Is UC Old School, Going Through Growing Pains Or About To Graduate?
UC (Unified Communications) has been declared a maturing market by many industry experts. However, is what we are calling a maturing market really UC? I’ve been following communications and collaboration for over 15 years and the promise of UC has never fully been realized. The reason may just be that what was promised is not what enterprise users actually want. I’m not beating up on UC, but I guess I should explain where I’m going here.
Does The Definition Of UC Matter?
While the definition of UC varies by vendor, I think we can all agree that a big aspect of it is multimodal and integrated communications, which includes voice, IM, presence and conferencing to name several. This communications capability should also be integrated into business processes. Anyone else can pile on whatever other words they like because it doesn’t really matter. What really matters is what the communications technology does for people. What matters is how unified it is and how seamless using it is to communicate and help users get their work done. Following up on that, what users need will vary by industry, organization and at the business process level.
The Growing Influence Of Business Users On UC
IT leaders making infrastructure buying decisions may care about terms and acronyms like UC but business users could care less. They care about getting work done, not infrastructure. The business user is more and more influencing the IT buyer. The BYOD and BYOA phenomena make that abundantly clear. However, let’s keep in mind that the IT buyer is also a business user.
User expectations are evolving amid the growing technology convergence trend. So we see UC now morphs into UCC (unified communications and collaboration) as vendors expand and change scope, hoping to convert IT buyers. Now with the advent of social networking I’ve heard Social UC and social UCC get thrown around here and there. Heck, I’ve used them myself. The terms and acronyms don’t matter, although they do make for good marketing. With that said, the marketing guy in me does reserve the right to come up with my own term at some future date if I so choose, but I digress.
What I believe is happening though, is that as new forms of collaboration and communication come forth, a la social, what was described as UC and UCC just becomes part of the fabric of a completely new paradigm and broader offering that can easily allow any modality or combination of modalities to be used to enhance interactions between people at the point at which they care. Wow, that was a long sentence! So certain pieces of a UC or UCC bundle, typically pivoting off of presence needs to be available to users, as it is needed in their workflow. Right now that is not readily available across all the vendor offerings that I see.
There are hints of this broader offering as vendors realize the need to have a fully integrated communications and collaboration platform with social capabilities such as profiles and activity streams that is tied to and in the context of business processes. Users expect all these modalities to work together in the context of their business workflow and on the device of their choice.
Traditional UC or UCC vendors are now thinking about what they want to be when they grow up. Vendors such as Siemens Enterprise Communications are looking beyond UC with their Ansible Project, which is a take on that new collaboration paradigm I mentioned before, that includes UCC and social in the context of business processes (Siemens Enterprise Communications Makes A Bold Move To People-Centric Collaboration With Project Ansible – But Others Are Following). That offering won’t be available till 2014 though. Cisco has made steps towards it with Cisco Jabber, WebEx and WebEx Social but are challenged with trying to do it with multiple offerings. The same issue plagues IBM and Microsoft who have the components of the broader offering but in separate products.
Vendors outside of traditional UC or UCC such as Citrix are taking a stab at it via acquisitions. Citrix acquired Podio, a social business platform and are integrating its real-time capabilities like chat, presence and conferencing, which potentially make it a challenger to UCC vendors (What Enterprises Should Learn From Citrix Adding Real-time To Podio). Jive Software acquired Meetings.io and Producteev to get real-time communications and task management respectively. This potentially gives them real-time capabilities such as video conferencing and chat with business task management to integrate into its social business platform. There are more examples but its clear where this is going.
UC capabilities are coming from both traditional infrastructure vendors as well as application level vendors. Where both exist in an organization, enterprises will have to rationalize how to integrate it all.
The Elephant In The Room: Lack of Interoperability
There is no one vendor that will own all things UC or UCC. Enterprises find themselves in heterogenous environments with different vendor platforms that many times represent islands unto themselves. This is an age old problem that has yet to be solved. As we embark further on integrating UC or UCC with social networking, this issue of interoperability still rears its ugly head. UC interoperability is already a problem. Add to that separate public and private enterprise social networks where people do business and we see a great chasm between UC and social platforms.
Clearly, we don’t see the major vendors rushing to rectify this issue. Clearinghouses and federation brokers may be a way to get at solving this in lieu of vendors remaining in proprietary islands. One such service that I’ve been aware of for several years and have written about is the NextPlane UC Exchange Federation Service. Not only does it provide federation between major UC platforms, but it also provides federation between UC and Social Media networks such as Chatter, Twitter and Yammer.
NextPlane advises key features of the service includes:
- Authenticating to social networking accounts
- Posting of messages to multiple social media feeds on Yammer, Chatter, and Twitter
- Sending private messages to one or more colleagues on Yammer, Chatter, and Twitter
- Participating in social group discussions and trending topics on social networks
While the service provides the ability to send private messages between users, you can’t single click to conference or call. It’s an interesting start though at trying to solve the issue.
Another service NextPlane offers is its cloud based UC Exchange Federation Directory. This is a directory of federated organizations that enterprises can use to build collaborative communities across disparate UC platforms. I believe identity is one of the major problems to solve in external collaboration. A federated cloud directory maybe the future solution to solve the identity issue in collaboration and allow enterprises to build communities or collaborative ecosystems regardless of technology platforms.
Thoughts On The Future Of UC And Collaboration
So UC as we know it maybe old school, but it will evolve deeper into business processes and applications. Integrated with enterprise social networking, it becomes a seamless capability that for all intents and purposes gets baked into business applications and becomes somewhat invisible to the user. The next stage of the evolution is the interface users will use to access all communications and collaboration capabilities. We believe this interface will be a presence enabled access point, tied to identity, aggregating business applications and will be available from all devices. This interface will also have to be an aggregation point for other communications and collaboration platforms the enterprise has invested in and also those from partners.