Unified Communications: Decidedly Sustainable

I almost never attend a webinar unless I am speaking. When I need to know something, I usually get a one-on-one with a CEO or other leader of a company. They’re very gracious with their time, and the tutelage helps me as an analyst, though often I don’t run out and write something about my experience.

Part of the reason for my reticence is that most briefings are on background — the leaders are often trying out a new idea and looking for feedback. Frequently those ideas undergo significant modification before they finally emerge. Other times, the briefing in embargoed pending an official announcement. Often a briefing is about an incremental release — suffice it to say there are lots of reasons not to write about something. At least right away. Sometimes, months later, an idea strikes, and I write something. It’s not the best system in the world, but I doubt I am the only scribe that uses it.


Last week I broke with precedent and attended a webinar on Microsoft’s unified communications server, also known (I think) as “Office Communication Server.” It immediately reminded me of why I don’t do this more often, but after I got over the pitch aspect and the interminable demo, I got the big picture and was happy I made the effort. Now, breaking with another looser precedent, I am writing about it because I think it’s important.

Easing Up Friction

Lots of companies, mainly in the telco space, are deploying unified communication servers; they include (but the list is hardly limited to) Cisco, Avaya, NEC and Microsoft, just to pick a few. This is a new field, and standards are still loose, and one vendor’s gear might not work with another’s. However, Gartner has a Magic Quadrant for them, so it’s a real market.

If UCS is new to you and you are not a dyslexic fan of USC football, it’s all about bringing together your calendaring, email, mobile, voice mail, VoIP, video and other telecommunications under one roof to better coordinate workflow, customer access and intra-company communications. I think it’s important, especially from a sustainability perspective.

I’ve been researching sustainability ideas all my life, but my interest intensified in the last couple of years, and now I am writing about it. I think UCS coupled with other new product ideas like content libraries, SharePoint and Salesforce’s Chatter, offers the potential to squeeze a lot of friction out of business.

By friction I mean all those things that suck up energy — both the personal and the carbon based kind — without delivering business benefit to either customers or vendors. Unified communication brings together the exploded cornucopia of communications technologies that have been invented over the last few decades into a manageable framework giving users the ability to tame what has become a communications beast.

Unified communication integrated with CRM offers the possibility of making us all more proactive and responsive to customers but in ways that simplify rather than complicate our lives. It seems like whenever we get a new technology, one of the first uses we dream up for it is to somehow accelerate a business process, like selling. Ironically, that’s true occasionally, but quickly everyone gets the same idea, and what was once an accelerator turns the whole thing to gridlock.

From Innovative to Spammed and Jammed

A classic example might be email. As a tool for sales and marketing, it proved very useful, and many companies like Responsys, ExactTarget or ConstantContact (just to pick a few) have elevated it to a science. However, then came various flavors of social networking with the same idea, and in a short time we had way too many technologies trying to use the same basic technique, resulting in jammed (and spammed) inboxes.

Unified communications reverses this trend partly. It does little to arbitrate between your media of choice, but because it can track the whereabouts and activities of the recipient, it can result in one message rather than several from an impatient colleague, vendor or customer. It may not accelerate many processes, but then again, it might surprise you. What unified communications will certainly do is help us organize how we communicate and liberate time that is wasted because we simply don’t know.

More importantly, when you add video, VoIP and other advanced technologies, you may come to realize that what used to take a face-to face-meeting now only requires a quick chat. My research shows that as the recovery gains momentum, the cost of transportation will increase just as it did in 2008 when liquid fuel prices spiked. Having an alternative like unified communications might be the difference between doing business and not.

Unified communications wasn’t on my radar until the webinar, and I am glad that I attended that one.

Denis Pombriant is the managing principal of the Beagle Research Group, a CRM market research firm and consultancy. Pombriant’s research concentrates on evolving product ideas and emerging companies in the sales, marketing and call center disciplines. His research is freely distributed through a blog and Web site. He is working on a book and can be reached at [email protected].

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