UC: Under Consideration?

The number of unified communications (UC) trials in the industry has skyrocketed in the past year, according to Henry Dewing, Forrester analyst and author of the report, "Unified Communications Trials Explode." The number of actual deployments of UC solutions remains low, however. Dewing predicts that although the trial-based curiosity of UC is rising -- up 20 percentage points year-over-year -- adoption of UC products will not take off right away. He attributes this to "still-evolving industry standards, unclear vendor roadmaps, and confusion over the best deployment options." 

Although the overwhelming majority of firms tell Forrester that they're not yet ready to pull the trigger on deploying UC, the share of firms that are evaluating or piloting the technology has jumped for the following reasons:

  • industry definitions of UC remain hazy, but IT professionals are coming closer to understanding what UC is, despite its complexity.
  • firms are beginning to see the value of unified communications, with 86 percent of respondents saying that they either agree or somewhat agree that they can make a good business case for the use of UC tools; and
  • the business need for collaboration is driving the exploration.

So, why aren’t businesses rolling out full deployments quite yet? Dewing lists lack of clarity about UC roadmaps as a core reason. Additionally, he says that there’s also confusion about whether Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) is now the industry standard. Companies still see risks and uncertainty looming on the horizon. 

Dewing writes in a UC report that firms are not necessarily interested in doing UC themselves -- in fact, 71 percent of organizations surveyed are interested in or using managed UC. "They are looking for a trusted advisor to share some of the risk and help them take their first steps," Dewing writes. "Especially because the desired feature set of UC is complex and includes many disparate and far-reaching capabilities." He also notes that although 86 percent of businesses can make a good business case for UC, 55 percent believe there is confusion about UC's value.

Dewing also writes that managed service will be the catalyst to jumpstart the UC market. "Look for the early success of hosted UC to develop from vendors’ ability to integrate and interoperate with solutions on the business premise as well as with solutions at partners, suppliers, or customers," he writes. "In times of rapid technology changes, such as in the UC arena today and for the next five to 10 years, nearly every business will derive value from paying vendors to shoulder their technology risk."

According to Dewing's findings, evaluations and pilots rose both among enterprises (57 percent this year, compared to 36 percent in 2007) and among SMBs (40 percent this year, compared to 26 percent in 2007). As for full deployment, however, the responses for both enterprises and SMBs remain low -- and may even reflect a drop in overall penetration. Year-over-year, the share of SMBs acknowledging full UC deployments rose slightly, from 17 percent to 18 percent, but the share of enterprises with UC deployments sank from 16 percent to 11 percent.

According to "Unified Communications Adoption Plants," a report by Forrester analyst Elizabeth Herrell, more than 79 percent of respondents indicated they understood what components make up a UC solution -- but UC tools continue to be valued differently by different companies:

  • Ninety-six percent of respondents consider unified messaging as the "most important" feature of UC;
  • audio, Web, and video conferencing are "important" for 95 percent;
  • more than 90 percent list collaboration integration as "important" to UC deployments;
  • eighty-six percent of respondents find presence -- the ability to view a coworker’s status -- to be "important"; and
  • seventy-six percent of enterprises felt that call and calendar control from the desktop was an "important" feature -- but only a quarter felt it was "very important."

Herrell suggests better teamwork in UC initiatives may carry the day going forward. "Although IT infrastructure and operations professionals take the lead in making UC decisions, they also need to collaborate closely with the telecom team and line-of-business executives to ensure the requirements of their organization are met," she writes. "We expect organizations to develop more hands-on experience with UC pilots and use the latter half of 2008 to evaluate and to deploy UC as part of their 2009 strategic business initiatives."

[Update: Due to contradictory data in a summary of one of the Forrester studies mentioned above, earlier versions of this story included comparisons that inaccurately reflected the year-over-year changes in UC deployment. The editors regret any confusion this may have caused.]

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