Get ready to hear a whole lot about interoperability and standards. Unified communications includes so many applications and processes that must do such a complex dance together that interoperability and standards are even more important than they are in the world of siloed applications. At the same time, the very nature of UC will make interoperability especially difficult to achieve.
Difficult or not, interoperability and standards are make or break for the UC industry. Corporate communications will increasingly be subsumed into UC stacks, and these platforms will need to communicate with each other with precision. Systems that shout to each other in the electronic versions of Portuguese and German are not going to get the job done.
During the past few weeks, a number of moves have been made that signal the start of the drive to standards. Last month, a group of companies established the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF). Unified Communications Edge posted a podcast last week with Mark Gorzynski, Chief Scientist for HP's Halo organization and UCIF Vice President that touched on the rationale for the group and what we should expect to see in the near future.
Another piece of the puzzle came out of the box on June 2, when Radvision introduced the SCOPIA Elite MCU, which the company says interoperates with telepresence systems from Cisco, Logitech/LifeSize and Polycom.
A third step was taken yesterday, when Cisco said it is extending its Telepresence Interoperability Protocol (TIP) to the former Tandberg products it now owns and making it available to other vendors. Here is a Cisco backgrounder on TIP and a good take on what Cisco is trying to accomplish.
It is par for the course that a good deal of jockeying will go on. Cisco, Avaya and IBM have not joined UCIF, though Microsoft is a founding member. There is nothing nefarious about this. The companies are thinking through what various approaches to interoperability will mean to their current product lines, roadmaps and business models. Conversations certainly must be ongoing between UCIF and the holdouts about the forum's path forward.
It's all about business – and business is a full contact sport. There is nothing wrong, for instance, with the industry and Cisco using the creation of a standards regime to influence the networking giant's impact on the structure of the overlapping telepresence and UC ecosystems. The danger in this would be the creation of a protracted battle – for instance, telepresence breaking into UCIF versus Cisco TIP camps – that would prevent UC from realizing its potential.
The increasing acceptance of unified communications as a repository of corporate communications tools suggests that the next big battle -- the creation of standards enabling interoperability between products from different vendors -- has arrived.