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Will remote work spur unified communications interoperability?

Unified communications interoperability is gaining more attention as more employees work from home. But, while some progress is being made, there is a long way to go.

Some believe that remote workforces will remain extremely popular long after COVID-19 is under control. If that's the case, it's time for interoperability among enterprise-grade services to improve. In particular, unified communications interoperability has a long way to go in this regard. Work-from-home employees who are required to communicate with internal and external teams, customers and business partners have likely had to bounce among various vendor UC applications to perform their normal work duties.

While interoperability isn't an issue from a legacy, public switched telephone network perspective, it's a major hurdle when looking at in-app voice over IP, IM and video conferencing services. If, for example, an IT department deploys Cisco UC voice, video and chat services but a business partner uses Microsoft, Zoom, Slack or similar UC tools, interoperability is going to be an issue. That said, issues with vendor interoperability are nothing new. It's just that remote work has amplified the problem as face-to-face communication significantly declines in favor of technology-based alternatives.

How will UC vendors respond?

To that end, the need for greater interoperability has probably never been greater. The question that remains: What will UC vendors do about it? Over the past few years, we've seen some attempts by vendors to work together to provide some semblance of unified communications interoperability. Last year's announcement by Cisco and Microsoft to craft a way to enable those using Cisco Webex and Session Initiation Protocol video conferencing devices to join Microsoft Teams meetings is just one example. But, while it's a good start, it's nowhere close to what's truly needed from an interoperability perspective.

Why is cross-vendor interoperability so difficult to achieve? Because UC vendors all want to protect their portion of the overall UC market. If all platforms and services were interoperable out of the box, there would be little to differentiate one vendor from the next -- other than price. Profit margins would drop significantly.

That's one big reason why vendors approach interoperability partnerships cautiously. Unfortunately, for customers, it's safe to assume vendors aren't going to change this behavior quickly -- regardless of need.

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