Enterprises baffled by unified communications, survey finds

55% of companies queried said there is "confusion about the value" of unified communications

Most small and large enterprises are uncertain of the benefits of a unified communications implementation, according to a recent survey of 2008 networking plans from Forrester Research.

Fifty-five percent of the 2,187 North American and European companies queried said there is "confusion about the value" of unified communications for their companies. Only 11% of the firms have already deployed it. Another 16% are rolling it out, and 57% are evaluating or piloting it, Forrester found.

"We were not surprised," says Forrester analyst Ellen Daley, author of the survey's report. "There's been a 21% increase in UC pilots since 2007 but no increase in firms buying UC. A lot of people are talking about UC, a lot more are tipping their toe in; but at the same time, they're all saying they're not sure about the value," she says. (Compare unified communications products.)

Daley says Forrester receives inquiries from clients regularly asking simply: What is UC?

"Because they're not able to define it very clearly for themselves and the supplier landscape is confusing, that translates to confusion about what it does for their company," Daley says. "It's hard to prove that ROI right now."

Companies understand the components of unified communications -- VoIP, unified messaging, presence, multimedia conferencing, collaboration and so forth -- but the value of the overall pitch is vague, Forrester found.

The impact on the growth of the unified-communications market will feel the uncertainty, Daley says. "We don't think there's going to be conversion of these UC evaluations and pilots into full-blown investments in the next 12 to 18 months," she says. "We think there's enough confusion in the marketplace on value, features and [marketing] that we're going to see very long evaluation and pilot periods."

Nonetheless, unified communications does have the potential to mirror the wireless e-mail industry, Daley says. That was another tepidly received innovation that spawned Research In Motion's now ubiquitous and seemingly indispensable BlackBerry.

But for now, unified communications is not priority No. 1 for enterprises in 2008: Mobility is.

Sixty-four percent of respondents said that providing more mobility support to employees is a priority, with 23% citing it as a critical priority. It will become incumbent on enterprises to embrace devices employees use for their personal lives and work them into the corporate culture, Daley says. "They have to get their arms around them," as well as provide support for them and make decisions about how to handle device security, she says.

While one-third to over one-half of the firms surveyed already use in-house wireless LAN and public cellular data, the greatest interest in adoption lies with WiMAX (54%), which only 9% of firms use now. Wireless e-mail or BlackBerry and personalized contacts and calendar still top the list of mobile applications that are deployed fully at firms; however, customer-facing applications are gaining ground, as 12% of firms are rolling them out and 27% are evaluating or piloting them, Forrester found.

Other findings of the Forrester survey are:

  • Managed telecom services are motivated by expected cost savings: Ninety-five percent of the firms surveyed say expected cost savings are important in their decision to use managed telecom services, with 67% considering cost savings to be very important. When it comes to choosing managed services beyond raw network services, unified communications is top of mind, with 61% of firms interested in purchasing and 20% already purchasing it. There is similar interest for Web conferencing and collaboration (52%) and professional services (51%).
  • MPLS adoption continues; cost motivates decisions for international WAN buys: Site-to-site Internet-VPN full deployments are in the majority of enterprises. Ethernet and site-to-site MPLS show similar adoption, with about one-third fully deployed. Eighty-seven percent of firms cite cost as an important issue in their choice to purchase international WAN services, with more than half (55%) saying it is a very important factor. Variation in service availability in different markets (80%) and inconsistent service delivery by the same vendor in different markets (77%) also are important concerns.
  • IP conferencing is popular; Cisco leads as an IP PBX supplier: Forty percent of firms have already deployed IP audio and IP Web conferencing, with videoconferencing (37%) and IP PBX (29%) not too far behind. Adoption continues to rise, as 49% of firms are rolling out or evaluating audio- and Web conferencing. In addition, more than half will roll out or evaluate IP PBX and site-to-site WAN VoIP options in 2008. Of those rolling out or evaluating IP PBX, 65% are interested in procuring VoIP as a managed service. When it comes to selecting a vendor for IP PBX, 62% turn to Cisco, compared with 23% for Avaya and Nortel.
  • Word of mouth and Web sites are seen as the most important sources of information: Decision-makers view their peers and colleagues -- and the information exchanged from traditional word of mouth -- as very important (33%) and somewhat important (54%) sources of information for informing purchasing decisions. However, they also report that digital media sources -- specifically vendor, industry or trade, or professional Web sites -- are very important (35%) and somewhat important (54%) digital sources of information. Nearly 50% of firms view blogs and other interactive media as somewhat important sources of information.

This story, "Enterprises baffled by unified communications, survey finds" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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