Presence, not VoIP is the Foundation of Unified Communications
Unified communications (UC) has been a hot topic in the vendor community for the past couple of years, particularly with the traditional communications vendors. The majority of positioning that I have seen around UC positions VoIP as the foundation and then UC being the "stuff" that gets built on top of VoIP. I do believe this was conventional thinking for quite some time but this "old school" thinking needs to stop or UC will take years to reach its potential. Also, it's just flat out wrong. Presence, not VoIP, should be thought of as the foundation for UC.
Unified communications (UC) has been a hot topic in the vendor community for the past couple of years, particularly with the traditional communications vendors. The majority of positioning that I have seen around UC positions VoIP as the foundation and then UC being the "stuff" that gets built on top of VoIP. I do believe this was conventional thinking for quite some time but this "old school" thinking needs to stop or UC will take years to reach its potential. Also, it's just flat out wrong. Presence, not VoIP, should be thought of as the foundation for UC.I first want to discuss why VoIP should not be the foundational element for UC. First, it hinders deployments of UC. If, as an industry, we promote UC as a set of tools to be built on VoIP then only companies that have finished their VoIP deployments will really be in a position to deploy UC. The last survey we ran at Yankee Group showed that only about 10% of organizations have actually finished their VoIP deployment, creating a very small addressable market for UC. Second, when you look at all of the technologies that fall into the UC umbrella, VoIP is only a subset of it. In fact, I tend to use instant messenger, text messaging and email much more than I do voice, and I think that's an increasingly popular trend with younger workers (not that I fall into the younger worker camp, I just think young!!). Finally, while VoIP is important, I really don't think it should be a requirement for UC. If an organization wants to deploy all of the UC elements and leave their voice infrastructure as legacy, then that's as viable a strategy as deploying UC and leaving any of the other communications tools out of the initial wave.
So why should presence be the foundational technology? I've written on this many times before but I'll reiterate it. Unified communications needs to be thought of as a platform, not a product. What that means is that the long term goal of UC should be to take the UC tools and embed them into business applications which allow us to alter business processes and create new ones. Unifying all of our communications tools into one desktop client is interesting, but it really doesn't change the way we work. Embedding the tools into applications which allows us to automate or make more intelligent communication choices does. Presence is the thing that gives us that intelligence.
To understand how this might work, though, you must free your mind (as Morpheus said to Neo) to think of what's possible if we expand presence to include not only people but also objects and devices. Microsoft has already done some demonstrations of being able to presence enable documents so when you look at the office communicator client you can actually see what document a co-worker has open and what he or she is working on. While this might not have appeal to all organizations, in a document-heavy organization like a law firm, this might give the lawyers and assistants a level of visibility they did not have before. This concept of "presence is the enabler" is the core message of what IBM is trying to promote with the use of its Sametime product.
Taking the example out into the future, think of a widget factory that has a number of concurrent processes that need to occur in parallel for the successful production of widgets. In a traditional factory, if one of those production units were to fail, in all likelihood someone on the floor would need to run and find a supervisor who then would need to go find someone with the skill set to fix the machine. All of the resources to solve the problem are located in the factory but the human delay due to the manual intervention can often cripple processes.
Now take the same example and presence-enable all the people and devices, and the alerting and repair process becomes automated. When the machine fails, its presence status would turn to off, which in turn could trigger an event or a series of events. The event could be a search through a skills database to find all qualified individuals to fix the machine. Based on the presence status of the qualified individuals, automated messages could be sent to only the individuals that show "available". Additionally, the failed machine's "unavailable" status could trigger an event that raises the production capacity of other machines automatically. The automating of these processes based on presence information can remove almost all of the human latency and radically alter the way we work.
We're moving into a world where it's possible to connect everything together. It's unlikely that we'll want to voice enable all these things but it is likely that we will want to understand what that status of all these things are so we can make better use of all these things that will be network connected. Think of presence as technology platform used to add a level of visibility into things that we never had before. For those currently evaluating UC solutions, don't buy into the vendor hype surrounding UC as basically the next wave of VoIP, and look instead at how strong the presence offerings are.