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Moving Beyond the UC Civil War

A few days ago, in a post on No Jitter, Forrester's Art Schoeller asserted that a "civil war" had broken out among the enterprise groups potentially affected by UC: telecommunications departments, data networking teams, facilities managers, collaboration professionals, application developers and end users.

While "war" isn't a term that should be applied loosely, I confess to being pleasantly surprised by that characterization, because it suggests that more enterprises are recognizing that UC has sufficient value to provoke strong feelings about how and where it should be deployed, and/or that it has the potential to significantly overturn the status quo.

Maybe we've finally gotten beyond the time when UC merely evoked quizzical stares and apathy, or questions like "I've got IM and presence on my smart-phone and desktop now and I can do video too, don't we already have UC?"

If Schoeller's right--and I suspect that he is--it's good news, and his post triggered a set of comments that, when combined with the main post itself, tell us a lot about the state of UC market. As UC has been around since 2006-07, there's an awful lot that we know about how to make it happen. For example, we know it has to begin with a thorough needs assessment, and that UC roadmaps grounded in use cases have a much better chance of succeeding.

But while there's considerable agreement about what the first steps should be, there’s been a lot of confusion and misinformation about what should follow. That's why a comment to Schoeller’s post that came in from Marty Parker (UniComm Consulting) is so important: "Having differentiated solutions for specific areas of the business is done all the time for applications software; if we think of UC as an application layer that consumes infrastructure services rather than as infrastructure per se, this differentiated approach makes a lot of sense and is not a TCO burden on the enterprise." [Emphasis added.]

Remember the old commercial about Certs being "two, two mints in one"? Well, that slogan created plenty of "ka-ching" for Certs, but having to wrestle with a dual identity--infrastructure and application software--has not been so kind to UC. And the struggle emanating from this duality is what sparked the civil war that Schoeller referred to, and it has been an oversized contributor to the difficulties UC has thus far endured.

There are, of course, infrastructure elements to UC--from network elements to end points. And figuring out the right infrastructure architecture and management framework poses significant challenges in its own right. So it's understandable that IT pros with a hardware bent contend for supremacy in the organizational tussle that inevitably accompanies a major new project.

But getting the infrastructure elements right, while necessary, isn't enough to guarantee a successful UC implementation. You can have the best, most modern infrastructure in the world, but if the UC apps aren't appropriate--if they don't address the business requirements, if they're kludgy, if elements won't interoperate with one another or if interoperability requires spending a fortune on integration--your UC initiative is toast.

In any civil war, one side eventually "wins," but healing and progress won't occur until a new attitude emerges and is adopted by ALL the protagonists. Infrastructure is essential, but the essence of UC is applications software. Ultimately, these applications have to enable the business units to accomplish their mission, and without too much retraining or aggravation.

Schoeller, along with many other analysts and consultants, emphasizes the need for a shared vision and a roadmap that’s based on use cases. That along with Parker's articulation of the real world that UC inhabits--the application layer--can help get the UC balling rolling in many enterprises.

It'd be great if the vendors would work out the interoperability issues that enterprises simply can't afford to fix. But that's not likely to happen any time soon. That's why once the roadmap is drawn and the use cases examined, any UC journey is going to consist of incremental steps along your selected path.