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Skipping UC


As a consultant, I have always lived in two worlds. The first world is represented by the industry – things I read about here on No Jitter, things I hear and vendor presentations I see at tradeshows, and things I hear from analysts. It is a wonderful world, full of exciting promise in all its paradigm shifting glory. I am happiest in this world, where my thoughts and creativity can soar as high as they want.

The other world, quite simply, is the real world. In the real world, we are forced to confront the realities of budget, resources, and end user limitations. Creative problem solving gets hijacked to figure out how to pay for things like infrastructure upgrades and ongoing maintenance costs.

So the challenge we consultants have faced for the last two decades is how to balance the potential of UC with the realities of, well, reality. And much to the dismay of the industry, UC has not been the revolution everyone hoped for. Every year there is a new spin, a new message, an "n+1".0 added to the terminology. And while adoption has grown, particularly in high tech industries, many organizations continue to sit things out.

But there is some movement underway that I am seeing with my clients and other businesses I have been talking with. We have been hearing for a long time about the generation shift that is taking place, and about how young workers have higher expectations of the communications tools at their disposal. And while those workers were either outnumbered or ignored in years past, they are beginning to reach critical mass in leadership positions and are very much open to maximizing communications technologies, including things like UC.

For better or worse, UC has always been a phone-dominated tool set. Other applications have been bolted on, such as messaging, collaboration, and mobility. This has added to the expense and complexity of UC, both from an implementation perspective and user training/adoption perspective. So even organizations that had the vision to implement UC have stopped short due to budget concerns or because they do not trust that their end users would be able to handle the new capabilities.

User acceptance and adoption are obviously critical to any implementation. And while the demographics of the workplace are changing every day, we still have a large portion of the workforce that didn't grow up with a smartphone or tablet. Many didn't even see a computer until they were in college (or beyond.) I'm not trying to make anyone feel old out there, but the experience of the user base is a huge factor in how far an organization can go in leveraging UC tools.

In the real world, I hear things like, "our users can barely operate a telephone." "We aren't sophisticated enough to use UC tools." "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." This kind of thinking frustrates me, but it is part of the real world that many businesses live in.

In the past, that has been an indictment of the user base. I would suggest it is really an indictment of the tools that have been presented to them.

Let's consider for a minute the story of the greatest communications tool ever created...

There are over 1.4 billion active Facebook users in the world. In the U.S., 31% of senior citizens are on Facebook. How many of those users went to a training class on how to use Facebook? Very few -- you just get on it and start communicating. I would argue that the most amazing part of Facebook is not what it does, but how quickly and how widely folks adopted it.

That is where UC has fallen short, with the focus being on what it does as opposed to driving adoption. Dave Michels wrote a few months ago that the UC industry was at risk of becoming the next Novell . I agree with that to a certain extent, but not because they might get squashed by Microsoft.

But change is coming, most likely driven from tools such as Circuit (Unify), Spark (Cisco), and PureCloud (Interactive Intelligence). These tools are built from the ground up to be social-based communications experiences with collaboration and mobility designed from the beginning. This is what users want -- an easy to use tool that doesn't require extensive training and mimics other social applications they are already using.

With the economies of the cloud, we are reaching (still not there yet!) price points that make this extremely attractive even for the most conservative of businesses out there -- the old legacy folks that have been sitting on their wallets for the last 20 years watching their old PBX towers hum away, biding their time. If you combine that with the previously mentioned changes in leadership and with applications that are easy to roll out, manage, and use, then we might have ourselves a turning point in the industry. Organizations can ditch their old PBX and voice mail with a social-based collaboration ecosystem, completely skipping generations of UM/UC/UCC etc.

This is an incredibly disruptive development for the industry. App stores replace integrators, direct sales replace VARs, and decision making shifts with customers. We are seeing the beginnings of this and will see the trend escalate quickly. If the industry can't adapt, someone from the outside will come in and turn it in to Novell.

My hope is that the industry can adapt, and that the legacy of quality and reliable communications that have been the bedrock of this space can be moved into the new world of social-based applications. And that the power of true convergence can be brought into the real world in mass -- finally.

"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.