Exploring 4 Categories of Unified Communications

Unified communications is a broad term meaning different things to different people.

Here's one definition: UC is the integration of people, processes, information, and technology that enhances how people interact. People are the "who is involved" in the communication. Process is when and where communication takes place following a methodology toward an end result. Information is data added to provide context and content to the communication. And, technology is how communication takes place -- phone, Web, email, text, video.

UC building blocks

We can break UC up into four categories based on these two dimensions:

  1. Relationship -- Do the people interacting know each other? If the answer is "yes," then there are established levels of trust and understanding. If the answer is "no," then the collaboration is starting at square one with introductions and verifications and figuring out how to interact with one another effectively.
  2. Scheduled -- Is the interaction planned or not? If "yes," participants have time to gather pertinent data and resources so they can fully contribute toward a common objective and use common communication applications.

The four categories of UC are:

  1. Collaboration -- People who know each other interact via a selected method at a specified time, usually set by a calendar invite, to work toward common objectives. Rich media options using a common UC application are generally available, along with shared data and resources. An example is an internal weekly sales call.
  2. Meeting -- People who don't know one another get together for the purpose of selling or telling. In-person or virtual meeting rooms are used to start a discussion. An example is following up on a sales lead.
  3. Event Management -- An event such as an IT system failure or supply chain disruption triggers the need for people to communicate ASAP. Getting the right people with the right information interacting in a short amount of time can be a challenge. Mass notification is a sub-use case in this category.
  4. Contact Center -- Customers contact a company; neither party knows the other nor was this conversation planned, so best-effort routing is applied to find the right resource in a given amount of time.

Four UC categories

The figure above shows the four UC categories plus the two dimensions of measuring UC effectiveness: time and productivity. The ultimate goal of UC is to facilitate getting the most done in the least amount of time.

So what?

First of all, this explains the myriad of UC tools that are available and why some are better in one category than another. No single UC suite in the market spans all four categories. Enterprises will most likely need a software package or API services in each area.

Second, for enterprises to start collaborating with their customers more effectively, they'll need to do more around scheduling interactions and improving the relationship between those interacting frequently. While CRM is a mature market, allowing customers to use the Web to schedule an interaction with a specific resource is an under-served need.

Gartner has Magic Quadrants (MQs) today for contact centers (premises and cloud) and meetings (which replaced the Web and video MQs). The UC MQs (premises and cloud) are really more about collaboration communication tools used within an enterprise. Gartner doesn't offer an event management MQ, though it used to publish a mass notification MQ. You could argue that a lot of the communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) APIs are used for event management use cases, and this would make a good MQ.

By defining the four categories of UC solutions, hopefully this will make the UC market easier to understand.