UC isn’t just about unifying

There’s a school of thought that unification of a communications solution is best done at the edge, in a client. That a single client (or set of clients for mobile and desktop/laptop devices) providing a consistent look and feel, integration of instant and email messaging, voicemail, video and, of course, voice calling is the way to go. It’s not an unreasonable view, and a unified client can provide a great user experience, but it misses the real advantages of unification of different communications streams.

I have a pretty broad view of Unified Communications (UC). Or UCC (UC&C – UC and Collaboration) if you prefer. Some like to think of it as a thing – like a UC solution from Cisco, for instance, is a thing. I prefer to think of it as a concept, a principle – that by tying together different types of communication, individuals and hence organisations can work better, more efficiently and more effectively.

So in my definition, UC includes everything. Everything in a “standard” UC offering, everything conceived of in tools such as LinkedIn, IBM Connections or Cisco Quad, Twitter, Facebook, Gist, Huddle, Webex – everything. The fact that you can’t buy, off the shelf, something which is a unified version of all of these things is beside the point. The principle remains – unification brings radical workplace revolution.

If the point was merely to make things easier for users – prettier and more intuitive GUIs, more device support, consistent look-and-feel – then neat clients would be ideal. But that is the just workplace evolution. The revolution comes about by making people act vastly differently from how they act today. Interact differently.

Which is where the concept of social networks, or organisational networks, is key to understanding how UC and all those constituent parts will make a difference.

Most organisations are built around an org chart which puts people – hopefully based on merit – in charge of other people and gives everyone a clear role. Even assuming that the Peter Principle – which states that “in a hierarchy every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence” – is incorrect, this type of organisation rarely reflects how business is actually done within an organisation. Management and organisational consultants have spent huge amounts of time and effort trying to help companies to align their employees around an effective business structure. To build a structure which puts the right people into the right places, aligned against business goals – such as selling the maximum amount of “stuff” at the maximum possible profit – is another of those holy grails. Often glimpsed, always just out of reach.

An organisation which understands how its people interact is one key step towards that holy grail. With that understanding, and clear business goals, comes the opportunity to realign one to the other – either changing of business goals to take advantage of revealed corporate talent, or else realigning processes, procedures and people to better fit the goals. Whilst either of these is easier said than done, neither is possible without understanding what’s really happening within the organisation. Understanding how people interact is not easy, and even techniques such as Organisational Network Analysis struggle to cover more than a subset of the employee base – and can only realistically be run occasionally to sample the water at one point in time.

Which is where that unification of communications comes in. All communications contain information – in fact the very existing of a dialogue, or monologue, between people is itself information about how information is flowing. By analysing information and information flow using automated systems, an organisation no longer needs to rely wholly on a manual process of organisational analysis through questionnaires and interviews. Centralising those information flows – or at least unifying them, such that a system can monitor them all and understand how they inter-relate – is the key that unlocks the potential of this automated organisational analysis.

Companies such as Google understand the value of analytics, IBM and others have built analytics into their business social networking tools. But so far, nobody has grabbed the opportunity for automated organisational analysis which unified communications bring.


My view is we’re still very early in this game. Unified Communications generally covers voice, video, IM and some aspects of messaging and often does a lot of this at the client rather than in the network. Conversely, social networking tools rarely have any client requirements but are generally closed systems which actually integrate very poorly into the rest of the toolset. Whilst a social networking tool can track what pages/posts I view, how often, who I follow and what I myself post, if it does not know who I call and when, what other web content I access, who I email, what I email them about and how much of a dialogue ensues then it has a very small part of the picture. My email server only knows about my email, possibly my voicemail. There’s no single point today. And in fact, for a complete picture, all voice and video communications would need to be “listened in on” too. A huge task.

But automated organisational analysis has so much potential, vendors would be mad to miss out on this opportunity to differentiate their products. So watch this space.


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

One Response to UC isn’t just about unifying

  1. Pingback: IP Expo 2011 Roundup « Mike Barnes' Blog

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