UC is also proving useful for companies that need agility. Listed companies that must keep an eye on share price fluctuations, for instance, can use Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) to find out where senior executives are, give them a call or message them and invite them to a conference call five minutes after a plunge or surge in their shares. Avaya's conference solution could set up a concall, and monitor who was on the line, he said. "We still do emails and SMS but we're trying to reduce human error and latency," Kruger said. "We have all our tools working together."
Microsoft, according to Kruger, has good point solutions, but needs to get them working together on multiple sites and handling large files. "They have the interface, but we provide the additional functionality. We're backwards-compatible, so we provide ROI," he said. Organisations don't want to have to upgrade everything now, but with a Microsoft and Avaya solution they can start the ball rolling and use existing infrastructure with an eye to future needs. And opportunities exist for third-parties to get a slice, with Avaya introducing three new programs and education sessions for resellers selling different parts of UC.
"We're looking for partners to work together with some of these new world applications; large solution providers or key resellers," Kruger said.
Zeacom country manager, Michael Petrucelli, said 45 per cent of its 700 contact centre customer sites in Australia, incorporating 21,000 seats, had deployed software with rich presence. He agreed users were looking to connect with other users seamlessly and efficiently, using multiple media and with lowered latency. Increasingly, that was via an application on the desktop, he said.
"We think the phenomenon is being given considerable help by the big guys [IBM, Cisco and Microsoft, for example], and we think it's great for users that those guys are jumping on the UC bandwagon and creating new apps," Petrucelli said.
Zeacom is also working on integration with OCS, which should be in the fifth release of its Zeacom Communication Centre software in March or April. The product suits 10-20 contact centre seats and up and is compatible with Cisco Call Manager and the Avaya platform.
SMEs are opting for UC that lets them do everything using a single desktop, with excellent reporting facilities and a Microsoft platform, without having to get out the big guns from the likes of Genesys or Avaya, Petrucelli said.
The Australian base of Scandinavian home appliance-maker, Asko, recently added UC via the Zeacom Communications Center (ZCC). The ZCC Agent Desktop and Executive Desktop displays real-time information about queues and the status of other staff. Rich presence means users get communications anywhere, and one interface handles landline, mobile, email, fax, IM and Web communications.
Voicemail, previously only available to Melbourne staff due to the limitations of its various telephone systems, was rolled out to all Asko employees and is now accessible via PC. Staff enter the first few letters of a name in the database and it will be matched to the phone number.
ShoreTel South-East Asia regional manager, Tony Warhurst, said its UC interface, Personal Call Manager (PCM), is being combined with Microsoft and IBM offerings. "The one thing I'm seeing is that people want one app that does pretty much what they want. They want it all integrated," he said.
ShoreTel is looking at integrating high-definition video on PCM to boost conferencing quality. When video quality is bad, Warhurst said, the human eye tended to try and compensate, causing eye strain and an allaround bad experience.
PCM also has a Web dialler application that lets users simply click on a phone number in a document or online to call. CRM integration, with Salesforce.com, is also on line. However, not everybody wants all the features in UC.
"People say, 'I don't want to do video today but I want a platform that is capable of supporting it in future in case my bandwidth changes'," Warhurst said.
Service provider, GlobalConnect, is an Avaya and Polycom partner. Managing director, Pushkar Taneja, said about 60-70 per cent of its market was interested in UC. It has a couple of large customers running IM on the desktop, using Exchange.
"Some will integrate voice and video and maybe one or two desktop components," Taneja said. "But some are happy to leave voice as voice and data as data. Some don't even have voicemail, and they're happy with that."
He said customers now understood UC was not one-size-fits-all but had to be customised to their objectives as well as to legacy technology. That was all to the reseller's advantage, he suggested.
"Now they're realising what they need to do to take UC seriously," Taneja said. "We have to change things to implement it - networking, desktop updates and bandwidth, and so on."
A company with 500 people running four apps is different from one running 10. Some customers are already using UC in a standalone environment but looking at integration, Taneja said. Nortel marketing manager, Mitch Radomir, said many companies wanted UC but had to work to 2-3 year budgets. "Initially, they have to pick one option or feature that has big business benefits to show their own managers," he said.
Top choices are conference and collaboration solutions that do desktop or device independence. Bringing conferencing and collaboration in-house and running them via a PC or multimedia client is a good starting point, Radomir said.
The next move for a reseller was to offer desktop transformation, with a softphone and select applications on the desktop itself, providing basic call integration, Radomir said. From there, they can try upselling to full desktop or client integration, adding such things as Web collaboration and Nortel's Multimedia Conferencing, that anybody can access, to multimedia or softphone clients running on the PC or PDA. "That then becomes like a multimedia server, so you can do small collaborations internally," Radomir said. "The big thing is what the new features are going to be: we're starting to talk about dual and tri-mode mobile devices."
Instead of transferring to a technical expert when on a call, for example, customers can bring the person in on the same call, using UC. Other options and documents can be there too, viewed and exchanged among everyone on the call, he said.
Wrapping services around exciting new UC features offers plenty of channel opportunities. But Radomir warned that competition could get fierce.
"The big guys, the Telstras of the world, are moving into that space. Managed voice services people are increasingly moving into managed unified communications, and having big integrators in there to do that, such as Alphawest," he said.
If Radomir is right, resellers may have to move fast or be edged out.