IBM foresees the demise of email, phones and desktops as unified communications makes it possible to replace them with laptops and other mobile devices.
In his keynote address at VoiceCon Orlando 2008 Wednesday, IBM Lotus general manager, Mike Rhodin, put forward that prediction and four others about how unified communications will change the way businesses interact.
Instant messaging will step up as the preferred means of written communication around which other communications modes - voice, video, conferencing - will revolve, he predicts.
Laptops with voice and video embedded will become all that workers need to support their business needs, he said, but the transition will be gradual, he said.
"It's not a rip and replace world," Rhodin said in an interview, "you need to leverage what you've got already. Starting over is not appealing."
Among his other predictions were that companies will integrate VoIP in business applications and draw on presence to speed business transactions and internal processes. Basic features such as click to call will become tools rather than ends in themselves, he said.
Interoperability and standards that make interoperability easier will develop to make it possible for businesses to piece together their applications with unified communications platforms to make them easier to mold to specific business needs, he said. "This will result in interesting new applications," he said.
Presence information and even physical location supplied by unified communications platforms can become programming elements in business applications so they can find the person with the right skills who is closest to a customer to solve a problem. So, for example, a plumbing call center application could find the plumber closest to a customer whose water supply is flooding the basement.
As unified communications infrastructure and interoperability become more widespread, independent software vendors will use it to enhance their wares, he said. Rhodin likened it to the way TCP/IP became ubiquitous and led to the development of the Web. "As you get a common UC infrastructure, you will see a similar explosion," he said.
Rhodin demonstrated a virtual conference using technology similar to Second Life that creates a conference space that becomes familiar and in which participants feel comfortable. In combination with other unified communications features, this can make for more productive conferences, he said.
Toward that end, IBM announced at VoiceCon that it is teaming with Forterra Systems to integrate Lotus Sametime with Forterra's graphical collaboration software. The goal is to create a virtual environment in which groups can meet to run through simulations of physical events and draw on relevant experts as needed.
The companies are working on the project with intelligence agencies in mind. They currently use disparate communications platforms and with Sametime bonding them into a single conference. Forterra will write a plug in for Sametime as well as write software support within its Online Interactive Virtual Environment (OLIVE) platform Sametime presence, location, sharing of documents and other collaboration features.
One scenario the companies envision is security agencies creating a virtual environment that simulates an actual site they plan law-enforcement action against, then run through how they will proceed.