Unified Communications Doesn’t Seem All That Unified

You’d think that a simple enunciation like “Unified Communications” is pretty straightforward, right? After taking my first plunge into the subject, my answer was “I beg to differ.” While UC is certainly alive and kicking, it strikes me as still in its early fledging stages. Strictly from a technical standpoint, it was doable a decade ago. So why is it so fragmented?

Here’s what Wikipedia has to say about it (emphasis mine):

Unified communications (UC) is the integration of real-time, enterprise, communication services such as instant messaging (chat), presence information, voice (including IP telephony), mobility features (including extension mobility and single number reach), audio, web & video conferencing, fixed-mobile convergence (FMC), desktop sharing, data sharing (including web connected electronic interactive whiteboards), call control and speech recognition with non-real-time communication services such as unified messaging (integrated voicemail, e-mail, SMS and fax). UC is not necessarily a single product, but a set of products that provides a consistent unified user-interface and user-experience across multiple devices and media-types.

First off, this huge bulk of text is a clear indication that UC is far from unified. Anything that’s supposed to be in one piece doesn’t need line after line of fancy jargon to be explained. Secondly, the highlight at the end says it in plain English. Anyway you look at it, UC – by definition – is far from where it should be today.

The problem doesn’t lie with the vendor, the vision, or the technologies that converge to create this paradigm. It all has to do with politics, monopoly, and a vastly fragmented ecosystem.

Cross-platform headaches

The biggest problem with UC today lies at an infrastructure level. Outdated hardware versus forward-thinking software, OS, market-share, licensing, drivers, etc. All these are just hurdles that UC providers have to slalom through to get the word out.

Photo by Cody Hiscox on Unsplash

But it’s not all bad. The reality is it’s already happening. Slowly, but surely. UC is driving itself to the top of the food chain. Think about it. iOS and Android are already doing a lot of the legwork. Would you buy a smartphone today that doesn’t do the holy trinity of communication: voice, video, and data? Didn’t think so.

Whether you work from an office or at home, society today is completely reliant on collaboration at a distance. This implies a rock-solid framework that lets you focus less on understanding the system, and more on doing the actual work. After all, that’s why the GUI (graphical user interface) was invented, right?

Not a question of if, but when

Much like electric cars promise to take over when the oil under the Earth’s crust runs dry, Unified Communications will inevitably become the status-quo whether telcos like it or not. For the big players like Microsoft and Apple, this type of convergence has become a vital requirement to stay relevant. Imagine the iPhone without IM (instant messaging) apps today. Or Windows without Office 360. By all accounts, they would be crippled solutions.

In fact, UC will become so mainstream that those born today won’t believe voice, video, and data were once three separate things on devices specialized for each task in part. Show the rotary dial to a teen, see what they make of it.

This is where the UC industry is just dying to have its say. These guys know it’s all about the software. The sad truth is they’re working with one hand tied behind their backs in a marketplace flooded with tons of different devices and frameworks. The kicker? It still falls on them to find a way to unshackle and show the big boys what “seamless” is all about. But their relentless nature is a good sign of things to come.

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