"The term 'unified communications' has become so over-used it's almost trite," says Mark Swendsen, Shoretel's European managing director. "Do people understand it? I'm not sure the vendors do - they all have different versions of it."

That must be a painful admission for the boss of a company which defines itself as 'a leading provider of pure-IP unified communications solutions, but Swendsen isn't finished yet.

"Nobody goes out to buy unified comms - it's not something they ask for by name," he says, adding: "Even Gartner defines 16 different elements that make up unified communications, and there's no-one doing all of them." he adds.

"The weakest bit for the whole market was when Cisco took its entire price list and relabelled everything on it with the prefix Unified Communications."

And yet, he still believes it genuinely defines something useful: "Part of it is simply the ability to choose communication methods and move between them, for instance escalating from email to instant messaging."

Perhaps a little surprisingly, he's a fan of often-criticised moves such as organisations banning the use of email one day a week. "Email vacations force people to use other tools, and that changes how they communicate - it stops them getting stuck in one mode," he explains.

That, he suggests, could be what makes them try instant messaging, pick up the IP phone - or simply get up and walk over to the other person's desk. All of these other communication methods have their place, with the trick being to figure out which is the most appropriate to the task at hand.