The BrainYard - Where collaborative minds congregate.

Steve Wylie, Contributor

November 12, 2008

3 Min Read

Irwin''s recent post on Unified Communications addresses an interesting issue that I''ve also been thinking about recently. No surprise I guess, since I''m also attending the VoiceCon event this week and hearing a lot about Unified Communications and its promise to transform business. What strikes me here at the conference is that many of the goals of UC are sounding a lot like what we''re trying to achieve with Enterprise 2.0. But having listened to a few of the talks this week, I say that the UC and Enterprise 2.0 agendas are still miles apart. Here''s why:

The first speaker was Avaya CEO Charlie Giancarlo. Charlie described how the communications industry and Avaya have evolved from being very network-centric, to group-centric, to a current focus on the user. He describes this as "the age of the business user" where there is more pressure from end-users and department managers to help users be more productive. While he didn''t use a two, a point or a zero anywhere in this proclamation, it is sounding kinda familiar, isn''t it?

I''m happy to hear that our communications vendors are getting on board with a "users first" mentality and building technology solutions around their needs. But I''m also left wondering if our communications vendors are the right ones to build these user-centric tools. There was so much emphasis on voice communication in the UC talks that I attended - it is VoiceCon after all. But where voice was once the primary lifeline of communication in business, it seems to me that voice is being relegated to "one of" the modes of communication users are employing, albeit an important one. The number of phone calls and voice mails I receive has dropped dramatically in the last couple years, while the volume of emails, text messages and tweets is clearly on the rise. Maybe this is simply a result of my contacts learning how best to communicate with me, or maybe it''s an example of a larger trend in business today.

But Unified Communications is looking very slick these days, with nicely integrated access to other applications such as email and calendar. Both the Microsoft and IBM speakers clearly outlined strategies to voice-enable business applications and integrate them into corporate directory services. Microsoft did a demo of their upcoming Communications Server release that has a visual dashboard to show conference call attendees who is on the conference bridge and who is currently talking. Users can also have the bridge find and phone them at their desired location, all from the calendar entry in Outlook. Okay, that is very useful.

But while the UC vendors are showing off some very cool innovations this week, in some ways Enterprise 2.0 has been born out of a reaction to the lacking features in these systems for so many years. Web 2.0 opened the eyes of business managers around what could be done with software and has since been a driving force in a new generation of business applications that are striving to achieve many of the same goals as Unified Communications.

So where does that leave us today? Clearly UC is maturing and enterprise customers are taking notice. But will those customers build their social strategy on a traditional voice/UC vendor such as Avaya or Nortel? Will they build it on an integrated software solution from Microsoft or IBM that includes UC and other social applications? Or will a new Enterprise 2.0 leader emerge that can address the entire social enterprise including voice communication? Time will tell.

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