Unified Communications (UC) has been gaining significant momentum in the last few years, but it’s history as an innovative, disruptive technology stretches back much further—all the way to the 1940s.
Let’s look back on UC’s history of disruption, and how it has evolved into a pervasive force for business enablement.
1940s: Voice/PBX Systems
The telephone may have been pioneered in 1876, but it wasn’t until the 1940s that the gadgets made their way out of the homes of the privileged and into the mass market. It was during this era that business telephone systems began proliferating—the local phone company delivered phone calls from a central office (CO) to a business and then the PBX would simply accept and route a call to the appropriate extension. Despite being such a simple concept, it was revolutionary at the time and became the foundation upon which all other business communications systems were built.
1980s: Voicemail & IVR
Up until the 1980s, every office had receptionists—or a bevy of them—that were responsible for taking messages, transferring calls, and generally navigating those flashing blinking push-button lights on the multi-line business phones of the day. When the Reagan Era kicked off, so did the idea of more automated messaging. Both voicemail and Interactive Voice Response systems (IVR) were pioneered during these heady days. An early disruptor called VMX sold voice messaging systems to several large corporations, such as 3M, Kodak, American Express, Intel, Hoffmann–La Roche, Corning Glass, Arco, Shell Canada, and Westinghouse. The impressive list of early adopters soon helped corporate voicemail and IVR trickle down to the rest of us.
1995-2000: Modern Communications
In the 1990s, a lot of interesting things happened, starting with the World Wide Web. Personal computers became the norm and email began invading every level of business. It wasn’t long after that the idea of Computer-Telephony Integration (CTI) came along, including the idea of “unified messaging” (UM) that integrated voicemail and email. This was also the era of the cell phone’s mass-market proliferation, and when VoIP and web conferencing appeared for the first time.
Early 2000s: Fun UC Stuff Emerges
After the Worldcom implosion and the dot-com bust, the communications landscape reeled for a while. But disruptive technology continued to develop. In the world of UC, Find-Me/Follow-Me functionality became a whiz-bang feature that all the cool kids had. Callers could dial just one number and it would ring multiple phones on the other end to reach the person, including cell, home, or office. IVR evolved as well, now allowing users to make calls just by saying contact names or numbers and leveraging text-to-speech functionalities. Combined with instant messaging, the idea of centralized access to all communications channels became a significantly disruptive technology concept. In addition, BlackBerry phones emerged, which let mobile users gain access to email—another piece of the UC puzzle.
Perhaps most importantly, VoIP crossed the chasm into the mainstream, paving the way for programmable communications. In the 2000s, CTI evolved to the point where the first softphone PC client emerged—the real UC precursor.
UC As Disruptive Technology Today
Today, we have smartphones, cloud communications, video conferencing, chat, AI-enabled voice recognition, and more. UC is a fully formed concept and adoption shows no signs of slowing down in 2018 as businesses look to gain competitive advantage through the latest technology. UC continues to be disruptive as a key enabler of digital transformation, while also acting as a platform for emerging applications such as streaming video, virtual reality, artificial intelligence, and advanced analytics.
UC today is bringing the future of communications to businesses and communities everywhere. As far as disruptive technology goes, Unified Communications will go down in history as a key component in bringing seamless connectivity and productivity to every part of the globe.