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Unified Communications Platforms: The Big Crunch Theory

The communications universe has exploded outward in a Big Bang that now includes billions of people creating and accessing data from mobile phone applications, internet applications and corporate documents. Our inability to efficiently share and correlate all this raw data has slowed the acceleration of human productivity. As acceleration slows, the technology will experience a Big Crunch, the collapse into unified communications platforms.

The Big Bang
The term Big Bang generally refers to the idea that all matter and energy was bottled up in an incredibly small region known as a singularity. In an instant, this single point of super-dense material exploded in a Big Bang that's been expanding at an astonishingly rapid rate ever since.

By 1970, human communication had reached critical mass, but was bottled up in a super-dense singularity of old, inefficient information technology. The ability to reduce response times, which is essential in business decision-making, was limited to those with access to islands of proprietary information technology, such as land-based telephone networks, computer operating systems and associated business applications, to name just a few. In 1970, long distance calls required operator intervention, messages were scribbled on note pads, meetings were face-to-face in smoke filled rooms, copies were sent by mail and archiving business records was mostly the filing of hard copies.

In the midst of this dark void, a Big Bang occurred in 1970 that marked the genesis of a new communications universe. Starting with a humble message between two sites, the Internet exploded, creating an open environment for the formation of new information technology and hurling innovative new products outward in every direction.

The 70s - In 1971, Ray Tomlinson is credited by some as having sent the first e-mail, initiating the use of the "@" sign to separate the names of the user and the user's machine, when he sent a message from one Digital Equipment Corporation DEC-10 computer to another DEC-10. By the mid-70s, DEC minicomputers were becoming accessible to medium-sized businesses that started to archive their records on tape reels. In 1970, you could send a facsimile of a one page document in only six minutes using a 46 pound Xerox Magnafax Telecopier and Long Distance Xerography (LDX) technology. In the late 70s, a new generation of faster, smaller and affordable machines made faxing pervasive. Instant messaging started with Motorola's introduction of the Pageboy I in 1974. It had no display and could not store messages. However, it was portable and notified the wearer that a message had been sent.

The 80s - By 1980, there were 3.2 million pager users worldwide. The pagers had a limited range so were used mostly in on-site situations, for example when medical workers communicate with each other within a hospital. Information workers were unchained from land based telephones. The first 1G network was launched in the USA by Chicago based Ameritech in 1983 using the famous first hand-held mobile phone, the Motorola DynaTAC.

In 1983 information workers were also unchained from the mainframe and equipped with Personal Computers with an operating platform later named Microsoft Windows. Personal productivity soared as data from spreadsheets, word processors and presentation tools was created and shared instantaneously via e-mail across wide area networks. ARPANET was interlinked with NSFNet in the late 1980s. The new TCP/IP network was called The Internet. European TCP/IP intranets remained isolated from the Internet until 1989. The engine for future streamlining of workflow was invented when document imaging systems emerged to capture, store, index and retrieve image file formats. These systems enabled businesses to capture faxes and forms, save copies as images and store the files in a repository for quick retrieval of the images or text data.

The 90s - In 1994, at The Superhighway Summit at UCLA's Royce Hall, all of the major industry, government and academic leaders in the field started the dialogue about the internet as a ubiquitous platform for sharing information. The killer app for the internet is e-mail messaging.

In 1999, the first full internet service on mobile phones was i-Mode, introduced by NTT DoCoMo in Japan. Technology for mobile phones to replace the pager was on the way. The first SMS text message was sent from a computer to a mobile phone in 1992 in the UK, while the first person-to-person SMS from phone to phone was sent in Finland in 1993. But by 1994, there were over 61 million pagers in use and pagers became popular for personal use.
Collaboration by remote workers was done mostly by e-mail and by telephone conference call. The Polycom Soundstation conference phone was introduced in the early 90s and soon became a mainstay in every corporate meeting room.

During the 90s the publishing industry coined the term "electronic work-flow" to describe the publishing process, from on-line delivery of digital manuscripts to the posting of content on the web for online access. The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) was enacted by the U.S. Congress in 1996 which, among many things, addressed the security and privacy of health data. The standards required the widespread use of electronic data interchange and archival in the U.S. health care system. Healthcare, flexible manufacturing systems, just-in-time inventory management and other highly agile and adaptable systems of work-flow are products of this era.

The New Millennium - Today, there are over four billion mobile phones in use with the most commonly used data application on mobile phones being SMS messaging.  As of 2007, 74 percent were active SMS users (over 2.4 billion out of 3.3 billion total subscribers at the end of 2007). SMS messaging was worth over 100 billion dollars in annual revenues in 2007 and the worldwide average of messaging use was 2.6 SMS sent per day per person across the whole mobile phone subscriber base. The other non-SMS data services used by mobile phones were worth 31 billion dollars in 2007, and were led by mobile music, downloadable logos and pictures, gaming, gambling, adult entertainment and advertising.

Today there are 1.8 billion people using the internet for e-mail; as an information search utility for entertainment, travel, hobbies, and general information; to socialize, and to shop. In addition, software applications are now routinely delivered over the internet to individual and business users by Application Service Providers (ASPs). These programs allow the user to pay a monthly or yearly fee for the use of a software application without having to install it on a local hard drive.

In 2010, companies still deploy document management software to improve work-flow and save money by reducing their dependence on pre-printed forms using electronic templates, blank stock and laser printers. While that remains a powerful motivation for many buyers, most vendors now allow the user to go to the second step: plugging in additional output modules, such as a fax or an e-mail module. Another feature that has proved very popular is a Web archive module, which allows a user to post documents to an internal or external Web site.

Bottom Line: Collaboration and Productivity is Slowing
The new communications universe has exploded outward to include billions of people creating and accessing data in only slightly overlapping galaxies of mobile phones, internet applications and corporate documents. The expansion of the communications universe combined with the migration from text, to voice and video data, has created a critical mass of random data. Our inability to efficiently share and correlate all this raw data to better collaborate has slowed the acceleration of human productivity.

The result will be The Big Crunch; the collapse of disparate information technologies into communications technology platforms. Read part 2 of this series of reports to learn about which platforms are expected to emerge.