Unified Communications

Unified Communications (UC) is a term that is often used and rarely defined.  Everyone has heard of it and will tell you it is something they want, but such a statement reveals little about the problems they are trying to solve.  However, it can be a point of departure for a discussion of a customer’s needs.

As commonly used, UC is not a product but a strategy.  It promises to coordinate communications channels in the following areas:

  • Voice and telephony
  • Conferencing & collaboration, including video
  • E-mail
  • Instant Messaging & Presence

Some of the purported benefits are nebulous, such as eliminating redundant costs and improving efficiency but often there are specific needs that UC solutions address, such as:

  • Improving customer service by being available to the customer through multiple mechansims
  • Handling complex problems by leveraging expertise from multiple locations
  • Reduced training costs
  • Increased productivity from remote workers

When you look closely at any of these needs, they are often ones that VSee addresses, and the cross-channel UC aspect is usually peripheral.  So if a customer is asking about UC, I ask him or her what problem they are trying to solve.

In the enterprise, it is increasingly likely that the IT department has a UC strategy.  The timing is driven by the upgrade cycle of the telephony infrastructure.  No one is buying an old-fashioned PBX any more – next time you are visiting a large company notice how the Rolm or Avaya phone you saw last time has been replaced by a Cisco IP phone.  The IT department will want everything to fit together and will stress the importance of adhering to standards (H.323, SIP, LDAP).  VSee’s core functionality of video and collaboration are usually at the periphery of that strategy and VSee’s benefits of simplicity, efficiency, and cost often outweigh the need to interoperate with the small amount of standards-based equipment that is actually deployed.

If there are specific requirements of the business that require interoperating with existing systems, VSee offers a number of integration points:

  • Single-sign on integration with corporate directory (LDAP, Active Directory)
  • URI to make a VSee call from a web page, e.g. corporate portal
  • Client-side API
  • Web services
  • SIP integration with PSTN and PBX (outbound calls only at present)
  • Outlook integration (future)
  • H.323 interoperability (future)
  • Sametime plug-in (future)

The major players in the UC space are:

  • Alcatel-Lucent
  • Avaya
  • Cisco (Unified Communications Manager, a.k.a. Call Manager)
  • IBM
  • Microsoft (Office Communications Server)
  • Nortel
  • Siemens (OpenScape)

Most of these are PBX vendors who have been gradually adding integration with enterprise email and directories.  A notable exception is Microsoft, who originally partnered with the PBX vendors until OCS was ready to replace the PBX.

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