The concept of Unified Communications (UC) first made its appearance over a decade ago. Thus, it’s amusing to hear some people refer to UC as the “new” anything, since network equipment vendors and service providers have hyped UC throughout the 1990s — along with their many pioneering products and services meant to serve as a means to that end, though not always successfully (at least not until recently). Do today’s discussions and pronouncements of UC afford all of us just another opportunity to yet again experience feelings of déjà vu?
I thought for a while that VoIP would single-handedly take us to a vision of UC, especially over the last four years, during which we have seen Internet Telephony become widely adopted across the globe in all types of markets.
Unfortunately, the vendor and service provider communities haven’t brought us to the UC Promised Land, at least not by providing us solely with VoIP (define - news - alert) technology. For the majority of IP telephony users, VoIP simply means a type of new phone, not a truly integrated experience where one can use video conferencing, data collaboration, intelligent call routing based on your status, integration with your calendar, real-time text messaging, integration with your productivity applications, etc.
As it happens, the UC cart finally got moving when Instant Messaging (IM) and full-blown presence technology joined the world of IP Communications.
IM first appeared in the form of MIT’s CTSS system and its “interconsole messaging” of 1965, then the UNIX FINGER and TALK commands of the 1970s, the UNIX Zephyr Notification Service of 1988, and then more recognizably as ICQ, developed by four Israeli programmers at Mirabilis in 1996 — a pedigree stretching back long before AOL filed U.S. patent #6,449,344 in 1997 (granted in 2002). IM’s rapid adoption in both consumer and enterprise worlds changed the landscape of UC forever. Presence-powered contact lists along with IM came to represent the killer application — a springboard to all the communication modes the UC community had been trying to bring to market and deploy for decades.
Interestingly, most of the innovation that made UC a reality occurred in the consumer world and was then adopted by knowledge workers, often against the will of their IT departments. This “back door” adoption process meant that enterprises were not ready to cope with the issues of this new, powerful, and viral communication paradigm. The value of IM was not well understood and was perceived as either a threat or a nuisance (or both) by most IT executives.
IM, along with presence, moved very rapidly from a realtime text messaging tool to a platform for facilitating rich communication and collaboration conversations. I’ve been told by numerous public IM service providers that they have millions of minutes of voice and video over IP on their network per month and the traffic is constantly growing. Surely the unifying “glue” of unified communications will increasingly be presence and IM technology.
And yet, whereas the new world of UC is already a reality for many consumers who benefit from the availability of inexpensive broadband connections, UC is still far from being universally adopted and enjoyed by networked enterprise customers. This is perhaps because there remain certain real factors to keep in mind when deploying UC for internal user in the enterprise. There are obvious security concerns, privacy issues, possible deployment difficulties, end user education, administration and maintenance costs, new bandwidth requirements and network engineering, directory changes, just to name few of the challenges that I have observed in the last years as our customers started deploying sophisticated enterprise UC software for their internal use.
Unfortunately, these issues are not the only obstacles we face on the path leading us to greater productivity. What about harnessing all of UC’s power in conjunction with our customers and partners? How could we and our colleagues benefit from UC not only with the closest communities in our own corporations but across corporate boundaries as well? When and how can I add somebody from another company to my contact list, see his or her presence and join a multimedia collaboration session without my favorite local IT colleague running down the corridor to stop me from initiating this very “dangerous” communication experience?
We of the Reuters Communication and Collaboration Services team are addressing these very challenges that our customers face. Reuters as a global information company provides indispensable information tailored for professionals in the financial services and other industries. It has faced such challenges for other products and services for decades. Bringing together communities of interest to interact with each other to generate business regardless of their geographic location, size or type of business is what makes Reuters one of the world’s most trusted brands and gives us the knowledge of the issues faced by the market each day.
So what is our approach? Do we build the “silver bullet,” the panacea that works in all situations and solves all the problems we mentioned above and more? One thing we know is that “one size fits all” is not the right solution. Can we just build a smart routing software package and sort out magically all the deployment issues and address connectivity and related security concerns of our customers? Or do we just build a communication service and try to convince the whole market to move to hosted UC platforms for all internal and external communication needs? We have encountered such situations before in the IP telephony world. I have both observed and participated in many debates where vendors were pushing for a deployed solution while service providers were touting the merits of a hosted world.
Obviously, the world is complex and it is becoming more so. But we do believe the right solution is to maintain flexibility and agility in our approach of building and offering advanced UC services. The focus should not be so much on “hosted vs. deployed” as it should our zeal in complementing our customers’ choices and solving their communication deployment challenges. At the end of the day, our goal is to recognize and bestow upon users the benefits of community and content via communication services that empower users with great productivity tools, regardless of their location or the communications device with which they work.
To this end, each quarter in this column I will address the industry issues surrounding unified communications. I will tackle technical and corporate (or business) issues as they relate to the financial services industry and will highlight the way UC impacts the evolution of Internet telephony.
I’m looking forward to collaborating with you each quarter and can be reached by email at David.Gurle@reuters.com or by IM at firstname.lastname@example.org through your AIM, MSN, and Yahoo! Messenger clients.
Editor’s Note: This new column is by David Gurlé, Executive Vice President, Global Head of Collaboration Services, Reuters.
David Gurlé leads the team responsible for the business and technical aspects of collaboration services, including Reuters Messaging product development, service, marketing and sales initiatives. Since joining Reuters in early 2003, David and his team have transitioned Reuters and Reuters Messaging into a highly valuable Unified Communications service. Much of this success has come from connecting Reuters Messaging with other communities and improving workflow productivity of financial information workers.
David has been recognized by CNET, VON Magazine, and the securities’ market as a thought leader for his achievement in establishing a very successful enterprise Instant Messaging service.
Prior to joining Reuters, David worked for Microsoft as Product Unit Manager and Director of Program Management — Real Time Communication where he founded and managed Microsoft’s real time communication business (now called the Unified Communication Division). David led the team which was responsible for the Microsoft Office Live Communications Server, Microsoft’s instant messaging solution and real-time communications server.
While at Microsoft, David co-authored several Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) standards for presence and instant messaging for SIP (SIMPLE) and his vision and ardent work led to the creation of IP-based Unified Communications technology considered by the industry to be the next generation of telecommunication services.
Before joining Microsoft in 1999, David worked with IP telephony pioneer VocalTec Communications as Corporate Vice President of Business Alliances of the CTO team. While there, he led VocalTec’s standardization activities on VoIP and IP Telephony and served as editor of major international IP Telephony and VoIP standards at IETF, ITU-T, and ETSI.
David brings more than 10 years of experience in the European telecommunications market and has earned the ETSI service award for his outstanding work in creating Europe’s IP telephony initiative, the TIPHON standardization working group. David has also co-authored four books on VoIP and IP Telephony.
David served on the advisory boards of WebEx, eDial, and IMLogic, and currently sits on Akonix’s customer advisory board.