'Unified communications will conquer all' says IBM

IBM foresees the demise of email, phones and desktops as unified communications makes it possible to replace them with laptops and other mobile devices.

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IBM foresees the demise of email, phones and desktops as unified communications (UC) makes it possible to replace them with laptops and other mobile devices.

That was one of five predictions that IBM Lotus general manager Mike Rhodin put forward in his keynote address at VoiceCon Orlando 2008, this week about how UC will change the way businesses interact.

His predictions may not have been entirely neutral, however, as IBM has recently announced plans to spend $1 billion (£500 million) on UC over the next three years.

Rhodin predicted instant messaging will step up as the preferred means of written communication around which other communications modes – voice, video, conferencing – will revolve.

Laptops embedded with voice and video capabilities will become all that workers need to support their business needs, he said.

However, the transition will be gradual, Rhodin said. "It's not a rip-and-replace world," he said later in an interview, "you need to leverage what you've got already. Starting over is not appealing."

Among Rhodin's other predictions were that companies will integrate VoIP in business applications and draw on presence to speed business transactions and internal processes. Basic features such as click-to-call will become tools rather than ends in themselves, he says.

Interoperability, and standards that make interoperability easier, will develop to make it possible for businesses to piece together their applications with UC platforms to make them easier to mould to specific business needs, he says. "This will result in interesting new applications."

Presence information and even physical location supplied by UC platforms can become programming elements in business applications, so they can find the person with the right skills who is closest to a customer to solve a problem. For example, a plumbing call centre application could find the plumber closest to a customer whose water supply is flooding the basement.

As UC infrastructure and interoperability become more widespread, independent software vendors will use it to enhance their wares, he says. Rhodin likened it to the way TCP/IP became ubiquitous and led to the development of the web. "As you get a common UC infrastructure, you will see a similar explosion," he says.

Rhodin demonstrated a virtual conference using technology similar to Second Life that creates a conference space that becomes familiar and in which participants feel comfortable. In combination with other UC features, this can make for more productive conferences, he says.

Toward that end, IBM has that it is teaming with Forterra Systems to integrate Lotus Sametime with Forterra's graphical collaboration software. The goal is to create a virtual environment in which groups can meet to run through simulations of physical events and draw on relevant experts as needed.

The companies are working on the project with intelligence and security agencies in mind – who might create a virtual version of a site they plan law-enforcement action against, then run through how they will proceed.

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