Is Unified Communications, Unifying Communications

In Technology by Daniel Newman1 Comment

In the integration space, particularly the AV integration space, unified communications (UC) has long been a highly discussed, yet rarely understood topic. For many years, AV professionals have been debating about what is included in a unified communications solution—is it voice and video? Does it include messaging or presence? What about real time web collaboration? And how is social media incorporated, if at all?

Not so long ago, AV and IT operated as distinctly separate disciplines. Today, their worlds have collided. Large tech initiatives require both the disciplines to work together to achieve overall business goals. With unified communications becoming a popular enterprise choice, the AV/IT convergence has not only received a boost, but there’s a growing shift towards “commoditization”—price becoming the key factor—in the AV marketplace. For instance, today, it’s absolutely possible to buy a complete AV system in pre-packaged form from a single vendor. While this “ready-to-use” concept charms users with ease-of-use and low-maintenance, it turns the AV industry’s approach on its head, since AV integration has long been about customized solutions based on the unique requirements of each client. The question becomes: how can AV integrators help UC deliver on its promises?

While enterprise adoption of UC has been soaring since last year, it still suffers from a major identity crisis. A 2014 Evolve IP survey revealed that the most striking gap in UC adoption exists because more than 70 percent of the IT pros surveyed were either “not at all familiar” or only “somewhat familiar” with the term “unified communications.” Whether or not lack of understanding of what UC really encompasses impedes its adoption, it certainly presents tough challenges for companies that ultimately have to figure out the right systems and the most important UC features from their business perspective.

Today, enterprise users are working on multiple devices, which means they need features like multi-device management and single number reach to truly benefit from UC. As businesses add more and more tools to their communication repertoire, we should consider whether or not a single unified communication tool is still the answer. In many cases, users have more features in their UC systems than they need or want. Creating a streamlined, effective, and useful all-in-one tool has been one of the biggest challenges in the domain of UC, especially as the work landscape continues to evolve.

For instance, as an increasing number of young workers move away from real-time voice communication, should voice still be at the center of unified communication? Will the growing mobility in the enterprise be a bigger push toward video or perhaps toward messaging and presence? Also, in many UC solutions data sharing is an afterthought, but today we need powerful data sharing platforms as more and more communication depends on the real-time sharing of on-screen information. With the rise of Internet of Things, improved data security in the cloud needs to become a priority. These are some of the questions and issues UC manufacturers and vendors need seriously consider in order for UC to provide real benefits to enterprise users.

Though the UC industry has recovered from its long-term dormancy, I think it still has a long way to go in order to become the standard communication practice in enterprises. As noted above, the field of UC is still riddled with complexities and doubts that must be addressed before we can consider UC seeing unequivocal success in the mainstream. We need to close the gap between what unified communications will look like in the future and what it should look like today.

Unified communication as a solution has been (and is still being) subjected to a lot of skepticism despite its huge market growth figures. In a recent interview with the Information Age, Avaya’s CEO, Kevin Kennedy called unified communications the “promise that has never been delivered for over a decade.” He stressed the term “integrated” over “unified” as a future of communication. And this is where we encounter yet another important question: is UC really unifying what it needs to unify?

What we often tend to forget is that UC was meant to unify communications of people, not technology. If we are joining a group of antiquated technologies, then perhaps we aren’t unifying communication at all? I believe the true involvement of AV in UC deployments can weed out many of these problems. Because the goal of AV is focused on creating great user experiences that truly connect people, it can pave the way for a well-integrated UC environment—something we’ve been long waiting for.

This article was originally seen on Ricoh blog.

Photo Credit: Westcon Group EMEA via Compfight cc

Daniel Newman is the Principal Analyst of Futurum Research and the CEO of Broadsuite Media Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise. From Big Data to IoT to Cloud Computing, Newman makes the connections between business, people and tech that are required for companies to benefit most from their technology projects, which leads to his ideas regularly being cited in CIO.Com, CIO Review and hundreds of other sites across the world. A 5x Best Selling Author including his most recent “Building Dragons: Digital Transformation in the Experience Economy,” Daniel is also a Forbes, Entrepreneur and Huffington Post Contributor. MBA and Graduate Adjunct Professor, Daniel Newman is a Chicago Native and his speaking takes him around the world each year as he shares his vision of the role technology will play in our future.