True Unity: The Forces Of
Technology And Business Are Driving Unified Communications
BY ROBIN LOVE
For nearly a decade the teletech industries have buzzed
about unified messaging ï¿½ the convergence of voice, fax, and e-mail
messages into a common inbox accessible over the phone or on a PC. And the
concept has always sounded great, especially in recent years as
telecommunications applications have become increasingly speech-enabled,
allowing users literally to tell their messaging systems what to do with
minimal button pushing.
On the surface, it seems unified messaging arrived long ago, judging
from the communications technology trends of the last decade. Adoption of
cellular phones has exploded, rapidly evolving from static-prone analog
services to ubiquitous dependable digital networks. Micrologic Research
predicts manufacturers will ship more than 450 million mobile phones this
Use of personal digital assistants (PDAs) ballooned during the
gadget-hungry ï¿½90s, multiplying beyond the briefcases of bustling
corporate managers into the pockets of anyone active enough to need a
compact, up-to-date address book. Research from market tracking firm NPD
Intelect showed triple-digit sales growth for PDAs at the end of the last
decade. At a similar frenetic pace, e-mail systems grew with the advance
of the desktop computer and the World Wide Web, from the offices of the
techno-savvy into the homes of Middle America. Along the way e-mail
interfaces became contact managers, bringing together messaging,
calendars, and address books.
But the truth beneath todayï¿½s dizzying array of communications
options is that few consumers or businesses actually use their messaging
services in concert. Itï¿½s true that one can use a cellular phone to
retrieve voice mail from the office, or use a PDA to snag e-mail messages
from the Internet. And yes, technologically progressive organizations have
the latest operating platforms that allow desktop e-mail users to listen
to voice mail by clicking an icon.
Still, todayï¿½s communications capabilities remain stubbornly in
service silos, because the worldï¿½s telecommunications and data networks
remain largely separate. The elements of messaging exist in different
universes, making the term ï¿½unifiedï¿½ messaging a misnomer. Voice and
fax traffic travels primarily across the Public Switched Telephone Network
(PSTN), while text traffic wends around the web of proprietary data
networks that has come to be called the Internet.
The situation continues to evolve as the marketplace increasingly
offers not only the means to unify messaging services, but it is also
providing businesses and consumers with the motivation. While
technological breakthroughs ï¿½ such as Session Initiation Protocol (SIP)
ï¿½ are making communications convergence much less complex and expensive,
todayï¿½s tightening, global economy is driving companies and individuals
to find ever more ways to raise productivity and lower costs. This
confluence of forces will deliver something beyond just unified messaging.
The twenty-first century marketplace will offer unified communications ï¿½
the fusion of not only the modes of messaging, but the technological
infrastructure that carries them.
THE ROAD TO UNIFIED COMMUNICATIONS
By definition, unified communications is a catchall phrase that
encapsulates the cornucopia of integrated switching, messaging, and
personal communications applications available to service providers and
enterprise managers. Fatigued by the complexity and expense of the
technology silos created by the natural evolution of PBX (Private Branch
Exchange), voice messaging, and call center systems, users are ready for a
streamlined approach to integrated, real-time services. Unified
communications is consolidated access to all communications modes though a
single portal with the global reach of the Internet.
The road to this destination has been a long and multi-lane
communications highway. In the beginning, PBX systems brought businesses
basic call handling, routing, and statistical tracking capabilities. As
call handling features and enterprise networking requirements grew in
sophistication, so did the beginnings of what would become the call center
with the advent of hunt groups, automatic call distribution (ACD),
centralized attendant service, and other capabilities. Soon vendors
realized that some functionality was more efficiently delivered outside
the core of the PBX in adjunct platforms. With the launch of voice mail, a
sub-industry was created to handle the call-answering portion of the PBX
Early voice mail systems, much like todayï¿½s follow-me-forward
systems, were completely isolated from the corporate communications
system. Eventually pioneers saw obvious labor-saving advantages in
integrating PBXs and voice mail systems. Thus, call-answering and
automated-attendant capabilities were born. The early days of voice
messaging saw tremendous growth. In 1995, Dataquest reported that system
shipments in the U.S. from 1990-1994 grew nearly 19 percent, with
shipments of small 1ï¿½4 port systems leading with over 27 percent growth.
By 1993, new communications companies appeared dedicated solely to the
developing products that combined voice and e-mail messaging. These
convergence precursors paved the way for todayï¿½s marketplace, where more
than 100 companies provide some form of unified messaging capabilities.
