Thursday, November 15, 2007

unified communications

it all sounds very rosy of what unified communications can bring - at least that's what tech firms such as microsoft, cisco or nortel are trying to tell us: with a click of the mouse you can connect to a colleague whether one's on the road or in office, a voice mail message left on your office extension will be delivered to you by email instantly and retrievable from your pda; instant messaging is no longer for casual chit-chat with friends but for serious interactive business collaborations across nations without long-distance charges; and you can control your schedule, set up meetings, retrieve contact information... all by "talking" to a voice-enabled communications server, from anywhere and in any way you like. But my question is, is it what we need, or are we ready for it?

my arguments against this come two-fold. first, a major problem we are currently facing is information overload and further convergence in communications means is unlikely to solve this, if not aggrevate the problem. how many of us already got hooked on blackberry, as well as your mobile phone, pda, laptop etc etc. these days more often than not we are receiving repeating or non-necessary information through redundant means, instead of not able to be reached and contacted - just look at your blackberry, how many of those emails really did require immediate attention and how many can wait til next day in office? now we know how the stock market does every day through email alert, sms alert, multiple websites and financial news channels, words of mouth, tv screen on the street... is that even necessary?

without a true universal access solution - under which each individual should only have a single "identifier" (which will replace email address, phone number, msn messenger handle, etc) and possibly one single device which can perform multiple functions - we are still in the world of too many numbers, too many devices and too much information to be digested and processed. before that can happen, i don't see much point or value of any further convergence of widely-used communication means.

second, further convergence based on the current ip network will probably leave us more vulnerable to any unexpected breakdown and create a single point of failure as we are trying to put more eggs in the same basket. remember the tsunami that severed the cross-pacific internet connection between hk and usa and led us into a virual blackout for a couple of weeks? just think what would be like if telephone services were affected at the same time as well - which would have been real if phone is exclusively based on voip network. thank god it doesn't, at least for now. currently, as we have experienced in the last episode, we don't have a satisfactory solution to this yet, by having an alternative and viable path for our ip-based network infrastructure.

so my answer to the original question i raised is - yes, we do need it, but probably not now. there are still further study and research needed to bring about the optimal level of connectivity and information richness for individual. advancements need to be made in our network infrastructure, software applications, implementation road-map and business value proposition in order to make a convincing case for business to make such investment and adapt such technology.

some of the features available today (for example, integration between voice mail and email) do provide convenience in some ways, esp for people constantly on the road, but to get to the level of perfect unified communications and connectivity - as the vendors depicted - we still have a long way to go.

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