Network Computing is part of the Informa Tech Division of Informa PLC

This site is operated by a business or businesses owned by Informa PLC and all copyright resides with them. Informa PLC's registered office is 5 Howick Place, London SW1P 1WG. Registered in England and Wales. Number 8860726.

What UC Is, And Isn't

Here's a response to my post, "Is Anyone Actually Implementing UC?" The writer, Ken Camp, argues that everyone's implementing UC, because UC encompasses so many things:

Unified Communications is everywhere. Think about it. Voice services, video services, and voice mail have converged onto a single unified platform -- an IP network and our computers or other devices. Without unified communications, you have no social media -- no Facebook, no Twitter, no comprehensive integration. Without unified communications, the Web as we know it is a pipe dream. It had e-mail and static Web pages.

OK, so my headline, and to some degree the whole post, was pretty vague on what I mean when I say UC. I've avoided writing a post about how I define UC, or how you should define UC, partly because it's a debate I've gotten kind of tired of, and which I don't think is all that productive. But I guess it does merit a go-round.

When I talk about Unified Communications, I'm falling back on the UCStrategies group's definition: "Communications integrated to optimize business processes," which is as good a definition as you'll find. It describes how enterprises, especially large enterprises, will take voice capabilities, carried over IP, and integrate them into the systems already in place that run the business, for the purpose of making the business communications more effective.

But I guess I put Web 2.0 in a different, somewhat (but only somewhat) overlapping category from UC. To me, the key distinction is enterprise-caliber robustness. No enterprise is going to implement a UC system -- i.e., presence-enablement, ubiquitous video, PC-based portals / softphones, etc. -- until that system has proven it can be rolled out to thousands of users and can work reliably and securely. Oh, and cost effectively, too.

Web 2.0 -- your Twitters, your Facebooks, etc., even basic public IM -- integrate voice with the Web and are used by millions of people at work every day. But they're not implemented by enterprises. They're implemented by end users. The enterprise has (and expects to have) no guarantee that these platforms will support mission-critical business processes, and to the extent that they're being used in this capacity, the IT manager is taking something of a flyer on the technology -- there's no SLA with Twitter or Facebook. And these Web 2.0 companies don't represent themselves as enterprise-class platforms, as far as I'm aware.

So to me, "Unified Communications" is a shorthand way of saying "enterprise Unified Communications," with all the requirements, SLAs -- and cost -- that the modifier "enterprise" implies. This is not a small distinction, because, as much as we talk about the "consumerization" of the enterprise, it's only via the "enterprise-ation" of the consumer technology that you can truly communications-enable mission-critical business processes.