Unified Communications Slow to Make Its Presence Felt

Oftentimes when new technologies or solutions enter a market, if there is not rapid adoption immediately, many claim it is a dud that did not live up to expectations.

In a rabbit-and-tortoise-esque race, unified communications (UC) has continued to face criticism for not picking up quickly despite massive marketing campaigns by vendors in this space.

New research from DMG Consulting will not help those who identify best with the rabbit -- while the company does not foresee significant purchases of UC until 2011, with "massive adoption" in the 2014 time frame, for communications infrastructure that is "just around the corner," according to Donna Fluss, president of DMG and author of the study: "Contact Center Unified Communications Market, Vendor and Product Guide."

In the study, Fluss admits there is a small group of early adopters who have decided to take the UC plunge at this time. On the whole, though, adoption simply isn't there yet. While the reticence to replace core infrastructure unless absolutely necessary and the economic slowdown are two of the biggest reasons, Fluss maintains there are other challenges to prompting investors at this time.

For starters, most organizations do not have a strategy -- or desire -- to have enterprise experts available for customer service inquiries all day. "From an annoyance perspective, there are a lot of businesses that do not want to take the contact center calls," Fluss says. "The value proposition is clear to the contact center, but the businesses they support don't see it that way. The two have never found a middle ground in past ... this has potential of causing a new round of problems in organizations, and it will remain to be seen how it is resolved."

There is still confusion over what UC is -- and what, exactly, is so new about it. Fluss says UC itself is not a new technology. Rather, it is a new wrapper for a technology framework to standardize an organization's user interface and experience across multiple applications, devices, and channels. "The only thing new in all of it, and even this isn't that new, is presence," she says of the feature of session initiation protocol allowing an organization to know employees' state regardless of location. "UC is a new way of presenting technology. So people are looking and going, ‘If I have this already, then why should I pay more for [items] I already paid for once?'"

Fluss continues that by looking at UC as a maturation of Voice over Internet Protocol rather than a brand-new technological innovation, it could be easier to swallow. "It gives vendors a product that can replace older [instant messaging], conferencing and desktop collaboration solutions and a way to sell new mobile voice, video conferencing, text-to-speech, and speech-to-text applications," she writes in her report.   

Fluss divvies up the major players into two categories: underlying UC technology providers -- including Cisco Systems, IBM, and Microsoft -- and application vendors using the technology:

  • Aspect Software;
  • Avaya;
  • Cisco;
  • Genesys Telecommunications Laboratories;
  • Interactive Intelligence;
  • Nortel Networks; and
  • Siemens.

(Fluss notes Cisco Systems and Microsoft are both UC technology and infrastructure providers.)

The wild card, though, is Microsoft. She says the company would like to include full PBX capabilities into UC solutions, which could replace the need for standalone or hosted solutions to manage all enterprise inbound and outbound voice traffic. If this happens, UC benefits can become clear, quantifiable, and significant. The only problem is that PBX capability in its UC solution, Office Communications Server, is "not on part with most premise-based PBX solutions," Fluss writes, noting the company is looking to fix that in the next version of OCS.

"If Microsoft can pull this off, it can offer PBX capabilities that are much less expensive than the Avayas, Nortels, Mitels, and other vendors in the marketplace," Fluss adds. "Buyers can also get the UC capabilities in OCS ... a front and back door in. It could be a game-changer for marketplace."

News relevant to the customer relationship management industry is posted several times a day on destinationCRM.com, in addition to the news section Insight that appears every month in the pages of CRM magazine.

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