Don't believe the hype: Unified communications has issues. Despite promising to enable greater flexibility and technological fusion in the way we communicate, UC is a hotly contested space - and concept - that does not always live up to its unifying pretensions. According to some industry observers there is even debate as to what UC is and whether a lack of interoperability will hamper progress.
NEC department manager marketing and strategy national marketing and channels, Dr Steven Stenton, noted that different vendors' spin has veiled the fact that many UC technologies have been around for a long time.
"UC is a bit of a nebulous concept," he said. "Up to a point it is a bunch of technologies. And in general these technologies are relatively disparate and spread across multiple systems and offerings.
"From a baseline I see UC as being a hyped term. It actually masks the reality of the technology."
Express Data unified communications business development manager, Levi Sutherland, agreed there was a need to demystify UC.
He said the distributor has spent the last 12 months educating the channel on unified communications as a concept.
"What everyone has come to realise is that unifi ed communications isn't just a single vendor play, it is a multivendor environment and it will contain multiple products," Sutherland said.
"It's been a goal for us to actually break down the complexity of UC for our specific partners so they can understand better where the synergies are between the vendors."
With so many different vendors offering solutions, the issue of interoperability comes to the fore. In light of the fact UC solutions can involve multiple systems and technologies, vendors freely acknowledge the need for open standards.
"UC promises a lot of compelling value propositions for customers and I suppose from an interoperability perspective having open standards is a prerequisite for these types of systems," unified communications practice leader for systems integration Gen-i, Steven Anderton, said.
"What it does though is put the onus back onto the customers and third-party middleware to really leverage niche integration systems to integrate them properly rather than having a seamless out-of-the-box experience."
Despite the complexity and potential interoperability obstacles NEC marketing programs manager and line of business manager for applications, Steven Woff, doesn't believe most customers are concerned.
"You can't just go buy whatever you want off the shelf and put 10 of them together and expect them to work," he said. "But most customers really aren't interested in that. You can have open systems that people can play with but most customers don't want to do that. They really just want to get on with their business and make money. Offering them expandability and plugability really doesn't mean much if they can't actually get business benefit."