There are two ways to understand the world of unified communications. On one hand, there are the discrete technologies and platforms -- the VoIPs, IMs, videoconferencing suites and others -- that make up an overall corporate communications platform. On the other are the services that knit these tools and technologies together into a UC fabric.
Understanding that there is gear and, separately, ways in which the gear relates to each other is the key to understanding what UC is. The existence of parallel tracks is a doubled-edged sword. The good news for vendors and service providers is that every time an organization implements a new technology-to deploy an IP PBX or a corporate IM package-it is a step in the direction of UC. The sticking point, as ABI Research analyst Stan Schatt points out in this press release hyping a new study, is that the mere presence of such services doesn't mean that UC itself is in place:
Companies have been buying only those component technologies that they think will deliver immediate value. It's only later that they start tying it all together as true Unified Communications.
There actually are two steps: the implementation of the technology, and its integration into a UC infrastructure. These steps can be taken at the same time or phased in. That can, and does, lead to a certain level of confusion on what UC is. Managers must understand that UC isn't a technology; It's the way in which technologies are positioned to work together.
Confusion notwithstanding, the UC market is doing very well, according to Schatt and ABI. The report says the market is moving from $302 million last year to $4.2 billion in 2014.
The potential confusion makes implementation a sensitive process, lest the message get cloudy and the project bog down. The tried-and-true approach to technical deployment would be to roll out UC in one department or across one piece of the business. This enables engineers and managers to learn the positives and negatives, what works and what doesn't. That seems like a particularly prudent approach to UC, which is a complex undertaking. This MyADSL piece suggests that rolling it out uniformly across the business encourages more usage and faster ROI.
The optimistic projections for UC held by ABI and others will only materialize if a couple of things happen: IT managers and the folks for which they work have to understand what UC is-a prudent way to federate communications technologies and platforms-and standards must be established enabling gear from multiple companies to work together. If those conditions are met, UC will become one of the hottest stars in the in the IT/telecom constellation.