At Microsoft’s recent Lync conference, Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft’s new head of Lync and Skype (News - Alert), came up with yet another term for what those two product offerings will do for business communications – universal communications. It doesn’t seem to be much of an improvement over what we at UC Strategies have been calling unified communications. After all, what is the big difference between unified and universal? My feeling is that either term is acceptable, but the real problem is that people think communications is only about person-to-person contacts.
If you look up the definition of communications on Wikipedia, you will find that communications is limited to contacts between people. Communication (from Latin communicare, meaning to share) is the activity of conveying information through the exchange of thoughts, messages, or information, as by speech, visuals, signals, written, or behavior. It is the meaningful exchange of information between two or more living creatures.
True, it used to be that, before interactive computing, the only way a business transaction could be performed or business information could be accessed remotely was through a live person (telephone, mail), but that has really changed with direct consumer access to online applications through multi-modal smartphones and tablets. Rather than just person-to-person contacts, users can now get or give information by interacting with online applications, and, vice versa, people can receive alerts, reminders, and timely notifications from automated applications (CEBP). So, communications, as commonly defined being just between people, is really not adequate for what is actually happening in computer-based business activities.
Don’t get me wrong, we still need person-to-person contacts. But now we need to include contacts between a person and an automated application. The way I see it, both types of contacts may be considered as interactions – interactions between people or between a person and an automated application.
In addition, either type of interaction can be two-way, i.e., a person or application contacts you or you contact a person or an application. Since there are many efficiency benefits to be gained by minimizing the need for involving another person in accessing/delivering information, or performing a routine transaction, that choice should now become a flexible option of any self-service application.
If we now look at what we are unifying, optimizing, or universalizing, it’s not the old definition of communications, but rather any interaction with people or with automated online applications. What is also most important is that the flexibility to dynamically choose the mode of interaction is now practical with increasing end user adoption of BYOD multimodal mobile devices that can support all the mobile user’s situational needs. Further, when one user wants to talk but the the user can’t hear, or one user wants to type text but the other user can’t look (e.g., driving a car), speech–to-text and text-to speech conversions can be brought into play for contact exchanges.
As BYOD takes hold with multinodal mobile device use by all kinds of end users, the flexibility for more efficiently exchanging information and conversation in different modes becomes more practical. Now we are hearing a lot more about the user experience, which really depends on the user interface with both person-to-person contacts and interactions with online applications that are rapidly becoming more mobile than just restricted to desktops devices.
What unified means is that the different modes can be dynamically used by people involved with any form of interaction with other people or with an automated application process (inbound or outbound). In a real-time videoconference session, some people can be on camera with video, while others can only see the video, but still participate in the voice conversation; all participants may also be able to see any form of information that is exchanged (document, messages, video clips, etc.). If you want to call that universal, fine, but I think the real focus should be on whether interactions will be just between people, or between both people and online applications.
Edited by Stefania Viscusi