Unified communications is a broad and amorphous category. This makes it imperative that it is built on equally flexible protocols and standards, according to Unified Communications Strategies president and principal analyst Blair Pleasant, and Jim Burton, founder and CEO of CT Link. Developing these standards, which will enable software from different companies to flow together seamlessly, is a tall task for designers and engineers. At this stage, the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), a main enabler of VoIP, is playing a key role in unified communications. While SIP is a good start, experts say much work remains to be done.
Since the companies have different strengths, it seems that there should be great opportunity for Microsoft and Cisco to cooperate on unified communications. The reality is quite different, according to Burton Group Principal Analyst Michael Gotta. Microsoft doesn't want to share the desktop and Cisco sees unified communications as a way to break out of its networking niche. The companies are at strategic cross-purposes, so don't look for anything more than a minimal level of cooperation.
People who run SMBs certainly know what unified communications can do for them: Increase efficiency, improve customer satisfaction and buttress the bottom line. What they don't know about UC is just about everything else: how it works; what the relationship is between each discrete application and the overall concept; and how to research, buy, deploy and manage systems. SMBs, says Forrester Research Principal Analyst Henry Dewing, are likely to turn to trusted sources, such as value-added resellers (VARs) and integrators, for this information.