What the Feds Are Doing Sounds Good, but Is It Unified Communications?

Carl Weinschenk

It's good to see that the federal government is interested in unified communications (UC). This press release, which highlights a survey conducted by Market Connections for Cisco, suggests that the feds are well on their way to a UC-heavy future.


Any story or press release based on a survey is bound to be full of a lot of highly repetitive numbers. That's the case here, but basically, a vast majority of the 201 federal telecommunications decision makers queried think UC is a good idea. At first glance, the number actually deploying systems seems pretty healthy. The survey says 25 percent have "fully operational systems" and another 20 percent say they are early in rollouts. Those who follow government IT -- and particularly its less than stellar security record -- probably are surprised that 45 percent of federal systems are partially or fully UC-enabled. That's pretty cutting edge stuff, it seems. The reality is that the skeptics are right. There seems to be a bit of definition-creep in the picture. The definition of UC in the first paragraph of the release is "the integration of voice, video and data, delivered across a secure Internet Protocol (IP) infrastructure."


That's a fine definition and a laudable goal -- but comes nowhere near the far more expansive and generally accepted definition of UC as a system capable of delivering messages across wired and wireless networks automatically to a large variety of end-user devices in a highly intelligent manner that differentiates between urgent ("the warehouse is on fire") and routine ("the shipment arrived at the loading dock as scheduled") delivery. The very broad-based nature of UC makes it difficult for organizations to deploy, as this InformationWeek story points out. What the Cisco survey deals with certainly are the building blocks of UC, but not the far more ambitious applications themselves. The good news is that Cisco and other companies, such as Polycom, are rolling products out for governmental use. This week, Polycom announced that its SpectraLink Wireless Phones -- part of its UC strategy -- now have the security features they will need to gain the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) 140-2 security certification for which the company has applied.


As this CRM Daily feature suggests, there are many ways in which to deploy UC, and many fundamental questions that an organization must answer. These are as basic as whether to use a hosted, managed or on-premise approach. The point is that these decisions exist beyond the simple network plumbing level that apparently is the subject of the Cisco survey.

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