OPINION: Can UC me now?

Unified communications is a buzzword that’s front-and-center for many organizations this year. Some are already deploying various UC technologies (UC is one of the top three “recession-proof” technologies in Nemertes’ 2009 benchmark). And many are building out long-term UC strategies.

But what does migrating to UC really mean? Even the simplest initiatives — such as rolling out unified messaging (UM) or deploying desktop video — can create major upheavals in business processes and operations. In many respects that’s a good thing: sales teams close business faster, for instance, and geographically-dispersed teams can collaborate more effectively. But IT folks shouldn’t underestimate the monkey-wrench that UC throws into long-established routines and processes.

For starters, there’s that whole “unified” moniker. Like “convergence” before it, “unified” communications requires the coming together of IT groups that were historically separate. Just as convergence (also known as voice over IP) was the catalyst that ultimately joined networking and telecom teams, UC will ultimately integrate multiple IT silos, particularly networking, desktop support and messaging.

In most companies, e-mail and messaging are handled by one organization, while another deals with voice mail and telephony issues. With UC, those two groups become joined at the hip — not just in the strategic planning stages, but through engineering, architecture and implementations. Having separate groups oversee, for instance, voice mail and e-mail account administration will no longer make sense in a UC world.

Another issue that’s rapidly coming to the forefront is e-discovery (electronic discovery). Many organizations have entirely separate policies governing the retention of voice mail and e-mail. Some are under the impression that voice mail is not discoverable, whereas e-mail is; others labour under the delusion that merely having an official policy for document destruction will somehow preclude damaging documents from showing up in court. I’m not a lawyer, nor do I play one on TV. But I can tell you this: both assumptions are flawed. And the move to UC is an excellent time to review e-discovery policies and compliance concerns across the board — because it’s a whole new world out there.

And then there’s storage. Despite the recession, storage growth averages anywhere from 20 per cent to 40 per cent year over year — and one of the big drivers is video. Expect this only to get worse. Many organizations are following a predictable arc from deploying video first in room-based systems (the 1990s model) followed by desktop video and ultimately, video distribution. But recognize this: the easier you make it for people to capture and record video streams, the more likely they are to do so. And having the potential to create an ongoing video record of an organization’s day-to-day transactions has a couple of major impacts. Aside from the potentially cataclysmic impact on compliance and e-discovery (see above), there’s also the prosaic concern of a step-function increase in storage growth — much the same one that occurred with e-mail once users figured out how to attach documents to messages. And these are just the tip-of-the-iceberg concerns. There’s a host of issues that IT departments should be considering as they step into the brave new world of UC.


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