The future of unified communications: The great Twitter debate!

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Yesterday at 3pm, UC EXPO and UCInsight.com jointly hosted a Twitter debate on the future of unified communications. Everyone was free to take part using the hashtag #UCfuture.

To kick the discussion off, we asked: What are the current barriers and restrictions on organisations embracing UC?

Mark Smith, head of social at vendor Unify, tweeted: “I still think UC is misunderstood and that’s the biggest barrier”, and then added: “There’s not a cost issue it’s about understanding what UC can offer above and beyond a bog standard telephony system”.

The Danwood Group responded: “Lack of expertise in smaller organisations perhaps”, while Richard Ellis, director of Microsoft Office Division UK, said: “Culture is more of a barrier than technology. 2 big keys: Preparing users for change and getting buy-in from leadership.”

Britannic Technology had a different take, “UC is a very broad term, but some challenges we see are around proving ROI, as most of the benefits are ‘soft'”, a view shared by ThinkingPhones, which tweeted: “People don’t understand where to expect value and how to measure the enterprise adoption.” Microsoft’s Ellis responded: “It’s important for individuals, as well as companies, to be able to see personal benefits to spur adoption.”

For Canada-based UC analyst Elka Popova, one of the biggest challenges is the real-world usefulness of some vendor-advocated technologies: “Other UC adoption challenges: limited business need for some apps (e.g. video), and perceived limited value in desktop app control,” she tweeted.

EasyNet offered a different perspective, saying: “The biggest barrier for UC adoption is the sunk cost in legacy solutions. Fortunately the next investment cycle is NOW”, while NFON UK claimed: “98% of UK businesses are with legacy systems whereas 25% of US companies have already made the move to Cloud.” [UCInsight believes that some 80 per cent of UK organisations have adopted at least one cloud technology.]

But Steve Ritchie, senior consultant and project manager at Avanade UK cautioned against seeing UC simply as a technology problem demanding a technology solution. For him, the biggest risk is: “Believing just throwing technology in = business will adopt and benefit from it,” he said.

UCInsight’s own view was clear: “This is one reason why IT should look more deeply into people’s jobs/roles before implementing,” we said – a view endorsed by Britannic Technology, which responded: “We only see ROI when users are fully bought in to the UC tech. Tech for the sake of it is no good!”

Dan Tremeer reinforced the point, tweeting: “Barrier to UC is technology overload. The value of a simplified experience needs recognition by all within the business.”

So in the real world of work, how did the community think that technologies will effect the ways in which people will work in future, and are collaborative tools a real substitute for real-world, face-to-face interactions?

ThinkingPhones tweeted: “New tech will allow increasing collaboration across broader geographic distribution”, while Microsoft expressed the view that “a greater range of devices (‪#wearables!) will take work anywhere truly mainstream”. German UC vendor Pascom added: “Most definitely, the advancements in UC & Video have and continue to promote anywhere anytime working.”

But amongst all the stark vendor positioning, Bob Pickering, software engineer and CEO of ipcortex, was quick to position the user as the most important consideration. He tweeted: “I would turn this on it’s head and ask: how will the way people want to work affect the technology we deliver?”

Gamma’s Jamie Ward added a generational, digital-native perspective: “Gen Y will soon make up over 50% of the workforce. We’ll be the ones that drive change. We expect to work far more flexibly,” to which Brad Jacobs added : [Generation Y] “know better how to use their smartphone than their desktop”.

Britannic Technology tweeted: “We have been seeing a move to ‘work being what I do, not where I go’ for years… emerging tech will further this!”, a view that echoes the opinion piece published by Maria Grant, product director of Intercity Telecom, earlier this week.

“Users expect seamless interaction between devices with a consistent, yet device optimised user experience”, tweeted Ellis, to which Britannic Technology replied: “Business will have responsibility to provide this securely, without compromising commercial confidence.”

ipcortex added a warning about shadow IT in this context: “Informal comms channels are the challenge. They’re often what makes great stuff happen. UC tech needs to support that.”

Unify’s Paula Neame advocated a “single pane of glass solution” for mobile workers’ disparate needs – unsurprisingly, given that this is the main thrust of Unify’s Circuit collaboration tool – to which Pickering responded: “We use different sized glass for different jobs – mobile – big screen for crunching data – intuitive on all is key.”

The debate was scheduled for just 30 minutes yesterday, but (as of this morning) it’s still raging. You can see more from it – including questions on collaborative tools, security, messaging, and device-agnostic systems – by searching for #UCfuture.

• UC EXPO 2015 is on 21-22 April at Olympia, in Londonwww.ucexpo.co.uk

About Author

Chris Middleton

Chris Middleton is a widely respected business and technology journalist, author, and magazine editor. In recent years he has been Editor of Computing (where he remains Consulting Editor); co-founder and Managing Editor of Professional Outsourcing – a magazine he developed from scratch and grew to be the leading magazine in its field; Editor of CBR in its most successful year; and co-founder and launch Editor of Sourcingfocus.com. Today, he is co-Director of EastwoodMiddleton Publishing, and founder, designer, and Editor in Chief of Strategist magazine (UK), the boardroom magazine that provides strategic insight for business leaders, and of its mobile-first digital edition at www.iamtheStrategist.com. He is also co-founding Editor of Child Internet Safety magazine, and a contributing Editor of Diginomica.com. Over the years Chris has also written for, among many others, The Guardian, The Times, the BBC, and Computer Weekly. He is the author of several successful books on digital media, and a commissioning editor of more than 50 books.