Are Unified Communications and Unified Messaging the Same Thing?

By Gene Teglovic
Updated: January 27, 2011

Many people use mistakenly use the terms Unified Messaging (UM) and Unified Communications (UC) interchangeably. This article defines the terms and provides some examples.

Unified Messaging

With UM, users create different kinds of non-real time communication messages, such as voicemails, phone-generated text messages (a.k.a. SMS messages), emails and faxes, which the UM product stores in a single location. Once created and stored, recipients of these messages can retrieve them from this single location using any of the supported communication devices, including ones that are different than the device on which they were created. For example:

  • My colleague sends me an email message, but I do not have access to a computer. I can call my voice mail and retrieve the email message in voicemail format.
  • I call my colleague and a leave a voicemail, but he does not have the ability to answer his phone. He can read my voicemail as an email message.
  • My business partner sends me a fax, but I don’t have access to my fax machine. I can access the fax as an email attachment.
  • I prefer to use a single device, such as my computer, to receive all my non-real time communications.

Unified Communications

UC is a broader concept than UM. UC typically consists of several products. These products integrate non-real time communication messages (such as those supported with UM), with real time messages, such as instant messaging, telephone calls (including conference calling), video conferencing, speech recognition and others. To support this integration, the UC product provider delivers a similar user interface across different devices (e.g., a cell phone or computer), and collects “presence information,” so the UC system knows what options are available for messaging at a given time. Users can both send and receive messages in real time or non-real time, from different locations, based on the location status of the person being messaged.

For example, let’s say my colleague calls my cell phone from his cell phone. I don’t have my cell phone with me, but I am on my computer. The call goes to voicemail, and my UC product sends me an email with the voicemail attached. I access the voicemail on my computer, and reply to my colleague with a text message, which he receives on his cell phone, real time. He now knows I don’t have my phone, so he sends me an instant message, and we chat real time to get our business done. Alternatively, I could have a “follows rule” that tells the UC product to send a text message to my computer or cell phone any time I get a phone call (instead of a voicemail).

UC has excellent growth potential for businesses. For example, customers can be routed immediately to the appropriate person in the organization without phone or email tag.

Bottom Line

So, from now on, know that the term Unified Messaging (UM) refers to non-real time communications messages, accessed in a single location by the receiver. The term Unified Communications (UC) is broader, incorporates real time messages, and integrates UM messages with real-time messages. UM is in its way out. UC is in.

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