At the most basic level, Unified Communications, or UC for short, happens any time one of your communications tools becomes “aware” of any of your other communications tools. If your phone has a built in directory that you can browse to find someone’s phone number, that’s UC. If your calendar application has a button to add teleconference joining instructions to a meeting invite, that’s UC. If your voice mail system sends you an email with an audio file of a recorded message attached, that’s UC. If you can click a link and seamlessly join a meeting using voice, video, and web…that’s UC.
If you let your imagination go down this track, it could go in many different directions. So let’s do some categorizing and grouping to build a vocabulary that will allow us to answer “what is UC?” in one concise sentence:
Anything that does the job of a phone
First, anything that allows you to talk to someone else in real time using your voice is a component of unified communications. Lots of people want to limit this to Voice over IP, or IP Telephony, but I reject this as unnecessarily limiting – we’ll stick to a ‘user experience’ perspective for now and ignore any discussion of how the voice gets from one person to another.
Non-real time messaging
Next, let’s take everything that involves non-real time voice, text, image, or multimedia message transmission between people and call that “Messaging”. In this bucket I would include instant messaging (IM), email, fax, voice mail, and texting.
Multi-party real time communications
As the third category, let’s take anything that involves multi-party real time communications, whether it be audio conferencing, video conferencing, web conferencing, or all three, and call it “Conferencing and Collaboration.”
Presence and availability
Finally, we have “Presence,” which is that thing that allows you to see who is available and perhaps even give you shades of just how available they are.
Now that we have those terms, we can answer the question. What is UC? Well, UC is Telephony, unified with Messaging, Unified with Conferencing and Collaboration, and enabled by Presence. It really is that simple.
UC can be something you get piece by piece over time, or something that you get all at once. Either way, UC is a key springboard to the next big buzzword, namely “communications-enabled business practices”, or CEBP. You heard it here first, and believe me you’re going to need it. Along the way is this thing called UC, and so UC is something your business needs to have a strategy for. Because 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 UC thing all at once, next time I will talk a little bit about ways you can grab big chunks of UC without a big budget or a big project.
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