UC: Lots of Risks, Lots of Steps and Lots of Rewards

Carl Weinschenk

Unified communications (UC) can be an organization-altering platform. There are no short cuts, however, and nothing comes for free. An undertaking with a high potential reward clearly means that there will be significant dislocation and risk in the planning and deployment phase. The bottom line: No pain, no gain.


This release outlines seven suggestions on rolling out UC from Dimension Data. The firm counsels those interested to pay attention to the company's preexisting culture; to prepare the environment for the new platform; to think carefully about whether a distributed or centralized architecture is best; to assess security from the start; to integrate as many existing applications as possible; to select a solid project management company; and to support the project on an ongoing basis. Dimension is not the only organization thinking about the best way to deploy UC -- and not the only one presenting its thoughts in a numbered, step-by-step manner.


UC has a more subtle dimension that can be as valuable as the ability to link various communications systems in one platform, according to this ComputerWorld commentary, which was written by a Gartner analyst. He says organizations will benefit from the integration of communications directly into business functions.


This step -- called communications-enabled business processes (CEBP) -- leads to great efficiencies. For instance, a manager who needs to contact somebody on the road would use CEBP to do it from within the applications instead of successively using e-mail, cell phones and other tools. CEBP, the organization says, will be used by 80 percent of "leading" organizations by 2012. The piece breaks UC into three subgroups: Personal UC, workgroup UC and enterprise UC.


This Network Computing piece packs a lot of information about UC into a comparatively small space. The first few paragraphs describe Microsoft's initiative. The company is offering Office Communications Server (OCS) 2007, a version of Live Communications Server 2005 with updated IM functions. Besides putting the company on a better regulatory framework than consumer IM services, OCS 2007 tightly integrates with Exchange and Outlook. The system adds audio, video and Web conferencing. The piece says that OCS 2007 works with devices from Cisco, Avaya and Nortel and is similar to IBM's Lotus Sametime 7.5.


Cisco, Siemens and Avaya also offer UC gear. Smaller companies in the sector include JabberNow, Jive OpenFire and Reuters Messaging. These have fewer features than the higher profile packages -- but cost less.


Radical new approaches often establish themselves by fulfilling unique needs from vertical industries. This Light Reading link, which describes a report entitled "Unified Communications: Vendors Think Vertical," suggests that this may happen with UC. As an example, the link -- which appears to be the report's executive summary -- says that insurance companies, which employ many field representatives and teleworkers, need strong presence-based find-me/follow-me applications. Thus, it may be a perfect UC candidate.


Two big obstacles stand in the way of success: Vendors must better define what UC is and introduce metrics that will enable shoppers to make "apples-to-apples" comparisons between products from different companies.


UC is not just for analysts and consultants. Real systems are being rolled out by real companies. For instance, The University of South Alabama chose Siemen's HiPath -- through reseller Black Box Corp. -- for IP-based UC services. HiPath, according to the release, was selected from among 15 vendors to provide fixed-mobile convergence, centralized management and, potentially, multimedia content delivered to client devices. The release makes clear that the university has fully accepted the transition to IP-based communications.

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