What's the difference between unified communications and unified messaging?

* Definitions of unified communications and unified messaging

This week we'd like to focus on unified communications. We'll begin today by making a distinction between a unified messaging systems and a UC system because we believe that UC is an evolution based on UM and the two terms are often mistakenly viewed as being interchangeable.

UM platforms have been around for more than a decade and provide a common GUI or telephony user interface (TUI) to access voice mail, e-mail, and fax messages. When using a UM system GUI, for example, users can click on a common screen and listen to voice mail, access their e-mail, or view fax messages. Some UM platforms have incorporated speech engines that, for example, turn e-mail into text that can be "heard" using a telephone. We consider these applications to be non-real-time applications.

We define UC systems as providing access to real-time applications like click to call, non-real-time applications (like those provided by UM), and near-real-time applications like instant messaging (IM). Note that we consider IM to be a near-real-time application because it typically includes a server-based "meet point" to facilitate both security and connectivity, as opposed to a phone conversation which is a point-to-point connection.

Contemporary UC systems also typically offer SIP-based presence engines, collaboration, and support for multimedia applications including video, conferencing, and collaboration. UC platforms are now being bundled with most IP-PBXs, offering either a same-supplier UC platform or integration with another supplier's UC platform.

Next time, we'll take a look at Microsoft's approach to UC.

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