You want some hype? I'll give you hype! Try unified communications, or UC, the technology that allows all data and voice communications to arrive at your one preferred device--no matter where you are! The concept is also referred to as unified messaging (UM), which illustrates just how hype-filled this topic is, since no one can agree on one name!And, let me tell, you better get ready for it, because you're going to be hearing a lot more about it between now and 2010! Step aside iPhone, look out SOA and SaaS, and watch your back RFID and MDM! UC is here!Unified communications is a breakthrough technology that is going to change how 21st century employees communicate--creating more efficiencies and greater time-savings for knowledge workers. Boiled down, UC\/UM can transform an employee's handheld device, for example, into a universal "inbox" for all communications--wireline and wireless voice-mail, e-mail, IM, text messaging, and location-based services. In addition, dual-mode handsets (like the new BlackBerry 8820, launched this week), can take advantage of cellular and Wi-Fi networks for both voice and data access.It's an amazing picture of the future, isn't it? Always on, always reachable, via any communications device you choose.According to In-Stat Senior Analyst David Lemelin, the three top benefits of a UC\/UM environment are: Real, tangible and measurable cost savings related to productivity gains and time savings by employees; control over business processes involving collaboration and communications internally as well as externally; and integration with mobility needs, as well as empowerment of dispersed workforces.That's all the good news. Here's the bad: CIOs and other execs aren't lining up to hop on board The Unified Communications bandwagon. Lemelin reports that "IT managers and business decision makers want to hear about these benefits loudly and clearly from end users before they dedicate resources to make them available. To date, those voices have been rather muted."One of the big hurdles for UC\/UM players has to do with cost. "The challenge for the industry is to bundle and price the most impactful solution sets that emerging capabilities allow. Customers do not want to pay individually for every solution available to them, especially when capabilities change quickly. They want a simple to use, but powerful solution set that meets their immediate and occasional needs--at an affordable price," he says. "This is particularly a challenge in the business arena, where different employees or workgroups have disparate needs. Bundling and segmented marketing will be a big challenge for providers."I think service providers and vendors need to concentrate on demonstrating the enablement of business processes and efficiency gains, not on the technology," Lemelin adds.One of those service providers is Microsoft, which Lemelin writes in his report will play a key role in how messaging and unified communications play out on the desktop. Microsoft is scheduled to show off its 15 new unified communications phones next week. In a recent article, Eric Swift, senior director of unified communications product management for Microsoft, said: "We're looking to ignite partner innovation to bring software economics to what has been proprietary."That should help, but there still seems lots of work ahead to bridge the typical hype versus reality gulf, always found around leading-edge technologies. (But don't fear: UC hype will prevail! Trust me.)As a result of unified communication's eventual acceptance inside the enterprise, Lemelin predicts that "traditional voice mail port shipments will shrink to zero by the end of 2009." (Yes, zero.)That means in just about two years, your traditional office phone with your traditional voice mail will be gone (or at least make you feel very 20th century). That got me wondering if anyone will miss the good ole days when you had separate accounts and mail boxes for wireline voice-mail, mobile device voice-mail, e-mail and IM accounts, and all the other corporate messaging products?I know I won't. Will you? And what do you think about unified communications \/ unified messaging? Are you feeling as hyped about it as I am?