Bottom Lines on Communications Tech from Around the Net

As usual, this week saw no shortage of good insight about unified communications around the Internet. Here’s a look at some especially intriguing comments.

All of Rob Bamforth’s column at IT-Director is good. The reality is that vendors need to be careful about what they promise, especially in the fuzzy world of UC:

The soft and intangible vendor promises that accompany UC don’t always translate into the real benefits that most customers are actually looking for. After all, in many job roles ‘productivity’ is down to employee attitude and time management rather than the clever use of the latest communications tools. Such tools are not always what they seem once the shiny marketing veneer has been rubbed off.

So the operative saying isn’t “Be careful what you wish for.” It’s “Be careful what you promise.”

Larry Lisser takes on the subject of video at No Jitter. More specifically, he discusses it in the context of the difficulty of getting companies to invest in products they haven’t used before, absent promises of hard savings or increasing revenues:

Video, like voice mail, is very much one of those ‘you have to use it to love it’ technologies. For those of you old enough, think back for a moment to how voice mail so quickly became indispensable. Even so, significant market penetration took time.

Unlike voice mail though, video does have other ways to get to market. Packaging and messaging it in ways that focus the buyer on non-travel business processes, for instance. We have seen evidence of this type of evolution in voice services. Where once buyers were sold minutes of voice communications (and bought it on savings only), now buyers are increasingly offered packaged services that address business processes (ie. Ifbyphone for automating marketing; or SayHired for automating phone screening). The buyer is no longer buying minutes, but instead improved business processes that in some way save or make them money–but are powered by voice.

The trick is to get people to take that leap. Lisser’s advice for the short term is to focus on the proven ways in which a new product pays off. In video, for instance, focus on travel reduction.

Gary Kim from IP Carrier offers a dour assessment, based on a Freeform Dynamics survey:

Maybe it’s just me, but after decades of the industry talking about, and delivering, unified messaging features, and after more than a decade of pushing other features such as unified directories, find me-follow me and other “unified” communications features, it still does not appear that all that many organizations really are using them.

No, Gary, it’s not just you. The glass-half-empty view of the survey is that the industry is struggling mightily. The glass-half-full position is that the tremendous upside – the companies not using UC – forms a terrific target audience as technology improves and UC platforms and apps become more compelling.

Finally, Tony Bradley at PC World takes on the burning question of whether Google’s moves in general, and Google Buzz in particular, are a UC play:

Google hasn’t formally promoted its offerings as competition for other established UC solutions, but when you piece together Google Buzz, Google Voice, Google Apps, Gmail, and other Google offerings, the result is a framework with most, if not all, of the elements you would expect to find in a UC platform, as well as some additional features that add some innovative functionality not typically found in UC.

I guess the question isn’t so burning after all: The reality is that if people need the apps, they will use them; if not, they won’t. Whether observers, vendors or journalists call it “unified communications” or not is irrelevant.

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