What's in a name? The real definition of unified communications (UC) has baffled, befuddled, and confused vendors, analysts, and end users alike since its inception. Just as a doctor cannot treat a disease if he doesn't know the cause, delivering on the promise of UC -- never an easy task -- can be made virtually impossible in the absence of basic knowledge and understanding of the technology. A recent report from COMMfusion, a Santa Rosa, Calif.–based market-research and consulting firm, may help bring some of that fundamental knowledge to the enterprise space.
According to Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst at COMMfusion, many companies sell Internet Protocol private branch exchange (IP PBX) products. "Just that alone does not make up UC," she says. "It's only one element of a total solution."
That, she says, is the innate problem with UC -- rather than a simple, gift-wrapped product that one can drop into a business, UC is instead a complex solution comprising different moving parts. In her report, "Unified Communications Market 2007–2012," Pleasant identifies some of the disparate tools that UC comprises:
- presence capabilities, generally via a presence server;
- a dedicated client or unified user interface; and
- call control and/or integration with voice capabilities.
The lack of definition has had a definite impact on the UC market, Pleasant says. "I think it's confusing when companies say they are selling UC, and in reality it's just unified messaging and IP PBX," she says. "It's unclear whether or not you want [one or both of those], or a real UC solution with presence, click-to-call, and integration with business processes."
An amorphous set of parameters, however, doesn't seem to have inflicted much damage on the revenue potential for this burgeoning space. According to Pleasant's research, the total revenues of all the agreed-upon UC components is expected to grow from $9.5 billion in 2007 to $15.9 billion by 2012. The portion of the growth rate expected to be purchased and used for UC solutions -- what Pleasant refers to as the "net/true UC market" -- will grow from a relatively minuscule $0.2 billion in 2007 to $2.4 billion by 2012.
Pleasant says that the report's findings regarding growth were a surprise -- mostly because "there's still not that many" UC implementations. In fact, it seems the user community is significantly underequipped to handle UC -- and the report indicates that vendors' consulting skills are about to be much in demand. UC suppliers made just 18 percent of their money from professional services in 2007, according to the report, but the share of revenue derived from services will reach 40 percent in 2012.
The report spotlights Cisco Systems and Microsoft as the UC market's two dominant vendors, but also identifies competitors worth keeping an eye on. Listed alphapbetically, these are:
- Interactive Intelligence;
- Nortel Networks; and
The report also underscores two hot topics that will continue to shape the UC market:
- integration with social networking and
- a move toward communications-enabled business processes (CEBPs).
Pleasant says that there are few examples of CEBPs on the market now, but that we should expect to see more. "Companies are starting to understand what they can do with UC," she says. "It's not just a novelty anymore. Organizations know they can save money, reduce costs, [and] improve customer service and worker productivity."
Even as the benefits become clear, CEBPs will not come easily. Pleasant says successful integration will require a great deal of assistance from professional services, but organizations must first identify human-latency delays and other places where UC can help make processes more effective.
She adds that major players in the CRM market also see the promise in CEBPs, and will react accordingly. "Companies like SAP and Salesforce.com are going to do more to communications-enable their applications so they can be offering UC-[capable] products," she says.
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