Every new development in communications adds another moving part to the ever-evolving Unified Communications (UC) technology landscape. In 2012, the most momentous technology trends impacting UC were collaboration, bring your own device (BYOD) environments, mobility and cloud UC services with an emphasis on hybrid cloud offerings. These budding trends will continue to impact UC offerings for years to come.
Unified communications trends were highlighted in Gartner’s Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications – shaping a clear path for the future of UC and emphasizing UC market leader’s strategies.
1 – Collaboration products
Collaboration products and groupware have been such an integral part of enterprise production throughout 2012 that it has morphed “unified communications” terminology into “Unified Communications and Collaboration” (UC&C or UCC). The need for UCC has never been greater among companies of all sizes and across all vertical markets. More and more enterprises have attempted to identify the collaboration tools that best satisfies specific business needs as collaboration products have proven to increase productivity among colleagues.
“It’s a natural fit to start integrating collaboration capabilities with communications capabilities so you end up with sort of a UCC kind of capability,” Gartner Research Distinguished Analyst Bern Elliot said.
UCC is also proven a product niche with a largely untapped growth potential, according to Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst of COMMfusion LLC. This area has proven intriguing to enterprises who are trying to keep up with modern mobile and virtual workforces, and this year in particular a lot of enterprises are taking advantage of this flourishing marketplace.
One vendor who has seemed to figure out the value in UCC products is Cisco. According to Elliot, part of what sets Cisco apart from other vendors is its early emergence in the world of VoIP and the vendor’s successful partnering strategy with service providers.
2 – BYOD and Mobility
Mobility and BYOD are intricately connected in the modern unified communications world. Combining corporate UC applications with employee-owned devices, while difficult, is a necessary chore vendors must take on to stay relevant in the UC market and desirable to enterprises.
BYOD has the potential to accelerate adoption of UC in the enterprise, but vendors are finding it difficult to incorporate typical UC services in BYOD environments.
Enterprises seek UCC vendors with mobile clients. According to Gartner’s Bern Elliot, most vendors have taken on the BYOD/mobility challenge with varying levels of success. “Some have done a really good job, like Cisco, and have a lot of functionality … Others have really just targeted Windows and have minimal functionality in some of the other environments. … But users want them, that’s for sure,” he said.
3 – UC cloud services and UCaaS
The cloud has changed many aspects in the world of IT professionals, and those who have seen the cloud’s impact have accepted its ever-developing role in UC. Many UC systems are still working in a more traditional sense by being server-hosted and running on-premises. However, an increasing number of vendors and partners are offering UC as a Service (UCaaS) and UC clouds.
According to Bern Elliot, the cloud trend puts a spotlight on hybrid-cloud offerings, as customers want to “have their cake and eat it, too.” Hybrid-cloud solutions allow enterprises to keep UC on-premises, where companies have already made investments and want control, while hosting UC services in the cloud, where companies can’t afford to manage that infrastructure. There is no end to the cloud trend in sight, as enterprises find they can outsource UC complications to more knowledgeable cloud vendors. Elliot feels that, although the leading vendors have to keep up with this trend to be ranked “top dogs,” it’s not necessarily needed for all other vendors to follow suit. “I think it’s going to be a very important part for leading vendors” he said.