The last months of 2009 and the first few weeks of 2010 suggest that the unified communications/collaboration sectors are moving into an era in which the focus will be on building efficiencies into existing platforms -- in many cases by marrying technology from different vendors -- and more clearly defining the ROI picture for potential customers.
Of course, vendors always seek to build efficiencies and highlight ROI. The key to the next few months may be in not letting the technical sophistication get too far ahead of where the marketplace is. Vendors and service providers must keep in mind that UC and its value proposition are hard to describe. It is unlike VoIP, which can be explained simply: “Cheaper phone calls.” It is unlike instant messaging, which defines itself in its name. UC needs to constantly explain itself and its advantages to potential users and simplify how it operates.
Two announcements – one last week and one today – take on the task in different ways.
Polycom and Juniper Networks said today that they are working together on telepresence and videoconferencing. In short, Juniper's infrastructure will be made able to communicate with Polycom's infrastructure to simplify service providers' provisioning of video. The idea is pretty simple: Two infrastructures are cheaper and more efficient than one.
The second announcement comes from Verizon Business, which said last week that it is expanding its UC&C Consulting Services. UC&C offers strategic consulting, financial analysis and operational integration services, according to the company. Though both the press release and accompanying podcast fail to identify precisely what really is new, the subtext of both is that UC is complex and amorphous and that organizations can benefit by using outside expertise at the planning, deployment and/or operational phases.
There clearly is a lot going on. In addition to the two news items noted above, Polycom and Siemens Enterprise Communications announced an arrangement similar to the one between Polycom and Juniper. NEC and IBM announced UNIVERGE Sphericall for IBM Lotus Foundations, a UC initiative aimed at SMBs. And, of course, Avaya filled in a lot of the blanks on how it will proceed now that Nortel Enterprise Solutions' products and personnel are on board.
It is impossible to say that there is a definitive thread through the announcements of the past few weeks. Regardless, it is reasonable to suggest that the industry is entering a phase in which firms will build upon and consolidate the great technical and infrastructure advances of the past few years. They key will be making UC more accessible and easy to understand for potential customers.