Unified Communications

After doing the Radio show on the weekend it occurred to me that Unified Communications (UC) is a term that is still largely mis-understood. It is not just about phones and phone lines, or voicemail, or VoIP. Unified communications is not a technology, but a concept to enable the unification of all the disparate communications mediums that we use in our day-to-day lives. Today we all communicate in a number of ways through phones, email, voicemail, chat, text messaging, Facebook, linked-in and to a much smaller extent, video. These communication tools have changed the way we interact in a good way, but it has also caused a lot of extra steps for both the originator and the receiver of a potential discussion between two parties.

For example: before UC to get hold of my brother, I would call his office and after receiving his voicemail I would not leave a message, instead I would hang up and call his cell – no answer, so I leave a message on his cell phone. After that I would email him indicating that I was trying to call him about whatever… So two phone calls, one voicemail and one email later – and I still haven’t talked to him.

For my brother, he would have a message on his cell phone indicating there was a missed call and that he has a voicemail, he also has an email from me. Since he has the email, he doesn’t really need to listen to his voicemail as his phone would have shown who the missed call was from. But he still has to call into his voicemail to at least delete the message.

Its a wonder we ever get anything done….

In a perfect world – where everyone has and is using UC to its full potential it would work like this…..

My UC application running on my desktop at work, or maybe on my cell phone, would show me presence information about my brothers status – in a meeting. There is no point in calling either his office phone or his cell because I have information telling me he is not in a position to answer anyway. So, I send him an Instant Message. “Bro, I need to talk to you about whatever. Call me when you get a minute.”

As I leave the office to go for lunch an hour later, my brother just leaving his meeting, pulls out his cell phone and reads my instant message. From his UC application on his phone, he can see that my status is “away”. Knowing that an “away” status is different from “in a meeting” he figures that I’ve gone for lunch, but he also knows that I have SNR (single number reach) so he calls my land line, which after two rings  the system calls my cell. I see that call is from my brother and I pick it up.

In the perfect world scenario – I sent one text message. Thats it….. that would have saved both of us a whole bunch of time…

Now, not everyone has UC, at least not yet but the perfect world scenario that I just described is not to far off. I can certainly do this today with all of my colleagues and it already saves us a bunch of time. Once we are able to extend this technology to others – family, friends, partners etc. it will change the way all of us view communications. If we are able to get our minds around the additional possibilities this brings us we can start to envision incorporating additional technologies into this fold. Video is the next logical technology, as is Document Collaboration with tools like Web-Ex from Cisco.

There are still lots of other ways we communicate and in different industries some of these are the only way they communicate. VHF Radio, CB Radio, Two way Walkie-Talkies, Skype, satellite, GPS. How can TV be thrown into this mix, or maybe radio. If my presence status was listed as “Fishing” – then the system could possibly connect to a VHF Radio and call me on the water…. Not that I would always want to be available, because fishing is supposed to be a way of getting away from it all, but you could have rules around it – emergencies only – could be a setting in your UC manager that would limit who would be able to get hold of you in that scenario.

So I ask, what else could be incorporated into UC? Can anyone see beyond what I have already described? What is the next evolution of communications?

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