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Where the UC "Rubber" Meets the Enterprise "Road"


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September 21, 2007

Where the UC "Rubber" Meets the Enterprise "Road"

By Art Rosenberg

This is a follow up to my last article about low “demand” for unified communications (UC). Although TDM telephone systems are very gradually being replaced by IP-PBXs and desktop IP phones, along with IP-based voice mail and “unified messaging” products, when it comes to full-blown unified communications (UC), market movement is still relatively slow. However, the telecommunications industry is going through a disruptive cycle of change, where it’s not just a matter of adopting new communication technologies, but also replacing some of the ways the traditional telephone is used.

We are still going through a “hype” cycle, where UC concepts are being promoted for all kinds of business and personal communication benefits, but, as real products and services are announced, business organizations have to get serious about how UC can affect the way they operate. This will require first understanding what UC technology will actually do for various end users and for those business processes that involve those end users. That means “UC applications,” and I don’t mean “VoIP!”  
UC Applications
Using Blair Pleasant’s (News - Alert) VoiceCon Fall presentation in San Francisco on the market structure of UC as a frame of reference for what functionality end users will see, the key UC application areas were identified as:
  • Voice/Telephony (“VoIP”)
  • Collaboration (conferencing, information sharing)
  • Instant Messaging (IM)/Presence
  • Unified Messaging (UM)
  • Business Process/Applications (Communication enabled applications)
All of the above can support the flexibility of multimodal communications between end users within the same business organization, with individuals in other organizations, or with customers/constituents. However, there will be differences in how the various business market segments (and their customers) will transition to UC in the next few years.
The Barriers to UC Migration For Everyone
First and foremost, all business market segments are very confused about what UC is, what the benefits are, and how they should implement it. Clearly, the confusion is centered mostly around the telephony part of UC, since that is what is changing dramatically. This confusion is affecting both end users, who don’t understand what the changes will do to them as callers and call recipients, and business management, who don’t understand the benefits to their business processes.
IT staffs are another obstacle to UC migration for several reasons. They may not know what UC application capability to implement first, how to do it, or how to support it. They may also see such new technology as a threat to their job security, especially if UC comes in the form of hosted or managed services. Couple that with low demand from both business management and end users and there is obviously going to be resistance to changes to the status quo.
The Small Business - The “S Market”
I took advantage of my participation in TMC’s Internet Telephony (News - Alert) Expo in L.A. this month to discuss some of the barriers facing business migration to UC. In particular, I was concerned with the “Small” business market, since that is a big market segment, as shown in the chart below provided by one of my panelists in discussing IP telephony as a hosted service.

Unified communications trends--U.S. census data, courtesy Natural Convergence

Theoretically, small businesses should be easiest to migrate to UC for several reasons:
  • They don’t have big investments in legacy TDM phone systems to protect
  • They don’t have big IT staffs and are therefore good candidates for faster implementation through hosted and managed services
  • They already probably use hosted email services
  • They probably are extensive users of cellular services to be always accessible to customers and business contacts
  • UC capabilities will enable the small business to enjoy the same competitive technology benefits of IP communications as larger organizations
  • Decision-making can be much simpler and usually made by business owners management
While it would appear that the “S” market should be moving forward quickly into UC, the fact is that they are not moving that fast. There seem to be a number of barriers that are getting in the way.
For the small business market, which is dependent on value-added resellers (VARs) to give them advice and support in implementing telephone systems as CPE, the convergence of telephony with all forms of IP communications (email, IM, mobility) from multiple technology providers under UC, is challenging because of new expertise they don’t have yet. Furthermore, because software-based UC applications are moving towards hosted subscription services, the VAR’s haven’t adapted their thinking about generating income from equipment sales and maintenance to software maintenance and subscription sales.
Larger Business Organizations Have More UC Homework To Do
For the bigger companies (Medium, Large enterprises), things are a little more complicated because they have more locations, more customized business process applications, greater investments in legacy telephone systems, and larger IT staffs who will not be experienced with IP telephony technology, nor with application convergence and mobility issues of UC. All this will require greater justifications for change, as well as practical priorities for a selective transition to UC application technologies.  
One major planning obstacle will be the operational Line of Business management, who should be able to identify the important business process problems that can be alleviated by UC capabilities, the relative ROI value and priority of such solutions, and which key end users really need UC capabilities (e.g., mobile, customer-facing users). They should also be able to identify pertinent, high-value business process applications that can integrate with UC capabilities (Communications Enabled Business Processes) to achieve faster workflow performance. But who is educating their thinking about requirements, UC capabilities, and benefits for their business operations? The CIOs? Vendors?
“Alignment” of IT With Business Management in Large or Growing Companies

A recent study by Bain & Company found that companies grew faster and lowered costs by making their IT staff more “effective,” rather than through simple “alignment” with business management. Their definition of “alignment” has been primarily to simply give individual business units raw IT resources to throw at their different problems. But if neither business management nor IT knows what their end users need in terms of communication flexibility and work flow efficiency, this will be like the “blind leading the blind!”
In one of my panel discussions on the role of “SIP In The Call Center,” which is a pretty technical view of IP telephony and UC for customer contact applications, my panelists from both Nortel (News - Alert) and Genesys agreed that getting business process management involved in defining operational application needs was a key prerequisite before asking IT to plan any SIP-based contact center implementation. So, my definition of “alignment” for UC implementations includes the following steps:
  1. Educating both business management and IT about the operational work flow benefits that UC can provide.
  2. Having IT understand what work flow and communication problems both business management and end users currently have, their relative priorities for business activities, and which specific end users will be involved (both within and outside of the organization).
  3. Having IT research pertinent new technologies to supplement or replace current technology that meet business and end user requirements, including hosted and managed service offerings
  4. Pilot and test UC applications that are high priority to determine how effective they will be and what the transition impact will be for those users that will be affected.
  5. With the results of the above, IT can then justify practical implementation recommendations because they have been exposed to practical experience pertinent to their own operational environments.  
Needless to say, since UC technology is still evolving and “best practices” can’t replace the steps mentioned above for any business environment, it will be practical to enlist the services of independent and objective consultancies, which can supplement internal resources with their UC implementation experience and awareness of available UC solution alternatives. One newly formed consultancy that has both long-time telephony and messaging experience and now specializes in UC planning and implementation is UniComm Consulting. (    
What Do You Think?
You can contact me at: [email protected] or (310) 395-2360.
White Paper (News - Alert) on UC ROIs and Migration Strategies
I authored a new white paper describing UC ROIs and practical approaches to enterprise migration planning that highlight Microsoft’s UC product positioning for simplifying the challenge of moving to UC. Rather than start with replacing existing wired desktop phone systems, the migration can start with adding IP softphones, mobile devices, and unified messaging. You can download a copy by going to the UC Strategies web site at:
Attention CIOs: Watch this great recent Webcast from Avaya (News - Alert) and Microsoft on the practical “Why’s” and “How’s” of migrating to UC!
Go to:
This discussion with the two leading enterprise communications technology providers in the text messaging and telephony worlds highlights the practicalities of migrating to UC and also underscores the need for identifying individual business user requirements for UC.    


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