Outlook 2013: Unified Communications & Collaboration
Copyright 2014 by Virgo Publishing.
By: Khali Henderson; Kelly Teal, Senior Editor
Posted on: 12/06/2012



 

Customization, Integration and Wireless Capabilities Key

Unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) deployments are growing among organizations — think enterprises, SMBs and vertical market players — as the need for anytime/anywhere messaging becomes commonplace. The market for UC&C holds a lot of promise for partners, but the caveat is that they need to invest training and effort into this part of their portfolios. Customers have specific, individual needs when it comes to UC&C and only the top-notch agents and VARs will retain those accounts over the years.

Market Opportunity. As COMMfusion analyst Blair Pleasant pointed out in July 2012, quantifying the UC market remains difficult since vendors count their shipments differently and many UC clients are given away for free. Also, UC is not a product, per se, as it comprises a number of functions — phone, email, IM, conferencing and so on. Thus, thus, there is no agreement on the exact definition of UC. That said, COMMfusion recently measured general UC market share, finding that it is growing quickly. In 2011, the worldwide market for premises-based UC reached $12.23 billion, already up 8 percent from 2010, COMMfusion found. However, the number will hit $20.76 billion by 2016, with the greatest growth showing in conferencing and collaboration; that component will boast a 17 percent CAGR, COMMfusion said. In the "true UC" market, 2011 revenue totaled $2.7 billion, up 20 percent from the previous year, and expected to grow to $8.47 billion by 2016. Again, conferencing and collaboration will fuel the increases at a 50 percent CAGR, according to COMMfusion.

Those figures mirror findings from an April 2012 survey of more than 1,100 IT and business decision makers conducted by IDG Enterprises. Ninety percent of respondents said they had scheduled UC&C investments into 2013 and 74 percent of enterprises were accelerating those plans because of the BYOD phenomenon. And a significant percentage (27 percent) of buyers were eyeing a combination of on-premises and hosted UC within three years.

Industry Predictions. Suppliers, partners and analysts all foresee uptick in the adoption of UC&C platforms in 2013, although the economy remains a sticking point and will continue to slow the sales cycle. Perhaps due in part to that fact, sources say large enterprises accustomed to buying hardware will start to give more consideration to UC-as-a-service, while self-service options will flourish among companies with 50 or fewer employees. Regardless of organization size, UC&C will thrive, particularly as deployments let people bring their own devices to the network; as installations allow for customization with third-party Web apps, CRM clients and more; and as UC&C helps IT departments save money while fueling productivity.

“The major ILECs will come into the cloud PBX and UC space with aggressively priced offers for small business. The next telecom boom will begin as a ‘land grab’ develops."
—SimpleSignal’s Dave Gilbert

"We will begin to see virtualization in the UC&C space, as it will allow users to improve the efficiency of their applications, consolidate servers and reduce power usage."
—Catalyst Telecom's Mike Ferney

"Audio and text become interchangeable. Sometimes it’s easier to read a voicemail, and sometimes it’s easier to hear a missed chat message. However, the greatest part is that increasingly in 2013, all options will be available and searchable. Likewise, it will become more commonplace to search recordings from audio and video meetings."
—Siemens Enterprises' Patrick Kehoe

Channel Opportunities. Customization and integration are key to winning the UC&C game. Overwhelmingly, our panel cited these capabilities as critical to retaining customers and furthering a next-generation partner practice. For example, be sure to include BYOD functionality, IM clients and video collaboration to supersede the traditional phone-system sale. Partners who make UC&C platforms work with an organization's other business-critical applications will foster customers for life, sources agreed.

"Integration opportunities will be abundant, and channel partners with expertise in interoperability among disparate systems will be very busy. Most of the UC&C systems today interoperate but getting them to co-exist and work smoothly in a co-mingled environment can be challenging. Integrators with this experience and successful track records should have a great 2013."
—ScanSource Communications' Brian Cuppett

"New business models enable smaller resellers to generate new recurring revenue streams without making a capital investment in hosted/cloud infrastructure. Seek out the vendors that have mature hosted/cloud technologies and a partnership model that benefits resellers."
—Frost & Sullivan's Elka Popova

“Entertain differentiated partnerships. The UC vendor race has been dominated by Microsoft and Cisco; however, there are a growing number of known platforms — think Google — and up-and-comers that can provide a unique, differentiated UC experience."
—Wainhouse Research’s Bill Haskins

Channel Challenges. Partners in the UC&C space face their share of challenges in the coming year. Many lack the requisite training, sources said, and too many continue to rely on a transactional, rather than a consultative, sales strategy. Both of those shortcomings must be addressed; the need for such changes will become more apparent as hardware demand drops in favor of software and wireless options, our panel noted.

"Business and technical education; moving up-market; and complex sales skills development."
—Concierge Communications' Clark Atwood

"From line-of-business managers to CFOs and CEOs — the search is not for technology but for tools or solutions that will address real day-to-day business problems and issues. Customers don’t ask for 'UC' or 'collaboration,' they ask, 'Can you solve my business problem?'"
—discussUC's Pam Avila

"Sales models based on selling traditional equipment and services need to change to take advantage of the residual cloud model. Partners will not be successful with cloud services if they try to goal and compensate teams as they do for traditional on-premise solutions."
—West IP Communications' James Whitemore