Making Unified Communications Work

Convergence Corner

Making Unified Communications Work

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  September 01, 2010

This article originally appeared in the Sept. 2010 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY

Nearly every business has put some thought into a unified communications strategy by now – even if unknowingly, by considering implementation of different communications features to help enhance their collaboration or mobile capabilities. We already understand that each company has a different idea of what unified communications means, and

what pieces it wants to integrate into its communications system. But, therein lies the major impediment to unified communications truly becoming mainstream. Of course, there are a number of all-inclusive UC suites available – but they are often costly, and either have more features than businesses need or they don’t have the right combination of features.What’s more, many of them don’t fully interoperate with other products, even at the most fundamental levels, making integration into existing communications environments challenging. It’s the familiar best-of-suite versus best-of-breed argument. Recently, much of the focus has shifted to multi-vendor implementations. Part of it is because businesses are  implementing capabilities at different times, as needs evolve or as budgets allow.

But, it’s also a function of simply getting the greatest ROI – businesses must ensure they are paying for only the technology that will help them achieve their business goals, while also ensuring they maximize on their prior technology investments, which often means incremental implementation.“All of the parts of unified communications didn’t happen at the same time – businesses are getting different pieces at different times,” explains Jeff Rodman, Polycom (News - Alert) co-founder and CTO. “This means their investments end up on different depreciation cycles and the rip-and-replace strategy doesn’t really work well, because they need to be able to

bring in tools as needed.” A key contributor to the growth of UC, and also a function of cost-saving measures at businesses globally, is the rapid rise of SIP Trunking, which has helped drive the adoption of SIP-based devices and services, a natural predecessor to unified communications. “There is a natural connection between SIP Trunking and unified communications,” explains Ingate President Steve Johnson (News - Alert). “SIP Trunking is simply the catalyst for getting

to [UC capabilities], which some people might describe as the Holy Grail.”Indeed, there are many vendors who would agree that unified communications represents the latest Holy Grail but, in order for that vision to truly materialize, the ideal of a single

standard – and the fundamental idea behind the SIP standard – must be achieved, eliminating interoperability issues between different UC components.“You need some agreement on standards when you want to have different platforms that work together,” says Rodman.

That’s exactly what Polycom and the other founding members of the Unified Communications (News - Alert) Interoperability Forum (UCIF) have in mind: To understand and prioritize the most important parts of UC solutions, create templates, agree on standards for each form of communication, and develop a verification program that includes conformance testing. What’s important to note is the Forum – which is also seeking to strengthen ties with the SIP Forum (News - Alert) – has not set out to create new standards, but to help the industry reach agreement of which standards should be implemented for various forms of communication, making interop more feasible and easier to accomplish.

If you look at not only the founding members of the UCIF, but the entire membership, which, at press time, totals 27 companies, the list is a varied as the definitions of UC itself. It includes network equipment manufacturers, conferencing providers, UC platform vendors, chip manufacturers, and more – representatives of all of the various  constituencies whose collaborative efforts are required to fulfill Rodman’s suggestion that, in three to five years, the world will have stopped looking at UC thinking it will work, and will instead simply expect it to work as they have their traditional

PSTN lines all these years. Having already held several meetings to initiate its plans, the Forum will host its first all-member event in conjunction with ITEXPO West in Los Angeles, October 4-6, 2010. The meeting will not only bring together Forum members, but will also allow it to promote its mission to the thousands of ITEXPO attendees and, more importantly, to the vendors represented at ITEXPO and its collocated events, most of whom should have a vested interest in helping the UCIF achieve success in overcoming the many obstacles inherent in a multi-vendor implementation.

Without question, the speed with which vendors have brought their UC solutions to market is already benefitting many businesses, but that same pace, with its inherent lack of true standardization and interop, has also created a need for a single, industry-wide entity to embrace the challenge. “The ideal time to start this would have been a year or two ago, as we’re already paving dirt roads that are crisscrossing. But better now than a year from now,” acknowledges Rodman, who is also a UCIF Founding Board member.

Erik Linask (News - Alert) is Group Editorial Director of TMC, which brings news and compelling feature articles, podcasts, and videos to 2,000,000 visitors each month. To see more of his articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi