Unified Communications Featured Article

What Parts of Communications Need to be 'Unified'?

February 16, 2011

Unified communications lacks a clear business case and cannot compete with consumer-driven technology, Gartner has warned. Beyond that, one might logically ask what contribution UC actually can make on the higher-order business problems an organization faces. Streamlining communications is a good thing. Making communications more effective is worthy. The larger issue is, even when those valuable things are achieved, what is the broader impact of UC on the other business processes and problems an organization has?

Analyst Nick Jones has argued that unified communications is the "greatest scam since Ponzi,” saying the technology had no clear definition. "I'll give you the real definition: Unified communications is the bundle of things a vendor wants to sell you," he said. Another way of looking at matters is that UC and IP communications are important tools for improving some parts of a business or organization's basic functions. What remains a bit unclear is how much those improvements can affect the other, arguably larger problems. The challenge always is to show the impact of enhanced communications on revenue, profit margin, customer acquisition, customer retention, operating costs and growth, for example. Frankly, that is tough to measure and demonstrate, in most cases. 

 "Unified communications is out of date and will always be out of date," Jones argued. In part, that is because consumer tools have become more powerful, and have displaced other "business-centric" communications modes, especially among Millennials. 

 To be sure, observers have pointed out the fuzziness about the concept for years. Many have noted that unified communications encompasses so many different communication modes and features (voice, e-mail, video, messaging, presence, mobile integration) that the issue often is how much integration is really possible, affordable or needed.  

How much to unify, and how much financial benefit from unifying various aspects of communication, is a practical question. In many cases, unifying only some applications and features, rather than unifying everything, seems more logical. 

Then there is the thorny question of how to unify, and whether to unify, social networking. Some argue that the “one platform,” the “one interface,” is Twitter. Some might argue that Twitter has become the center of information for many. That might be more true in personal than business settings, but one can get an argument even in many business settings, where the value of "unifying" is less clear than once was the case.

"Why would you want to trap young people with dinosaur communications when they've already got something better?," he said. "Most unified communications systems can't even show you tweets, let alone where they are coming from."

Jones said unified communications wasn't a realistic option because it didn't include micro-blogging services, and many forms of enterprise communication were unable to be unified in a holistic way.

"It is unachievable," he said. "Even if it was a good idea, it can't work...SMS and MMS can't be unified, so you can't unify everything you need to unify."

Those arguments, true at a high level in many respects, still won't make sense for most business buyers of communications solutions, though. But that might be the point. We might have arrived at a point where the desire and need to "unify" all communication modes has changed. Though in principle it might be advantageous to unify all modes and channels, it might not be feasible or affordable. 

Instead, the argument might simply be about which functions and modes it makes most sense to unify, and at what cost. And the answer in many cases will be that unifying everything is not desirable or necessary. That doesn't mean there are things a "business voice" system can, and should, do better. Unified messaging and call delivery is logical. The level of integration with e-mail is an obvious question, as is the integration of "voice" and "e-mail" directories. Beyond that, it often is less obvious how much value is gained by unifying additional modes, in part because the prevalence of smartphones and full browsers on mobiles means many apps already are "unified." 

Gary Kim is a contributing editor for unified communications. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Tammy Wolf

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