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March 17, 2008

Why UC is So Confusing: Because it's moving up Different Food Chains at the Same Time

By Art Rosenberg

As the industry gets ready for the VoiceCon show in Orlando this week, the telecommunications industry has been sharpening its promotional weapons to position themselves for the next phases of UC evolution. The industry has finally stopped touting just “VoIP” cost savings for traditional legacy telephony and moved on to unified, multimodal and mobile business communication applications. That includes an emphasis on real-time messaging, instant voice and video conferencing, and communications enabled business process applications.

But it’s more than that!

Every facet of technology implementation, marketing, enterprise management and administration, and user adoption is being affected by the fundamental shifts that the Internet has enabled. The changes are particularly affecting anything to do with voice telephony; nobody wants just a voice telephone (wired or wireless) anymore, it’s got be a multimodal communication device for both people contacts and information access. As a result, we are seeing all levels of technology and service providers staking their claims in the UC pie and focusing on their contributions to the benefits of UC.

The “UC Change of Life” - Let me count the ways!

In general, everything that we used to do in communicating with people is being upgraded and improved. If you are like me, it’s been real hard to keep up with all the information that pours in over web. So, with UC technology still in a state of evolution, every day brings a torrent of changes to various aspects of how enterprise business communications will be affected. In particular, change is affecting everything and everyone involved with real-time communications, notably telephony and video, but also all forms of messaging.

Productivity Results, Not Just Costs – Providers are now selling the productivity benefits of UC to the business processes and groups of end users, rather than just for individual productivity. (I called it “micro-productivity” because the benefits to the enterprise were either small or questionable.) All the vendors are now pushing enterprise and user group performance benefits, not technology benefits, to business management and end users who have to get some direct rewards from adopting UC.

Software, Not Hardware – The big telephone system developers are all starting to announce that they are now “software” companies. They are moving to device-independent software offerings for IP-based software servers and device clients.

“Open” Software Suites, Not Just Components or Proprietary Suites – In the latest moves, the big telephony guys are out to capture market share by providing all the functional pieces of UC they can. This time, though, it can’t be by proprietary, “closed” suites, because no one wants to be locked in to software, especially with SOA infrastructures staring you in the face, and software applications dynamically evolving forever.

“Instant” Multimodal, Multi-party Contacts, Not Restrictive Procedures – “Click-to- Contact” people using multimodal communication endpoints, especially mobile devices, will mean more than voice conversation phone calls in the world of UC. Real-time contacts will include IM and video conferencing, as well as mixed mode, multiparty conferencing, where not everyone is able to participate in the exact same way. Some will be on camera, some will be able to view video, some will be strictly voice, some will watch voice-to-text transcriptions, and, for those unable to participate at all, there will be convenient access to post conference recordings and response options afterwards.

Enabling Business Processes To Contact People, Not Just “Person-to-Person” Contacts – As business process applications become capable of automatically monitoring status information in real-time, they will also become able to react to time-critical situations by becoming real-time “contact initiators” to those people who will be affected by the situation. Under the label of Communications Enabled Business Process (CEBP), such applications will be able to initiate notifications to selected people (as contact recipients) without having to know exactly what mode of delivery to use.

Unlike a “person-to-person” form of CEBP, where a person can initiate a contextual “click-to-contact” action (call, message) from within any form of information (documents, data files, address books, etc.), applications only have to create a text message “notification,” which can then be delivered in speech, if necessary. Such messages will also contain links for follow on interactions such as a self-service application online or with speech interfaces and must be able to be delivered to any personalized mobile devices that a user may have.

This is perhaps the most promising new area of UC that will bring business process application developers and communication services together into new and “open” partnerships. As described below in point 12, consumers and customer contact applications will be targeted by automated enterprise business process applications that can exploit UC and CEBP, not just internal business users.  IBM (News - Alert), Microsoft and vertical market application developers will partner to create applications that will work with old and new business UC providers like Avaya, Nortel, Siemens (News - Alert), Mitel, Interactive Intelligence, Zeacom, etc., and both hosted business and consumer service providers like Verizon and AT&T.

Selling UC To Business Management and Individual End Users, Not Just to IT – Because UC is more than traditional telephony; it will affect how business activities are conducted. Therefore, Line of Business management, as well as individual end user groups will be affected. So, its not just about changing out the infrastructure or even about using mobile “smart phones,” its about how all that will change business procedures at an individual user/group and operational level. That will be a prerequisite before IT can configure and implement anything.

Planning For UC Outside The Organization, Not Just For Internal Users – Like traditional PSTN telephony, where any phone can call any other phone in the world, UC has to allow the power of multimodal IP communications and “federated” presence to extend to people outside the organization, i.e., business partners and customers. Because one has little control over people outside an organization, UC flexibility will be a critical element for cross-enterprise and cross network contacts. This, of course, brings into play the whole domain of secure access management and regulatory compliance across all forms of communication and information access.

Hosted and Managed Services, Not Just Premised-based Technology –Software-based IP telephony, combined with “virtualization” of application software servers, Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA), and SAAS (Software As A Service), is changing the game for how enterprise organizations will implement business process applications and UC. It will shift the responsibilities of the enterprise to managing and using communications technologies, not developing or owning them. This transition will not be overnight, nor will it ever be a 100% change, but the writing is on the wall.

