Unified Communications

Our modern day business scenario has this uncharacteristic need for a dispersed yet connected workforce. We want our people to be proactive and reach out to the customers but without losing touch with the enterprise. We want them to operate from remote locations while still having access to enterprise information. As a result, we have people carrying out communications via emails, phones, video conferences, Skype, instant messengers, VoIP, fax, social networks, and the list goes on.

Now in such a spider web like architecture how do we channelize communication to a single point? How do we trace a single communication string? And most importantly, how do we gauge the effectiveness of our communications?

All these lingering questions have common answer – unified communications.

Unified Communication – The Concept

First of all let’s get this straight – unified communications or UC is not a single product. It’s an architecture made up of different products. UC integrates and synchronizes your real-time communication channels with your non real-time channels. It’s an ecosystem where disparate communication channels are tied down together to unify communications across different devices.

So the next time you see a colleague accessing office emails through his iPhone, remember it’s UC in action!

UC – The Story from the Cradle

The evolution of UC dates back to as early as 1980s when people had started using emails and voice mail services. This was a time when voice mail systems with features similar to IVR were wooing the corporates. Mobile phones had yet to emerge on the horizon as a serious contender and PCs had yet to deliver on several fronts. The year 1985 saw one of the most notable UC milestones when VMX added an email reader feature to their voice mail system. From here on, there was no looking back for UC.

The 1990s were the grooming years of UC. During these years, the concept of unified messaging had found eager takers in corporate world. Increasing remote office operations brought forth the need for an integrated view of voice mails and emails. This clashed with the rise of cell phones and remote desktop access. This decade was a witness to Telephony One Stop – a Lotus and AT&T initiative in 1995 and Octel Unified Messaging in 1997. It’s worth mentioning here that Microsoft further developed Octel to its presently popular Exchange 2007 offering.

The decade of 90s shaped up UC. Enterprises started experimenting with both messaging and real-time communication channels. Speech controlled interfaces for mobile phones started becoming popular. And then in 1999, the launch of RIM Blackberry completely changed the communications landscape forever.

2000s had opened the floodgates to several communication channels. Things like VoIP, Skype, and even social networks to some extent found a place in enterprise communication strategy. While the communications market was seeing new entries, one of its oldest and most consistent players – email – was making segue into collaboration market. This natural evolution of email paralleled with increasing use of collaboration tools. The most popular collaboration tool dating back to 2000s is Microsoft’s SharePoint. Mobility was another factor that got added to communications segment as Blackberry gave enterprise communications a total makeover. And now what we have on hand is the present complex communications architecture of a modern day enterprise.

UC in 2011

So far what we have seen in 2011 has been quite encouraging. We have seen a lot of positivity in the market for UC. At the same time, UC and collaboration tools have emerged out of their cocoon and justified their position in enterprise architecture. They have delivered positive return on investment and lowered cost of operations. As a result, enterprises have started contemplating on increasing budgets for UC and collaboration tools. All in all, so far 2011 has turned out to be the defining year for unified communications.

Now is the time to push the pedal on UC. Let’s not get complacent here. We need to go the extra mile to increase awareness of unified communication. Customer handholding is one aspect we can work on. Interoperability is another technical issue that demands attention going forward. The market is a little unsure right now over how the emerging communication technologies will fit in their established scheme of things, especially the legacy systems. And given the increasing cloud influence, UC can face some compatibility glitches. The cloud phenomenon will further encourage enterprises to demand a multi-tenant UC platform by tail end of 2011.

From here on, we anticipate enterprises to identify their most effective communication channels and gear their UC efforts towards these select technologies. They would try to draw out maximum value from their existing UC initiatives and then move forward.

Another important trend to pick up pace here would be unified analytics. Unified analytics will take up a seat at the table in UC planning and call the shots. There is still a blind spot in terms of planning a UC initiative. The market knows that UC holds value but it needs to be implemented in a planned and phased out manner. So, we expect enterprises to use analytics and identify person-to-person contact activities that can benefit from UC. Analytics will further help them identify business processes that need to initiate contact with people. Management can use unified analytics to identify who plays what role in a communication process and better plan it.

So let’s keep a close watch on the UC space. There is certainly more happening on that front.

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