Unified communications (UC) is the oddest sector in telecommunications and IT communications. That’s saying a lot, because there are some pretty odd ones.
The oddness is simple to describe: The category continues on one hand to struggle for acceptance when it is called “unified communications.” On the other hand, the things that it does – help people involved in business communicate more easily and across more platforms – are being adopted at a very fast pace. But, instead of doing it on platforms that are part of a formal UC platform, companies and individuals are adding functions on as-needed basis. People are simply doing it.
The “real” UC platforms have a lot of functionality that goes beyond bells and whistles. These include security, the ability to escalate the type of communications (i.e., from voice only to video conference), and to bring on participants as they are needed. These capabilities are not superfluous: They can be vital to closing a sale, answering a customer question, and succeeding in other ways. However, the base capability of being able to communicate can satisfy businesses and make bringing in the established soup-to-nuts platforms less urgent.
When UC specialists ConnectSolutions commissioned Osterman Research to conduct a survey, findings showed that 26 percent of IT decision makers and 39 percent of business decision makers are either somewhat or very fearful of moving to UC. At the same time, 71 percent of respondents “believe there are significant and even enormous benefits to be realized from the deployment of UC.”
This paints a pretty mixed-up picture: Seven in 10 think that UC is great; strong majorities are afraid of it; and all of them undoubtedly understand that the employees they oversee are doing much of what a UC platform offers on an ad hoc basis, sans the features that would make the endeavor safer and more beneficial.
In other words, the UC industry continues to have a very difficult sales proposition. It’s not necessarily the fault of the UC sector. It’s a difficult thing to explain, and many of the most obvious benefits are available without incurring a significant capital expenditure.
These issues are indirectly mentioned by J Arnold & Associates’ Jon Arnold, a UC insider, in a piece on how companies should shop for UC platforms. He starts by suggesting what’s different about these UC platforms:
First, UC does not solve an immediate problem, so businesses need to think differently compared with conventional communication applications. Secondly, most unified communications products do not completely replace existing technology, so businesses are getting a fresh start with a relatively new type of solution.
Arnold proceeds to discuss three important steps: defining the value proposition, thinking about the best deployment models, and ensuring that a prospective vendor has a solid ecosystem.
Last week, John Howard, the EMEA director of UC Collaboration for Logitech for Business, posted a commentary at Computer Business Review on mobile UC. While Howard is upbeat about the potential and the tools available in mobile UC, he implies that the race is on:
Bring Your Own Device continues to be an on-going trend that IT departments are grappling with. They now have to contend with another emerging trend – Bring Your Own Application. Employees, in particular millennials, are often self-organising, using applications that will give them the productivity boosts they require.
Modern telecommunications tools offer businesses great advantages, but in many cases, these are not deployed in a formal UC platform. They are simply a function of the great general improvement in telecommunications tools. The challenge facing UC vendors is the same as it has been for years: explaining UC platforms in a way that convinces organizations that the incremental features justify the investment.
Carl Weinschenk covers telecom for IT Business Edge. He writes about wireless technology, disaster recovery/business continuity, cellular services, the Internet of Things, machine-to-machine communications and other emerging technologies and platforms. He also covers net neutrality and related regulatory issues. Weinschenk has written about the phone companies, cable operators and related companies for decades and is senior editor of Broadband Technology Report. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and via twitter at @DailyMusicBrk.