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I'm in 'Business Communications'

As my BCStrategies colleague Blair Pleasant, of CommFusion, pointed out last week, the attractiveness of the unified communications (UC) moniker is declining as responsibilities of enterprise communications professionals expand. If you work in a highly structured organization, you might find the task of redefining your role vexingly problematic, but at the end of the day, "business communications" -- BC -- is where you want to be.

To be honest, I never really liked "UC" as a defining term, finding it useful but not very insightful -- just what was "unifying," or, more importantly, why? Back in the day, I found far too many companies that said they were selling UC but what they were really doing was just sending voice and data traffic over the same network connection. I didn't have the heart to tell them that was called "multiplexing."

The founding partners of UCStrategies (I didn't join until later) came up with a simple, stark definition of UC that crystalized the transition: communications integrated to optimize business processes. I had seen other UC definitions that included a litany of communications modalities that were to be "unified" in UC. The problem is, that the list capabilities continued to grow, but amazingly, the UCStrategies' definition still applied. I prefer to think of our name change as the realization that the industry has finally caught up to that core idea the team came up with way back in 2006.

Voice, Data? Wireless!

Our industry loves to categorize things, possibly so that people outside of the field have some idea about what we actually do. When I started in the field, the big dividing line was "voice geeks" versus "data geeks" (actually it was "voice guys versus data guys," but that gender distinction has long since disappeared).

I was an outlier, because I started as a data geek -- actually, a hand-me-down from teletype, the lower-speed, paper tape-driven precursor to what we now call data networking. Back in the mid-1970s, there were precious few of us data geeks compared to the legions of voice people. However, I never prized ignorance, so went on to learn a good deal about the voice part of the business while selling AT&T Dimension PBXs. Subsequently, I still didn't register as "voice" or "data" anymore than I would consider myself a "batch guy" versus an "interactive guy" in data networking.

Not aligning with any particular category was a bonus because it gave me the opportunity to work on all kinds of different and challenging projects. When voice and data finally merged with the adoption of voice over IP, I was at a loss to figure out why all the confusion.

Looking back over all the various network technologies that have come and gone through the years, I have grown to appreciate the wisdom of not specializing too narrowly. If you're going to buttonhole yourself in one particular discipline, you'd better pick one with a long shelf life -- at least as long as you intend to have a viable career!

Eventually, I figured out that I enjoyed wireless more than anything else, so for the last 20+ years, that's where I've focused. Of course, I didn't choose to specialize in any particular area of wireless. I got my first exposure to wireless working with point-to-point microwave systems in the late 1970s. I got to work on cellular applications as the wireless revolution took hold and worked with everything from infrastructure issues like distributed antenna systems to mobile policy and security solutions as BYOD initiatives took hold.

But I also worked extensively on Wi-Fi as well as satellites (GEOS, LEOS, VSATS, etc.) and all of the various standards and technologies that came along (anyone remember WiMAX?). What's amazing to me is that we are still dealing with this same type of brain-dead compartmentalization in the forward-thinking "wireless business." I regularly work with cellular folks who know nothing about Wi-Fi, and who have in fact created their own mythology about Wi-Fi's faults.

Wi-Fi folks are similarly compartmentalized in their specialty, though at least most of those folks have cell phones. From a business standpoint, the problem this creates (and a battle I get to referee on a regular basis) is the old saw: to a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. You won't advance in business communications by hammering screws.

In the end, I've had a great career that now spans more than four decades, and I still don't know whether I'm a voice guy or a data guy -- nor do I intend to become either. What I do know is that I've gotten the opportunity to work on more great off-the-wall projects than just about anyone I know, and I still get to learn new things every day. Those projects involved all these technologies, wired and wireless, in support of traditional business users, but also field service folks, forklift operators, credit card and point-of-sale systems, public safety -- you name it.

The Meaning of Communications

The message is, thank your lucky stars that you're in BC. The power and flexibility of our technology has made buttonholes meaningless (and possibly career-limiting). The job of business communications is to deliver good solutions using what is the best and most cost-effective technology available. It's that variety that gives meaning to life. As Blair, Marty Parker, and the rest of the BCStrategies team keeps stressing, the range of possibilities keeps expanding, and increasingly the users are deciding which tools they're going to use.

With the incorporation of communication capabilities in all manner of business applications (and not just "PBX systems"), network professionals are going to need an ever-expanding range of knowledge and a vision that encompasses all technologies. The technology is great, but businesses need people who are fluent in all the various solutions and have the business sense to pick the right tool for the job. The button-holed need not apply.

BCStrategies is an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.

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