Unified Communications Still Cloudy - InformationWeek

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Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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9/25/2009
08:27 PM
Fritz Nelson
Fritz Nelson
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Unified Communications Still Cloudy

I don't know what term was in vogue when, I just know my generation has never stopped hearing about the concepts behind unified communications. Unified messaging. Convergence. VoIP. IP Conferencing. IP Video. Much of it is a reality today, but one thing it's not (yet) is unified. Our video whiteboard tutorial series attempts to get under the surface.

I don't know what term was in vogue when, I just know my generation has never stopped hearing about the concepts behind unified communications. Unified messaging. Convergence. VoIP. IP Conferencing. IP Video. Much of it is a reality today, but one thing it's not (yet) is unified. Our video whiteboard tutorial series attempts to get under the surface.You can watch the first two in the series below.

In the first part, Michael Healey, a contributing editor and head of Yeoman Technology Group, takes a broad view, arguing that instead of thinking piecemeal, you should consider the entire structure: what will you do with voice, video, your different types of messaging (voice, e-mail, text, instant messaging), presence and mobile, and how you'll tie all of that unstructured data into a structured design, from the infrastructure to the applications to the data itself. He even suggests that this means thinking through how all of your messaging ties into existing structured systems like ERP.

And here you just wanted to build a little web-based video conference system for your far-flung executives.

But Mike makes an important point. The types of communication have changed dramatically since the early days of room-based conference systems operating over private networks (X.25 anyone?). For one, we have the Internet, and for another . . . well, that's really enough right there, isn't it?

Raise your hand if you don't have end-users with various rogue ways of communicating outside the sanctioned systems (is that a hand I see in the back row . . . oh, right, you were just scratching your nose). Instant Messaging, Skype (now available on iPhones and iPod Touch devices over WiFi), BlackBerry Messaging, video chats using webcams (many of them now built into laptops), not to mention WebEx accounts, GoTo Meetings and dozens more.

People use these because they are cost effective (free or practically free), they are easy to use, they've grown up with them or they use them as consumers, and, most important for their business, they put them directly in touch with their customers.

The reason you don't sanction most of these is because they are insecure, untested, and for the most part, they don't scale. But worse than that -- or at least this is the point that Mike makes in the second part of this video series, is that it is also difficult to integrate that data into your existing systems. Moreover, it creates silos of information that can be nearly impossible to harness.

But we've danced this dance already, haven't we? With wireless. With mobile devices. With other Internet tools and applications, like users who want to use Gmail instead of the corporate system. You can embrace it and figure out how to make it all part of your structured plan, or you can chase down the miscreants and treat them like shoplifting internal customers. You can recognize the cost efficiencies, and the productivity gains (working in airports and on airplanes), and the instant customer interactions, or you can force your well-planned structure on them and watch innovation walk out the door.

We'll have about five of these video tutorials over the next few days, so please be on the look out (our video landing page is here). I'm also working on a more in depth feature on how Cisco is using its own telepresence systems to improve the company's internal healthcare profile (you'll also see a video documentary on this -- some really spectacular applications).

And finally, if this topic is of interest, I highly recommend the premier event in this space, VoiceCon, which is taking place Nov 2 - 5 in San Francisco. Below Fred Knight, Voicecon's General Manager, talks about what you can expect to experience at that event.

Fritz Nelson is an Executive Editor at InformationWeek and the Executive Producer of TechWebTV. Fritz writes about startups and established companies alike, but likes to exploit multiple forms of media into his writing.

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