Unified Communications (News - Alert) is still a vague term, one that can cause some confusion. Fortunately, for those who are unsure of what UC is and how they can make the most of it, there are UC experts such as Blair Pleasant (News - Alert) of COMMfusion and UCStrategies. Her presentation at ITEXPO, “Unified Communications Market & Update,” presented a clear explanation of what Unified Communications means and what it can do.
UC is, simply put, a way for companies to improve business processes, enhance employee productivity, and reduce costs. She divided UC itself into two other categories: UC-U, based on user productivity, and UC-B, based around the business process. It is not a product – one can’t go to their local Best Buy (News - Alert) and purchase a Unified Communicator – but rather, UC is a solution made up of many elements, such as messaging, collaboration, social media, and much more. A UC solution should offer a unified user interface; that is, access to all UC capabilities from a single screen or interface.
There are some key benefits to unified communications, such as improved productivity and availability, and an improved speed for communications across businesses and employee access to information. However, as those are not monetary results (although they can translate into improved profits), the benefits of UC are viewed in terms of productivity rather than money.
Recently, there have been some changes in the UC market. As UC solutions are being bundled and offered on virtualized servers, there have been price drops as of late, as well as more cloud and hosted offerings being offered. Small and mid-sized businesses are also getting into unified communications, partially due to the growth of BYOD, which is also due in part to UC.
However, on the topic of the cloud, Pleasant does believe it is currently being overhyped, and there will be a backlash as a result. Rather than a pure cloud solution, she feels that hybrid solutions, using both cloud-based and on-premise solutions, are the way to go.
This leads to the next step of UC&C, which she calls, “collaborative communications.” This is a combination of unified communications, collaboration, and social tools, using web-based meetings and conferences, as well as social software and networking, which workers across the world can use to stay in touch and collaborate.
As such, it’s clear that the UC market has been growing. In fact, the net UC market is growing at a faster rate than the total market, thanks to the benefits of UC: reduced costs through CEBP and video conferencing, reducing time through collaboration tools, and helping mobile workers through mobile extensions and single number reach. The trends she noticed behind the growth are the virtual workforce, consumerization of IT, and video enabled communications.
So what’s in store for the future? According to Pleasant, there will be a greater focus on vertical markets than horizontal, while hosted and cloud solutions will get more traction in SMBs and enterprises. We’ll also see an increase in mobile devices overtaking desktop phones, due to aforementioned single number reach and mobile extensions. In the market itself, Avaya, Cisco, and Microsoft (News - Alert) will continue to battle for enterprise leadership, with ShoreTel, MItel, Avaya, and Cisco competing for SMBs. Google remains a dark horse, as it has all the elements for voice/UC offering, but hasn’t announced anything yet. As for the cloud, that’s hard to say.
Pleasant ended her presentation by summarizing what Unified Communications is. Rather than a product, she declares, “UC is a vision or philosophy that leads to solutions.”
Edited by Stefania Viscusi