Enterprise Connect show in Orlando.
I got my wish when Alistair Rennie, general manager for Lotus and collaboration solutions at IBM, took the stage for a keynote address. Rennie called social "a fundamental game changer for unified communications," a technology that has been falling short of its promised potential for years.
Rennie then proceeded to give a speech that was almost entirely about social and very little about UC. The onstage demo he introduced was mostly about the IBM Connections enterprise social network and navigating from conversations to documents, with a brief demonstration of how you can move from a comment or a document to viewing its author's contact information, reaching out with a Sametime instant message, and escalating from a textual message to a voice or video call. Most of the other speeches and demos at the show were just the opposite, with most of the emphasis on voice and video (and boasts about more flexible and scalable ways of delivering them) and passing references to social collaboration as another part of the picture.
Perhaps that should not be surprising for an event that used to be called Voicecon and still caters to telecommunications and IT network managers trying to sort out the best ways of modernizing their voice and video infrastructures. Those people arguably have enough on their plates without also having to sort out the implications of social in the enterprise.
[Learn more about where UC is heading in the enterprise. See The Connected Enterprise: Poised For Takeoff? ]
I'm not talking about social media in the contact center, as a channel for service and support--that's been a hot topic for several years. I'm talking about enterprise social collaboration as a way of getting work done internally or with business partners, and whether its implementation is, or ought to be, connected with UC.
Typically, what gets unified in unified communications is the technology for handling voice, video, instant messaging, and email over Internet protocol networks. Although there's some overlap--for example, with instant messaging often included in social networks--the UC market category was shaped before social media emerged with the prominence it has today. Meanwhile, UC adoption has proceeded in fits and starts, with many enterprises interested in parts of the package like voice over IP telephony, but not the whole thing.
"I don't think we have any shortage of technology at this point, and most of them work," Rennie said, but getting people to care about collaboration technology has been the hard part. That all changes with the advent of social software, particularly when an enterprise social networking initiative is aligned with business goals, as in the case of Cemex using social collaboration to cut in half the time required for product development.
Cisco has been the biggest proponent to date of the idea that unified communications and social collaboration should go together. In the Cisco Quad enterprise social network, starting a voice or video call with one of your social contacts is as easy as sharing a link, and voicemail from your Cisco phone can be displayed side-by-side with your social news feed. This year's Enterprise Connect did offer a session specifically on enterprise social networking, featuring the Virgin Media case study I wrote about a few weeks ago.
"The workplace of the future will be way more social, mobile, visual, and virtual," predicted O.J. Winge, Cisco senior VP and general manager for video and collaboration, notably putting social first on the list. "We have to remember it is not about the devices--it is all about people, and allowing them to become more productive and create more value for their companies."
Winge didn't talk much, if at all, about Quad, focusing more on the new version of Jabber, which turns a pretty sociable instant messaging client into a launchpad for voice and video calls.