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Unified Communications: What's the Fuss About?
[September 12, 2007]

Unified Communications: What's the Fuss About?

Associate Editor,
Internet Telephony magazine
At INTENRNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO, Interactive Intelligence CEO Dr. Donald E. Brown took the podium to answer the question, “What’s all the fuss about Unified Communications (News - Alert)?”

Brown’s first looked to define Unified Communications, which includes services like voice mail and fax in the email Inbox, Find Me/Follow Me capabilities; presence; IM; and perhaps more.  All of these features are nice, he added, but, they have all been around for at least a decade.
So, he asked, if these components have all been around for ten years, why is everyone making such a big deal about them?  He posited that UC is really only the latest in a list of names to describe these elements of a communications platform — there used to be Artificial Intelligence, and client server, and Web 2.0, and others. But really, they were all a way of describing the same communications features.
Today’s version of Unified Communications, Brown argued, is part of the marketing game, allowing vendors and service providers to lock customers into a series of products, rather than buying them from different vendors.  In addition, those providers are able to hide the fact they have really turned open standards into proprietary technology, effectively rendering them useless for open, standards-based network, and they are able to focus on the high-level product package rather than the complete solution.
But perhaps the biggest problem with today’s UC solutions, according to Brown, is that the features do not provide their maximum value in the business space.  Many UC features, in fact, are best suited for a call center environment, while others are truly designed for consumer use.
That said, Brown noted the, if done properly, UC has tremendous potential — but it’s not about buddy lists and it’s not about making a mockery of recognized standards.  Instead, he argues, the real value of unified communications lies in process automation. 
Presence, he explained, becomes more than simply a statement of availability; it becomes an indicator of availability for the assignments within the business process.  Call center queuing and call routing, become tools for predictably performing work flow processes; recording moves beyond simple quality control to compliance issues; and real-time monitoring goes from being a coaching function to providing deeper insight into the functions that really make the business work.  And perhaps most importantly for ensuring business process continuity, VoIP provides location independence (e.g., it allows employees to perform their duties from anywhere).
But, in order to really make it effective in a business environment, the UC “portal” needs to be transformed from a consumer “toy” to a business applications look and feel.  And, communications needs to be a tightly integrates, centrally managed service set, not a conglomeration of separate products.
Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Associate Editor of INTERNET TELEPHONY, IMS Magazine, and Unified Communications.  Prior to joining TMC (News - Alert), he was Managing Editor at Global Custodian, an international securities services publication. To see more of his articles, please visit Erik Linask’s columnist page.

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