Enterprises are finding that traditional unified communications strategy is shifting for reasons more complex than UC vendor product releases and interoperability issues. Three major drivers -- video growth, cloud resources and changing uses for voice -- point to the need for a more flexible UC reference architecture that can accommodate different companies' UC policies and directions.
New UC architecture: The video
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If a business deploys unified communications technology and policies, then collaboration must extend across all its units and job categories as well as to its customers and supply chain partners.
Due to mobility, increased video use due to consumerization and growth of the cloud, , enterprises need to take a fresh look at how changes in video, cloud and voice drivers can affect UC policy and direction.
- Video Growth. The first factor changing UC is the growth of video. The value of video collaboration has generally been acknowledged, primarily for meetings of at least five people. Recently, increased use of consumer video has started to transform personal video expectations. In business settings, companies have built employee communications around popular consumer technology, and video conferencing may be used not because it's needed, but because it's expected.
- Rise of the cloud. The second UC driver is the cloud transformation. In productivity terms, the cloud's importance doesn't stem from its resource pools or public hosting. It stems from the fact from the cloud, application features are orchestrated to string a series of URLSs together to deliver them to a single screen as a full application, Using the cloud as part of a UC strategy is what best supports workers' needs at any point in time. Using cloud-based UC, if every device that could be used as a UC client can support a browser interface, voice, email, IM/SMS and video communications, then client-side integration of communications channels via the cloud could eliminate the need for centralized UC the enterprise hosts.
- Changing voice patterns. The third driver of UC change is voice, particularly how it is used to support collaboration and team activity. Many decision makers and supervisors report that they spend less time at their desks while at work because they can be reached on their mobile devices. The ubiquity of mobile devices like the smartphone -- and their text messaging features in particular -- has altered the behavior of these key workers. SMS offers privacy in a public setting and demands less immediate attention than a call. Yet many modern UC products evolved from Private Branch Exchange (PBX) voice, a direct descendant of telephone company voice services, which wasn't designed to accommodate text messages. So the new voice model may be opening the market to a broader range of solutions.
Creating a structured yet flexible UC reference architecture that changes with the times
UC market potential cannot be realized if buyers don't end up at the same place as vendors, regardless of the drivers moving them. Yet one bus can't have three drivers -- the evolving scenario hardly creates a vision of "unified" communication, after all. The challenge, then, is how to create order out of the increasingly disorderly market that these drivers create.
The answer is to create a UC reference architecture -- a design that shows how something can be done but that can also be tweaked or modified to meet local conditions or requirements. For example, Intel and other chip companies often do reference designs for phones or auto navigation systems or similar things. The details of the architecture can evolve, but buyers and vendors should actively adhere to the principles.
Here's what a UC reference architecture should entail:
- UC must treat all communications -- voice, video and text -- as services, not as the foundation of the whole UC concept. It doesn't make sense to unify communications using just one approach.
- UC functionality must be created using applications that adhere to cloud principles.Users should host cloud-based communications services where it suits business needs and integrate them with other applications based on a common set of software principles.
- Finally, UC interfaces should be based on a browser/application composition that is independent of the devices workers use. This not only fits UC to worker needs, it accommodates the emerging reality of BYOD.
The unification of worker communication, and ultimately the unification of communications with applications, is the ultimate goal for a successful UC project. It is critical to define a set of rules and goals in order to accomplish unification when developing a UC strategy.
About the author: Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corporation, a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecom and data communications since 1982. He is the publisher ofNetwatcher, a journal addressing advanced telecom strategy issues.
This was first published in June 2012