have been keeling over themselves to sell products and services that promise to deliver an idealised Unified Communications concept, but in reality one can’t help but wonder if it actually delivers on that promise. Last month, out of sheer curiosity, I attended IDC’s Unified Communications […]

On paper it sounds like a great idea, and vendors have been keeling over themselves to sell products and services that promise to deliver an idealised Unified Communications concept, but in reality one can’t help but wonder if it actually delivers on that promise. Last month, out of sheer curiosity, I attended IDC’s Unified Communications and Collaboration Conference 2009 to try find out more, and boy did I find out…
Ok, nothing too extraordinary, except that Unified Communication is fairly mature in terms of technology components, implementation / delivery, value proposition and its relevance to pretty much every type of connected enterprise in existence today. According to IDC, the primary goal of Unified Communication is: “communication, collaboration and connectivity to anyone, anytime, anywhere and on any device”. Some key observations shared on the day include:

  • UK employees have increased rights to flexible working, and the UK leads in home working at 32%, compared to EMEA at 15%.
  • Unified Communication and Mobility are complementary to each other, but not enough people are aware of this. Furthermore, change is fast and Unified Communications helps organisations to react better to these changes
  • Benefits from Unified Communications include: Increased Productivity, Cost Reduction (e.g. reduced need for travel), Lower Environmental Impact (e.g. reduced carbon footprint), Improved Customer Acquisition / Retention as well as Better Collaboration for Knowledge Workers
  • The ecosystem for Unified Communications consists of: Makers / Suppliers of Devices, Software, Servers, Networks (IP & Telephony), ISVs and System Integrators
  • The main components / aspects of Unified Communication include: IP Telephony, Unified Messaging, Video Communication, Real-time Collaboration, IP contact center, Mobility, Social Networking Applications, and latterly, Communication Enabled Business Processes (or CEBP)

CEBP (or Communication Enabled Business Processes) is a key ingredient to achieving the full benefits from Unified Communications, because it clearly recognizes and articulates the deep link between Unified Communications and an organisation’s business processes, in an increasingly dynamic, real-time business environment. However, it is also clear that because Unified Communications is constantly evolving, no single vendor can claim to offer THE complete solution for Unified Communications and Collaboration. So where does that leave organisations wishing to implement UC? How can they ensure that they will end up with something that meets their requirements and delivers on the above benefits?
The answer, (depending on which equipment vendor / SI / Solution Provider you ask), seems to be something along the lines of first trying to understand the needs of the enterprise (including business processes and operational requirements), before attempting to set a clear end-goal that is suitable for that particular organisation. However, device / equipment manufacturers may subscribe to an alternative approach which advocates starting anywhere, (that is appropriate for the organisation), and building out from there. In any case, some key considerations for prospective buyers of Unified Communications and Collaboration solutions and services are:

  • Unified Communications is more than just Unified Messaging.
  • Unified Communications is not “one size fits all”
  • The flexibility provided by Unified Communication is not suitable for, or wanted by, all users / organisations
  • Interoperability is key to the future of Unified Communications solutions
  • “Rationale leads to conclusion, but emotion leads to action”, therefore it is vital to engage the users a early as possible

Finally, one of the more interesting questions at the event was what to do with all the extra time saved by Unified Communications? The answer suggests that we are likely to see an explosion in creativity, as workers become better able to originate, shape and implement ideas collaboratively, but I’d be interested to find out what you, the real end-users, think. Comments welcome.

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