ABI Research said that unified communications solutions are "on a steeply rising curve of adoption in the enterprise", noting that enabling technologies are often being deployed on a piecemeal basis and then tied together, rather than being rolled-out in a single tranche.
According to ABI, companies are buying only components which they believe will deliver immediate value. It is only after that has taken place that the disparate elements are being tied together, into a unified solution.
Enterprise IT is still suffering at the hands of a weakened economy, with budgets for more esoteric projects removed and cash only available for capital projects where there is a clear return on investment. But that does not mean that no money is being spent at all; for technologies that can improve efficiency and/or reduce operating costs, there is still an appetite.
For technologies such as unified communications, the benefits come with scale. A single unified communications building block on its own is not a unified communications solution at all --
it is only as other elements are added in that the benefits are delivered. This, however, means greater costs before enterprises can really benefit from the improved communication and collaboration enabled.
Which leads to the age-old problem for unified communications technologies; the benefits are difficult to quantify. In a market where the bottom-line is more in focus than ever, this creates problems for solutions designed to address areas of the business which are not easily represented in the accounts.
Silicon.com recently quizzed a number of CIOs and IT executives about unified communications deployments, and many of the respondents were positive about the benefits offered --
staff also appear to be keenly embracing the flexibility offered in managing their daily interactions. Interestingly, apart from some teething troubles, deployments were also largely straightforward, although as with any project, robust project management is necessary to smooth the migration and implementation.
Moving back to ABI's unified communications study, it was noted that large companies with multiple locations stand to benefit the most. But the lack of standards and interoperability between different vendors makes deployment difficult, meaning that "there's a premium on partnerships". While many large businesses will have the necessary integration skills in-house, because unified communications is "tricky" many will not want to take on this work, particularly at the lower-end of the scale. This will create a "booming market" for managed services.
Migration to the cloud
Analyst firm In-Stat has also been looking at unified communications, noting that the technology is migrating to the cloud, with vendors beginning to position it as a service rather than a product. Equipment providers are partnering with hosted service providers to delivers solutions to companies.
The company said that this means several flavours of unified communications are emerging. There are solutions that use a mixture of customer premises equipment and managed services, which are targeting mid-sized businesses; fully-hosted offerings, which are targeting smaller companies; and revamped broadband telephony services, targeting SOHO users.
Two drivers were noted which will enhance the richness of unified communications; SIP trunking, which will enable the interconnection of unified communications islands; and improving mobile broadband services, which will extend more services to smartphones and other mobile devices.