Confusion Over Unified Communications Grows, Study Finds

VARs and system integrators could carve a wider role implementing UC solutions as enterprise customer become more frustrated trying to tie together the applications with hardware platforms. The channel may play a wider role in providing the needed expertise.

New research on the adoption and deployment of unified communications suggests that most enterprises are still challenged by integrating the needed applications with telephony platforms.

Nemertes Research, which just completed interviews with 117 end-user organizations averaging $10 billion in revenue, said preliminary data showed that while UC projects are moving forward, they face hurdles within most companies.

Unified communications ties instant messaging, e-mail, Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), presence technology, as well as video and Web conference capabilities.

"About 99 percent of organizations have VoIP," said Irwin Lazar, Nemertes principle research analyst and program director. "But many still don't understand what UC is about and often confuse it with unified messaging," he added.

While adoption is not moving at the speed of light, UC growth is likely welcome news to the many vendors cramming into the marketplace with full package solutions or pieces of the platform puzzle.

Many of these vendors are strong channel players. They run the gamut from the networking world with Cisco and Shortel, to desktop players like Microsoft, Lotus and IBM and Avaya striving to gain ground. All are vying for what bodes to be a huge revenue pie given research firm IDC's prediction that the market could total $17 billion by 2011.

Not only does every vendor have a solution, but most are partnering to boost offerings for competitive advantage.

The adoption avalanche, according to Nemertes, will happen once companies understand that today's phone platform should be viewed as the UC foundation and as they figure out the business justification for funding.

"Right now all the vendors are kind of making the marketplace a bit muddy as they define UC differently which is adding to the confusion," said Lazar.

Nemertes defines UC as the integration of real-time applications into communications, which includes chat, voice calls, online conferencing as well as innovative presence technology that helps users find needed experts in real time.

"Very few have UC as we define it up and running, but there are pilots and some even have the click-to-call feature running," said Lazar. One company even has pulled in the links between contact data files so that users can instantly find the right subject expert for call center operations, he noted.

Yet the complexities in making UC work is daunting for most. Many companies aren't sure whether to launch the project off the telephony system or off the desktop. Even once deployed the issue of managing UC can be a challenge as well, noted Lazar.

"There are some tools out there but you need to pull them in as you build it out so that you're making sure performance and quality is at expectations," he said.

While it's a pretty safe bet that mobile UC will not come until the technology is played across an organization's internal operations, Nemertes research shows that enterprises are intrigued by mobile deployment as well.

According to Lazar, there is significant interest in delivering UC to mobile workers to boost the abilities of workers using mobile devices such as BlackBerry, iPhone, or other smart phones.

Nemertes expects to complete data analysis of its UC study and its report later this summer.

(This article was adapted from and written by Judy Mottl.)

TAGS: Microsoft,iPhone,unified communications,Enterprise,VoIP

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