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The Next Phase in Unified Communications
Unified Communications has had a challenging start with vendors trying to differentiate their products, based on their own definitions of UC, confusing the market. Add to that the tough economy and the soft ROI of many of the initial offerings, and we are lucky we have made as much progress as we have.
UC is not like other communications technologies we have seen before, and that is because it is not a technology. It is an evolution that involves unifying communication products and services. We are seeing 3 phases in this evolution.
Phase I: UC-U
We are currently at the end of the first phase in the evolution of unified communications. Many advances will start in one phase and reach maturity in the next phase. Phase I has been mostly what we at UCStrategies refer to as UC for users (UC-U).
Most vendors got into UC by re-branding their products as UC even though there was little if anything unified within those product offerings. Over the past 4 years, however, vendors have unified many of the communication silos via click-to-communicate capabilities. This delivers improved productivity and typically soft ROI.
Phase II: UC-B
During phase I, we saw the introduction of UC-Business Process (UC-B)--also referred to as Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP). More than 4 years ago, UCStrategies defined UC as "communications integrated to optimize business processes." In the next 6-18 months, most UC vendors will be promoting their UC-B capabilities--this is where you can find hard ROI and often gain a competitive advantage.
Phase III: UC-A
By the end of Phase I, most vendors added collaboration to their product offering definition. And it is enhancements to collaboration that will help define Phase III. That’s because Phase III is about adding analytics to business processes--UC-Analytics (UC-A). Analytics will be added to UC-U and UC-B solutions.
Analytics can be gathered after an interaction (2 or more people collaborating) or in real-time. Much of what has been done to date in this area has been in the form of data mining on information collected after an interaction. Contact centers have used analytics for a number of years to follow trends. For example, analytics may indicate an out-of-norm number of calls about a product, which may in turn indicate a product defect. There will continue to be many applications where non-real-time analytics is valuable and appropriate.
Real-time analytics will add a new level of value to UC. Keeping with a contact center example--we are starting to see calls being monitored in real time for key words and phrases. During an interaction (call), a system looks for phrases such as "cancel service" or "let me talk to a supervisor" to indicate that a caller is dissatisfied. A supervisor can be advised of the problem call and a series of problem resolutions could be presented to the agent while the caller is still engaged with an agent.
The same capabilities can be added to any conversation. For example, a group is on a call discussing a go-to-market plan for a new software product, including possible changes to the software license agreement. An analytics application monitoring the call recognizes several key phrases and suggests the team consider bringing in legal counsel to the discussion, and provides presence information for attorneys with appropriate expertise that are available.
Phases II & III should help focus vendors on the real value of UC and eliminate some of the confusion we have experienced the past 4 years.