It's Time to Take UC Off Hold

20 Feb 2011

Unified Communications (UC) has, from its inception, been a term subject to broad interpretation. Many vendors use the "unified communications" label on products only slightly evolved from previous generations that didn't use the term. Articles have been written suggesting it's all hype, and other articles trivialize its impact as nothing more than a distraction.

Then there are those that embrace it. There are organizations that seize the simultaneous revolutions in mobility, broadband, cloud, and the web as an opportunity to create a new communications reality - one where communication and productivity are not limited to offices or office hours, where teams are frequently geographically distributed, and where conversations involve more than just voice. The alternative is not pretty, as our communications paths continue to increase with multiple email inboxes, voice mail inboxes, landline and cell phones, social networks, and more. The volume of communications and the places where they occur can create an infinite loop of inbox checking - draining, rather than boosting productivity.

Although we still largely speak the way we did 100 years ago, communications have evolved way past voice. The telephone was an impressive marvel of technology and underwent many generations of improvements, but increasingly communication vendors, and their customers alike, now consider voice communications only part of the communications puzzle.

At first, it was up to the customer to bolt together various components such as IM and presence into a broader communications strategy. Individual employees smuggled consumer tools into the office, which introduced support and security concerns. Then the vendors offered extended suites with optional feature components, creating a UC menu. Finally, vendors now are offering UC as a base solution. Case in point, the recently announced OpenScape UC Server Enterprise offering from Siemens Enterprise Communications.

Included in OpenScape UC Server Enterprise are a bundle of UC tools and capabilities aimed at simplifying communications and driving productivity. Starting with the foundation of OpenScape Voice, it uses at its core the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) standard for all calls and features, including telephones. OpenScape has a voice and service provider heritage, so its core telephony features are very broad, scalable, and resilient.

Users can easily manage personal call routing rules, and in case they are unavailable, the included unified messaging solution works with leading and standards-based email systems. Presence (device and user) and IM are basic included components. OpenScape UC Server Enterprise also includes native point-to-point video conferencing as well as scalable audio conferencing that can be managed from a user's contact list. The solution can replace external conferencing services and facilitates anytime/anywhere conferencing with phone, web, PC, and mobile clients.

What is important to note is that UC isn't an option or bolt-on. As a result, OpenScape Enterprise may include duplicate or unwanted features, but that's ok. What gets implemented is up to the customer. The core features of UC are no longer an up-charge; it's 2011 and there's no more excuses. This changes the game and hopefully other vendors will get the memo; UC isn't, nor should be, an option any more.

Recently, SEN introduced OpenScape Web Collaboration, which extends the ability for teams to work across organizational walls. It simplifies text, data, web, and multi-party video into a single scalable interface. Collaboration tends to be more than a handful of people working together on a project - it's the way companies get things done. Collaboration used to refer to teams of remote people sharing, exchanging, and developing ideas - including mobile or home-based staff. But it's rapidly expanding. It's about teams spanning multiple locations even companies, a mechanism for education and training, and a method to improve organizational alignment. Collaboration offers direct benefits in terms of productivity while reducing travel. Web collaboration drives productivity gains while reducing expenses and environmental impacts.

It takes a little imagination to understand how ubiquitous collaboration tools can impact an organization. Imagine calling a colleague for clarification on a specific message, document, or presentation - but doing so with a shared screen. Consider the potential benefits of being able to interactively discuss a proposal with a customer or prospect while in different locations. Web collaboration isn't particularly new - but the notion of ad-hoc client-less tools makes it accessible.

Factor in smartphones - one of the most important enablers of mobility - to realize true collaboration anywhere. For example, with OpenScape Web Collaboration, smartphone users can join a conference and see icons for attendees, view shared desktops, and fully participate via IM, voice, or video. Yes, video. Most mobile phones with a web browser can receive video, and iPhone 4 users can send their video using the front camera.

OpenScape from Siemens Enterprise is earning a solid reputation, but has to overcome the shouting of some much larger players. SEN's North American market share is much smaller than its dominant European market leadership. If the company steps up its marketing and awareness efforts, it is well equipped to compete and transform the way the world gets work done; globally.

Repeatedly end-users organizations realize productivity gains and cost avoidances when UC tools are implemented and embraced. Now that SEN includes UC features as standard the debate is over. Vendors and enterprise organizations alike need to stop viewing UC as an optional upgrade. It is not an acronym for the infamous car dealer profit "option" of Under-Carriage protection. UC is the new voice, the way employees and organizations now communicate.

This paper is sponsored by Siemens Enterprise Communications.


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