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Understanding the Marriage of IoT and UC

If you're married, in the process of getting married, or involved in a wedding, you've probably heard the expression "something old, something new." In the tech industry right now, there's a bit of a marriage going on of "something old and something new," and that's the intersection of unified communications (UC) and Internet of Things (IoT).

At first glance, you might wonder what one has to do with the other. UC is a relatively mature market largely involved with real-time communications to enable people to collaborate better. Compared to UC, IoT is a relatively new trend and has focused primarily on connecting traditionally unconnected devices such as medical equipment, sensors, industrial tools, and other endpoints. One technology deals with people and the other with objects, so this raises the question, is there value in bringing these together?

I believe there most certainly is, and I think some of the vendors are starting to see that as well. For example, Cisco recently put IoT software under the leadership of Rowan Trollope, who heads up the collaboration business unit at Cisco. If there was no value in bringing the two together, this leadership structure would make no sense.

One of the ways organizations can get value from bringing these two technologies together is by having IoT systems send messages to people for trouble notification. IoT is a continuously growing environment made up of connected devices, sensors, and other endpoints. Each device is network enabled and transmits information. This data can be sent to other machines or to people. At a basic level, a heart monitor could send telemetry information via SMS or other messaging platform to alert a nurse that a patient is having a critical issue. An advanced use case would take the patient's heart rate data and combine it with other medical information, quickly perform some analytics, and then route the message to different people based on the outcome of the analysis.

Another use case for IoT–UC convergence is to automate the invocation of a UC service based on IoT events. For example, consider a factory floor where information needs to be gathered each morning. A workspace communications and collaboration 'space' (Spark Room, Circuit conversation) could be created, and the workers on staff that morning automatically added into that workspace as well as a summary of all the data. If there was a problem, a supervisor could be quickly added, and the process of troubleshooting could begin. This would be significantly faster than gathering the information manually, and it would keep the data organized for future review.

It's important to note that in both scenarios, UC moves away from being a set of applications and becomes a set of capabilities. Developers can take these functions and quickly add them into vertical applications, creating a seamless experience for the user.

IoT will also evolve the contact center. With IoT, customer service can become more proactive, even predictive. IoT objects can sense problems and alert the manufacturer without the customer even being aware. A refrigerator could sense that the thermostat is not functioning properly, and place an automated call to the customer to schedule a service visit. Of course, this example takes the concept of multi-channel contact centers and expands it greatly, as now it's not just customers contacting the call centers, but also connected devices.

IoT also increases self-service capabilities. In the case of the refrigerator, if the installation of the part were simple, the manufacturer could just ship the part and instructions on how to change it. If you want to think a few years out, something like the Microsoft HoloLens could be used to give customers step-by-step directions on installing the part.

There's virtually no shortage of use cases for IoT-UC convergence. The key is to open your mind and consider what's possible. On Thursday at Enterprise Connect, I'll be co-moderating a panel with event Co-Chair Beth Schultz, in which we will discuss these topics as well as the evolution of communications and security implications.

Panelists include:

I certainly hope you attend this session, as it should be a great discussion and hopefully stimulate some thoughts around the possibilities created by bringing IoT and UC together.

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