For VARs and agents looking to capitalize on the promise of unified communications, the market bears watching as several trends continue to develop, from the snowballing presence of Microsoft (no pun intended) to taking UC mobile.
For instance, industry watchers are keeping an eye on how Microsoft Corp.s release of its UC portfolio this fall will affect the industry. Just as the announcement of Microsofts entry into this space in June of 2006 was a big industry event, the actual release and adoption rate of Microsoft Office Communications Server 2007 this year will be as big an event, says Bud Walder, enterprise marketing manager at Dialogic, which provides open systems platforms for the converged communications market. Will Microsoft have the same impact as Cisco did when it entered the IP PBX market at the turn of the millennium? Chances are good.
“New players such as Microsoft [will encroach seriously on the business voice communication space formerly reserved for Avaya, Nortel, and, lately, Cisco,” says Stephen Kowarsky, executive vice president and one of the founders of CosmoCom Inc.
In fact, the software-based UC vision from Microsoft provides capabilities as an extension of the desktop and data network, which will potentially change the game profoundly. “In this way UC functionality should eventually be as ubiquitous and accessible as e-mail and instant messaging are today,” says Mike Hollier, CTO at Psytechnics, which offers the Experience Manager product for performance management across the IP network, application, end points and third-party service providers. “Another instant win for small companies with remote sites will be to use PC soft-clients which can exploit the processing power of the PC to provide excellent error resilience.”
Some also predict the demise of the IP phone as an extension to this trend. “One interesting point is that I dont think the dedicated IP-phone will feature strongly as UC rolls out,” says Walder. “When we (as users) are on the move we want small, highly portable devices; at our desks we want large screens keyboard, extensive application availability and can run high performance soft-clients. On balance we would rarely (never?) need a dedicated IP-phone. The UC interfaces will be those of our mobiles and PCs both of which will increasingly offer straight forward access to a growing variety of UC features.”
The same might go for VoIP as a separate service. “Enterprises may have written their last VoIP RFQ, and need to think of VoIP as an element of UC,” says Tony Rybczynski, director of strategic enterprise technologies at Nortel Networks.
Another trend to watch is interoperability activity. SIP has been anointed the defacto standard protocol for multimedia communications, but virtually everyone has implemented it a bit differently, says Walder. It will be interesting to see how active the major PBX vendors are in developing and publishing interoperability specifications. The Avaya Devconnect program, for instance, has a focus on SIP interoperability with third-party solutions, to build an ecosystem around Avayas IP PBX infrastructure.
Kowarsky says it’s also important to keep in mind how businesses will use UC beyond the office. “CosmoCom believes that the most important questions about a companys UC strategy are not those related to intra-enterprise communication, where most of the attention is currently focused, but rather those of how UC applies to customer-facing communication,” says Kowarsky. “In other words, we believe that UCC, unified customer communication, is a more critical issue than UEC, or unified enterprise communication.”
Then theres UC and mobility. Making front line mobile workers more connected and productive is an area that yields both high ROI and high profile results for IT departments,” says Walder. “UC tools that make their life simpler, even just the unified messaging features such as single in-box for voice and e-mail, and speech enabled access to calendar and contacts should get a big lift from all the focus on UC.
UC will also begin to be packaged as a hosted service, an emerging alternative to the traditional premises model.
“More MSPs are offering various UC capabilities like VoIP, unified messaging, individual and group presence, conferencing – audio, Web, video document sharing within workgroup portal, speech portals, plus the ability to embed these into existing business applications, all as a service, as SaaS model adoption accelerates,” says Grace Tiscareno-Sato, global marketing manager for unified communications at Siemens Communications Inc.
And, finally, buyer beware. “Watch out for more vendors of non-UC point solutions using the words ‘unified communications’ to market offerings that truly arent unifying anything, just to ride the UC wave,” says Tiscareno-Sato. “Make your vendors demonstrate that they truly are bringing IM, e-mail, voice communications, and Web, audio and video conferencing together on a single platform with a single UI, preferably one that you are already using. Accept no substitutes in this matter.”
Avaya Inc. www.avaya.com
Cisco Systems Inc. www.cisco.com
CosmoCom Inc. www.cosmocom.com
Ensim Corp. www.ensim.com
Microsoft Corp. www.microsoft.com
Nortel Networks www.nortelnetworks.com
Presidio Networked Solutions www.presidio.com
ShoreTel Inc. www.shoretel.com
Siemens Communications Inc. http://communications.usa.siemens.com
Zeacom Ltd. www.zeacom.com