Is it Finally Unified Communications' Time?

By Carl Weinschenk | Aug 16, 2010 | Print this Page
It certainly gets a person's attention when he or she hears that a particular technology is the future. This sounds good the first time and perhaps the second. But the pronouncement loses its luster after it is heard year after year.

That is the case with unified communications. It has its adherents – many of them – and undeniable benefits. But it never truly reaches the heights predicted for it. But, yet again, the promise of UC is making people take a look. Over at CTO Edge, David Tan, the Chief Technology Officer and Co-Founder of CHIPS Computer Consulting LLC, writes that the future may finally be arriving for UC.   
Tan suggests that the bad economy may be playing to UC's advantage as companies search for tools to increase efficiency. He also said that vendors are starting to wise up: Companies that are good at either hardware or software are partnering with their opposite numbers. This beats the approach of trying to do it all themselves -- and doing half of the job poorly. Tan doesn't even mention the Unified Communication Interoperability Consortium (UCIF), an industry initiative aimed at making such arrangements easier. 
But with the signing of a strategic agreement between Microsoft and Polycom to work together in producing “integrated, standards-based unified communications solutions,” things may finally be changing for the better. Polycom, one of the market leaders in video and voice technology makes a really nice partner for Microsoft, whose current version of Exchange (2010) and upcoming Communications Server (14) represent the best of breed software solutions.
Another reason that UC hasn't caught on as quickly as proponents feel should be the case is that its most important benefits are difficult to quantify. Mark Damphousse, the CTO of TriNET Systems, takes on the issue at InformationWeek. 
There are some obvious and easily metered gains. For instance, Damphousse wrote that the VoIP element of UC can cut telecommunications costs by 25 percent per month by mapping geographically diverse internal communications over the corporate network instead of paying a long distance carrier.
That's terrific, and undoubtedly generates some converts. The tricky issue, however, is that the deeper benefits of UC – finding and conferencing in a content expert while a prospect is on the phone, having teleconferences with radically expanded functionality and others -- are not as easy to quantify. Of course, they are to some extent no-brainers. But C-level executives' job is to say no. So, regardless of how obvious it is that UC will help, the inability to precisely measure its gains makes it easy for companies to bypass.