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Will UC be Subsumed by Social? Heck No!

Cisco has moved to collaboration; IBM has moved to social business. What does this mean for the unified communications market? Is it time to throw in the towel? Absolutely not.

UC is a fundamental part of Cisco's collaboration portfolio and IBM's social business offerings, even if the companies no longer spend as much time talking about UC. Regardless of the specific vendor or product, UC remains the communication engine for both collaboration and social business.

The key to getting the true value out of any of these tools--unified communications, social business, or collaboration--is to integrate them into a single solution. This is starting to happen, but very slowly.

I was recently speaking with a Siemens Enterprise Communications customer who is in the beginning stages of integrating their Siemens UC with Google Apps, including Google+, so their workers can have a unified communications, collaboration, and social experience. This is the tip of the iceberg, and we'll start seeing more and more enterprises deploying integrated UC/collaboration/social solutions. You can hear about more of these examples at my Enterprise Connect session, Case Studies: Creating the Social Enterprise (Monday, March 26 2:00 PM–3:00 PM).

There is currently no standard industry name for this type of integrated UC/collaboration/social solution--Unified Collaboration & Social Communications?--and the name will just keep getting longer and more complex as new technologies get added to the mix. I've been using the term "Collaborative Communications" to describe the integration and intersection of UC, collaboration, and social, but I'm certainly open to suggestions. Whether or not there's a standard industry term, it's clear that the industry is headed in this direction.

The days of silos are over; UC tools such as email, voice, text, video, presence, IM, click-to-communicate, mobility, and unified client; collaboration technologies such as shared workspaces, meetings and conferencing; as well as social tools such as communities, user profiles, microblogging, and activity feeds are all coming together. In the next two-to-three years, expect to see a large portion of vendors offering integrated suites of UC/Collaboration/Social solutions, which are also tied in with email, contacts and calendars, and with APIs and plug-ins to enable business process integration. Users will be able to access the tools that make the most sense for their particular needs, and these tools will be socially-aware and connected.

IBM is one company that clearly gets this, but it's not the only one. As presented at Lotusphere, IBM is making it possible for customers to use its Connections social software product, supported and powered by its Sametime product for unified communications and collaboration capabilities, while tied in with its socially-aware email, calendar and directory. (Click for article and podcast.)

Cisco has a similar vision of uniting its social, collaboration, and UC products, providing users with a seamless, consistent user experience, while being able to access the tools they need to do their jobs.

With an integrated UC/collaboration/social, or Collaborative Communications solution, users will be able to access the tools they need from whatever application they're in, without having to switch out from one to another. When tied in with a company's business processes, the result is optimized business processes (just like the UCStrategies definition of UC: Communications integrated to optimize business processes).

We're slowly starting to see UC-powered Collaborative Communications or social business solutions, where UC enhances the collaboration and social business capabilities. Rather than UC becoming irrelevant, UC is actually becoming a more critical piece of the overall solution, providing the communications capabilities needed for a comprehensive, seamless, and rich user experience.

UC provides the presence and IM capabilities, real time voice capabilities, point to point and multipoint communications, the ability to launch into an audio, web, or video conference--all from within a business process or application, enhancing the use of the new social and collaboration capabilities that organizations have begun using. The result is improved employee productivity, increased revenues, reduced costs, and more satisfied customers.

Stay tuned for continued market evolution as communication optimization continues.