Still Defining Unified Communications After All These Years

One of the interesting things about covering unified communications closely – and my attention to the topic has grown as Unified Communications Edge launches and takes shape – is that there still is uncertainty about the definition of UC. 

Definitions are important. They matter to the UC ecosystem – vendors, service providers, value-added resellers (VARs) and the rest of the gang –  and folks in the organization who sign off on purchases, deploy platforms and, finally, use the tools.

The area is rife with definition issues. It could be where collaboration ends and UC begins, the difference between UC tools and a UC fabric or the gap between UC and unified messaging (UM). This Microsoft blog takes on that issue. It has a Redmond slant in terms of the examples cited. That, however, doesn’t detract from the point blogger Michael Wilson makes. His take is that UM is part of UC, but that the latter goes way beyond.

Wilson doesn’t quite say so, but it’s clear that his message is that UM is the hardware and software for collecting and creating messages and dumping them into a common receptacle that can be accessed in many ways. UC, on the other hand, is a far more expansive approach to proactively using UM and other tools to improve the communications experience.

An interesting podcast featuring eight members of UC Strategies raises and discusses a core question: The panelists discuss whether it is important or practical to define UC at all. The category is amorphous, after all. Panelist Marty Parker likens the current state of defining UC to the early auto industry: People didn’t use a single term to define automobiles – but at the same time were aware that they had a powerful new tool at their disposal. The point was that the definition was less important than the new capabilities.

Parker, in a post at No Jitter, makes the same point:

[U]sing the past as a guide, one approach is to focus intensely on the actual results in the market place, i.e. what the customers are buying and effectively deploying. Then, the categorization and naming will become obvious.

There is a lot to be said for that perspective. I sense, however, that it is dangerous. Will de-emphasizing a definition make it impossible for the UC sector to really create an identity?

Definitions are hard in the case of UC because it is a constantly morphing menu of applications. One panelist hit the nail on the head when she said there may be some elements that are necessary for a platform to be considered a member in good standing of the UC family. Three of these may be presence, escalation capabilities and integration into business processes.

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