What Is Unified Communications Today?

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    Unified communications (UC) is being redefined. That’s a neat trick because it never has had a particularly strong definition to begin with. The challenge is that UC isn’t primarily new technology. Rather, it’s the use of existing technology in new ways and within different structures. That makes the labeling process a bit less direct.

    A decade ago, the common wisdom was that UC was a platform that consolidated and supported whatever communications tools were available. More recently, the idea has become that the applications themselves would be given the UC capabilities. The UC platform also would manage and track results from all that communication.

    That still is the operative definition. The reality, however, is that communications tools are so customizable and powerful that much of a structured UC program is unnecessary. If a group of people can throw together an impromptu Google Hangout or Skype session to tackle a question that pops up, what need is there for a formalized corporate-level video conference? Those new tools must be given space under the UC umbrella.

    Unified Communications

    The power of mobile devices and the birth of apps have transformed UC. For instance, Thomas Claburn at InformationWeek writes that Google Apps has evolved to be a serious competitor to Microsoft Office and one that integrates with enterprise infrastructure in a way that lets it function as an integrated UC suite.

    The story actually is setting up an Interop New York panel, “Integrating Google Apps with UC,” and outlines how these apps can be used to streamline UC. The bottom line is that Google Apps now is a tool that can supplement UC.

    Eric Krapf at No Jitter discusses Google and UC as well. He writes about Google’s service that enables companies to track the AdWords success in generating calls from potential customers. His first thought was that the service was based on Web Real Time Communications (WebRTC) but learned that the function is far simpler. The most important point is that the function is “a unified communications application that isn’t really Unified Communications, the way that our industry talks about UC.”

    In other words, it is something that is more or less put together on the fly. Krapf quotes another UC analyst in analyzing the significance of this:

    In that way, it echoes the trend that Michael Finneran has identified in the mobile world, most recently in this post on Apple. “As I have pointed out many times,” Michael writes, “the reason that users don’t bother with mobile UC clients is that their smartphones already do most of what we call ‘UC,’ and do it in a fashion that more naturally appeals to users.” The Google AdWords/phone integration–as with much of Google’s approach to implementing communications–is similarly uninterested in making you deploy a single platform from which to provide UC.

    Krapf concludes with the thought that UC vendors may be missing the boat by insisting on deploying systems that aren’t in sync with the way in which they are used.

    The bookend change to the definition of UC and how it is deployed is the nature of the users. At Tech Radar, BroadSoft’s Leslie Ferry notes that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says that almost half of the labor force in 2020 will be millennials and 75 percent will be from that group in 2025. Thus, it makes sense to employ strategies that cater to this group’s mentality.

    Companies need to tailor technology to millennials’ work habits, promote devices and systems that can be used for both work and consumer purposes, employ UC approaches that are as simple as possible, and understand how this group communicates.  Ferry goes into detail on each item. The bottom line, however, is good news. UC – provided that it is adjusted to modern technology and users – is a perfect approach:

    Unified Communications is, at its core, optimally suited for how millennials communicate, and enterprises that recognize the expectation of younger workers to access any or all of these UC services in real-time and in an integrated fashion are best positioned to improve enterprise-wide productivity.

    Unified communications is not fading away. But it is a confusing topic. Its definition always was fuzzy. Changes in technology and the workforce that uses it make it even harder to pin down.

    Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Intenet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at [email protected] and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.

    Carl Weinschenk
    Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk Carl Weinschenk is a long-time IT and telecom journalist. His coverage areas include the IoT, artificial intelligence, artificial intelligence, drones, 3D printing LTE and 5G, SDN, NFV, net neutrality, municipal broadband, unified communications and business continuity/disaster recovery. Weinschenk has written about wireless and phone companies, cable operators and their vendor ecosystems. He also has written about alternative energy and runs a website, The Daily Music Break, as a hobby.

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