The UC Pipe Dream
Unified communications is a great concept, too bad it isn’t available. I am aware of many UC implementations, but I don’t know of a single solution that unifies all communications.
It started with unified messaging (UM). Instead of separate inboxes for email and voicemail, unified messaging brought it all together into a single unified experience. Except it didn't. It unified corporate email and corporate voice mail - but most of us have many more message stores - some of which are further unified with other message stores. Multiple unified message boxes is an oxymoron.
The unified moniker expanded from message stores to communications in general as enterprises embraced multimodal communications. The term PBX became obsolete, and was replaced with UC with the hopeful theory that a unified approach to voice, IM/presence, UM, and video would contain the spread of consumer-oriented tools. That theory is now known as the Chaos Theory. Despite living in the era of UC, the number of communications services and clients in use on corporate desktops have exploded. It goes beyond multiple email and voicemail accounts to include social networks, SMS texting, and numerous line-of-business applications with embedded communications.
While there's certainly productivity arguments for having so many apps, there's also some dark implications. First there's the issue of control - many organizations and industries need to log and control communications for security and compliance purposes. Going against the productivity gains is the time lost in searching multiple mediums for a contact or conversation history. This will get worse before it gets better based on the ever increasing amount of new services (and inboxes) proliferating enterprises.
Many believe social networks will reduce and possibly even eliminate email. That's just wishful thinking, because everyone loves to hate email. The reality is every social network includes a direct messaging capability. Maybe the term email, like PBX, will get replaced, but the ability to directly send electronic private messages is here to stay.
Enterprise communications has three separate camps that are reluctant to unite into a single architecture or client: real time (voice, IM, and sometimes video), messaging (email, SMS, voicemail), and social. Microsoft is well poised here because of Exchange, Lync, and its 2012 acquisition of Yammer, but evidently likes separate clients. Cisco attempted to build out a portfolio, but didn't get far with email or social.
Earlier this year, IBM previewed its next generation of email called Mail Next. It attempts to combine social business and email into a single interface. One might describe it as UC without the annoyance of real-time communications. Mail Next sorts conversations by contacts. A click on a contact's icon, reveals the history of conversations (social and mail) with that person. Hopefully, Mail Next will expand to include the communications capabilities currently supported in Sametime.
Surprisingly, Google is actually ahead in creating a unified communications experience - at least in the consumer space. Google's collection of services include document collaboration, presence/IM (Chat), voice and video (Hangouts), unified messaging (Mail and Google Voice), and social (Google Plus). Last January, Google integrated Google Plus with Gmail - so that email can be sent to contacts (without an email address). Google Chat history is integrated and searchable within Gmail. Google voice mail messages are transcribed and also searchable.
Google is ahead in UC, but behind in enterprise relevance and adoption. With Vic Gundotra's departure from Google, the future of Google+ is now even more uncertain.
Enterprise communications are very dynamic right now, and product life spans are shorter. An alternative approach is to use APIs instead of clients, but that simply pushes the unification effort closer to end users.
Perhaps waiting for UC is a mistake. A false goal created by the wrong term. Perhaps communications are best kept separate. After all, vendors and technologies are rising and falling faster than development cycles can accommodate. Hindsight reveals that the effort to unify Nortel, BlackBerry, and AIM, as an example, would have been foolhardy.
Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and Analyst at TalkingPointz.