Unified communications, it seems, is one technology immune from the effects of the economic turmoil. Despite a sluggish economy and continued constriction of IT spending, UC remains a popular add-on for companies looking to replace or update their communications systems, thanks in part to a slew of new offerings — including the latest release of Office Communications Server from Microsoft Inc.— and greater interoperability between vendor technologies.
The technology has been on a growth path for the better part of two years, motivated in part by market studies showing a definite upward climb in UC sales. In 2008 Gartner Inc. released its prediction that UC would grow at a 17 percent aggregate rate, and a joint study released that same year by COMMfusion LLC and UCStrategies.com predicted a much heftier growth rate of 51.7 percent CAGR between 2007 and 2012.
Vendors, too, have embraced UC with solutions that address specific business needs, from “find me, follow me" technology to video at the desktop and more.
Microsoft’s Office Communications Server, first released in 2007, and Cisco Systems Inc.’s Unified Communications system, released in 2006, brought the concept of ubiquitous UC to enterprise companies, while Avaya Inc., Polycom Inc. and other UC vendors have since fallen into step with their own sets of offerings, creating a veritable smorgasbord of UC solutions for SMB and the enterprise alike.
Part of UC’s popularity, say industry experts, lies in the fact that it has passed the point of being a “neat to have" technology to a “must-have" technology. Many of the solutions that fall under the moniker of UC have an obvious return on investment, so companies are more eager to have a conversation about the technology, said Jay Lassman, research director of Communications Applications at Gartner.
“These days almost all the specs I see from clients for replacement communications systems or upgrades have a component for UC," he said. “Instant messaging and presence are almost ubiquitous, while video is starting to gain traction I think in part because it is becoming more affordable, companies understand it and they think it will help their business.
“If I had to gauge a number, I would say 75 percent or so of those specs have some component of UC specified," he added.
That’s good news for the channel, especially for solution providers looking for a solution that has become ubiquitous but has not saturated the market.
“We see unified communications as a real dynamic that is out there now not only in terms of customer engagements but also in channel community as well," said Mark Roberts, vice president of partner marketing at Polycom. “Those that understand the next wave in communications will do very well. We’re in a marketplace that is red-hot.