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New Beginnings for UC and Social

We’re less than a week away from Enterprise Connect, so I've been spending much of the past 10 days reviewing the presentations that will be given during the conference. I'm happy to report that the content is solid; it's very detailed and oriented to helping folks make decisions and/or take action to improve network, system and/or application performance.

When you consider the presentations as a whole, one of the themes that emerges is how quickly the pace has picked up for communications and collaboration to morph into a composite whole. This has been a long time coming, and presents a tremendous opportunity for the industry--buyers and sellers alike--to rethink Unified Communications.

UC, or the idea of merging all of our various communication and collaboration capabilities and integrating them into business processes, is fast becoming a reality, but not in the way most people thought back in 2007 and the years since. In her UC Market Update presentation, Blair Pleasant puts the 2012 "true" UC market at about $300 million, and projects increases of about $100 million per year for the next several years. Now that's certainly a lot more than I spend on lunch, but relative to other "hot" markets, UC feels, well, lukewarm.

But as Blair notes, there’s a lot more UC out there than the "true" UC number indicates, roughly 2x-3x the "true" number today, and that multiple continues through 2016. And more diverse ways of doing UC are coming; work is under way in the standards bodies to enable browsers to handle real-time voice, and, building on the popularity of the iPhone's Siri, we'll soon see more voice-activated apps become possible via smartphones, tablets and desktop PCs.

In short, we’re becoming a society and culture where unified communications will soon be the norm. Enterprises will still have to make decisions about which platform can best serve as the basis for their UC implementations--desktop, PBX or business software applications--and complicated issues like management and security are far from settled. But UC will go mainstream, pulled mainly by mobility and pushed by the coming transformation resulting from voice-activated browsers and improved voice/speech recognition technologies. At Enterprise Connect 2012, we're likely to witness the first manifestations of this "next-gen" UC, via both the conference sessions and the exhibition floor.

I also expect social and collaboration to be a major focus of discussion, with at least two of the keynotes heavily weighted toward those subjects. I confess to being somewhat of a skeptic about social in the enterprise, not because I don't believe that the world is headed in that direction, but because at least so far, the approaches have been more about porting how we use social in our personal lives to the workplace. From what I've seen, there’s limited call for that capability in the workplace and it runs the risk of being more distracting than helpful.

It seems to me that what's needed is an approach to social that's grounded in how businesses actually operate rather than just transferring what we do during our private time on Facebook or Twitter. I hope we see stirrings of such a new beginning during next week's conference.

However you cut it, Enterprise Connect promises to be a milestone event in the evolution of our industry. I look forward to seeing you there.