Defining Buzzwords: An Exercise in Futility

Brian Riggs
B. Riggs

Summary Bullets:

  • Don’t worry about how UC or collaboration is defined
  • Focus on what problems communications solutions can solve at your company

UC, collaboration, telepresence: Those are three of the big buzzwords in the markets I track as an analyst looking at business communications solutions. People – analysts in particular, but also executives and marketing managers – love to discuss endlessly exactly what they mean, precisely how they’re defined. But here is a secret: It doesn’t matter.

It’s not that meanings and definitions shouldn’t matter. It really should. We create and use words to communicate with one another effectively. Specific meaning is assigned to words so that when they are used we all know we’re talking about the same thing. Say I want to talk about a concrete object like my laptop, we all understand what a laptop is and how it’s different from my desktop PC, notebook, thin client terminal, tablet or other computing device. If I want to talk about something more abstract like outsourcing, the meaning of the word is clear and we’re more or less on the same page as we discuss assigning certain job functions to resources outside our company.

But with terms like UC, collaboration and telepresence, meanings become considerably fuzzier. This is because marketing gets involved, and marketing doesn’t use words to be clear and precise. It uses them to make things attractive. So companies that develop products as distinct as PBXs, video conferencing systems, corporate IM software, headsets and SIP handsets all present themselves as UC specialists. UC can mean anything, so anything is fair game when it comes to characterizing one’s company as a UC developer.

Collaboration has become an even trendier word than UC in the market, so marketing departments have latched firmly on to it despite the product set characterized by the word collaboration this year being in no way different from the product set they called UC last year. As for telepresence, it can mean anything from the immersive video conferencing experience that replicates the boardroom-type meetings to the sort of room-based video conferencing that has been available for decades, to desktop video conferencing used in a business context.

People responsible for purchasing and managing corporate communications solutions should not be distracted by jargon that marketers have stripped of its meaning. They should instead focus on what communications capabilities their end users most need, that will make them the most productive, that will integrate best with software applications and business processes already in place. They should keep abreast of technological developments, understand what point products are in a particular supplier’s portfolio, how well those point products integrate well with one another and with other vendors’ solutions, negotiate a contract well, and directly compare competing communications solutions regardless of what they are called. This, as opposed to getting caught up in marketers’ “how do you define UC” navel gazing, will be of most direct value to businesses purchasing and deploying the latest communications solutions.

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