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Unified Communications Glossary of Terms
October 14, 2008 @ 12:41 PM | By Ken Kurz

Oct14ucglossary_2 Our sales team brought me along to talk with a customer to assist their Unified Communications (UC) strategy and budget for next year. As customary for meetings about UC, the meeting assembled several cross-functional department heads–  the desktop application management team, telecom and data networking group, the person that manages the messaging systems, the individual responsible for conferencing and collaboration, senior management, and representatives from the finance team. You get the idea.  It was a typical IS-meets-business- strategy planning session.

With this group in the room, before you know it I’m saying things like “this UC-EIM system utilizes SIP and has a standards-based codec supporting VoIP click-2-call by integrating with your PBX”.  And in concern to the non-IS folks in the room, I was becoming very aware of the amount of jargon and TLAs (three-letter acronyms) that were being thrown about during our discussion. As the meeting progressed, my concerns of the effect of “jargon-overload” on the finance guy was diminished - he was keeping up and he made several great points that let you know he was completely engaged.

But it got me thinking. We use tech terms everyday and it has a way of actually decreasing understanding and making what we’re talking about seem like it has less relevance to everyday workers in their business life.  The meeting inspired me to write this blog entry. Here are a few terms you are likely to encounter as you navigate the world of Unified Communications.

Unified Communications (UC) – I like the way Frost and Sullivan defines this term in our free Unified Communications Whitepapers.  In its most fully realized form, unified communications offers users a single application interface from which users can access a range of communications tools, including voice calls, IM chat, e-mail, faxes, voice messaging and conferencing—audio, video and web.

I’d like to add that UC is a system, and not a single-vendor product. Additional to the technologies that define the system, a UC framework includes deployment considerations (hosted, on-premise, hybrid) and system management and end-user training considerations.

Unified Conferencing and Collaboration (UCC) – also from our Whitepapers, UCC is defined as integrated audio, video and web conferencing in a single interface.

InterCall likes to call this “Unified Meetings” – whereby a single URL or shortcut can be clicked and you are joined to a rich virtual meeting environment with no complex effort to enjoy seamless audio, video, web collaboration.

Enterprise Instant Messaging (EIM) – a system that delivers secure, auditable, corporate, instant messaging on private servers that can be deployed on-premise on in “hosted” environments.

The top suppliers of EIM are Microsoft, IBM, and Jabber (recently acquired by Cisco). When designing a UC system, you will want to do some planning around federating your UC-EIM system to partners and suppliers outside of your internal networks.

Unified Messaging (UM) – a system that routes (so users can store and retrieve) different types of messages (voicemails, email, faxes, etc) from a single, “unified” inbox – which is accessible from a variety of devices and applications – like your email inbox on your laptop, or a handheld smart device, or even the ability to take a standard phone and dial-into a text-to-voice converter.

Whew! UM products are available from telephony hardware vendors (I won’t list them all, here are products briefs for Cisco and Avaya) and there are systems from InterCall partners Microsoft and IBM.

Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) – a telephony networking solution that allows you to transmit voice telephone calls across an IP network as an alternative to the public switched telephone network (PSTN). Ha! I threw that last one in for free… ;-)

Softphone (IP Softphone) - a software application (that runs on your laptop or smartdevice) for making and receiving telephone calls on a computer using VoIP.

A softphone should ot to be confused with an IP telephone handset device. A “soft” phone provides an on-screen interface for outbound dialing and must interoperate with the computer’s sound card and microphone or accessories that plug into the computer’s USB port. There are business-grade and consumer-grade softphones. The term “click-to-call” refers to mouse-clicking on a contact or phone number using your softphone in order to “dial” the connection.

Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) – an Internet standard (see RFC 3261) used for session establishment and teardown for voice communications and video conferencing over an IP network.

At InterCall, we utilize SIP on our audio conferencing platform to effectively manage media stream (audio) sessions to deliver robust conferencing as efficiently as technically possible.

If this glossary of terms has been helpful, respond in the comments section below, and I’ll continue this topic on my next posting.

Ken_6 Ken Kurz, Director of Unified Communications. Kurz is responsible for the end-user success of Unified Communications deployments; ensuring businesses have a more efficient, easier-to-use communications environment.

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