Understanding Unified Communications

By Nigel Sinclair Thomson, CEO of 1toGo 

This is part one of a series of four short articles on Unified Communications. 

In order to improve productivity, service delivery and the time required to bring new products to market, organisations require better communication and collaboration tools.

Technical, infrastructure and financial resources are required to host these tools in-house. These are resources that many organisations don’t have because these resources don’t form part of such organisations’ core competencies. For this reason, many organisations use tools such as instant messaging which are provided ‘in the Cloud’ by a third party service provider. These tools are accessed by users, usually over the public Internet, ‘on demand’ as and when required.

These tools are usually free, consumer grade, insecure and offer no guarantees in terms of performance or availability. They also require separate logins and addresses and work in separate silos from other tools such as telephony, email and video conferencing.

Unified communications offers a better alternative.

What is Unified Communications?

Unified Communications means many things to many people (particularly unified communications vendors who promote their particular offering as being the definitive unified communications solution).

Some people believe unified communications is ‘the ability to be contacted anytime everywhere anyhow’. I don’t like this definition because it implies that the person being contacted is contactable whenever, wherever and however another party wishes to contact them. This should not be the case – the whole point of unified communications is to enable communication and collaboration by mutually consenting parties via the most appropriate method at the time of communication.

This introduces the concept of ‘presence’. A person’s presence status indicates their availability to be contacted at a particular time and if so, their preferred method of receiving communications.

In my view, presence is at the core of unified communications and hence any definition of unified communications (or indeed any unified communications solution itself) should be built around presence.

But communications and collaboration are not ends in themselves and hence better communications and collaboration is not what unified communications is about either.

The goal of unified communications is to improve business processes and hence provide a return on the unified communications investment. Any definition of unified communications should thus include reference to this in some form.

Furthermore, in the introduction to this article, I referred to communications and collaboration tools which exist in multiple silos. This multi silo/address approach complicates communications and collaboration rather than improving it. Unified communications should break down these silos.

So, my definition of unified communications is:

“Unified communications is a set of tools that improve communications and collaboration as well as broader business processes by enabling a person or application to communicate with another person using a single address across multiple modalities. Unified communications enables these communications to take place via the most appropriate of these modalities based on the contacted person’s presence status”.

Please note that this is my current definition of unified communications after many previous definitions over the past 5 years in which I have been involved in unified communications and I’m sure it won’t be my last!

Having provided this mouthful of a definition however, I actually believe it’s more important what unified communications does and helps one to achieve rather than what one wishes to call it.

Look out for part 2 of this series : "The benefits of Unified Communications" next week.

Nigel Sinclair Thomson is CEO of 1toGo, a value added mobile Cloud unified communications service as well as the CEO of Zwana Unicom, the Sub Saharan Africa and South Asia Distributor for CommuniGate Systems' carrier grade unified communications solutions.

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