Many businesses and business people cannot afford, either in terms of dollars, in terms of focus, or in terms of information technology priority, to bite off the whole Unified Communications (UC) thing all at once, so let’s talk about grabbing big chunks of UC without a big budget or a big project.
To do that, I will focus on the ‘Conferencing and Collaboration’ piece of our UC definition for a minute. Unified Conferencing and Collaboration, or UCC, is arguably the hardest part of UC because it is simultaneously real-time and multiparty in nature. Each person has a slightly different combination of interface technology between them and the rest of the group, and each person’s representation of themselves to the group (be it voice, video, cartoon avatar, content, etc.) is conveyed by a slightly different mix of technologies that transport content. These differences translate directly into complexity, and it is exactly this complexity that has made UCC service providers like InterCall as successful as they are.
I see UCC as the vanguard of UC because its delivery today often exemplifies the mix of hosted, managed, and premise-based enabling technologies of tomorrow’s unified world, and because UCC is available today in a very mature form. It is quite common today to see web conferencing tools that are able to display audio participants in an integrated way and allow the audio experience to be controlled from the “meeting console” that is the web conferencing client application.
InterCall alone does this with more than a half dozen different web tools and has for some time. For example, thousands of meetings occur every day using web conferencing hosted by WebEx, integrated with audio conferencing hosted by InterCall, and scheduled using Microsoft Outlook enabled by Exchange free/busy services hosted on the enterprise premise. This diversity and interoperability of providers and delivery models is common in the UCC community today, and must continue to be supported as other UC pieces are layered on.
Now, and always, the communications buyer within the enterprise must be able to mash up services in this way. UC solutions that require particular vendors or particular deployment models are insufficiently flexible to meet the UC or even UCC challenge in the real world. There is only one company in the world today (to my knowledge) that is running Exchange 2007, Outlook 2007, Office 2007, OCS, and Vista.
That company happens to be a very important partner of InterCall’s, and I am by no means being critical of their strategy, but if all of these things are required to make a UC service work with all of the advertised functionality, then nobody’s experience will live up to their expectations for some time. Fortunately, there are smart service providers which, along with their smart partners, are delivering big pieces of UC today using enabling technologies and tools that people already have. You can “get” UC through UCC, and you can get it today as a service for which you do not have to spend big bucks or take big risks.
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