We have been hearing the buzz for years about unified communications, and how great it will be when you have one hub for everything from e-mail to video conferencing. To date, however, that promise has fallen short and mostly failed to deliver on the hype and the excitement. Will the solution ever live up to the hype, and when can we expect to see something real that delivers on all the promise?
There are some strong indications that the future is now. One thing about tough economic times is that they often bring out the best in innovation and creativity. Improving on workers' efficiency has been one of the driving goals for many businesses over the last two years. Every company is trying to find ways to do more with less, and the only real way to accomplish that is to allow people to work smarter and faster. Unified communications is one area of technology that does exactly that. Whether it means accessing all your e-mail and voicemail from your PDA on the road, or slipping right into a video conference with a colleague from a series of e-mail exchanges, UC provides the tools to communicate and collaborate better. The need and the driving force are not enough, however. Especially with something like this, there needs to be the tools and technology.
For years, I think the single biggest obstacle to UC adoption has been that the platforms and programs didn't live up to the scrutiny of users. The reason for this is that every company that tried to get involved and create a solution felt it needed to offer everything. Most of these companies don't do well when they step outside of their comfort zone. Cisco is a fantastic hardware company, but its software has never been up to the standards you would expect. The same can be said for large phone companies, like Avaya, for example. On the software side, Microsoft has been a big player, and while the software was great, there was no real hardware solution to go along with it.
But with the signing of a strategic agreement between Microsoft and Polycom to work together in producing 'integrated, standards-based unified communications solutions,' things may finally be changing for the better. Polycom, one of the market leaders in video and voice technology makes a really nice partner for Microsoft, whose current version of Exchange (2010) and upcoming Communications Server (14) represent the best of breed software solutions.
Finally, two industry leaders have realized they can't do it alone and decided the best way to produce a solution that will work well and sell a lot of each company's products was to team up. It's not all that surprising that this initial salvo was fired by Microsoft, which has always had a strong history of working with partners to create products that customers are demanding.
The only question that remains is what this will mean for other vendors in the space. Of course, a good deal will depend on the success of this venture. If for some reason it falls flat-which I don't expect-others will likely maintain the status quo and continue to try to improve on their solutions and get them to the place where they work well enough for clients.
If, on the other hand, these products prove to be the best of the best, and the UC space really takes off, I fully expect to see hardware and software vendors scrambling to build solutions together and play catch up. This can only be good for the customer base and I truly expect it to drive the UC space forward light years in a very short time.