The world of unified communications (UC), like other enterprise communications sectors, is adjusting to the new reality: Consumer-grade equipment and services are as flexible as sophisticated platforms established by organizations for their employees.
In most cases, Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) is fairly simple: Employees swap in their phone for the company’s. UC is not a service itself, however. It’s a fluid mix of existing services. This will make the changes brought by social networking more unpredictable.
How will UC fare in an era in which employees routinely use Skype, Facebook, Twitter and other social networking services that provide bits and pieces of the voice, video and data functions available from legacy UC platforms?
In other words, there will be more than one way to do what UC is meant to do. Will the two classes of platforms compete, coexist or cooperate?
The Lync/Skype for Business Model
The likelihood is that the two ways of providing services – consumer-based social networks and enterprise UC – will develop deep relationships. It already is happening, and is nowhere better illustrated than the announcement on November 11 that Microsoft is renaming the Lync UC platform “Skype for Business.”
At least initially, the melding of the two organizations will largely be cosmetic, said Michael Finneran, principal at dBrn Associates. “[The announcement] is just a name change,” Finneran said. “Both Lync and Skype are in the same group at Microsoft under Gurdeep Singh Pall. Lync is still an enterprise product.” Pall is corporate vice president for Lync and Skype Engineering for Microsoft, which would not comment for this story.
The future will be different, Finneran said. “There have been inklings for quite some time that somehow they will integrate [but] none of that has been [officially] discussed at this point.” One change that Finneran expects is for Lync/Skye for Business to add outbound voice capabilities.
The Lync platform running under the Skype for Business umbrella will get two things that speak directly to the marriage of consumer and corporate platforms: the use of a familiar Skype-like user interface and access to the millions of Skype users. Skype for Business will be a hybrid consumer/corporate platform.
Unify Square, a company that helps organizations adapt UC platforms, in late November announced UC Right Track, a product that helps enterprises adopt Lync. Alan Shen, the company’s vice president of Professional Services, said that the integration of Lync and Skype will benefit both. “For example, Microsoft is looking at Skype’s SILK codec as the better one for Lync.” But, he said, “On the flip side, Microsoft has spent a lot of time on Lync Server security.”
Borrowing from Social Networking Wins
The Skype for Business/Lync move may be the most obvious example of the gradual but inexorable marriage of traditional UC and consumer services. It isn’t the only one, however. Finneran points to Circuit by Unify -- formerly Project Ansible – and Project Squared from Cisco and Box as two other UC platforms that largely co-opt the social networking ethos. Circuit by Unify was introduced in October and Project Squared this month. In addition, Finneran said that a “Facebook at Work” service is expected, perhaps as soon as January.
The wildcard is how deeply the legacy and consumer-grade UC systems integrate under the hood. It will be interesting to watch how this develops over the long haul. For now, however, it seems that there is more borrowing than fully-fledged deep integration. “Vendors that target the enterprise are taking some of the best practices and UI design and using them in enterprise-grade solutions,” said Blair Pleasant, the president and principal analyst of COMMfusion LLC and a co-founder of ucstrategies.com. “They are not coming together but enterprise vendors are making products that are more user-friendly based on what they’ve learned from Apple and Facebook.”
It is entirely possible that the emergence of social networking is what ends up saving UC. For years, the huge challenge was enticing employees to use UC platforms. The coming of the millennials and their familiarity with social networking creates the perfect entry point for enterprise use of these platforms. The only difference is that the platforms themselves will be weighted toward social networking.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.