In addition to voice messaging and call answering, other PBX adjuncts,
such as the interactive voice response (IVR) system, and predictive
dialers fed the infant call center industry, which really blossomed with
the development of computer telephony integration (CTI), historical
reporting, and forecasting. And as contact center refinements steadily
devolved power to the customer, so did the enterprise communications
network evolve to empower the worker. During the mid-90ï¿½s, sophisticated
applications like fax and unified messaging, personal telephony
applications, follow-me-forward services, and speech portals emerged, each
with its own standards and platforms, each delivering a subset of features
to users. However, it wasnï¿½t until the widespread use of wireless
technology that these technologies emerged as ï¿½must-havesï¿½ for mobile
users. The introduction of ï¿½extra-PBXï¿½ users (mobile phones) created a
new dilemma for systems managers: How could unified applications be
efficiently provided and managed for user communities existing entirely
beyond their span of control?
SIP: THE FAST LANE
The Internet seemed the obvious answer to the challenge. As mentioned
earlier, enterprise communication vendors were no strangers to combining
voice and data in their networks, as demonstrated by the emergence and use
of CTI. Starting in the late 90ï¿½s, IP-based packet networks started
emerging as the transport method of choice, slowly replacing circuit-based
networks. And naturally, as with other emerging technologies, competing
standards emerged, too.
SIP (Session Initiation Protocol) is an Internet Engineering Task Force
(IETF) signaling protocol for establishing real-time calls and conferences
over IP networks. As the name implies, SIP initiates interactive
communications sessions between users. ï¿½Initiating a sessionï¿½ requires
determining where the called party is at any given moment. A user might
have a PC at work or home, wireless telephone, or an IP desk phone on a
manufacturing floor. The user might have a set work schedule, or be
constantly on the road or in different buildings on an enterprise campus.
It might be acceptable for a normal caller to wait while the system tries
one location at a time according to user rules, or the urgency of the call
could require that all phones be rung at once. This dynamic location
information needs to be taken into account in order to find the user. SIPï¿½s
tremendous flexibility allows the servers to contact external location
servers to determine user or routing policies, and therefore, does not
bind the user into only one method of locating users.
In simple terms, SIP makes it possible to use the Internet to reach
anyone, anywhere through any mode of messaging. That means SIP makes true
unified communications possible.
A RIPE TIME FOR UC
The tightening global economy has created a ripe environment for an
explosion of unified communications services. Just as technology is making
it possible to keep pace with a 24-hour marketplace, the recent economic
downturn is making it necessary to do more with less.
When applications such as unified messaging were first launched the
typical target market for them was the ï¿½Road Warriorï¿½ set,
specifically anyone spending the majority of time out of the office, such
as sales representatives or executives. But now, with companies striving
to get leaner and leaner, the population of workers dwelling beyond office
borders is growing. In addition to traditional mobile workers ï¿½
high-level executives, sales representatives, and traveling service
personnel ï¿½ telecommuters, knowledge workers, and collaborative workers
have joined the list. By demanding flexibility in their work schedules,
these groups have redefined the boundaries of the enterprise. According to
a 2001 survey conducted by ITAC, an association for teleworkers, more than
28 million people ï¿½ a jump of 17 percent from last year ï¿½ work outside
But regardless of their location, todayï¿½s workers and their employers
expect productivity to meet or exceed in-the-office standards. And with
most communications systems designed according to a definition of the
enterprise that is quickly fading, companies have struggled with access,
interoperability, and obsolescence issues ï¿½ and paid dearly for them in
terms of cost and productivity. Furthermore, external issues, such as the
escalating cost of business travel and airline security concerns, have
pressured corporate managers to develop ways to connect people without
meeting face-to-face. Unified communications addresses all these concerns.
For users, SIP-based unified communications offers freedom and
simplicity. They choose their access device ï¿½ desktop computer, PDA,
cell phone, etc. They have a single inbox with a single phone number
and/or address. (As IP networks grow, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses
eventually may essentially converge.) They can quickly review any mode of
communication and respond in the most convenient mode. The bottom line is
that they can communicate and collaborate with colleagues and customers
more extensively and rapidly then ever before.
For enterprises, the simplification that SIP-based unified
communications promises to deliver to the infrastructure and
administration of their networks will lead to savings in terms of time,
cost, and human resources. With technology giants, such as WorldCom and
Microsoft committing to a future based on IP networks, the return on
investment in unified communications by commercial businesses seems all
The forces of technology and business have conspired in the past to
keep the concept of unified communications from becoming reality. Now, it
seems those same forces are dissolving obstacles rather than supporting
True unity is at hand.
