Unified communications has come by leaps and bounds since the concept first emerged following the digitisation of previously analogue networks in the early 90’s. While it remained hype rather than reality for over a decade, unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) solutions have now come of age and UC 2.0, the next step change in business productivity, is already beginning to take hold. What does this new era look like, and what does it mean for your business?
To understand what is happening with UC and why the term UC 2.0 will become commonplace, let’s consider what parallels can be drawn with Web 1.0 and Web 2.0.
From static to social
Web 1.0 was a static screen full of information in a browser, much like the first websites I experienced in the mid 90’s. It was one-dimensional and, by today’s standards, rather dull. Until Web 2.0 came along.
The term Web 2.0 was first used in 1999 by Darcy DiNucci, a consultant on electronic information design. In her article, "Fragmented Future", DiNucci writes:
The Web we know now, which loads into a “browser window” in essentially static screenfulls, is only an embryo of the Web to come. […] The Web will be understood not as screenfulls of text and graphics but as a transport mechanism, the ether through which interactivity happens. It will appear on your computer screen […] [and] also […] on your TV set, your car dashboard, your cell phone, hand-held game machines, and maybe even your microwave.
In 2004, the term began its rise in popularity when O`Reilly Media and MediaLive hosted the first Web 2.0 conference. In their opening remarks, John Battelle and Tim O`Reilly outlined their definition of the "Web as Platform", where software applications are built upon the web as opposed to upon the desktop. The unique aspect of this migration, they argued, is that "customers are building your business for you". They argued that the activities of users generating content in the form of ideas, text, videos, or pictures could be harnessed to create value.
Fulfilling DiNucci’s vision, rich internet applications, web-oriented architecture and interactivity have become the hallmarks of Web 2.0, alongside an explosion of devices which to use it from. Neither did O’Reilly/Battelle err when you consider how businesses have successfully tapped into the web’s potential as a commercial and social space, and source of innovation.
Much like Web 2.0 then, what we are seeing right now is the evolution of communications technologies which, hand in hand with advancements in IT, networking and connectivity, are paving the way for UC 2.0 – a communications environment that is more socially interactive, integrated and pervasive than ever before. Again, it is the end user, i.e. your employees and customers, driving the change, for instance through BYOD, flexibility and mobility requirements as well as social channel preferences. If your business can harness their choices of device and channel, value will be derived from increased staff productivity and improved customer interactions.
On a practical level, meeting these demands is now possible thanks to new delivery models such as Cloud, UCaaS, SIP and greater network ability, which means that UC 2.0 will offer your business faster setup of production and test environments and, through web services and API layers, provide the ability to integrate tools and components into your business systems and processes, accommodate new technologies, business models and changing consumer demands.
On this note, integrating comms capabilities with your business process and vertical applications is really key to supporting greater automation and smooth workflows. Many businesses have used selected UC tools for some years now but often tight integration with existing back-office systems remains weak. It’s all in the planning and implementation stages to reap the greatest UC benefits further down the line.
UC has for the last period been focused on peer-peer communication (via channels such as voice, email, chat and video) complemented with collaboration sessions (audio, video and desktop sharing) served to users on software applications that can be accessed via desktop, mobile or tablet devices.
UC 2.0 will clearly go beyond presence and desktop collaboration, beyond mobile and social integration and will herald a new chapter where communications-enabled business processes are the norm. For our customers it will also bring with it more control of how they interface with us, their chosen UC technology and their own customers.
Delivering UC migration
It is for sure that smart technology, an engaged team, an effective plan and careful project execution will continue to be critical factors in delivering successful migration to UC platforms that really transform the way you do business. As UC today is far from plug-and-play, however, working with a professional services partner makes good sense.
We have already realigned our business to work in partnership to deliver the framework for change and managed services, and invested in agile infrastructure and IT development to meet the demands of UC 2.0.
UC is only going to become more diverse with users connecting over multiple networks, on different devices, in different social networks. The key to delivering unified communications over such diverse environment is a mind shift. IT services need to extend and meet the users where they are, not expect users to use the devices, networks or identities they prescribe.
What do major vendors like Microsoft, Avaya and Mitel think UC can bring to your business? Microsoft’s UC Strategist, Mitel’s Cloud CTO and Avaya’s CEO share their perspectives on UC in this video.
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