As we advance further into the era of mobility and instant messaging, Unified Communications (UC) is one area that is predicted to take off. But how can unified communications be defined and where is the market heading?
IDC senior telecommunications analyst, David Cannon, said UC provided a common infrastructure to deliver, manage and support a wide range of communication applications. Those applications are all accessible through desktop and mobile devices.
"People still complain about there not being a definition that is transparent across all companies and situations," he said. "It is not pertinent to a particular functionality, it is any means or technology by which people can communicate via, that is essentially bridging that particular environment with your IT desktop." Cannon said about 50 per cent of Australian businesses had an IP PBX infrastructure in place, which he saw as being UC ready.
"For them to just move to UC is just a matter of software. There are a lot of people that are UC ready but it is hard to know how many are active. It is only a small percentage," he said. Cannon suggested the SMB market was most likely to adopt UC technology but said awareness was one of the biggest challenges.
"It seems that SMBs are taking up the functionality faster than large enterprises because they can deploy it a lot faster and it is cheaper for them. They also get the benefit of the functionality faster," he said. "Certain verticals are adopting UC because they can justify the cost of the software licenses and systems integration." As an example, Cannon said engineering companies that were disparate and very mobile would take advantage of UC.
"Five years from now, everybody is going to have it. UC has significant purpose; it is a logical adoption of technology," he said. "The ability to enhance your email client and give it all the additional functionality to communicate on various different levels is very powerful. It is something that will undoubtedly be adopted on mass in the short term." Avaya Asia-Pacific vice-president of strategy, James Haensly, said most adopters currently picked a particular area of business where they would see the biggest benefit.
"One of the first things we are seeing is businesses adopt conferencing as part of the unified communications suite. The uptake there is fairly rapid," he said. "But we are still in the adoption cycle for people who are going to use a desktop environment to link into their voice communications. In other words, many people use things like Microsoft Office Communicator or IBM Sametime client for instant messaging rather than voice calling."
Haensly said mobility was another area businesses were seeing benefit through services such as bridging their desktop availability to a mobile phone. "We are seeing penetration with most customers deploying IP telephony mobility," he said. "Voice messaging is also pretty common but integrating that into the email system is not yet and that maybe something that comes about over time. I think we are going to see different parts of the adoption rate of UC at different speeds."
Haensly said to some degree the rate of adoption from a vertical perspective was quite spread out across the board. But he said that financial companies were probably most tuned into transactional cost, so they tend to tune in very quickly to particular savings around conferencing. "Government agencies are now being very proactive in looking at transforming their old communication network into the new age of IP telephony, but as soon as you deploy IP telephony then there is the question of what are the benefits," Haensly said. "It brings some basic benefits around convergence, re-use of data networks and some basic savings but what we are seeing as the real benefits are the unified communications applications on top of that."
Haensly said there were a number of drivers around the uptake of UC, beginning with improving businesses response to clients, business continuity and leveraging the investment people are making in communications. "That is about corporate and individual productivity, to get the job done whether that is an RND or marketing function, sales, administration or even financial services within the business. How rapidly can they respond to the changing needs of the market place?" he said.
"Business continuity is strengthened because people can continue to work in a flexible way without being constrained by a particular physical environment or device."
Global Connect managing director, Pushkar Taneja, said one of the challenges facing systems integrators when deploying UC was organisations talking to other vendors or doing their own research and requesting exact technology implementations.
"We have to get them to take a step back and have a look at their own infrastructure first. Only when we have done the analysis can we start bringing the pieces together," he said. "A lot of the time, organisations that evaluate the technology will budget based on the technology without considering any of the infrastructure upgrades required to handle it."
Haensly said social networking tools such as YouTube and MySpace were becoming part and parcel of how people communicate, which would help them become more familiar with multi-modal interaction.