Market heats up for unified communications

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Market heats up for unified communications

Business uptake of unified communications (UC) tools is on the rise, but according to Market Clarity Research Manager Richard Chirgwin, the market could still be in the process of recovering lost ground.

Speaking at the Unified Communications Conference in Sydney this week, Chirgwin speculated that proprietary telephone systems have inhibited the voice communications market despite the appearance of UC servers in the 1990s.

In comparison with competing technologies such as landlines and mobile telephones, UC often is viewed as a “difficult and fragile” technology, he said.

And while IP telephony has been used by hobbyists for more than a decade, the UC-related technology has only been considered business-ready in the past five years.

Conference keynote speaker Don Van Doren, Principal of UniComm Consulting, attributed the recent rise in the enterprise uptake of UC to technological changes and business imperatives.

Functionality such as presence information, messaging, collaboration tools and the ability to integrate with existing business applications and directories is expected to make a compelling argument for the adoption of UC software suites.

And with the UC market heating up, vendors such as SAP, Oracle, Salesforce, Microsoft and IBM are expanding their offerings to address a range of enterprise demands.

“We’re in the middle of transforming the voice communications industry from a vertically-stacked industry to one that is horizontally spread across multiple functions and capabilities,” Van Doren said.

“Everyone is getting into everyone else’s business, because unified communications is going to drive so much of businesses going forward.”

Van Doren observed that enterprise adopters tend to start with implementing basic tools that impact individual workers, before adding tools that affect teams, departments and the enterprise.

Noting a hesitation in the market to replace existing infrastructure in favour of new investments, he said that while IP technologies are usually a catalyst for UC adoption, IP is not always necessary.

“While IP can be helpful, there are plenty of applications for unified communications that don’t require you to rip out what you have today, and replace it with new systems,” he said.

IBM’s Vice President of Unified Communication Software, Bruce Morse, agreed, adding that the company currently is in the process of dispelling the rumour that UC implementations require businesses to get rid of existing communications investments.

In a 2007 survey of 1,100 CEOs, IBM identified change management, innovation, global integration and environmental concerns as major “painpoints”.

“In a global economy now, after a decade of focussing on cost, the focus is now on innovating and how to differentiate yourself from competitors,” he said.

“CEOs right now are seeing incredible change both technologically and economically, and the gap between managing change and experiencing change is increasing.”

UC tools could meet the demands of new business models by enabling collaborative communities and real-time business processes; addressing diverse user preferences; providing mobile access and availability; and creating a virtual workplace.

And with a new generation of employees entering the workforce, collaborative tools may be essential in retaining workers while protecting the enterprise network.

Morse identified three differing work styles that he expects to be prevalent in businesses. Employees who entered the workforce at the turn of the millennium were said to be people-centric, displaying a preference for multi-tasking and real-time technologies.

Older workers were said to be document-centric, while the newest generation of workers were said to be community-centric, having grown up with social networks and a culture of online collaboration.

“As you are bringing new workers in, you’ll find that if the tools aren’t sufficient you may lose workers to other organisations, or find that employees are bringing online tools -- that may not be secure -- into your network,” Morse said.

“Ultimately, the goal here is to allow people to find the resources they require, reach out to those people, and freely collaborate,” he said.

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