So what exactly is “Unified Communications,”what’s all the buzz about and how will this affect the audiovisual industry? All good questions – and hopefully I can provide you with some insight to the answers for each.
Unified Communications (UC) is the integration of various communication technologies, including but not limited to services such as audio conferencing, videoconferencing, web conferencing, data collaboration, interactive white boards, email, telephone, voice messaging, instant messaging (chat) and even text messaging.
UC is not about a single product or technology – but rather the integration of these technologies into some consistent, unified user interface which “follows” a user across various technology platforms and devices including desktop PC’s, laptops, net books, smart pads and smart phones (which includes all the tablets, iPad / iPhone, Blackberry and Android devices on the market today). Basically, anything electronic that you sit in front of, touch or carry and that has an IP address is suspect to be included as part of the UC umbrella.
UCStrategies.com has defined UC as: Communications integrated to optimize business processes. UC’s goal is to minimize device and media dependencies by automating and unifying human and device communications. In plain English, UC wants to let you send a message in one format (email , text, etc.) and let you retrieve it, respond to it, in another. Seamlessly integrating and moving from one communication platform to another.
Unified Communications works to keep people “connected” wherever they are located- be that home, office or out on the road. UC systems hope to bridge the technology gaps between electronic devices and humans and thus reduce delays in getting, managing, relaying and responding to information that ultimately keeps our businesses moving. According to one article I read, one focus of UC is to reduce “human communication latency” —and by doing so, improve the speed at which decisions are made and acted upon. So the excuse that you didn’t see that email that you got on Friday night after the office closed, and that you didn’t bother responding to until Monday, will not work anymore…..hey, how bad do we really want this???
Unified Communications is still in its very early stages of development. Frankly, most of the companies working on UC don’t really know where it will take them. On one hand – they are trying to build end-to-end “unified” communication products – but on the other hand they are unwilling to open up their proprietary formats and protocols to allow other companies be “unified” with them.
If you look through the list of companies supporting UC, the only familiar names from the AV industry are:
· NEC (Telecommunications Division)
· Toshiba (Telecommunications Division)
Other familiar names include:
· Avaya / Nortel
To date, there are no real standards which specifically apply to UC systems that support interoperability between manufacturers or that adopt “open” protocols . However, the big VOIP players, Cisco and Avaya / Nortel, are trying to figure out how to both create and capture this market. Meanwhile, Microsoft, HP, IBM and others are working to develop desktop software solutions which will be part of the unified communications world (at this point, the still undiscovered planet).
So far, the companies responsible for our communication technologies certainly aren’t “unified,” just look at all of the “numbers” we typically have:
· Home phone #
· Cell phone #
· Office phone #
· Fax #
· Skype ID
· Blackberry BIM
· Goggle Phone #
· Chat handles for MSN, Yahoo, AOL
· Videoconference dial in
· Videoconference IP
· Various email addresses
Add to this list, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and all of your social media IDs as well and it looks like, we’re not so “unified” after all.
So, this brings us to AV – where will AV be in UC? I don’t think anybody really knows. Sure, Cisco and Polycom are going to try to “hook” in videoconferencing endpoints into UC – but that will be only a small facet of UC. With the exception of maybe audio and video conferencing, I don’t see anything on the UC roadmap tying in Touch Screen Control Panels, Video Projectors, Digital Signage or anything else in the AV world.
In fact, I recently polled my esteemed colleagues at Wainhouse Research, “a leading independent market research firm that focuses on critical issues of Unified Communications”, and when I asked them if they had any research on this topic their reply was “We have absolutely no UC coverage that relates in any way to AV. “When UC is ready for AV integration – and when it is clearly defined - I’m sure it will be only the matter of days before firms such as AMX, Crestron and Extron build interfaces to it. Our industry is very good at adapting to standards and providing interfaces for AV equipment.
We can keep our eyes and ears open on the subject – but please realize there is presently NOTHING in the unified communications or AV world that you can touch, purchase, test, hook up or break. There are no spec sheets on any UC product and at best, UC is a concept
We still have time before UC goes mainstream. Right now, there is a lot more strategy required to identify how we are going to integrate and automate our various communications to “optimize our business processes.” In the future, speed and access with regard to communication will be our metrics for UC’s, but in the end, human response will ultimately drive the success of UC. It will be up to us as individuals, and as companies (who create communication policies) to decide, just how accessible we want to be, and what is expected and acceptable as far as response time.
This much is certain. UC is still truly evolving and not some big bad monster we need to worry about (just yet) and there is certainly nothing we need to budget to purchase next month. So for now, let’s all just go back to doing what we do best, AV.
PS Despite the limited amount of material on the subject of UC, I was able to find one pretty comprehensive piece. Check out this white paper for more info as you navigate the world of Unified Communications. http://viewer.media.bitpipe.com/1206484657_637/1206511483_362/SearchUC-v5.pdf
Christopher Maione, CTS-D, is president of Christopher Maione Associates, a firm specializing in all aspects of AV business, technologies, emerging trends and marketing strategy. He is also an adjunct faculty member of InfoComm. Reach him at cmaione @chrismaione.com