The business communications industry is really getting confused by terminology. First, when have to come up with a name that describes new capabilities, then, when they attribute all kinds of implied capabilities to the new label.
This confusion showed up in a Research Brief by Aberdeen Group last year, when they attempted to put a label on key technologies that are changing business communications, notably Social networking, Mobile communications, and “Cloud” based applications. So, they call the combination of technologies “So-Mo-Clo!” From there, they moved to the role of “unified communications” (UC), which they prefer to call “Integrated Communications.”
They describe UC as follows;
“Unified Communications refers to a unified technology infrastructure that provides all communications channels to every employee. It can often imply that all of these capabilities are provided by a single vendor, and that every conversation and collaborative workflow is provided seamlessly as part of one enterprise platform. In this idealized Unified Communications world view, all services are standardized throughout the entire company, and the enterprise has fill visibility into how to support every form of communications used by each employee.”
That thinking stems from legacy telecom control of internal voice communications, which is rapidly shifting to more open SIP-based telephony, and thus able to integrate with other forms of communication, including email, messaging, social networking, and mobile communications.
The way I see UC from an end user perspective, is that enables a user to easily switch from one modality of contact to another, while preserving the necessary contextual information about the people they are communicating with. UC is a concept, not a product, nor even an infrastructure, from an end user perspective. IT is a collection of services that are interoperable and enable the user to exploit the flexibility of multi-modal endpoint devices in terms of the medium for exchanging messages or dynamically switching from messaging to a real-time contact (voice, video, chat) based on contextual, federated presence information.
Not only are the communication applications separate (but interoperable), but business process applications can also initiate outbound messaging contacts (notifications) to specific end users, and engage them with online applications that can exploit both speech interfaces and/or visual screen interfaces.
UC-enabled applications, both business and communications, can exist in a choice of environments, the latest being “cloud”-based (private, public, hybrid) and managed by internal IT organizations or external third-parties. What is key to understand about UC-enabled applications, is that they must be able to integrate with each other and with the end user endpoint device user interfaces. Integration is the “how” of UC-enablement implementation, while “UC” is the result of such integrations.
Although “UC-enabled applications target benefits to individual end users, those end users don’t really know what is involved in implementing such interoperability, nor do they really care. All that consumers will primarily see is the results of UC flexibility when they communicate with their new mobile smartphones and tablets. At the desktop, business users will see the benefits of screen-based controls, “click-to-contact” contextually, and presence-based real-time connections, rather than “blind” phone call attempts. What such end users want to call “UC” is not really known, but they will simply see it as a benefit of “smart” multi-modal endpoint devices (mobile, desktops) that let’s them choose how to easily and intelligently initiate and respond to personal contacts and interact with automated online applications.
So, if you want to mush the user perspectives together with the implementation considerations, then “SoMoClo” might be a valid label for what is going on.
While UC interoperability and flexibility takes care of what end users need and want, how that is actually implemented is another matter. That is where and how those integrations are done. Since communications are becoming more software based, the opportunity to implement them as off-premise software, managed by service providers, is the big change that UC can selectively exploit. Questions of control, secure access, are all manageable without having to put the technologies on premise.