I recently wrote an article about what I see as the next phase of unified communications, Optimized Communications (OC). With OC, workers can use the communication and integration tools and technologies they prefer in order to optimize business results and the user experience.

We currently have too many disconnected and isolated tools. We’ve seen the integration of calendars, directories, and contacts with UC clients. This saves workers a great deal of time by letting them simply search for and connect with a contact from their UC client. That’s great, but it’s not enough in today’s world, a world that increasingly uses social media and social software sites.

Today, most UC clients don’t integrate with the various social media sites (private or public) that workers are increasingly using. In addition to using Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, an increasing number of workers have been turning to business-focused social media products such as Yammer, Jive, Chatter, IBM Connections, Cisco WebEx Social, and others. Ideally, these social software tools should be integrated with the user’s UC client. For example, users should be able to read their Twitter feed from the Lync client, follow hashtags, post tweets, and even click to connect, without having to leave Lync.

The ideal scenario would be to use social software to find the people and resources based on expertise, projects they’re working on, communities of interest, etc., combined with UC to be able to view their presence and availability, and then communicate directly from the UC client via IM, voice (using click to call), or a web or video conference.

The UC client should be the single portal where work gets done, but this isn’t the case, especially in a social media world. With a couple of exceptions, users have to leave their UC client in order to access their social software client, which is very inefficient.

Companies like Cisco and IBM have been working to integrate their social software and UC solutions, but this is limited to their own solutions. A relative newcomer trying to solve this problem is NextPlane, which provides federation between UC platforms (for more information on NextPlane see Marty Parker’s article).

UC Exchange, currently provides federation support for Microsoft, Cisco, IBM, Siemens, Google, OpenFire, Isode, eZuce, Skype, and eJaberd, and will be adding others later this year. NextPlane recently added UC to Social Media federation to support internal social networks like Yammer and Chatter, as well as public ones, Twitter (Facebook will be added in the near future). As a result, users on Cisco, IBM, Google, and Lync can federate with cloud-based social media networks such as Yammer, Chatter, and Twitter.

NextPlane’s UC Exchange Social Media Federation lets users do the following from within their UC client:

  • Authenticate themselves to social networking accounts
  • Search list groups and search for users
  • Post public and private messages on Yammer, Chatter, and Twitter
  • Twitter users can subscribe to and monitor hashtags and post tweets from their UC platform
  • Twitter users can also follow hashtags, search for topics, and participate in social group discussions, with hashtag features including “search,” “subscribe,” “list,” and “unsubscribe.” It works like a regular hashtag search on the Twitter website, however it is a focused search, directly from the user’s UC client window without other news, updates or advertising that otherwise appears on the Twitter website

According to NextPlane, a lot of companies don’t offer Twitter access to their employees, but they do realize that certain people need to monitor social media for business purposes. These workers can use the UC to social media federation service to subscribe to hashtags. These show up as chat messages in their UC client chat window, which they can monitor and view while doing their work. This makes it easier to search for topics from within the UC client.

For Yammer and Chatter federation, an Admin needs to provide their corporate credentials to enable the federation, and users need to do a onetime authentication to their Yammer or Chatter accounts before using the service. Yammer and Chatter users can post their status, send private messages, and participate in groups from within their UC platform without having to open another window on the desktop to monitor and participate in social media conversations. This helps save time and allows them to be more productive. It also eliminates the need for multiple clients on the desktop.

While this is a good start, it just touches the surface of what I’d like to see for true integrated UC and social software. UC Exchange doesn’t offer a way for users to “click to call” or “click to connect” from social media, although users can send a private message.

According to NextPlane founder and CEO Farzin Shahidi, “The UC client is the center of communications and a real time collaboration tool where you really do your business. Social media, which is just getting started, is being used to keep co-workers abreast of updates and news that are needed for them to do their work. Companies are looking at how to marry them without twisting the vendor’s arm.” He added that NextPlane’s UC Social federation is a way of showing what’s possible today, but there are currently too many walled gardens. The vendors and the community need to work together to make things like click to call a reality. Shahidi explained that some large corporate customers were unsuccessful trying to get the vendors to work together, so instead they went to NextPlane to solve the problem of federation and working together.

To summarize, we’re still not where I’d like to be in terms of integrating various communication tools and technologies so that users can have “optimized communications,” but at least we’re on the right track.

View the full article at: UC Strategies

The NextPlane Team