IT Shops Are Getting Wise to the Unified Communications Hype
October 20, 2008 Timothy Prickett Morgan
While the underlying technologies that allow us to reach out and touch someone through the telephone networks have changed dramatically and continuously over the past 50 years, the convergence of computer and telephone networks and new software to merge business applications seamlessly with telephone networks has led to much enthusiasm about so-called unified communications. And companies are getting wise to the hype.
IT analyst firm IDC has done its fifth annual Voice over IP with InfoWorld magazine (which is owned by the same company as IDC and a slew of other IT trade rags, including ComputerWorld), and has used the information from the survey to put together a report called Key Trends in Enterprise VoIP 2008: Customer Perspectives on Unified Communications. Something you might to keep by the bedside in case you can’t sleep, but which also has some insights about how VoIP is being transformed into unified communications, both technically in the software labs of the world and conceptually in the minds of IT managers.
“This year’s survey results show that end users have become more sophisticated about their understanding of unified communications, as well as having higher expectations about what solutions providers should be able to offer,” explains said Nora Freedman, senior analyst of enterprise networks at IDC and one of the authors of the report.
Unified communications means bringing voice, email, fax, instant messaging, chat, video, and other forms of communication used by businesses together with a single set of software with open APIs that allow interoperability and seamless flow of those different kinds of messages between parts of the system and other applications, such as ERP, SCM, and CRM applications.
The one big change this year, according to the survey, is that IBM, thanks to its Lotus middleware, its server platforms, and its strong presence in the data centers of the world–not to mention its partners in the telecommunications, is ranked among the key players in the UC arena. In last year’s survey, Cisco Systems, Avaya, Microsoft, and Nortel were the top-ranked firms in the UC space–and in that order. For the 2008 survey, the rankings worked out this way: Microsoft, Cisco, Avaya, and IBM.
Interestingly–and not surprisingly when you think about it–41 percent of the companies surveyed this year said that they believed that the integration between communications software and hardware and back-office applications should happen through Exchange Server or Notes/Domino groupware.
And as you might expect, unified communications (and specifically VoIP) sales are being driven by the desire to cut costs on long distance telephone service for employees, to integrate with business applications, and to move to server-based systems that are cheaper than dedicated telecom equipment are what is driving VoIP sales, according to the survey respondents. Communication software to link remote workers to the main office, video conferencing, and unified messaging are the areas where companies are planning to make investments in the next year.
What has not been made clear is how much unified communications is driving server sales at this point. It is hard to say for sure, but email and groupware are a big portion of the data center load these days, and expanding out to VoIP and unified communications is probably helping server makers stay in business. And in a rocky economy, where telecom costs are something that can be cut through UC technology, you can bet that more companies are gearing up to make investments so they can save money over the long haul.