Citing the need to fully leverage customers' investments in communications systems and unite their global organizations, five global technology companies today joined to form the Unified Communications (News - Alert) Interoperability Forum (UCIF), an alliance dedicated to enabling standards-based, inter-vendor unified communications (UC) interoperability. HP, Juniper Networks, Microsoft, Logitech (News - Alert) / LifeSize, and Polycom, seek to unify the vibrant but fragmented UC ecosystem through this shared mission.
Unified Communications (UC) is complex because it represents a variety of different ways to make timely contact and communicate with people. Although, UC functionality is very software based, the multiplicity of UC-related technologies can't all be provided by a single software developer. From an interoperability perspective, the number of technology standards needed to cover all the flexibility that UC interactions require are too many and too complex to define or implement easily.
Payoff of Interoperability
Obviously, both the technology definitions and concept perspectives of UC are important, but what is most critical is enabling all kinds of end users to benefit from having communication flexibility and efficiencies in their choice of contact and user interfaces. That flexibility of choice is now becoming increasingly critical because it is becoming the multimodal gateway to personal and efficient personal accessibility, due to the rapid adoption of mobile "smartphones."
This choice will soon be universally available to all kinds of users, whether a "user" is initiating a new contact or responding as a recipient of a contact initiated by someone else, including a "proactive," automated business application process (CEBP). It also should make little difference as to who the end user is - enterprise staff, business partner, or consumer/customer.
In fact, we see one of the biggest payoffs of UC will be the ability for individual users to exploit the use of mobile smartphones to be more accessible and interact directly on a personalized basis with any automated business process application. For all of this flexibility to be realized, on an end-to-end basis from any endpoint device with UC multimodal flexibility, there has to be universal interoperability across all UC infrastructure components that may be involved. The problem is that there are not enough infrastructure standards (yet) to cover the interoperability complexities of UC usage.
Benefits For UC Growth
Up till now, it has not only been difficult to describe what "UC" really means, but also, when it came time to plan an implementation of UC, there were no standards that could be used for selecting UC technology components and services. The various communication applications like IM, social networking, UM, and CEBP applications, were not really organized to be easily implemented and integrated wherever desired on an application design or end user basis. As a result, the promises of UC providing benefits to individual users (UC-U) or to business application processes (UC-B) were "blowing in the wind!"
With an "open," cooperative group of leading industry providers and objective industry experts taking charge of organizing all the elements of UC, things like:
Terminology and definitions
Identifying interoperability needs and priorities for both real-time and asynchronous testing and certification
Establishing easy to use interoperability testing and certification procedures
Structuring the UC framework so that there will be a clear and objective differentiation of functional roles for UC-based applications
Coordinating UC standards with standards of other communication applications
Establishing appropriate metrics for evaluating various levels of benefits from implementing UC capabilities in different ways
Support a common UC ecosystem that will subsume and not conflict with other standards-based technologies
can now become better structured for practical implementation planning for the technology providers, the market, the individual end users, the service providers, and the enterprise IT support staff.
We can expect the UCIF to help break the gridlock that currently exists between the communication technologies of the future and existing technologies that still work. This will benefit all individual end users and the applications they use, as well as business organizations of any size that must support specific application needs for those end users.
Opening The Doors to Mobile UC Services
It is well recognized that UC flexibility has its greatest payoffs to end users who are mobile and will be using a variety of multimodal "smart-phones." In addition to helping to define all the necessary standards that the full spectrum of UC functionality will require, the UCIF can also provide an operational framework that will facilitate ongoing interoperability testing and certification of any UC software technology product or service.
This UCIF facility will be very useful to help drive and support new hosted and "cloud-based" UC applications, as well as to help expand "open" interoperability between Mobile UC services. The latter is particularly strategic, since the wireless carriers still seem to be trying to lock in dominance over their customer endpoint devices and associated mobile applications. Wireless mobility at the individual end user level must be a basic modality option for the UC framework.
Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF) Formation (News - Alert) Announced
In response to the critical need to make all UC applications more "open," across the UC network infrastructure framework, and to satisfy a consistent UC "experience" for all individual end users, the formation of a new, "open alliance" of technology leaders involved with developing various UC technologies and services, was announced today. Named the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF), the group is open to membership by any organization that is developing UC technologies and is interested in supporting interoperability with other UC technologies.
Jim Burton (News - Alert), of UCStrategies.com, noted that:
"Even though vendors work hard to follow standards, standards are open to interpretation and it creates interoperability problems. The UCIF will help solve those problems by providing a venue for testing and working with other companies to ensure that products are interoperable before they're delivered to a customer."
"By working together, the UCIF will help make the UC market grow sooner than it would otherwise, with each vendor now able to get their share of a larger pie."
The founding members have been joined by a growing roster of member companies including Acme Packet, Aspect, AudioCodes, Broadcom, BroadSoft (News - Alert), Brocade, ClearOne, Jabra, Plantronics, RADVISION, Siemens Enterprise Communications, and Teliris. It is still early in the game, so many of the important UC players have not yet publicized their intentions, but it is clear that for the UC market to move forward, ALL the serious players will have to participate and cooperate in this common goal.
For more details on UCIF membership participation, you can get more information and objective insights by UC Strategies experts at www.ucstrategies.com.
What Do You Think?
You can contact me at: [email protected] (310) 395-2360.
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.
Edited by Alice Straight