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Unified Communications: Why Is There So Much Confusion?

42% of IT decision makers are confused over what’s meant by ‘Unified Communications’ (UC).

This is the headline finding in an article I came across recently by Frost & Sullivan research VP, Melanie TurekThe Future of Enterprise Communications: A Customer Perspective – which discusses a survey of 1,028 IT decision-makers across the US and Europe.

My first reaction to the headline was: if it’s that bad for IT decision makers, then just think how bad it must be for the poor end users who, after all, are the ultimate consumers of UC.  But why this level of confusion and what might be done about it?

My company, LoopUp, provides a solution for enterprise remote meetings.  It’s essentially seamlessly integrated audio and web conferencing for mainstream business professionals.  It solves classic pain points in audio conferencing such as not knowing who’s on the call or who’s speaking, and guides users intuitively to simple screen sharing capabilities without the need for any training.  So, is LoopUp UC?  Melanie’s article clearly specifies audio and web conferencing as two leading UC components. And my own view is that, yes, LoopUp absolutely is a UC solution.  However, it’s not a UC platform.

I believe the current lack of distinction between ‘solutions’ and ‘platforms’ explains, at least in part, the current confusion over UC. In a nutshell, I believe the world needs more thoughtful UC solutions and fewer all-singing, all-dancing platforms.

In very broad terms, a platform tends to be something that is ‘particularly functional’ – something that manifests a laundry list of attributes for people to build solutions on.  A UC platform will likely facilitate voice calls, video calls, messaging, presence, file sharing, audio conferencing, web conferencing, video conferencing, voicemail, visual voicemail, inbound hunting, and probably a whole lot more. It’s the job of a platform to cover all the bases. For example, Microsoft Lync is a UC platform.  It’s capable of pretty much everything under the sun.  However, that doesn’t necessarily make it an effective UC solution, which users will understand and engage with.  Indeed, its high functionality is arguably too complex and overwhelming for most mere mortals to make it an effective solution.

In my opinion, an effective UC solution needs to be more focused.  It needs to have a value proposition that addresses real problems.  And to do this effectively, it’s probably well advised to focus on a more specific line-of-business and/or a more specific activity scope. LoopUp deliberately has a limited scope: everyday remote meetings for mainstream professionals.  The useful result is that people are able to understand what it is, relate to the problems it solves, and feel comfortable engaging with it.

My point in summary is that the world would be less confused by UC, and engage with UC more actively, if there were more thoughtful UC solutions that actually ‘do what they say on the tin’.  It’s an issue right now that the best known UC name – Lync – is (by its own admission) actually a platform, and platforms are capable of too many things to generate the reaction: I know what this does and why it will help me.

For more thoughtful UC solutions, over to product management and product marketing…

For more thoughts on the collaboration marketplace, check out these posts:
Video Conferencing Continues to Struggle: The Overlooked – and Perhaps Biggest – Reason Why
Perhaps less is more for video conferencing
Why People Dislike Conference Calls… or… Why LoopUp Exists

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