The Inherently Confusing World of Unified Communications

One of the most interesting things about unified communications is that it exists on two levels.

On one level, it is a definitive business: Polycom hires a top UC executive from Cisco, Cisco buys Tandberg, Avaya creates a big partnership with Skype, etc. Innovative products come to market and concepts, such as embedding various communications tools within applications, evolve.

In other words, things happen.

The other side of the coin is that it is a segment no closer to having a coherent message than it was a half-decade ago. The setting may have been exotic – the conference was held in Istanbul – but Jerry Caron, vice president of analysis at Current Analysis had a less-than-cheery message: UC, he said, is still in the early adopter phase, “despite billions of euros, dollars, pounds, yen of investment on the part of many different types of suppliers�”

Likewise, a roundtable of industry observers held by UC Strategies, which is available as a podcast and in transcript form at the site, discussed unified communications for small and medium-size businesses. The same idea came through: Very little is truly set in the world of UC.

There a several layers of fuzziness: To many potential customers, the base technology –  VoIP –  and its connection to e-mail, IM, telepresence and other tools still is confusing. The fact that these technologies already exist and are now being integrated in a new way that somehow drives efficiency and cuts costs adds more confusion. Whether the suite of services is hosted or on-premise, and the various interrelationships between vendors, carriers and service providers, adds – you guessed it – more confusion.

The bottom line is that the unified communications industry is in a bit of a bind. UC is confusing because it is a concept, not a technology. Another way of saying this: UC is confusing because UC is confusing. That makes it a very difficult sell.

The deal-making, product introductions and investments will continue. So will the confusion. There is no way to end the conceptual fuzziness, since it is an inherent element of UC. This is especially true for SMBs and SOHOs, which don’t have the resources or interest to delve deeply into these issues. SMBs are too busy doing their doctoring, lawyering, accounting, architecting or whatever else their mission is than to study arcane details of a new approach to communications.

The goal should be to de-emphasize the “unified communications” name and focus on what it can do. Most folks’ eyes will glaze over when they hear about UC and UCC (unified communications and collaboration). They will pay attention, however, when the conversation squarely focuses on more revenue and lower costs.

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