No, Google has not taken over the University of California system. (Though there are some who may argue that they should. After all, Google has money and the UC system is broke!)
No, what I mean is Unified Communications and Google. Unified Communications burst upon the scene in the early 2000′s in the form of high end systems from Cisco, IBM, Lucent, and like players. Purists distinguish between unified communications and unified messaging, the latter being more about retrieval of messages than real-time communications using devices of the end users choice.
The email and collaboration suite, FirstClass, offers a unified messaging system. We are a former users of FirstClass, and I know of a number of other schools who continue to use it. I do not, however, know of any schools who use it for unified messaging, wherein voicemail and faxes are delivered to your email inbox.
Recently, I was asked where I look to for ideas about innovative uses of technology in schools. My first response was not K-12 schools but, rather, colleges and universities. Therefore it was of interest to me to read an article in Campus Technology regarding the growth of unified communications in this market. This presages what may soon becoming to a K-12 school near you.
As I thought about this, I reflected on our current IP telephone system form Cisco, with Cisco Unity Voicemail. It’s a great system. When we put it in, we knew that it was capable of supporting unified communications, if we used Microsoft exchange. At the time we were still FirstClass customers. Now we’re with Gmail and Google Apps.
Further reflection led to to consider a service offered through personal Gmail accounts, Google Voice. (Google Voice is not available as a part of Google Apps for Education—yet.) With Google Voice, I have the makings of a basic unified communications system—for free!
In reviewing the literature on unified communications systems, I discovered that such systems possess a number of attributes, which I list in the following table, along with a column as to whether or not Google has equivalents.
|Unified Communications Feature||What this means||Google Equivalent|
|Support for Mobile Devices||ability to use on smartphones and other handheld devices||in spades!|
|Click to Call||ability to make a phone call from your web browser||Google API|
|Presence||Lets other know how you are available to be contacted||Google chat only|
|Speech Access – Personal Assistant||access your messaging system via voice commands||No|
|Unified Messaging||integration of voice, fax, email, voicemail||yes, except for faxes. What are they again?|
|Instant Messaging||come on; you know what this is.||Google Chat|
|Business Integration Tools||integration with tools such as customer relations management systems||Available through Google APIs|
|Conferencing||voice and video conferencing||Google Chat|
|Collboration Tools||conferencing tools (above) plus sharing of documents, files, and real-timme
|Google Chat, Google Wave, Google Buzz, and Google Docs|
The potential for Google Voice as a unified communications system of enterprise quality has been noted by industry experts, as evidenced by this August, 2009 twenty minute podcast from the Unified Communications Strategies web site. Another industry watcher, suggests that Google Voice is part of a movement that may lead to the demise of your school’s PBX.
Google Voice is currently a very nice system for the individual user. Like other Google services that are now being targeted at the enterprise, we will see Google Voice evolve towards that direction as well. Further, higher education will lead the way, with businesses and K-12 education following. Want to get ahead of the curve? Think creatively about integrating Google Voice into your K-12 school now.
Prefer to respond to this post in another way? Call my Google Voice number. (To use the widget below, enter your phone number, and then click connect. Sorry, but you will get my voicemail.)