What’s In a Name?

What’s In a Name?

By Dave Michels August 1, 2016 1 Comments
Dave Michels JPG
What’s In a Name? by Dave Michels

In this industry we use a lot of terms that we think are understood, but they aren’t. Kind of ironic for an industry that has a mission to help people communicate.

UC: No one agrees on what unified communications (UC) means. That used to bother me, but not any more because I’ve accepted the impossibility of a definition. Not only is there variation among the vendors, but the technology keeps changing. For example UC didn’t initially have a focus on mobility until Apple introduced the iPhone.

However, there is general agreement on what UC kind of includes. There’s almost always a telephony component. Actually, I think that’s the best definition, but them are fighting words. Many insist it also includes instant messaging and presence (IM/p). I think that was important, but not any more. IM/p in UC is generally limited to internal-usage. Any form of communications limited to your badged employees is obsolete.

Focussing on features or modalities doesn’t define UC either. Skype for Business is a UC system, Skype is not. To the casual user there is no difference in functionality, so it isn’t practical to define UC by features or modalities. Simply stated UC is best defined as a business phone system.

If your UC system happens to include things like video, IM/p, APIs, and uses software clients, then congratulations. All these components are within the UC vision and contributes to communications and collaboration. Take pride in being an advanced UCer.   

I digress. My point isn’t to argue the definition of UC, but to talk about definitions. You see, all the technology in the world can’t help us communicate and/or collaborate if we can’t get past the basics of language. UC as a broad category works because we all understand it’s a broad topic whose definition varies with the beholder.

I am also comfortable using PBX and UC interchangeably, though this really pisses off some of my colleagues (right, Marty?). For a while we considered UC the successor to the PBX. I figure the PBX evolving to UC (VoIP, IM/P, clients, APIs and whatever else you include in UC) is childsplay compared to the 100 years of evolution it experienced previously. 

There’s also a school of thought that half of UC is totally wrong - the first half. These people argue that de-unified communications is the in thing. For grins let’s deunify UC. IM goes to some messaging app, APIs go to some CPaaS or prem solution, and video to some VCaaS or prem solution. What’s left? The PBX!

I’m fine with UC and PBX, but I am not big on the the term collaboration. The vendors seem to be collaborating on dropping UC in lieu of collaboration. The problem with this is collaboration is used in language far more broadly than enterprise communications. It’s hard to change a word that’s in the dictionary for a narrower definition.

To collaborate means two or more people working together. Collaboration and collaborative tools are used to describe all kinds of efforts and products. A fax machine can be used for collaboration. There’s not even a requirement for technology to collaborate. A conference table is a great tool for collaboration. So is a car, a whiteboard, and Ferris wheel.

The UC industry is trying to commandeer collaboration because some think it’s better to focus on the outcome or result than the tool. There’s merit to that, but other industries have the same idea. When I search for collaboration tools I get applications such as Box, Microsoft SharePoint, Citrix Podio, and Salesforce Chatter. All very fine tools. Why use a broad term to reference a narrow category?

If I search for collaboration on Twitter I mostly find musicians working together. Since musical groups inherently collaborate they tend to reserve the term for efforts between different musicians. Many of us learned to collaborate at a young age on the piano playing Chopsticks with a friend.

I do use the term collaborate to describe teams working together, but I avoid the term to describe the products or services that they use.

This brings me to my favorite nebulous topic: workstream messaging. That is the term I use for products such as Cisco Spark, Unify Circuit, RingCentral Glip, and Mitel MiTeam. Last year I used the term Workstream communications and collaboration - we all make mistakes. Now I use Workstream Messaging because it captures the two most important aspects.

These applications become central to the flow of work. I associate workflow with physical materials, machines, and processes. Workstream is better for information-based roles. Users of these tools discover that the apps encompass all of their work because communications, content, and contacts are all in one place. Unified Workstream?  

These apps also leverage the familiarity of messaging we know from consumer messaging apps such as SMS, Twitter, Facebook Messenger, SnapChat, Skype, Hangouts, and many more. People just can’t get enough of messaging. Unfortunately, we have already applied the messaging label to voicemail, email, IM, SMS, and a bevy of consumer messaging apps.

Workstream messaging are business apps. They integrate with corporate directories, other business applications, and protect content per organizational security policies. I use workstream as one word in part because it is not in the dictionary. Gartner has now started using the term, but they can’t decide how many words it should be.

Some of my colleagues are not interested in terms. It’s hard. There was a lot of wasted time on Enterprise 2.0 (E20) vs. Social Business (Socbiz) battles. Many just want to focus on the approaches to communications, and assume the hip customers will simply understand that HipChat and WeChat are totally different.

This is exactly why the market is so slow to adapt to new technologies. Because the vendors, analysts, consultants, and media do the migration for them. Consider how the industry embraced the term cloud. Almost every vendor in the industry claims to be a cloud vendor regardless of portfolio.



1 Responses to "What’s In a Name?" - Add Yours

brad dupee 8/2/2016 10:00:13 PM

Cloudy stuff Dave...:-)

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