Defining Unified Communications

I’m a stickler for definitions, because I grow tired when sucked into a debate about the pros and cons of something when it’s clear that the “something” in question is different in the head of everyone who joins in.

So, I have to admit, the modern communications world is sometimes a wearying place for me.

Nick Jones, Gartner analyst, has an excellent blog and many greats things to share with the world. But I am surprised and, truthfully, disappointed by his stance on Unified Communications.

I don’t see how someone who is an expert can state that Unified Communications is very poorly defined (it is, as are most other similar terms) and then proclaim it to be flawed. Surely if it’s not clearly defined then it can be almost anything you (or I) want it to be?

Unified Communications is nothing more or less than the unifying of multiple communications channels. Regardless of the integrated offerings of top vendors, UC doesn’t stop at voice, UM, video, IM, customer contact… it encompasses all aspects off communications including all the varieties of social networking applied to business.

Perhaps this is why people have moved on to talk about Collaboration, although personally I hate it when marketing folks drive the agenda behind the terminology.

But I do understand Nick’s point. Major vendors are defining UC as they like and that is leading both to confusion over the terminology and a belief in the customer base that UC means something specific, something which is largely separate from social networking.

Here’s my please: let’s continue to use the term UC, and to use it literally – Unified Communications. Communications Unified. It’s not supposed to be strictly defined, because the technology is in constant flux and that, of course,  is A Good Thing.

So here’s my definition of Unified Communications – it is a set of communications tools, created or adapted to work together, which is deployed into an organisation in order to enable effective communications both internally and externally. It is the melded set of websites, client software, servers and connectivity which is unique to the organisation. Although most businesses have similar communications needs, they will never find identical solutions and so that is why we should see UC as a toolkit and a UC solution as something which a customer needs rather than something which a vendor is selling.

Imagine the alternative. Communications within your organisation which are not unified. Not coordinated. Do not work together. Where’s the sense in that?

Twitter and Facebook are fine and dandy, but do not solve the communications needs of the consumer let alone of organisations which may have half a million members. Blogs and forums are wonderful places to share and discuss views, wikis are excellent places to collaborate. Telephones are great things for when you want to talk to someone who is not close by. Un-unified they form a confusing morass of tools which will see every single member of the organisation following a different preference, to the detriment of the whole. Unified, with a coherent communications policy, they unite the organisation.

It sounds like a holy grail quest, and it is. That’s what Unified Communications is about.


About mikbarne
I'm a writer and freelance communications and collaboration consultant with nearly 20 years experience in UK telecommunications, specialising in VoIP, Unified Communications and Collaboration, and building effective communications architectures. Visit my Google+ Profile

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