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More on Debating Definitions

After my article entitled "Still Trying to Define Unified Communications?" and "Will the REAL Definition of UC Please Stand Up?" I received several emails, tweets, and comments about what UC is and isn't. As I stated, UC is composed of several components, including: call control and multimodal communications, presence (desktop, telephony, device presence), messaging (instant messaging, email, voice mail, unified messaging, video messaging), conferencing (audio, web and video), collaboration tools (whiteboarding, document sharing, etc.), mobility and mobile access, business process integration (or CEBP), and clients and endpoints.Not all of the components must be present in order to be considered a UC solution, though. The elements that I now believe are requisite for a UC solution are presence capabilities, a UC client or unified user interface, and at least one communication channel, whether audio (telephony), visual, or textual (instant messaging, email, or SMS). The other components are optional and may or may not be included in a UC solution, depending on the users, the business processes, and other criteria.

There are clearly two schools of thought when it comes to UC--those that believe it's simply the ability to access a variety of communication modes from a single interface, and those that believe that UC goes beyond the simple unification of communication modes to the integration with presence capabilities providing context about the users, as well as integration with business processes and applications. Many analysts and vendors believe (as I do) that presence is the core or foundation of UC, but there is a large contingent that believes that UC is unrelated to business processes or presence. One industry watcher commented that UC is simply a single interface to access various communication technologies. He also noted "UC is an interface--1 real time, 1 messaging, 1 contact handling, presence should be conditional." And yet another commenter noted, "Surely true UC is whatever you want it to be, just so long as it can run the communication you need."

And what about business process integration? The team describes two types of UC under the UC umbrella--UC-User and UC-Business Process. UC-User focuses on user productivity, while UC-Business Process includes integration with business processes. We believe that business process integration is a key aspect of UC, but not everyone concurs. One person commented on my original article that he's "on the fence" about whether or not UC must include business process/application integration, and that "as long as the solution unifies my communication modes, it is UC to me."

Art Rosenberg added his two cents, noting:

Part of the problem of defining UC rests with the different constituencies involved with the use of UC capabilities. End users don't care about infrastructure requirements, only functionality and ease of use. Business management are primarily concerned with business process performance and operational costs. IT is mainly concerned with implementation and support costs for operational capacity, reliability, and security for network and server infrastructures, satisfying various end user needs and business management's application needs, and managing (control) over what they are responsible for, including software clients on end user endpoint devices.

So is unified communications simply the integration of all the communication modes that a user might already be using, and helping them all work together? That's not how I see it. My view of UC is that it is more than a compilation of all of the various components--it is a way of integrating an appropriate and selective set of the various communication modes together with presence and a unified client interface, in order to optimize business processes, resulting in increased value to the organization in terms of reduced costs, increased revenues, and enhanced customer interactions and relationships.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about what UC is and isn't, and how we should view UC. Contact me at [email protected], or on Twitter @blairplez.