unified communications: the message is getting through

There are clear indications that the message about unified communications is resonating with enterprises. Two recent studies by market analysts IDC found that enterprises were increasingly expecting their unified communications platforms to integrate with their core business applications. "This year's survey results show that end users have become more sophisticated about their understanding of unified communications, as well as have higher expectations about what solutions providers should be able to provide them," commented Nora Freedman, senior analyst, Enterprise Networks at IDC.

The two IDC surveys were carried out with Infoworld magazine and respondents were drawn from its largely US readership. When asked to define unified communications (UC), four-fifths of respondents chose the following definition: "a desktop or mobile-based solution or platform that combines a common inbox for email/fax/voicemail, advanced IP telephony calling and management, Web/audio/videoconferencing, instant messaging, and presence management, which can be integrated with business-critical applications."

The IDC survey on attitudes to unified communications saw Microsoft take top spot from Cisco as the top strategic vendor in respondents' UC adoption plans, followed by Avaya and IBM. In 2007, the top four were Cisco, Avaya, Microsoft and Nortel. This good result for Microsoft follows hot on the heels of its arrival in the Gartner Corporate Telephony Magic Quadrant, as reported in Live!. Microsoft has also just started beta testing release 2 of its Office Communications Server, which promises much greater voice functionality.

The other IDC survey looked at the telephony buying habits of North American businesses. Although the top five selection criteria are still rooted in telephony (product performance, equipment reliability, total cost of ownership, security features, and technical support), enterprises are looking towards IP telephony for its ability to integrate with existing business applications. In the longer-term, say respondents, the push for IP telephony will come from unified messaging, remote/teleworking solutions and videoconferencing. IDC has also published some new statistics on IP telephony, which shows Cisco maintaining its dominance of the market and that 30.9 million IP telephony lines were shipped in 2007.

Anthony Plewes

After a Masters in Computer Science, I decided that I preferred writing about IT rather than programming. My 20-year writing career has taken me to Hong Kong and London where I've edited and written for IT, business and electronics publications. In 2002 I co-founded Futurity Media with Stewart Baines where I continue to write about a range of topics such as unified communications, cloud computing and enterprise applications.