Third Generation UC
Unified Communication (UC) is Communications integrated to optimize business processes. We are now entering an exciting period where several forces seemingly unrelated at first are becoming pieces in a puzzle that together create a bigger picture and better user experience. If you ever have laid a puzzle trying to fit a number of pieces seemingly not part of the picture, and you suddenly see how it all fits together, it feels almost as the pieces are drawn into their correct places. That is the feeling I get when I view how the market and various technology pieces seemingly assist each other to form the better good.
This third generation UC, is coming about by the forces of UC, cloud and virtualization, mobility and social media. I would like to call this generation for "Social Collaboration."
First generation UC - Presence enabled communication
The first generation of UC was focused on giving access to telephony features combined with some unique new functionality centered on the desktop computer. We had been accustomed to features such as line-state and directory searches on large-display-system-phones, now we're introduced to concepts such as presence, directory searches in a computer environment. Early adopters jumped on the opportunity to embrace the "new" way of working and we were off to the races.
However many tried hard to describe how this would make employees more productive, some still do. UCStrategies describes this focus on the user experience as "UC-User Productivity or UC-U: Unified Communications tools that users adopt to improve their experience and/or results." (What is Unified Communications?)
Second generation UC - Business process automation
Then the "giants" entered the market taking the concept one step further. We were introduced to the "new PBX," the Media gateway and to technology terms such as SIP and XMPP. They also added features to the desktop, such as document sharing and collaboration and video.
Innovative entrants also combined contact center technology with their UC offering enabling Business Process Automation (BPA). One of the very appreciated sessions at 2011 Enterprise Connect in Orlando Florida presented the concept of "UC-Business Processes or UC-B: Unified Communications tools that are explicitly integrated into defined processes, either procedural or automated." (What is Unified Communications?)
This caused the traditional PBX players to reposition their product as a call manager instead of a PBX. No one needed the old any more, even if the functionality was important. The customers still struggled with the cost of investing in UC, and as a consultant I still get the question about ROI on UC.
Third generation UC: Social collaboration
Three other seemingly separate evolutions took place:
- Mobility became a factor for this second generation and some suppliers added mobile features to UC. But most still developed them in silos, not allowing the mobile user the same experience as the user connected to a fixed phone or that of a user connected to a computer. In the device market Apple and Google redefined the user experience of mobile devices and stunned the market, taking the incumbents by complete surprise.
- VM-ware and other vendors spearheaded the virtualization of servers and desktops and cloud services was on everyone's agenda.
- IBM, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a host of other players created a demanding marketplace where the social network became a consumer power. This social way of interacting became a concept between colleagues as well as between consumers, users and friends.
You might ask yourself, why this looking in the mirror? As the old cliché goes, you can't know where you are going until you know where you have been. I think this is really true. Many see unified communication as an evolution of Internet-based features, some say it comes from the voice market. As you can read, it comes from a variety of evolutionary developments. And I think this is true in the future as well.
Contrary from history, what we have now is a perfect storm; four technology trends working to help the other and not competing. We are in for a treat, I say. The pieces of the puzzle fit so well, that they draw from each other, innovation goes quicker as they help the other forward, enabling one another to be better, creating an improved user experience, more powerful customer service and of course a trustworthy return on investment.
Voice services move to the sky
In this perfect storm, the voice services move to public or private clouds using virtualization. Voice communication solutions become pervasive and many will choose to buy telephony as a service. Voice will be increasingly more mobile with the help of new apps (short for application and a term used mostly for applications run on a mobile device) and Internet hosted services.
By using SIP, mobile devices can rely only on Wi-Fi or 3G data to enable voice. This will open up for a host of new private and public voice providers as well as the opportunity to build in voice solutions into many new types of devices.
Computers will be used for voice in the same way. Voice becomes pervasive in most applications. But computers will also be part of private and public clouds using desktop virtualization solutions. This promises lower cost and easier management.
UC goes turbo
Unified communication deployments will escalate thanks to availability on all types of devices. Virtualized desktops and mobile devices accessing cloud services will bring down the complexities of deploying UC (see this really interesting article on Microsoft Lync, but watch out though, it is a challenge).
Because the use of social networks, the tools will have more interactivity and social connectivity making it possible to work more effectively. These tools become an integral part of the work result, and not the process. BPA takes another step forward and focuses on the results, not the work process.
Customers become fans
Customers will get a more familiar relationship to suppliers; they become fans and audiences where they want to hear and also communicate to others what you say. CRM (Customer Relationship Management) software becomes integrated with all work - because all work relates to a customer. Multimedia enables feedback even if we are separated physically.
Social media becomes a meeting place for vendors, competitors, partners and customers where new offerings are created, bought and serviced.
Information is king
Analytics becomes a necessity to know what is going on, and where meetings take place. Relationships grow everywhere, and analytics software will help you to "hear" where they are.
The new desk phone
The desk phone will present more information than caller id and enable directory searches, it needs to be integrated with CRM solutions to show relationships, it needs to get feeds from social networks to present to the user as calls come in and it needs to allow the user to change modality when communicating, going from a chat, to voice to video and back again.
Tablets can enable this new way of working with access to the network of information. The tablet becomes the desk phone with Wi-Fi or 3G data access, wireless handsets or headsets (here is a fun article you can read of you feel intrigued: Apple iPad - Your Next Desktop Phone?).
Welcome to the future - it comes faster than you think
Some of these ideas are speculation on my part; some are already here. I know vendors who struggle with these concepts as they radically will change their market and what they currently develop.
We all know the cloud and virtualization discussions that are ongoing. We are aware of global mobile movement with consumerization trends and how the social network has changed how we interact with others. We see the changes in customer service and we have witnessed the developments in unified communications.
What I propose is that these areas now are in such a state that together they create a perfect storm, and whoever successfully rides this storm will end up in waters with very good opportunities to make serious business.