The shimmering oasis called "unified communications" has been on IT horizons for so long, it's almost surreal to think we might actually arrive there one day. \n\nWhen you consider the ever-rapidly-multiplying number of communication pathways carving into our lives\u2014from e-mail, IM and BlackBerrys to social media, desktop video conferencing and telepresence\u2014plain vanilla voice mail does seem like a quaint throwback to a simpler time. \n\nI caught myself the other day glancing down at the blinking red voice mail light on my phone and trying to remember what that meant. Oh, right. Dial in a code to listen to a message. Surely it could find its way to me, I thought, without so much aggravation.\n\nAnd there it was\u2014another tiny spark of user desire for that one simple interface. I could love a dashboard that gave me access to all my various communications, couldn't you? Well, after reading our cover story you won't be holding your breath. \n\nBut still, CIOs are all over this UC stuff\u2014if not with open checkbooks then at least with open minds. A recent Forrester study of 466 organizations counted one-third of them deploying "some form" of unified communications, and half of those still hesitating were actively investigating it. \n\nThe urban sprawl of the UC oasis has also grown in recent years, moving far beyond a "back-room effort" to run data and voice traffic on the same network into a much grander vision of employees sharing information via whatever device is in their hands or on boardroom tables or walls. \n\nYet it's the user examples detailed in our story\u2014from industries as diverse as health care, architecture and high-tech\u2014that tell the most engaging part of the UC tale. \n\nFor example, one hospital center dramatically improved communication between medical practitioners by shrinking a 15-minute wait for physician pager responses to 15 seconds in its pilot of Vocera Communication's badge devices. And the global collaboration potential of UC turned into a hard-dollars benefit for an architectural firm now saving $450,000 in annual travel costs for board members who no longer have to trek to Sydney several times a year. \n\nSo are we really closer to that UC oasis or is this the nature of a good mirage? E-mail me and let me know what you think. But please, no more voice mails. \n\nDo you Tweet? Follow me on Twitter @maryfranjohnson. Follow everything from CIO Magazine @CIOMagazine.