UC services must move from products to platforms to innovate

UC services must shift away from being a set of products to truly foster innovation in the communication space.

Unified communications (UC) has been a market in the making now for the better part of two decades. Over that time, the industry has seen UC expand from VoIP to include unified messaging, conferencing and a number of other applications. However, despite the strong value of being able to lower communication costs and improve worker productivity, adoption of UC has been spotty. The 2014 TechTarget/ZK Research unified communications survey indicated that less than 25% of organizations have UC fully deployed across the organization. This begs the question: Why is that? If UC is such a transformative technology, why doesn't every company have it everywhere?

The answer lies in how UC is deployed. I fundamentally believe that workers do not want more applications on their desktops and mobile devices. A better model would be to have more features in the applications that workers are already using. For example, if I'm in a customer relations management system and in the record of an important customer, I may see something that prompts me to reach out to him or her. With a traditional UC solution, I would need to leave that application, pull up another application to check the person's presence status or maybe go into an email system and find the contact in there to send off a message. If the person were available, I would then need to send an invitation to a video or Web meeting to start the dialog. If another person had to be added, the same process would repeat.

But what if all of the UC functions could be launched from within the CRM application? Then the worker could check presence, schedule calls, initiate a chat or invoke a video with a single click. Adding other people to the session could also be done from within the application.

If UC is such a transformative technology, why doesn't every company have it everywhere?

After all these years, why am I bringing this up now? Well, I think mobile UC actually needs these capabilities to be successful, and almost all apps are moving to mobile platforms. Switching between the different apps and windows on a PC is a hassle, but certainly something we've all become accustomed to. Doing this on a mobile phone can make even the simplest process so cumbersome that workers just won't do it. That's why we say things like, "I'll take care of it when I'm back in the office." Integrating UC capabilities into applications can go a long way to ensuring we don't say that any more.

The good news for UC buyers is that the UC vendors are taking this seriously now and have created UC development platforms to enable this. Microsoft has a Lync developer kit, Cisco recently revamped its DevNet program and Avaya -- which I believe sets the standard here -- recently released version 3.0 of its Engagement Development Platform.

Also, the vendors have done a nice job of aligning these products with developers. Five years ago, programmers that wanted to create UC applications were required to have a very high level of integration knowledge and understand all the nuances of telecom. Today, much of this complexity is masked from programmers, and the development suites use things like XML, JSON and REST to align them with modern programming methods. Also, the vendors have brought multiple developer kits together, so instead of having one environment for voice, one for video and one for mobile, there's a single toolkit for all UC functions. Lastly, the platforms are now fully virtualized, meaning they can be ported to the cloud if necessary.

For buyers, it's important to understand the direction that UC is going and the potential it has. The industry has envisioned a world of communications-enabled applications for years; finally, the development environments are structured to shift UC from a set of products to a robust platform for innovation.

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