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10/29/2009
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Unified Communications: A Separate Piece

As other content systems blur together, UC will be a holdout.

Is talking on the phone collaboration? How about exchanging IMs, or presence information--available, on the phone, out of the office, etc.?

All of these capabilities gather under the umbrella of unified communications, a collaboration category that's the flip side of the text-oriented, document-centric kind that's the focus of the accompanying article.

While formal content management software and informal collaboration tools are headed for much closer integration, unified communications likely will remain a separate piece for some time.

Typical UC packages include voice- and videoconferencing, Web conferencing, instant messaging, e-mail, presence, and possibly calendars. UC blends telephony with messaging through features such as click-to-call. Some players in text-centric collaboration also compete in UC: Microsoft with its Office Communications Server product, IBM with Lotus Sametime, and Oracle with Beehive. Other UC leaders include Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Cisco, Nortel, and Siemens.

UC and text-based features will bleed into one another. Cisco, for instance, is dipping its toes into text-centric collaboration with WebEx Connect, an online service that lets employees create team spaces to upload Office documents and PDFs that others can download, including people outside the company, such as business partners.

However, we're still in the very early stages of UC-collaboration software integration. Collaboration tools are easier to deploy to enterprise users; UC requires more work to integrate applications with the telephony system. As voice over IP penetrates the enterprise, UC often follows, but the vision of a truly unified collaboration environment that blends voice, video, and a variety of text-based interactions, all tied to back-end content repositories to retain and manage it all, is still just a dream.

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