Lippis Report 123: The Future of UC Is In Social & Collaboration Applications
Unified Communications (UC) as an integrated launch point to multiple communications applications will swiftly fade as UC is integrated into corporate social networking and collaboration applications. This is the impression I walked away with after the Orlando VoiceCon industry event. The implication of this is systemic, sending change throughout the industry from suppliers, buyers, and even industry event organizers. What I mean is that UC as a standalone desktop application has limited value. IT and business leaders are pressing suppliers to improve user experience and in the process productivity.
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It wasn’t too long ago that UC was touted as a better way to access a broad range of communication applications such as voice, IM, video, email, etc. Vendors such as Microsoft’s Office Communicator, Cisco’s Unified Personal Communicator, Avaya’s One-X, Siemens OpenScape Desktop Client et al., will be of increasingly little use as standalone products. Even as these UC clients go mobile they will fall short of user experience expectations. As communications is now firmly in the grips of Moore’s Law and software economics, the rate of change and level of integration is accelerating at a frantic pace.
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There are multiple trends building upon each other with such force as to morph UC into social networking and collaboration Web 2.0 applications. Social networking tools such as Facebook and Twitter have jumped from consumer internet services to business tools. There is a cottage industry of start-ups that are creating innovative approaches to capturing an individual’s social grid and interface it into contact centers so as to better up- and cross-sell. Yes there are interesting Facebook, Google and/or LinkedIn pop-ups that extend caller ID to a screen pop, complete with a caller’s profile and even search your email for relevant past exchanges with the caller, all aimed at increasing user experience.
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Then there are corporate-based social networking platforms such as SocialText which add security and journaling to social media tools. Whether UC is added to consumer social and collaboration tools or to enterprise grade applications is irrelevant; both are occurring and both activities will only accelerate. The growth and level of communications enabled by social networking and collaboration tools is unparalleled and represents a new approach to human interaction that needs to be captured and put to work within enterprises. We are in the midst of a great experimental phase of how best to achieve this integration. The meeting at VoiceCon offered only a glimpse of this progress.
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Collaboration platforms such as IBM Lotus Sametime is very popular and its growth has not waned during the economic downturn. In fact IBM’s LotusLive cloud collaboration for inter-company collaboration is one of the fastest growing IBM products. Sametime is a great example of how a UC has been integrated into a collaboration suite and improves the user experience. IBM’s mash-up hub application lets users create their own mash-ups with a Sametime call widget, again increasing the user experience and control over that experience.
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Siemens is in an interesting position as its OpenScape is an integral part of IBM’s Sametime. Siemens introduced its Cloud UC service built upon Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) to offer the SMB market UC in a SaaS model. One can imagine that with OpenScape and Sametime in the Amazon cloud a SMB would have access to the same tools and user experience that only large firms could once afford. Therein lies the beauty of UC being integrated into collaboration suites and offered as a cloud service. Price points are smashed along with a total disruption of the SMB channel to market.
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Cisco has been busy integrating UC into a wide range of collaboration tools too. It has integrated its unified personal communicator client into its Unified MeetingPlace and WebEx platforms. I expect to see UC integrated into its recently acquired Jabber IM service and Telepresence platform too.
Avaya introduced its Aura™ platform, which seeks to clean up and rationalize legacy voice and VoIP communications into a SIP platform. Two important aspects of Aura™ are that 1) it’s a new design that takes cost out of communications by reducing WAN, equipment and operational spend; and 2) it offers a UC integration into applications platforms. In short Aura™ should pay for itself within twelve months and pay dividends as communications is embedded into applications, especially social networking and collaboration applications.
But the above examples are just snapshots of a broader and bigger vision of how UC will be integrated into Web 2.0-based social and collaboration tools.
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Envision a corporate Facebook-like user interface that is self populated with an employee’s profile, complete with past and current projects, their skills and relationships to both internal and external resources. Employees can join groups modeled after traditional organizational lines of command such as finance, HR, manufacturing, engineering, sales, etc. But more importantly, imagine these groups being cross-functional and based upon projects or product development where sales, engineering, marketing, manufacturing, etc., collaborate to move a product through its phase review process. Employees would populate the groups with work product, placing a huge body of work or information into the collaboration space. So imagine that over time three entities would emerge: people, groups and information, all cross-referenced through TAGs. All IT offers is the collaboration and social networking platform; profiles, group membership and information are populated by employees. The collaboration between these entities of people, information and groups would enable work to move faster throughout an organization and employees to self-organize around projects. Now inject real-time UC and video into this platform and you have the basis for a new approach to how work gets done.
The above scenario is not just my vision; it’s the direction our industry is heading after numerous NDA briefings with a wide range of IT suppliers. The intersection between social networking, collaboration and UC, thanks to Web 2.0 techniques will usher in a new model for productivity improvement through improved user experience and in its wake will change the IT industry and IT organizational design. This new collaboration model will emerge as the global economy recovers. As capital spending recovers it’s becoming clear that IT and business leaders will not fund the same old projects but will invest their capital spend into new innovative approaches to corporate productivity such as the UC and social collaboration platform discussed above.
For IT organizations a re-design is needed. UC has been sold to networking and telecom professionals while social networking and collaboration tools are sold to those who manage applications. These two groups are clearly stakeholders in the solution they eventually deploy and thus need to work together. Here too the economic downturn has a positive effect in that many of the past organizational barriers have fallen as IT is focused on operational cost reduction and project delivery.
As the application and networking groups seek a new working relationship so too do IT suppliers. For example, Adobe, Citrix, HP, et al who have for the most part been absent in social networking, collaboration or UC will partner up or acquire others to engage in this new industry sector. Look for one of the above to make a huge announcement at Interop.
Just as IT organizations and suppliers re-align and position for the Web 2.0-enabled collaboration market so too will the industry venues. VoiceCon for example attracts the telecom manager, but not the networking, application, or collaboration buyer. At the same time VoiceCon was taking place so too was Web 2.0 expo. Look for a new venue to emerge that is virtual and uses the tools of social, collaboration and UC to address this new market.
UC as a standalone desktop application has limited value. IT and business leaders should focus on collaboration platforms that are Web 2.0-based, and incorporate social media and UC as the path toward greater use experience and productivity.