Applications Will Drive Unified Communications Uptake

The concept has gained broad acceptance; the bread-and-butter details will make the sale.

By Adam Stone | Posted Aug 25, 2008
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If unified communications is the better mousetrap, applications are cheese. For those looking to bring UC solutions to market, practical tools will be the bait to attract potential customers.

This according to The Key to UC Revenue Success: It's the Apps, a new report by telecom trend watcher Light Reading.

"UC users still are much more interested in applications that help them save money and increase productivity than they are in lots of bells, bangs, and whistles," said Denise Culver, research analyst with Light Reading's VOIP Services Insider and author of the report.

While many trappings of next-gen telecom have flash—especially as users embrace the newness of UC with all its fresh-out-of-the-box sheen—customers want to know that this novel platform will deliver the meat-and-potatoes of telecom: cost savings and increased productivity.

The very nature of UC would seem to make big promises of new, practical, substantial functionality, and providers will be expected to deliver.

To this end, Culver foresees a growing demand in the next 12 to 18 months for such tools as unified messaging; fixed/mobile convergence; collaboration tools; groupware features such as e-mail, calendaring, text and chat; and audio/web conferencing.

Culver based her findings on conversations with numerous top-tier players including Aastra Technologies, Microsoft, Cisco Systems, and Mitel Networks, among others. All have UC apps in the works, she said.

Among the various apps drawing attention, Culver sees at least two especially significant user demands emerging within the coming year.

First, she said, the Facebook phenomenon is going to seep into the corporate environment. Social networks will soon be as widespread as instant messaging and e-mail, she predicted. As such, many enterprises are going to be looking for ways to incorporate this new mode of interaction into their repertoire, and vendors will do well to have such apps in the pipeline.

Enterprises also are looking for efficient ways to disseminate rich audio and video content among the ranks, and they will be looking to UC as a likely platform to support such apps.

A number of companies have specific applications in the works to address these emerging demands.

Alcatel-Lucent for example is integrating its application networking components with Web 2.0 tools in support of knowledge/social networking, Culver said. She also cited CommuniGate Systems as an active aspirant in the field of rich media with its HD audio and video applications. The company's Flash-based Pronto product integrates e-mail, IM, voice, and video into a Web 2.0-style interface.

While many of the emerging UC apps will apply across a broad swath of the enterprise landscape, there will be some differentiation among different classes of potential end users. It's a point worth noting for developers anticipating a niche play.

In small and mid-size businesses, for example, Culver predicts the demand will be strongest for VoIP, IM, click-to-call, presence, whiteboarding, and conferencing, among other applications.

Take for instance Mitel, which aims to bring unified communications to mid-size business users of Sun Microsystems servers. Its Mitel Communications Suite integrates the company's IP communications platform software with such applications as mobility, Web conferencing, and unified messaging. (The product took a "Best of…" award for VoIP and collaboration at this year's Interop IT conference in La Vegas.)

Larger organizations on the other hand will require a different approach. Culver points for example to a trend toward the use of UC for outbound call notification on college campuses to be used in case of emergency.

Differentiation will occur not just according to the scale of an organization but also according to its specialized needs. The report points to the financial and healthcare sectors as two areas in which vendors already are active in developing specialized programs to operate in the UC environment.

You can slice it by size or dice it by industry sector, but the story will remain the same, at least for the foreseeable future. As Culver puts it so succinctly, "It's the Apps." In the eyes of enterprise users, the true promise of UC lies not in what it can do, but in what it will do. Does it have the muscle to save users money? Will there be apps out there to enhance productivity?

We've seen the mousetrap, users are saying. Now let's see the cheese.

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