Unified Communications Proving a Difficult Sell

Cisco and Microsoft may be leading the charge in unified communications (UC), but these titans and their competitors face high hurdles in their quest persuade IT buyers to sign up.

A new Infonetics Research report released this week reveals that while top players—a list that also includes Avaya, IBM, and Nortel—are pushing UC products, enterprises are pushing back.

Beyond having to convince enterprises to jettison legacy PBX boxes in favor of VoIP solutions, they also need to address IT shops’ serious concerns over product integration.

For many buyers, the complexity of ensuring interoperability with existing offerings has emerged as a critical barrier to adoption.

“It’s no secret Microsoft is predicting the death of the PBX, to be replaced by a software-based communication approach like [Office Communications Server] 2007; but we didn’t find many people convinced that this is yet the way to go,” Matthias Machowinski, directing analyst at Infonetics, said in a statement.

The study found companies are keeping IP-based PBXs in play and layering UC software on top. The approach is one reason Microsoft has attained some early success and why IP telephony providers are also gaining traction.

But for the most part, the study found that most enterprises are wrestling with issues around interoperability. While some vendors’ offerings support standards and integration with third-party products, others are designed to operate on their own IP-PBX or presence environments.

Recent research from Gartner seconded that finding, reporting that UC architectures will become the biggest challenges given multi-vendor environments and offerings that feature large number of servers acting as gateways—requiring further, complex integration work.

The Infonetics report also noted that UC typically begins as a fairly simple “convergence” of voice and e-mail applications. However, most deployments gain complexity as enterprises strive to bring video and mobile connectivity into the mix.

Despite the difficulties of layering on additional technologies, however, most enterprises are still opting to begin with VoIP.

“Not having VoIP deployed pervasively is a barrier to deploying UC and many respondents want to deploy VoIP first and then UC,” according to the study.

The study, which polled 80 medium and large North American organizations on their requirements and implementation plans, also shed some light on specific vendors’ shortcomings.

While Cisco rated highly on reliability, for instance, it received low marks on pricing. Microsoft, meanwhile, ranked low in reliability, while enterprise buyers called the software giant’s financial stability a plus.

“There are still opportunities ahead for vendors looking to get into or ahead in the unified communications market because many buyers don’t yet know who they will be buying from two years from now,” Machowinski said.

That means an already crowded market will quickly become more crowded as vendors fight for a potential huge revenue base. Industry researcher IDC has reported the market could total $17 billion by 2011.

Adapted from an article originally published on internetnews.com.

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