The shift to IP communications as the foundation for UC also means that the traditional communication technology differences between the large, medium and small business organizations will also converge. As users become remote and mobile, they will become like small, but dynamically changing “branch offices.” Hosted services will be applicable to enterprise users in this manner, and, once such services become acceptable to individual business users, the rest of a large organization will be able to benefit in the same way as well. I see the differences between large and small organizations disappearing slowly but surely in the wake of mobile UC.

“Unified” Channels Must Sell and Support Both Managed and Hosted UC Services, Not Just Telephony, Premise-based Equipment, or Software – It is very obvious that the many facets of UC capabilities will be selectively implemented for a variety of different individuals and groups in a business organization of any size. Because those needs will be different, it’s not going to be a “one size fits all” sale, nor will it be implementations that are totally independent of other users inside or outside of the organization. Application needs will require design and usage trials before final implementation, and, because of software flexibility, may always be subject to real-world needs for change. “Unified” channels will be key to UC sales and support and they will have to have comprehensive skills to support all phases of business UC migrations, including all forms of communication (messaging, conferencing, application messaging), not just telephony.

Enterprise Mobile Device Management Must Be Software Focused, Not Hardware Dependent – It’s just a matter of time, but everyone is starting to agree with me that end users will be responsible for choosing the particular “smart phone” device that they can use for both business and personal applications. What the enterprise will be responsible for is to insure that they can support the software clients for such devices for their business applications only, and let the wireless carriers supply the other consumer-oriented services. It’s not a matter of all or nothing and we are starting to see progress in removing the “walled gardens” of the carriers. (Watch the iPhone (News - Alert) change!)

Individual End Users Have to View Communication Needs From Both a Contact Initiation and Contact Response Perspective Independently, Not Assuming They Must Always Be Identical – Perhaps the biggest change that will affect end users, the devices they use, and ultimately their technology providers, is that two-way, person-to-person contacts can be accomplished asynchronously, but still be multimodal. (I labeled that kind of thing as “transmodal.”) As described in Point 4 above for multi-party-conferencing that means that both contact recipients and recipients can communicate efficiently and effectively even though each has a different device, a different user interface, different environmental constraints, and different priorities. This is where unified messaging concepts of flexibly using the ease and convenience of voice for messaging input but the efficiency of text for retrieval, as well as the reverse for text information.

This flexibility is in addition to the increased “intelligence” that can be provided to a contact initiator by presence and availability information about potential recipient(s). Each user should be able to initiate contacts in any form that they wish, regardless of whether the recipient is immediately available. The recipients can be notified immediately, but that still doesn’t mean they can respond immediately. In this situation, the initiator can expect something better than the traditional telephone answering game of “telephone tag” and “voice mail jail.”

That is where the concept of “As Soon As Possible” (ASAP) real-time connections can be brought into play as “second prize,” because although people can have all the flexibility in how they communicate, they won’t necessarily have the time to do so synchronously. (“It takes two to tango!”)

Of course, there will always be the need to plan and schedule any synchronous activities, but as business becomes more global, distributed, and “virtual,” such collaborative communication and information exchange activities will become more dependent on remote communication technologies rather than face-to-face meetings.

UC Is Also Consumers, Not Just For Business Users – Although business users will place high priorities for benefits of UC in doing their “jobs,” consumers also use business communications as “customers.” So, in the world of customer contact, consumers will put on their business hats when they either they contact a company for any reason (“doing business”), or the company contacts a customer with a time-sensitive notification of some kind. So, everything we say about end users applies to both business users and consumers, even though the frequency of contact will be very different.

However, this convergence of needs will be reflected in the fact that both consumers and business users will need a consistent and efficient way of communicating with an enterprise and business process applications. The reverse will also be true, i.e., business process applications will want to contact both business users and consumer customers. Again, watch what the iPhone (and its competitors) will do the enterprise contact center.

Bottom Line For UC Implementations

Everything that used to be done in the past for business communications will now have to be done better or differently because all the pieces of UC have to be considered and interoperable and because the needs of all the people that will be affected by UC will have to taken into account. That means that proper UC planning and implementation must be more careful and comprehensive than just buying a “plug and play” application, a communication device, or a service. That also means that who you buy from, rather than who developed the technology, will become very critical to the success of UC implementations.

However, because UC technology is still evolving in tandem with developing new operational requirements for UC within an organization, incremental implementation steps, including using hosted and managed services, will be the practical way to go as long as those steps are “future-proofed” and “open.” That kind of future proofing is what is just starting to happen with some of the new announcements starting to come out for VoiceCon, so stay tuned!


Industry veteran Art Rosenberg (News - Alert) writes the blog, The Unified-View. You can contact him at [email protected] or 310-395-2360.

Don’t forget to check out TMCnet’s
White Paper Library, which provides a selection of in-depth information on relevant topics affecting the IP Communications industry. The library offers white papers, case studies and other documents which are free to registered users. Today’s featured white paper is The “BRAIN” Model of Intelligibility in Business Telephony, brought to you by Polycom (News - Alert).

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Featured Speakers

Mike Rhodin
General Manager, Lotus Software, IBM
Session Title:
Communicate and Collaborate at the Speed of Business
Wednesday, March 19 9:00 AM - 10:00 AM
David Marshak,
Senior Product Manager, Unified Communications and Collaboration (UC�), IBM
Session Title:
Presence: Cornerstone of Enterprise Communications?
Wednesday, March 19 4:00 PM - 5:00 PM
Terrence Hickey:
Global Business Services Solution Executive, Contact Centers, IBM
Session Title:
Contact Center Executive Forum
Monday, March 17 1:30 PM - 2:45 PM

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