Traditional telephony is going through a change of life from a wired, TDM form of voice-only communication between people, to becoming part of a set of IP wired and wireless networked applications that integrate seamlessly with screen-based communications and business applications and software tools under the label of “Unified Communications (News - Alert)” (UC).
As a result of the complex convergence of communication application functions, network infrastructures, and user interfaces, telephony and messaging technology providers are being forced to redefine their product and service offerings within the context of UC. One of the better objective descriptions of all the application functionality that the industry is starting to offer to the enterprise market can be found in a new and comprehensive UC market analysis report from long-time analyst and UC Strategies co-founder, Blair Pleasant (News - Alert), CommFusion, LLC.
Everyone may agree that “UC” and IP telephony will be gradually swallowing up traditional voice telephone communications in both the business and consumer markets, but it has not exactly become a useful term for end users, nor (yet) created any viral demand from those end users. There are practical reasons why this is so, including:
- UC technologies are still evolving and not as a single, ready-to-go “package.”
- Communication functions are becoming more software based and device-independent, and therefore evolving differently from different technology providers.
- New multimodal devices are offering a variety of different form factors for UC capabilities and flexible user interfaces (visual, speech) through 3G mobile “smart-phones (e.g., Apple (News - Alert) iPhones), desktop PC “softphones” and IP screenphones.
- New interoperability standards for end-to-end network contacts are still being defined, especially for person-to-person, real-time presence and availability (“federation”).
- Technology staffs are getting reeducated and consolidating their responsibilities for supporting IP telephony and data applications.
These factors are delaying the pace of actual implementations of “UC,” and are also causing confusion in the marketplace about how to migrate cost-effectively to a UC environment.
Will “UC” Ever Mean Anything To The End User?
It is also unfortunate that there are different value perspectives of UC that cloud understanding of business use of UC. We have enterprise business management, who are primarily focused on why and what UC technology will do to improve operations and the “bottom line.” We have IT management who worry about the cost of technology implementation and support, including replacing legacy telephony investments, integrations with other technologies, information security, system reliability, operational administration, regulatory accountability, and Total Costs of Ownership or Usage. And last, but not least, we have the individual end users, both inside and outside of the organization, that will need to adopt new ways of communicating enabled by UC, in order to realize expected efficiencies and operational benefits.
While it is all well and good to define UC from a technology and business operations perspective, end users will still only see their own communication application user interfaces, not the infrastructure. So, for them, email will still be text messaging, but, with UM/UC, exploiting the flexible use of speech interfaces and responses in other forms of message delivery and callbacks. With the new ability of the contact initiator to function more independently of a contact recipient, the two parties may not even know what technology each is actually using – they only see a message or a call (voice or video) request notification.
For this reason, end users will still focus on the specific communication applications they want to use, i.e., voice conversations, real-time or asynchronous messaging (with information exchange), exploiting the flexible choice of user interfaces they need/prefer at the moment, but not really caring how the infrastructure works to allow such flexibility. For the user, UC may mean the convenience of selecting how they want to communicate, but it won’t replace the specific communication applications they want to use. All they want from UC is seamless interoperability between all the modes of communication they can access from their communication device of choice.
Needless to say, the communication device they use will have to be “multimodal” in order to enable the flexibility of UC, particularly necessary when mobile. So, its no wonder that the arrival and rapid adoption of ‘smart-phones,” or rather “smart communicators,” by consumers will be the biggest driver for UC demand. The question is, will this demand be viewed by end users simply as part of their “mobility” requirements, as opposed to “UC” requirements for their desktops?
Unfortunately, enterprise IT has been very resistant to supporting end user mobile “smart-phones,” but perhaps that will start to change now that Apple’s new version of iPhone (News - Alert) software provides more functionality for the needs of business users. Like the PC in the past, end users will decide what communication tools and services they want to use to do their jobs and probably what to call them. So, don’t expect the names of the major application “piece-parts” of UC to disappear in favor of just “UC,” nor will a proprietary software “UC suite” be able to lock out best-of-breed communication service options.
What Do You Think?
Art Rosenberg, a veteran of the computer and communications industry, contributes his column, The Unified-View to TMCnet. To read more of Art’s articles, please visit his columnist page.
Don’t forget to check out TMCnet’s White Paper Library, which provides a selection of in-depth information on relevant topics affecting the IP Communications industry. The library offers white papers, case studies and other documents which are free to registered users. Today’s featured white paper is Jim Cossetta, President, CEO, 4What Interactive, Creators of The VoIPTrainer, brought to you by 4What Interactive (News - Alert).