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Unifying forces

Unifying forces

How unified communications are expanding today

The shimmering oasis called "unified communications" has been on IT horizons for so long, it's almost surreal to think we might actually arrive there one day.

When you consider the ever-rapidly-multiplying number of communication pathways carving into our lives-from e-mail, IM and BlackBerrys to social media, desktop video conferencing and telepresence-plain vanilla voice mail does seem like a quaint throwback to a simpler time.

I caught myself the other day glancing down at the blinking red voice mail light on my phone and trying to remember what that meant. Oh, right. Dial in a code to listen to a message. Surely it could find its way to me, I thought, without so much aggravation.

And there it was-another tiny spark of user desire for that one simple interface. I could love a dashboard that gave me access to all my various communications, couldn't you? Well, after reading our cover story you won't be holding your breath.

But still, CIOs are all over this UC stuff-if not with open checkbooks then at least with open minds. A recent Forrester study of 466 organizations counted one-third of them deploying "some form" of unified communications, and half of those still hesitating were actively investigating it.

The urban sprawl of the UC oasis has also grown in recent years, moving far beyond a "back-room effort" to run data and voice traffic on the same network into a much grander vision of employees sharing information via whatever device is in their hands or on boardroom tables or walls.

Yet it's the user examples detailed in our story-from industries as diverse as health care, architecture and high-tech-that tell the most engaging part of the UC tale.

For example, one hospital center dramatically improved communication between medical practitioners by shrinking a 15-minute wait for physician pager responses to 15 seconds in its pilot of Vocera Communication's badge devices. And the global collaboration potential of UC turned into a hard-dollars benefit for an architectural firm now saving $450,000 in annual travel costs for board members who no longer have to trek to Sydney several times a year.

So are we really closer to that UC oasis or is this the nature of a good mirage? E-mail me and let me know what you think. But please, no more voice mails.

Do you Tweet? Follow me on Twitter @maryfranjohnson. Follow everything from CIO Magazine @CIOMagazine.

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