When it comes to digital communications, convergence is like the Grand Unified Theory: a single solution that remains frustratingly undiscovered. The promise of one software suite that combines VoIP, e-mail, instant messaging, collaboration, document workflow and Web conferencingand delivers them all through a single user interfaceis tantalizingly close. Alas, it's been that way for the better part of two decades. "It's the Nirvana that everyone has been talking about for 20 years," says Sara Radicati, president of the research firm Radicati Group Inc.
As perpetually disappointing technologies go, the idea of converged communications solutions has had a remarkably long shelf life. But why? All kinds of reasons. Salespeople think that listening to their e-mails over their cell phones would be cool. Internal auditors dream of quickly tapping into one source to find every e-mail, voice mail, IM and document they need in order to ensure compliance with federal regulations. Product engineers envision global collaboration with far-flung marketing and sales teams. And managers want to be able to keep tabs on their subordinates through presence awareness technologies.
IT managers have their own dreams. They see a single, affordable, easy-to-manage, easy-to-integrate software application that encompasses all of their company's communications needs. They imagine managing one network for voice, data and video, rather than three.
This is the promise of a unified communications system. Less cost, higher productivity. At least, that's what some would have you believe. Yes, the promise of a unified communications network is grandin theory. In practice, however, not only is there no such thing as a truly converged platform, but the patchwork style alternatives can actually end up costing you more, and increasing complexity. "It would be great to have one communications pipeline to do all this stuff," says Radicati. "But the world is a complicated place, and no one is pulling it off."