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Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Unified communications... yet another naked emperor?

I'm rapidly becoming skeptical of the opportunity for enterprise "unified communications" -basically a glorified term for combining telephony, IM, email and collaboration. It seems to work on the misguided premise that somehow businesses can coerce their employees to use a single, centrally-managed communications hub.

Maybe in really proscriptive organisations it might work - government departments, or industries in which employees are so fearful of their jobs they'll put up with whatever the IT department foists on them. And for companies' departments which are wholly dependent on teamwork, some of the functionality may get used, some of the time.

But the idea that it will stop employees running their own parallel communications channels in nonsense. Generally, there's always something on the Internet, or on personal mobile devices, that is newer, more intuitive, and most importantly, which their semi-professional friends and "network" also use. The threat that "you can't install it on company laptops" is irrelevant if everyone's got a decent browser-enabled personal mobile as well. And the threat that the company won't reimburse users for non-approved forms of communication (eg personal mobiles where the user "owns" the number etc) also loses teeth in the face of flatrate phone calls and data tariffs.

And then there's the fact that most UC platforms don't integrate many employees' favoured forms of communication - SMS, Skype, even MySpace or other social networking platforms.

I'll come back to this theme another time, but for now, I'd sum up by saying that for every form of communications "unified" in a central managed platform, another two unmanaged (and more user-friendly) ones will inevitably spring up to take its place. This all fits into the general mythology around one number / one device / one identity, which, as I've commented before, is and utterly falacious philosophy.


Anonymous said...

Dean, I think you're right, there is more to life than the Unified Theory of Communications. However, there is no reason why people can't decide to use the best functions from UC in parallel with stand alone applications. Perhaps the use of one number doesn't work for the end user but integration of the users communications devices with a calendar application does. This still delivers a distinct benefit to the user and enterprise.

Remember that as unified communication platforms are introduced to the general public over the next few years (remembering that we sit at the very forefront of this technology) non tech-savvy users will be grateful for the functionality they've got to hand and many will not go looking for further applications. As for integration with people's favoured forms of communication e.g. skype, sms, Myspace etc - watch this space.

Ben said...

I agree that you're right to be skeptical - especially given the nightmare that was unified messaging. I can't help thinking UC is a very similar beast.
That said, Microsoft is now going for Unified Comms in a big way, and the telecoms vendors seem to really quite like its SIP implementation. I wonder if, with Microsoft in the picture and hoping to make something of its CRM tool, any of us have a choice as to whether our employers buy unified comms or not...