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Unified Communications
Now UC It
UC Mag
David Levy
President and CEO

Objectworld Communications

Unified Communications is Ready to Change the Game

Many vendors claim that their solutions are disruptive these days, and it doesn't take the powers of the Oracle at Delphi to tell you that unified communications will be reshaping how businesses communicate in 2009. But it will change the game in a number of unpredictable ways and for reasons that many customers already know, but many vendors don't seem to.


First, the market is rapidly losing elasticity. This isn't unusual or unexpected, except insofar as it has been overdue. Customers will be increasingly looking for a combination of commodity technologies to meet decreased budgets. That will unavoidably put pressure on both incumbents and new market entrants to provide better value for money, or it will push them out of the market. Traditional hardware especially (notably PBX and phone hardware) will see downward trends in terms of margins, although smart phones, WLAN phones and other new entrant technologies will probably be an exception.


Second, customers are already demanding more for less. In this column, I've talked about what SMB customers expect from a UC solution. SMBs haven't been in a rush to adopt UC in part because of costs to buy, costs to deploy, low value propositions and a number of other reasons. What changes in 2009 is that any business desiring success with UC will have to emphasize delivering value to SMB customers. Vendors solely focused on ripping and replacing PBXs will especially feel the squeeze.


Third, solution providers are looking for simpler solutions and finding them. Ripping and replacing a PBX for a data VAR can be difficult. Integrating a software solution on top of a PBX for an incumbent CPE vendor is also a serious challenge. But simpler solutions are in the market, and some vendors are seriously committed to doing what it takes to help their channel partners be successful. Unsatisfied solution providers can, should and will search for solutions that provide predictable and formulaic installations and simple maintenance to better serve their customers.


Fourth, organizational productivity, not individual productivity, will be the key. Solutions addressing organizational productivity will help the business work smarter with information technology, cut operational costs and respond to customers more quickly. Helping IT and Operations teams be more productive helps the whole business exponentially. A lot of new entrants have bet on the desktop, and while desktop productivity is important, it's not as measurable or as exponential in nature as organizational productivity. Not only will better organizational productivity allow businesses to repurpose staff instead of reducing headcount, it will also provide businesses with much more serious value by positioning them strongly to compete in a slowing market and grow once the recovery starts.


Fifth, VoIP will be only one part of the solution. Businesses are coming to understand that VoIP and UC are not synonymous. Plenty of UC vendors provide solutions that are dialtone-agnostic. Call routing, unified messaging, interactive voice response and other services that reduce human latency and all of the other magic of UC don't require VoIP. VoIP can certainly help to reduce operational cost but it may not be worth the operational expense for mid-market companies for which ripping and replacing a PBX for a few hundred employees would be a serious expense.


Finally, interoperability will continue to be a key issue, but a sound migration strategy will be the dark horse key player. Falling prices and shrinking elasticity will unavoidably and heavily underline the any given solution's interoperability. A company with a legacy PBX should look to add UC as an adjunct software solution today, and upgrade its PBX down the road. The key to being successful with migration is to find a solution that really does provide a good migration strategy and not just a good migration story. The solution should work with a wide range of both legacy and new PBX systems, and, preferably, should provide a PBX or PBX replacement solution of its own. In short, companies should look to options that help them keep their options open.


No vendor solution can be everything to every customer. But solution providers and customers should ask serious questions: How does this solution save IT professionals time and help them to cut costs? How does will this solution help front-office be more productive and respond more quickly? How will it help a business as a whole work more effectively so that it can compete better today? And how flexible is this solution so that a business can benefit from UC today and make a decision on its PBX replacement down the road? Vendors without strong answers to these questions will find 2009 a very long year.


David Levy is President and CEO of Objectworld Communications Corp. (www.objectworld.com).


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