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11/13/2008
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VoiceCon Review: IT, Communications Can Help Weather Economic Storm

Unified communications, Microsoft, videoconferencing, cost savings, and the slowing economy dominated industry leaders' conversations in San Francisco this week.

It's nearly impossible to escape the looming specter of the global economic slowdown, and the consensus among vendors, analysts, and many enterprises at this past week's VoiceCon in San Francisco was that communications technology is going to be critical to survive the expected recession.

Many enterprises are in the midst of upgrading their communications infrastructure, or soon will, and the uncertain economic times mean they want it all: cost savings, quicker return on investments, and productivity boosts.

"Budgets are going to shrink, but you have to keep your business growing and connected to survive," said Eric Krapf, program co-chair of VoiceCon.

Companies like Cisco, Polycom, Siemens, and others have been offering videoconferencing or telepresence for years, and the main selling point in the past has been the collaborative abilities it offers. But this year, the cost-savings element was at the forefront.

"Travel budgets are going to be slashed, and that quarterly trip to China is out the window," said Krapf. "But those meetings still need to be accomplished, and the quality and costs of videoconferencing have many companies implementing it, or seriously considering it."

The economic realities are also causing many companies to rethink their business models, as some are contemplating giving away their unified communications offering to get customers locked into their PBX products, or vice versa.

It's uncertain how bad the economic slowdown will be, but it is clear to many at VoiceCon that there will be major vendor consolidation in the next few years. Even with the consolidation and uncertain financial climate, some see this time as a major opportunity for strong, innovative companies to gain ground.

"It's during these very difficult economic times that market shares really shift," said Avaya's interim CEO and chairman Charles Giancarlo. "During the good times, the rising tide lifts all your competitors, even the bad ones. But during the tough times, that's when the weak companies stumble and lose market share. Now is the time for action, and now is the right time to think of how you'll get a competitive advantage."

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