To a great extent, people employ a sort of personal unified communications platform without knowing it. The saturation of wired and wireless devices lets people communicate and collaborate in ways that were undreamed of only a few years ago. They do so naturally, without saying to themselves, “I’m using UC now.”
In many ways, today’s panoply of gadgetry meets the generic definition of UC, which is not the same as the one held by vendors, service providers and the rest of the ecosystem. It is worth mentioning that the UC ecosystem can’t agree on an “official” definition either, so perhaps it doesn’t matter all that much.
In any case, the year ahead looks like it may be interesting for the UC sector. Jeff Wellemeyer at Virtualization Review identifies four trends to think about. He suggests that hybrid approaches, in which an enterprise uses a combination of a hosted cloud-based service and on-premise deployment, will continue to grow. He added that the mobilization and decentralization of the work force is leading to more emphasis on cloud-based UC approaches. Softphones — voice communications as a function of the computing device and not a separate physical phone — is growing. Finally, Wellemeyer sees a shift in the drivers of UC:
The focus in 2013 will shift from purely saving money to increasing productivity, which means applications must work together as one. As companies look to more optimally monitor and manage critical business applications, their enterprise IT organizations will want detailed views into the traffic tagging, bandwidth and performance data associated with every aspect of the network connectivity.
How the industry learns to integrate mobility into the overall UC picture will go a long way to determining whether these platforms become more important or marginalized as time moves on. In other words, not effectively using iPads, iPhones, Android devices and other mobile gadgets — in essence, keeping UC as a separate and primarily desktop platform — will reduce its value. Many of the features that UC offers are duplicated on tablets and smartphones. Unless the UC community is savvy in how it designs its system — leveraging and augmenting instead of competing — UC will continue to struggle for full acceptance.
Though it is not positioned as a look at the year ahead, Michael Finneran uses a column at Network Computing to provide insight into what clearly is one of the big issues in the world of UC. Finneran takes a close look at what is lacking in the mobile UC experience — and there seems to be a lot — and what it adds to the overall UC tool chest.
ShoreTel’s take on the year ahead is interesting. The firm agrees with Wellemeyer about the strength of the hybrid model and predicts that the precise demarcation of control between the hosting company and the enterprise will be a topic of much back and forth:
We are well aware that with hybrid comes the need for administrators to give up a certain degree of control. But where is the dividing line? What functions will still belong to the administrator and which will belong to the cloud? That will be answered in the next 12-18 months.
The company also projects that BYOD will give way to approach some call Choice of Your Own Device (CYOD). In other words, giving employees free reign over their mobile device selection carries too many security risks. Giving them preselected options for which the organization can prepare is a more prudent choice in ShoreTel’s view.
Unified communications will not take over the IT landscape in 2013, nor will it disappear. Those extremes aside, it will be a key year in the world of UC as mobility and cloud technologies and platforms grow ever more engrained in business communications.