Unified Communications Is Great -- as Are the Deployment Challenges


Two weeks ago, I blogged about where various vendors fell in the prestigious Gartner unified communications Magic Quadrant report. There was absolutely no lack of innovation and there are terrific and innovative products coming down the pike.


That's half the battle. The other side of the coin is the difficulty in implementing UC. UC is not an application. Instead, it's a set of creative ways to link together a number of already existing applications. By definition, then, UC can be called a horizontal business process that creates new relationships between virtually every element of a company's communications infrastructure.


That makes it hard to implement, both from the technology and human engineering points of view. That difficulty is amply demonstrated in this No Jitter piece that looks at the corporate teams involved in the rollout of Microsoft Office Communications Server at Travelers Insurance. The blog, a promotion for VoiceCon San Francisco next month, makes the assumption that, in this context, OCS is the same as UC in general. In all, 18 teams, from e-mail to applications developers, need to be on board. That's a lot of people to get onto the same page. The same essential point is made in a comment to the post by Allan Sulkin, the founder and president of the TEQConsult Group, who also is presenting at the conference.


There is good news in Nemertes Research's Unified Communications and Collaboration benchmark report. The firm says that 47 percent of executives are deploying or plan to deploy UC. That's fully 30 percent higher than the 17 percent in 2007. There is a cautionary note that can be seen in the report, however. The firm ties UC closely to video conferencing, and says that the best way to build a business case for UC in general is to determine how to use video conferencing to cut travel costs.


If only, some organizations are sure to say, there was a way to see precisely how UC will fit into their infrastructure, a way to take a bit of a test run. Well, there now is. Unisys this summer began offering 30-day trials in which Microsoft's OCS, Exchange Server 2007 and Office LiveMeeting would be deployed to as many as 20 people in the organization for free. The offer is a sensible way to demonstrate features of the platform. Savvy IT administrators can also use the opportunity to determine how the platform will integrate with the organization's legacy platforms.


One example of how the ubiquity of UC can change things is in security. When VoIP is the only issue, strict segregation between the network carrying voice packets and the rest of the infrastructure does the trick. This PC World story points out that the very strength of UC -- the ability to reach wherever is necessary to find the right data or person -- makes such an airtight separation impossible. Indeed, it puts the two conflicting priorities -- separation and all-inclusiveness -- in direct conflict. This of course isn't a reason to not employ UC, but it certainly is something to think about.