Once again, your humble industry Pollyanna has atypically found a gripe that I just have to share.
The mixed and misuses of the term UC have reached a point where the continued use of the term may do more harm than help.
We need something better. Ideally a better vision and understanding of the final ideal communication goal. At the very least we can come up some better language to describe the solutions that exist today, as well as the ones we are planning for tomorrow.
To best explain the source and nature of my frustration, let’s take a look at the shifting definition of the term UC. This may seem a little strange, since the term is self defining. We all know what communications are and we all know what it means to unify something. The confusion lies in what exactly we are trying to unify.
Originally, the “unified” in UC was directed at communication modalities. In other words, combining IM, voice, and video in a single application. Although “presence” is not a way to communicate, it was an easy and logical feature to bundle into a UC solution and became part of the definition. I realized there was a problem with this definition of a UC solution while managing a team using Lync several years ago.
My frustration was with the fact that (like so many other Lync users) I was only using it for internal communications. In other words, I was using it to communicate with the handful of people on my team, and not with the countless other people I needed to interact with. If I use a “UC” tool for less than 5% of my communication needs, how successfully has it really unified anything.
I wasn’t the only one making this complaint, and the definition has shifted from unifying the tools, to unifying people. At some point we all just started defining UC differently. There was no meeting, there was no memo, but somehow we all agreed and got on board. At the InfoComm 2015 UC Solution Summit, Dr. S Ann Earon defined UC as follows:
“Unified Communications and Collaboration is connecting people-to-people anywhere, anytime, from any device, enabling collaboration as easily as if everyone was in the same room.
This definition makes me much happier, as it makes it clear that we want the solution to unify our people.
Despite my appreciation for how this new definition points us in the right direction, it still has it’s flaws. For example, under this definition Twitter is a UC solution. It works on every device and I can use it to communicate with any person at any location. Same can be said for Facebook. We can re-tweak the definition to address this pedantic point by saying it has to include voice and video (and even presence if you want it), but we still have a problem. It’s still not “unifying” everything that needs to be unified. We still need to use too many apps and tools for our daily communications.
You can argue that any one of the current generation of UC solutions is theoretically unifying all of my people, but that is only true if I force them all to use my platform of choice. I can create a virtual meeting room and invite anyone in the world to join on any device. And when they invite me to a VMR on their app of choice, I can join using that. So now I have over a dozen communications apps on my desktop and mobile devices. Shouldn’t they be unified too?
To be fair, interop between platforms is much better today than in the past. In some cases, we can all use our app of choice to join, and it is a simple matter of “your VRM or mine?” But for the most part, we all still have our contacts siloed into the various apps we use to communicate with each individual.
How can you argue that my communications have been unified, if I still have to use dozens of tools? My overloaded desktop isn’t simply because I am an analyst in the space and need to be testing/using these tools, this is how we all are communicating these days. Think of the people in your life one by one and think of which tool or service you would use to reach out to each of them.
To better get the point, compare it to the phone. If I am on Sprint and you are on ATT, we don’t have to choose which app to use, or worry about interop. I don’t open a Sprint app and send you an email link to my Sprint call. I go to my universal contact list which has all of my contacts, regardless of what service they use. With UC, I don’t have a universal contact list. If I want to call a Skype user, I open Skype. If I want to call a Cisco Spark user, I open Cisco Spark. If I want to use my app of choice, I open my email and send an invitation to join my VMR. Until I can reach out to anyone on any device, by IM, voice, or video, all from the same contact list regardless of what service I am using or they are using, there is no real unified communications.
Maybe this will never be fixed. There is no market incentive for today’s vendors to enable such a solution. Perhaps the future of communications will be limited to having our contacts spread out over a desktop full of competing communication apps.
You may ask, if I can’t explain how to fix it, why am I complaining? My position is that if it cant be fixed, it is even more reason to stop calling it UC. Bad enough that it isn’t unified now, but if we believe it will never be unified, then how can we justify continued use of the term? It isn’t unified, it will never be unified, so stop calling it unified. Call it a VMR or a co-space or a comms tool or a PTC solution, or whatever you want, but we should stop calling it UC. I don’t expect this to actually happen, but when we see and use the term UC in the future, at least we can share an understanding that it’s a misnomer at best.