Forgive unified communications (UC) if it has something of an identity crisis. In an era in which apps downloaded to mobile and stationary devices can mime many of the functions and features offered by traditional UC platforms, the sector is struggling to retain its relevance— and to explain that relevance to end users.
The challenge is that a collection of discrete apps can look like a cohesive UC platform and perform many of the same functions. They may be two very different animals, but that still is not an easy point to make. Traditional UC platforms fit all the pieces together and enable the sort of comprehensive management, security and utilization tracking that organizations need. These functions can be as necessary as the core communications tools themselves.
It makes sense, but is a bit of a hard sell because it is confusing. Longtime industry-watcher Irwin Lazar, who is the research vice president for Nemertes Research, was asked by SearchUnifiedCommunications where social collaboration intersects with UC. His response:
We define ‘unified communications’ as a subset [of collaboration]. If you look at the different components of a unified communications strategy, there are real-time elements like voice and conferencing … [and] non-real-time collaboration … [like] document collaboration, email and social workspaces—like Facebook-style groups. All of those come together to form the components [of unified communications]. The trick is getting them all to work together in a seamless manner where you're not jumping from app to app anytime you want to do anything.
What Lazar says makes perfect sense. The problem is that the sales pitch attached to this is the sort of “inside baseball conversation”—the difference between real-time and non-real-time uses and how they fit together—that will make many potential users’ eyes glaze over. This is especially true of the folks with buying responsibilities at midsize companies who have a million other things on which to focus.
It is confusing. For instance, this week Polycom released version 8.0 of its RealPresence Resource Manager and the Video DualManager 4000. At the same time, a much smaller firm—AGT—unveiled the EncoreB2B. The company describes it as a mobile application that connects mobile devices with HD videoconferencing systems, Web browsers and UC clients. The point is that EncoreB2B is a point product that would need to be fitted within an organization’s far broader UC platform, which is what Polycom offers. Thus, corporate planners must think on two planes: the app itself and the way in which it fits into the organization’s overall communications infrastructure.
Sophisticated management capabilities are at the heart of the Polycom news. Version 8.0 of the RealPresence Resource Manager supports 50,000 registered video users from desktop, mobile or group video systems, the company says. The release also says that the Video DualManager 400 is an industry-standard server offering resource management, call-control support and interoperability. It is aimed at midsize enterprise networks.
UC is a very important part of an organization’s communications infrastructure. It always has been a bit hard to explain, though. And the evolution of standalone apps as a way to add communications functionality is making the value proposition of UC even fuzzier.