2008 Unified Communications Highlights

I’ll join in on the year-end roundup – it was a great year for the unified communications market and we’ve made a lot of headway. Here are some of the year’s highlights, and my expectations for next year in the unified communications world – in no particular order.

1.    The economy – Of course the economy is the biggest news of the year. Enterprise customers are unsure what the fallout of the recession will be and are still not sure how UC fits into their environments. Some UC purchases have been put on hold, and many companies are now taking a wait and see attitude.

2.    Software as a Service – The only bright side about the lousy economy is that it might encourage companies to consider these alternative ways of reaping the benefits of UC without the capital expenditures. We’ve started seeing more companies – both large and small, evaluating Software as a Service offerings for UC in 2008. Cisco is well positioned for SaaS, of course, based on its WebEx acquisition, but other companies (like CommuniGate) will benefit as well in 2009 and beyond.

3.    Partnerships and alliances – vendors are starting to work together and we’re even making headway toward UC interoperability and federation. IBM and Microsoft are working together and making progress in terms of interoperability testing, and I expect to see more interoperability announcements between all of the major players in the coming months.

4.    Increasing number of UC implementations and case studies – while the market is still relatively small, 2008 was the year for real UC implementations, for both UC-User (for user productivity) and UC-Business Process projects.

5.    Social networking/social software has become huge, both in the consumer world and within the enterprise. New enterprise-grade social networking projects are being developed and announced, and are beginning to integrate with UC. Expect to see forms of “click to call” from some of the leading social networking sites, and especially from corporate social networking applications. Virtual worlds are also becoming more “mainstream” for the enterprise, as evidenced by Nortel’s Web.Alive.

6.    Mergers and acquisitions – Cisco/PostPath/Jabber; Nortel/Pingtel/Diamondware; Gores Group/Siemens; Convergys/Intervoice; and Syntellect/Envox are just some of the relevant acquisitions of 2008. I expect Cisco and possibly other UC vendors to acquire a social software company in the coming months so that it will have a commercial product offering in this area (see above). Unfortunately, I also expect some UC companies to downsize and either close up shop or get acquired by former competitors.

7.    End user focus – from a purely UC perspective, we saw several companies focusing their UC efforts on the business user or end user, rather than the IT manager. Avaya, Cisco, NEC, Alcatel-Lucent, Siemens, and others have introduced programs aimed at understanding end user needs and matching UC offerings to these needs. Line of business managers will be the key to UC success.

8.    Channel involvement – As evidenced from the UCStrategies UC Summit last June, resellers and system integrators are gearing up to sell and implement UC solutions. This requires knowledgeable and experienced partners who can work with not only the IT staff, but line of business people as well. New channel programs from Avaya and others demonstrate the commitment to help bring the channel up to speed in going beyond selling boxes to selling solutions to the end users and line of business managers.

We hope that in 2009 the UC market will continue to build on the momentum that started a couple years ago. Let’s hope that it’s a happy new year for all.

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