The world unified communications (UC) markets are poised for a huge leap forward as technologies mature and businesses acknowledge the value of integrating disparate communications and collaboration technologies. As a nascent and largely untested technology, UC suffered severely from the global recession, which forced businesses to limit investments to those generating immediate ROI. Currently, UC is being offered in two distinct business models: all-in-one suites and best-of-breed integrations -- both of which have advantages and disadvantages.
Free UC clients, attractive bundling, and low-cost or no-cost pilot programs will help users experience UC and its benefits. By the time end users are ready to refresh and rebuild their infrastructure again, they are likely to specifically require UC capabilities and make more informed decisions about what to deploy, how, and from which vendors.
New analysis from Frost & Sullivan (conferencing.frost.com), World Unified Communications Markets, finds that the installed base of fully-integrated UC users in 2009 was about 2 million and is likely to reach 50 million by 2015.
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"By itself, UC may not be a major source of additional revenue for communications vendors," cautions Frost & Sullivan Principal Analyst, Unified Communications and Collaboration, Melanie Turek. "However, it offers the potential to drive growth in related markets and encourages companies to upgrade their equipment sooner than they might otherwise."
Over the next 5 to 6 years, vendors are likely to continue to aggressively promote UC clients to their customer base, creating opportunities for future application integration. Growing adoption of session initiation protocol (SIP) and service-oriented architecture (SOA), application enablement technologies, and vendor strategies focused on contextually rich communications and communications-enabled business processes will have a major impact on vendor interoperability. Improving technology standardization and openness will eliminate a significant portion of the hassle and cost related to application integration and UC implementation. Further, the pool of UC-related professional services skills will expand, both within customer organizations and among vendors and their channel partners, facilitating UC adoption.
In the near term, however, although vendor bundling and free-trial strategies will help increase user familiarity with software-centric communications and their benefits, they will not be strongly correlated with investments in the rest of the infrastructure required for a complete UC implementation. For instance, customers deploying softphones from their telephony vendors do not always purchase the conferencing and/or instant messaging (IM)/presence servers.
Therefore, currently, fully integrated UC implementations are driven mostly by vendors offering a one-stop shop for all UC components and related services. Multi-vendor implementations are typically constrained by limited vendor interoperability, the cost of integrating disparate applications, and the limited availability of required professional services skills.
Overall, trends indicate that vendors' "push" strategies will help UC penetrate the market, rather than customer "pull". UC uptake may remain limited to specific end-user groups such as knowledge workers as well as marketing and sales people until business models make it compelling for the average communications user to own a UC solution even if they are not using all of its capabilities and not benefiting as much as the early adopters.
"Vendors should focus on the basics in their messages to customers and get rid of the marketing 'clutter,'" advises Frost & Sullivan's Elka Popova, North American Program Director, Unified Communications. "Further, they need to clearly identify their strengths and competitive advantages and seek partnerships to fill the gaps."
Joint product development and marketing with another vendor can help market participants tap into new customer bases. Finally, a walled-garden approach based on proprietary technologies is a thing of the past. While open standards do not yet support all features and capabilities that businesses require from their UC vendors, increasing openness and flexibility will determine vendors' future success.
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