UC – Is it Time for a Name Change to Collaboration?
Unified Communications (UC) has been a term in use for close to 7+ years now, and elements of it back to the 1990s. At a high level it’s “communications integrated to optimize business processes.” My colleague Marty Parker provides “A Short History of UC" in his article of that name.
By Gartner definition standards, UC is defined as “those products that facilitate the interactive use of multiple enterprise communications methods. This can include control, management and integration of these methods. UC products integrate communications channels (media), networks and systems, as well as IT business applications and, in some cases, consumer applications and devices.”
From a basic toolset point of view, I see UC to include IM/chat, presence friends list, adhoc audio conferencing, adhoc videoconferencing, document sharing, (Web) collaboration, softphone, corporate directory, and Unified Messaging to start. A few years ago Cisco added other core telephony components to be inclusive of Unified Communications, which now includes Telephony, Voice Mail, and Contact Center components.
Recently I had the opportunity to meet with executives from both Cisco and Unify (formerly Siemens Enterprise Networks). They told an interestingly similar story. In the presentations there was little mention of UC, instead, the word “Collaboration” became the buzz word in most of our conversations throughout both meetings. In fact, many of the Cisco executives I met had “Collaboration” somewhere in their title on their business card.
Collaboration, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, is “to work jointly with others or together especially in an intellectual endeavor.” This definition is broad, however, I believe the key words are “to work jointly with others or together.” This also speaks to the essence of Unified Communications.
Collaboration I believe entails components to provide an environment that is “anytime, anywhere, any device, and anyone.” In short, collaboration is about device irrelevance. The device is no longer important for collaboration purposes – any device can be used including a desktop phone, mobile device, tablet, videoconferencing unit, a laptop – it simply doesn't matter anymore. This is about the delivery of Unified Communications in an anytime, anywhere world.
Two Manufacturers – Similar Yet Different Strategies
Unify - Siemens’ agreement with the Gores group, a venture capital firm owning 51 percent of Siemens Enterprise Networks, had the option to exercise a change of the company name at month 61 of their engagement. They recently announced that name change and that new name of course is “Unify.” The word Unify in my opinion really hits at the essence of where the market is actually headed, or by definition “make or become united, uniform, or whole.” I think Unify is looking to rebrand the company as a total collaborative solution – in my opinion that’s smart.
According to Chris Hummel, President of Unify, Inc., UC has been around for close to 10 years and has really not been adapted by the market as originally expected. And Gartner Group recently stated in their latest “Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications” by saying, “The enterprise UC market is now considered to be entering the early mainstream adoption phase. Products and best practices both for deployment and increasing end-user adoption will continue to mature during the next several years.”
Cisco announced new Collaboration solutions for the enterprise at its recent Collaboration Summit. It included (1) Cisco Expressway, a gateway that enables secure collaboration minus the need for setting up accounts passwords and device level registrations, (2) Jabber Express, making it possible to have guest access functionality when communicating with business partners, taking Federation to the next level, (3) Enhanced Telepresence MX300 a room-based telepresence unit which Cisco claims can be auto provisioned in roughly only 15 minutes (general availability December 2013), and (4) Intelligent Proximity which is a range of capabilities that enables users to connect their personal mobile devices to the on-premise collaboration equipment in the office.
Project Ansible from Unify was announced back in July 2013 with a plan for general availability of mid 2014. I see Project Ansible as “a next-generation collaboration platform that brings together the way an organization works natively into a cohesive, ubiquitous environment.” With the latest Unify rebranding will come, I think, increased interest in it as integration with Ansible and with Unify’s Openscape Voice product as well as non-Unify Telephony systems (Ansible does not require Openscape Voice to work in a collaborative environment). Ansible’s promise is to, in essence, offer the five key characteristics Gartner cites as key to a successful UC environment, including user experience, mobility integration, interoperability, cloud and hybrid, and broad solution appeal. Some of Ansible’s appeal includes features and functions such as search across multiple platforms (e-mail, IM/chat, voice mail among others), device awareness, geo-location presence, rich content (integrated to Salesforce, Google among others), identical user experience across multiple devices, strong APIs and SDKs, and contextual analytics.
As both vendors’ lists of announcements and feature-functionality were reviewed at each meeting, I couldn’t help but walk away with a “wow” factor regarding some of elements in both of them. The beginning of the next generation of UC is here.
UC vs. Collaboration
From the vendor's perspective, in order to gain new market acceptance, it’s time put a new “spin” on Unified Communications to create renewed interest. It’s now less about the device end points, it’s now more about the user experience.
Until recently, many organizations were forced to change the way they do business in order to make UC work. In this new world of announcements, collaboration will begin to reintroduce Unified Communications as a ubiquitous, fully functional, next generation Unified Communications platform. It will, in essence, move Unified Communications towards a true virtualized organization environment.
So will the new word “collaboration” compel the industry forward towards adoption? In my opinion, by itself, no, but coupled with these new announcements and next-generation technologies and with a real interest towards adapting the technology towards how enterprises work will bring a renewed, even new interest of Unified Communications on a much greater level.
So you make the choice – UC, UCC or Collaboration. The name in the end becomes far less relevant, while adapting and integrating UC into your enterprise as a set of tools to enable your enterprise to be far more productive is the key for your enterprise going forward. As a channel partner speak the speak, promote UC adoption based on value delivered. And let's take UC and all of its components into the generation towards a “Star Trek” universe.