UC&C – What Is It, and Why Should I Be Bothered?

Like Christmas decorations at a shopping mall in December, the acronym UC&C could have only gone unnoticed if one ignores their surroundings like that of a teenager with a new smart phone and unlimited data. Magazines are writing about it, AV people are talking about it, IT people are referencing it, and even my local gym has put up a poster on the wall in front of the treadmill stating “No UC&C, no gain” (well, the last example may have been an exaggeration, but I’m sure you agree with the general point.) But if you join me in enjoying a generous portion of cynicism for a moment, I’m sure you have wondered what all the fuzz is about. What does UC&C mean anyway?

Just as there’s no agreed consensus of what makes a good cup of coffee (although, of course, my judgement is correct and those in disagreement are still victims of poor taste), there are also variations and even confusion in the understanding of what the term UC&C actually means. So, for the sake of clarity, I shall offer my definition: UC stands for “Unified Communications,” which is a term that came to define the related technologies, tools, and applications that enable communication. & is simply a lazy way (or maybe more stylish way…?) of writing “and.” And the last C, boringly enough, doesn’t stand for Campanology or Chromatoptometer, but instead it’s C for “Collaboration.” That’s rather important, and gives real meaning to the acronym.

Collaboration is defined by the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press as “the act of working with another person or group of people to create or produce something” and my mother taught me better than to argue with Mr Cambridge University. So if we put it all together, UC&C can be described as “the tools and technologies that enable us to be more productive and make our boss look better.” And name me a boss that doesn’t like that. Of course, the ability to collaborate always existed. Batman would have been rather less dynamic without Robin and Alfred, and I’m certain two separate solo projects would have yielded fewer hits for Lennon and McCartney. But up until rather recently, available technologies meant that productive, real- time collaboration could only happen between people in the same physical space; and even then, there were practical obstacles to overcome.

More recently, the staggering space of technology has produced better and nicer tools to work with (plus the connectivity bandwidth to use them), while at the same time we are afforded to do so when located physically apart from one another. Multi-way telephone conference calls, audio conferencing, video conferencing, moving cameras, better displays, and increased integration of these solutions are but a few examples of the technological advances in AV that helped make the distant communication experience more fluent. Technologies have not only evolved in the BECCR (big expensive and complicated corporate room) space. Rather, the evolution in the consumer, desktop, mobile, and IT realms has been relentless: soft clients like Skype, the-app-formerly-known- as-Lync, and GoToMeeting are now essentials in our laptops, tablets, and phones.

Additionally, applications that were once designed for individual work have firmly and steadily been including collaboration features and mechanisms. Think of tools like word processors, CAD software or project management solutions. All those developments add up and can now be combined into extremely powerful communication solutions.

I distinctly remember printing work-in-progress schematics on a forest worth of large-size paper so that the team could review a design; an activity we were forced to undertake huddled around a table big enough to hold the prints and stretching our necks in unhealthy angles.

We then got a projector, and I could achieve the same goal faster and without massive deforestation. That was perhaps the first step in a journey that in a relatively short period of time, has taken us to a point where I can share the files I’m working on with minimum effort, have productive discussions with those in remote locations, and make amendments directly on the master document. How about that for an improvement?

I, for one, can’t get enough of that, and thus see the raise of UC&C in our industry as logical, and expect its development to continue.

At the same time, the fact that UC&C includes and relies on a variety of technologies that may not have historically belonged in the skillset of AV or IT professionals, does present unique technical challenges and opportunities. Knowledge in telephony, control, audio, video, IT, architecture, and acoustics are all required to successfully design and deploy effective solutions. Sometimes it’s necessary to be an expert in all of those fields, sometimes in a few of them, sometimes in even more.

Achieving that expertise is vital if businesses desire to achieve the additional revenue stream this segment can provide. As hardware becomes more readily available, technical competence provides a major differentiator in the marketplace. Not to mention that a technically savvy workforce delivers on time and on budget, and is capable of determining whether the new product or technology on offer is a useful addition to the arsenal, or just a me-too device that provides no real improvement. It all assists the bottom line, but also helps tremendously with morale and employee retention.

Education and information are therefore undoubtedly key to understanding and participating in the UC&C activity. Keeping abreast of developments and building a solid understanding of the requirements and possibilities of each technology is vital for system integrators and designers to effectively identify products and technologies that will create the best results, to develop solutions that meet the increasing expectation from users and business owners, and to deliver them effectively.

The fact you are reading this article is testament to your interest, and I will humbly encourage you to continue in your quest for knowledge. By reading relevant press, enlisting in seminars, attending courses, and taking time to learn something new at every opportunity will unquestionably help develop the greatest business opportunities.

*Definition of collaboration from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press

*This article was originally published in Systems Integration Asia Feb–Mar 2016.