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The fundamental questions in enterprise communications don’t seem to change much over the years: Centralized vs. Distributed. Make vs. Buy. And of course, Standardization vs. Best of Breed.

Consultant JR Simmons of COMgroup tackles the most recent iteration of that last dilemma as it applies to Unified Communications, in a recent No Jitter post. He concludes that standardizing on a single UC tool is impractical: “The main reason that one tool doesn’t fit every user or business need is most often because no one tool is the best choice for every UC feature,” JR writes.

This, he says, leads to the question of why anyone would think a single tool is the right approach: “Why is it such an imperative that we stuff all of an organization’s and its users’ communications needs into a single tool? Do we really need to unify all communications and collaboration under one software application?”

JR’s answer, not too surprisingly, is, “No.” But I think it’s worth noting that the issues around standardization vs. best-of-breed are changing in communications, such that a best-of-breed approach may be more palatable than it used to be.

Best-of-breed was truly an arduous approach to communications in the legacy PBX world. Because desk phones were proprietary to the PBX, and PBXs weren’t interoperable, standardization was the clear choice for most enterprises. The problem was, most enterprises wound up not having as much freedom of choice as they wanted. Your company would acquire another firm or would get acquired, the others would be using a different vendor’s system, and now you were in the best-of-breed business.

However, as JR points out, today’s communications systems are software-based, which means they should be able to integrate and interoperate better—if the vendors were willing to see it happen.

But even aside from interoperability, you almost need to maintain a multi-tool, multi-vendor environment as the communications environment becomes so fragmented. Here’s one example: A couple of years ago, Slack and its emulators were touting their tools’ ability to make email a thing of the past. They’ve largely given up that aspiration as email keeps going strong. Indeed, lots of team collaboration users rely on email notifications from the collaboration tool to keep up with discussions that they were supposed to have been immersed in as they left email behind them once and for all.

Likewise video. I haven’t seen any market research on this, but I’d be willing to bet that the number of knowledge workers who haven’t participated in a single video call in the last six months is near zero. And I don’t just mean tuning into the corporate townhall meeting and watching the CEO; I mean a call where you were expected to show your own poorly lit, disgruntled face to your colleagues. Nowadays, there’s always someone who’ll give you a hard time until you agree to turn on your video. Doesn’t mean everyone uses video every time. It means fewer and fewer people can completely avoid it.

But does this sort of video adoption warrant a whole effort around video as a component of your UC strategy? Does it suggest that you should be picking your UC tool based on its video quality? Or does it mean that you should adopt one of the “it just works” video solutions that JR and Blair Pleasant, of COMMfusion, talk about, to scratch the video itch without having to upend the rest of your UC environment?

In the end, you may not have the option of developing and executing a well-planned strategy whose aim is a single, stable UC implementation. Your strategy may have to be centered around flexibility, best practices, and some targeted efforts at limited standardization.

In the legacy world, it was the business that moved faster than your ability to adjust—mergers happened every few years, while technology changed out once a decade. Now it’s the users who move faster than your core technology systems can be changed out. Software moves faster than hardware, but people tend to move even faster.

Eric Krapf
GM & Program Co-Chair Enterprise Connect & WorkSpace Connect
Publisher, No Jitter

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