The unified communications concept has been floating around for several years now, but what does it mean today, and where are customers in terms of adoption? ARN recently brought together several industry experts to discuss collaboration and communication, the impact on infrastructure and local opportunities.
This roundtable was sponsored by Unity Systems in conjunction with Avaya and NET.
Nadia Cameron, ARN (NC): What does unified communications [UC] mean today?
Gavin Jones, BTAS (GJ): You can ask 10 different people and get 10 different answers. What I believe is it is the pulling together of infrastructure, applications and different devices to enable an organisation to communicate more effectively with their partners, suppliers, employees and customers, and reduce the time delay of making decisions. Or to access to knowledge, which could be across a broad geographic space.
Craig Pringle, Gen-i (CP): UC is really more of a destination than a product set. It’s something people are looking at as a long-term strategy. What it means today, if you get passed all the confusion in the market, is bringing together existing communication siloes and laying a foundation for the future.
Craig Neil, NSC (CN): Unified communications for me started as a new, broad term for bringing lots of technologies together. I was a bit of a cynic in some ways and felt very confused every time someone asked me about UC because I wanted to clarify which bit they were talking about. But today it’s got a life of its own – it’s really evolving. That has simplified it for us because we can call it one thing: UC. For customers, it’s a way of the future and provides us with better ways of communicating across multiple technologies. We’re seeing that evolve now, which is exciting, and some are doing it better than others. There are also new players coming into the market, which is interesting as well. Companies like Microsoft and Google are coming into play, and where it’s going to take us is an exciting road.
NC: What’s driving take-up of UC?
Pushkar Taneja, GlobalConnect (PT): There are a number of different factors we see from a market segment point of view. There are companies that have workforces spread over multiple territories and geographies that want to connect them together. Other customers are being driven by the mobile workforce – they’re trying to make sure staff can carry communication channels with them, and provide them with functionality they would have in their office space.
Nick Sone, Ensyst (NS): One of the key drivers we’re finding is the confusion in the market place. There’s plenty of hype out there, so as an IT provider, customers are often asking us about what UC means and what they can do and achieve. Every customer is a bit different and has a different thing that UC can do for them immediately. When you talk to them under that umbrella of UC, you can start solving individual problems for a company. In some cases might be IM and presence, in other cases it might be full voice services. I’m excited about the fact that we’re having lots of discussions about it. UC doesn’t mean anything, it is this broad term that can mean lots of things.
Brian Walshe, Dimension Data (BW): There’s a generational change too. What we’re seeing is the consumer world have a much bigger influence on the workforce than in the past. We’ve got Gen Ys coming in that expect organisations to have Instant Messaging and presence, and that are used to communicating in very different ways. Whereas for a long time, there was a telephone and a few of us are old enough to remember when email became a new tool. I’m sure most people today recognise email as business critical, and that if it goes down, it’s almost the end of the world. In fact if you asked most organisations, they’d be more concerned about email going down than their phone system. In the end, we talk about unified communications, but most of the vendors have moved now to collaboration. And you can’t have great collaboration without communication. So the obvious endpoint is how we share information.
Peter McCrindle, CTI Solutions (PM): We have driven our successes on that [collaboration] front. It started with IM and presence, then it built into document sharing and collaboration, enabling people to take advantage of all the resources they’ve got around the country. Taking up on Pushkar’s theme, mobility has been another big one fitting into this space, as is working back with companies that have Microsoft applications and enabling those to work with telephony. Microsoft pushes OCS [Office Communication Server] quite heavily and to them, unified communications is the way forward. Google has the ability to dominate this space as well and is coming at it from an open source perspective, whereas Microsoft is coming at this with a licensing, proprietary perspective, as all most of the vendors.
NC: Is it the data infrastructure or the telephony needs driving UC discussions?
Steve Deibe, Unity Systems (SD): I think people are moving away from point solutions. There are looking at their business applications and what that means to their infrastructure. What you sell them is almost irrelevant – they have a communications issue, or they want to change the way they do business, they’ve got people on the road wanting to access information. It’s all about what’s at the front-end.