Robin Love is a 20-year veteran of communications technology
marketing. She is currently director of marketing for Webley Systems,
Inc., a leading provider of communications convergence technology. Webleyï¿½s
end-to-end Unified Communications solution is based on an open
architecture, standards-based platform, which allows both the system and
service to address the needs of individuals and businesses while
maintaining the adaptability to grow with a company of any size. For more
information, visit www.webley.com.
To The May 2002 Table Of Contents ]
Unified Communications: Moving Beyond the
BY CHRIS DAVIS
Enterprise worker mobility is fast becoming the driving force for
implementing a more efficient, more complete unified communications
solution. Itï¿½s time to think outside the simple message inbox. A unified
communications (UC) strategy is needed to achieve maximum productivity and
profit margins outside of the office as well as inside. While traditional
unified messaging provides organizations with the ability to access all
message types in one place for easier information access, prioritizing,
and archiving, unified communications is taking businesses further beyond
There is no industry-wide agreement on what makes a unified
communications system, but according to Gartner Dataquest, ï¿½At its
broadest level, UC includes any technologies required to support the
paradigm of any content through any network to any device, any place, any
time, and via any media.ï¿½ The Unified-View, an industry and market
consulting firm that specializes in unified communications, describes
unified communications as ï¿½a concept, a definition of the possibilities
and needs that we have to help us manage our ever-increasing
In other words, UC provides organizations with the ability to manage
many types of business information anywhere, anytime, through any
communications device. It includes the appropriate tools to enhance the
productivity of the entire workforce and ensure business objectives are
met by traveling employees.
A recent study conducted by Wirthlin Worldwide found that 84 percent of
respondents believe that in the future, mobile communications needs will
increase. Additionally, 71 percent believe that at least 25 percent of
their workforce would benefit from mobile wireless access.
Some key features generally accepted as components of unified
Unified messaging alone boasts significant time-savings and productivity
enhancements. According to a time-motion study by COMgroup, mobile workers
experienced a time-savings gain of 70 percent using unified messaging to
check their messages as compared with the traditional means. Additionally,
in-office professionals experienced a 53 percent time-savings using
unified messaging to check all their messages from their inbox, as opposed
to the traditional means of checking voice messages over the telephone,
fax messages at the fax machine, and e-mail on the desktop PC.
The unified messaging mailbox also makes it easier to prioritize work,
track customer communications, and file all messages relating to a given
project in one folder.
Better Access To More Than Messages
Using wireless real-time access to groupware allows mobile workers to
utilize downtime more effectively and to keep projects moving back at the
office. Traveling executives can access their messages plus calendar,
tasks, and contact lists from their wireless device ï¿½ providing them
with the ability to communicate while sitting in an airport or waiting for
an appointment. When responding to e-mail with a full-featured UC
solution, users have the choice to reply with a voice message instead of
typing on a wireless device. With real-time response to questions and
meeting invitations, work is not held up for those awaiting a reply.
Speech recognition is another feature of some UC systems. Voice
commands can provide access to existing appointments, create new
appointments, send and accept calendar invitations, find free time in a
schedule, look up information such as addresses and telephone numbers, and
work with new and forwarded messages.
Additionally, some UC systems offer the ability to remotely access
corporate databases such as CRM and ERP.
Better Customer Communication
A UC system that includes Interactive Voice Response (IVR) connects
customers, databases, telephones, and fax machines. Customers can call to
access answers to specific questions through keypad or voice selections.
They can place an order and receive faxed confirmation. Any information
stored in a database can be spoken or faxed to your customer via IVR,
providing immediate attention to specific inquiries. Callers receive
accurate responses without busy signals or holding, and employees are
freed up for other tasks.
With top-of-the line mobility solutions in place, out-of-office workers
can more quickly respond to customer messages and even check information,
such as order shipments or inventory, before replying to a customer.
Evaluating Your Company Needs
Each enterprise has a unique set of needs that can be addressed with UC.
When reviewing the features above, it may also be helpful to examine
whether the UC solution being considered offers modular, integrated
components so that functionality can be purchased as needed. Also consider
whether a potential solution would require purchasing specific mobile
equipment or service from a specific carrier in order to be maintained.
Chris Davis is senior vice president of global marketing for
Captaris. Captaris offers unified communications software solutions
including network faxing, unified messaging, high-volume e-document
delivery, and mobile wireless applications. For more information, visit
them online at www.captaris.com.