Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Unified Communications is really about simplifying the user experience

Unified Communications breaks down the communication silos between separate products such as: voice, e-mail, Wi-Fi, video, cellular, IM, web conferencing, unified messaging, calendar functions and more. The result is an integrated, intelligent, communications experience that empowers knowledge workers to spend more time being productive.

Unified Communications also simplifies the communications experience by providing a centralized application interface as well as an integrated management console that can be configured to work with any development environment.

Unified Communications is really about simplifying the user experience. In today’s work place, employees have to deal with multiple forms of communication. In fact, a study conducted by the Sage Research group in 2005 concluded that as of September 2005, business and technology decision makers averaged having at least six communication devices and each employee had almost five communications applications to manage.

That’s not expected to dramatically improve anytime soon. In another survey from the Telecom Intelligence Group that was performed in 2007, they found that by 2009, over 40% of enterprise IP telephony users expect to have two or more devices that can access the features of their voice systems as well as Unified Communication applications. In addition, up to a third of Enterprise IP telephony users could justify replacing their desk phone with an advanced wireless phone in five years.

So what is the industry definition of unified communications?

Currently, there isn’t one. Unified Communications is confusing because the concept is so new and there are lots of different ideas and definitions of what comprises Unified Communications. The vendors and analysts have different opinions about what protocols, applications, and features should be/not be included within unified communications.

The following list summarizes a sample of the different definitions:

Definition from Gartner (Magic Quadrant Report, 2006)
"Gartner defines UC products (equipment, software, and services) as those that enhance individual, workgroup, and organizational productivity by enabling and facilitating the control, management, integration and use of multiple enterprise communication methods."

Definition from Yankee (Unified Communications Leverages Existing Technology to Increase Productivity, July 2003)
The concept of unified communications … is to break down all distance, time, and media barriers to allow people to communicate with one another anywhere, anytime, and across any medium from a single device.

Definition from Microsoft (Microsoft website, June 2007)
"Unified Communications bridge the gap between telephony and computing to deliver real-time messaging, voice, and conferencing to the desktop environment."

Definition from Cisco (Enhancing Business with Smarter, More Effective Communications Whitepaper, 2007)
"Unified Communications is an emerging class of applications and services designed to improve communications within the modern organization – to keep workgroups connected, enable them to collaborate effectively, and streamline business processes."

Definition from Strategic Path International (What is Unified Communications? And Is It Worth the Extra Investment, 2007)
"Unified Communications integrates existing communication methods like instant messaging, email, voice telephony and audio and video conferencing, making it possible for each interaction to work across different hardware devices."

Definition from Forrester Research (Unified Communication Industry Study, 2006)
"Unified Communications is not about replacing existing applications; it is about improving the functionality of existing applications through the use of SIP, which enables businesses to connect quickly to the intended party for actionable results."

Definition from NEC
Unified Communication enables customers to experience greater productivity through the convergence of communication channels and business processes using a combination of technologies, devices and services, including presence, status, mobility, collaboration, video and voice conferencing, and messaging.

As you can see, depending upon who is talking about unified communications, the story changes. A common theme does emerge. Unified Communications focuses on communications for the user.

If we then extrapolate back from this, elements of a Unified Communication portfolio could include the following:

- User Mobility
- Presence
- Telephony (voice, fax, etc.)
- Voicemail/unified messaging
- Email/calendaring
- Conferencing (voice, video and web)
- Instant messaging
- Administration and management
- Contact center

If we break Unified Communications down further into usable functions, this list summarizes the key benefits for businesses:

- Allows companies to react to change better and faster
- Creates an expanded business reach
- Improves business continuity scenarios
- Improves Customer Service
- Results in fewer integration issues/costs for the IT department
- Industry standard solution for interoperability
- Ability to optimize geographically diverse people (seamless teaming)
- Low product and administration costs
- Lower training costs with integrated solution
- Productivity improvement due to less mail boxes to manage

From an end user perspective, these are the key user benefits for unified communications:

- Empowers users with single number reach
- Delivers rich Presence
- Results in speedier decision making
- Collaboration (application & doc. sharing, whiteboard, chat)
- Enables Instant Messaging
- Easier for end users because there are fewer devices to manage
- Reduces travel costs
- New IVR services for users

The greatest user benefits are single number reach and rich presence. Between these two features, the user can control who contacts them and by what medium (terminal) that is best for the user. Available options also include no contact, i.e. a diversion to voicemail or another number if that is preferred. The main point is that the user is able to take back control and manage their devices instead of their devices managing them.

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