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New UC? Old UC? No UC?


It wasn't too long ago that there were debates on what was meant by unified communications -- though that has settled down even with the "collaboration" tag being added (UC&C).

Wikipedia has a rather lengthy definition of the term that covers a lot of the communication technology landscape -- from voice to presence, conferencing, data sharing, both real-time and non-real-time communication services, and beyond. Much of the benefit that can be derived from this form of UC requires modification to existing business processes, which has proven quite difficult to achieve for many for reasons including corporate culture.

I've written previously on No Jitter about the merits of what I'll be now calling "old UC," and whether enterprises should procure it as a platform or based on use case analysis. I have suggested that in the event of a lack of use cases, an enterprise doesn't need to procure UC at all. The current activity in this market has largely shifted to deciding the best models for procuring a form of UC (i.e. on-premises, cloud, or hybrid) as well as strategic vendor choices.

Market buzz and enterprise attention has recently moved to solving work team collaboration problems. We are now looking at new forms of UC, which are known by various handles such as team collaboration, work stream, teamwork apps, etc. Heck, it is a fresh enough segment that there aren't even good Wikipedia entries for these names yet.

This brings us full circle to what I'm calling the "New UC" for now. Since we can't even agree on a new name for this form of UC at this juncture, one can expect there to be significant differences in product offerings in this space -- and there are.

I started getting interested in this about a year ago when I saw demonstrations of products from traditional vendors of "Old UC" such as Unify and Cisco. These early prototypes and products were based on persistent chat/virtual meeting rooms that were meant to facilitate real-time communications within teams. Although there was some overlap with Old UC in real-time communications functionality, the New UC products are almost exclusively consumed through the cloud, utilize browser-based technology including WebRTC rather than thick clients, and usually include aspects of asynchronous communication as well as real-time communications.

The asynchronous communications typically integrate a file store such as Box, Dropbox or SharePoint. This allows workgroup members to integrate the various interim work products with version control into the persistent chat/meeting rooms. (Alas, some will probably miss the days of searching through their email for the current version of the document for the meeting at hand.) New entrants such as Redbooth have also included task workflow functionality into their offerings. Integration capabilities with traditional voice and UC systems vary greatly at this stage.

My preliminary analysis has shown that similar to Old UC, New UC offers tiered pricing models based on functionality (some even offer a basic fremium version). In addition to the traditional IT buyers, this model allows lines of business to make the procurement. This empowers small groups to solve their own communications problems without going through corporate IT (for now). Seems reminiscent of when WebEx started. I'm excited about the New UC and am looking forward to seeing the market develop.

"SCTC Perspectives" is written by members of the Society of Communications Technology Consultants, an international organization of independent information and communication technology professionals serving clients in all business sectors and government worldwide.