Few things are more promising on paper than unified messaging and unified communications (UM and UC) -- using rapidly expanding wireless and IP networks to deliver messages to any device regardless of which network it is connected. This prospect promises to cut to the core of inefficiencies that annually cost businesses untold amounts of money.
It's apparent that UC and UM are not mega-hits. The report in this In-Stat press release alludes to the slow roll-out of these services. The analyst says UM- and UM-capable device shipments will reach almost 19.5 million in 2011, which seems like a modest total.
We are not surprised that UM and UC are struggling. They represent a fundamentally new way of doing things, and that scares people. IT Business Edge recently interviewed Bandwidth.com CEO Henry Kaestner about various issues related to the adoption of VoIP. Kaestner commented that salespeople are least likely to accept VoIP, even though they have the most to gain from it. That says a lot about the obstacles UM and UC face. Perhaps the more elegant and ubiquitous the technology, the stiffer the marketing and sales challenges.
That is not to say these technologies are not making progress. This Cabling Networking System story on a recent report by TheInfoPro says UM tools are being planned, piloted or evaluated by more than 60 percent of Fortune 1000 and mid-size enterprises. Currently, The InfoPro says, only 23 percent of these organizations have UM in standardized use. If both assessments are correct, a steep adoption curve is in the offing. The company says more than 43 percent of organizations in its target group plan to spend more on UM.
Nor has the category lost its proponents. This column by Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst of COMMfusion, asks whether UM is still relevant. She says UM faces a stiff challenge because it seeks to replace platforms -- e-mail and voice mail -- that are not broken. Further, cost and return on investment issues are difficult and integration with existing corporate systems is tough.
At the end of the day, however, Pleasant thinks UM will survive. For one thing, it's stealthily rolling out, because it is present -- albeit not activated -- in most systems sold today. Prices also are coming down. The focus, Pleasant says, is shifting toward real-time find-me/follow-me services, one-number accessibility and integration with calendars and contact lists.
Perhaps the best statement of what ails the general category can be seen in this Infonetics Research report released last week. It says sales of UC applications increased 21 percent from 2006, finishing the year at $363 million. Double-digit growth is expected through 2010 and perhaps beyond. The next sentence, attributed to the organization's directing analyst sums up the problem, however:
"Unified communications is the buzz du jour in our industry, but there are a lot of different ideas out there for what it actually is."
That's the conundrum: People think UC and UM are doing well -- though they can't quite tell you what they are.