Research: Unified Communications

Jun 17, 2010


Unified Communications: Big Promise, Modest Movement

In April, InformationWeek Analytics surveyed 406 business technology professionals about their unified communications plans. We asked about factors respondents consider critical for a successful UC implementation, major technical and business drivers, perceived successes, and whether they feel this technology is delivering on its promise. Based on our survey results alone, we seem to be gaining only modest ground. When we last asked readers about UC, in January 2008, 34% of our 447 respondents had not deployed and had no plans to do so, compared with 12% who had deployed. While we can’t directly trend the data, today—after two years of standards and technology advancements—39% of respondents say they currently have no plans to deploy, compared with 30% who have UC in place now.

We believe the primary culprit here is, simply, confusion. Those invested in making UC work—from integrators and vendors to business executives, CIOs, IT pros and users—seem to be on many different pages. Our survey results point to uncertainty, not only about what UC is, but who should drive it and where efforts and budget should be focused. It’s really not surprising that there’s little positive momentum.

We wondered whether the economy has had a dampening effect; our surveys and discussions show some initiatives are taking off. In particular, the concept of “virtual” everything has captured the minds and pocketbooks of IT. Everything is about optimization, doing more with less, and to be fair it is much easier to show the cost savings of going from seven servers to one than it is to show how much you saved or earned because your client got to the right employee faster or a videoconference saved dozens of phone calls. Maybe UC vendors should rename their technology “virtual communications.”

For our part, we define UC as the integration of multiple real-time or very-near-real-time communication applications with the goal of providing richer user collaboration. From our survey results, it seems respondents as a whole have an archaic vision of what UC means from an application standpoint. In our survey, VoIP and unified messaging (UM) are cited as top drivers by a combined total of 44% of respondents. While important, these applications have been around for years. The really new, and potentially game-changing, capabilities UC brings—including contact center applications, videoconferencing, CRM integration and instant messaging—were cited by just 29% of respondents combined.

Another outdated assumption is that technical glitches are the major cause of disappointing UC implementations, when in reality, IT often brings problems on itself by ignoring the end user experience and failing to have business leaders set the strategic direction for the project. Our survey shows an IT-centric approach to UC is typical, but this often leads to a focus on cost savings and misses the opportunity for top-line business advantages stemming from enabling external communications with customers and better internal collaboration, a C-level discussion.

As we’ll discuss, the missing link for this technology is not the connection between applications and UC systems. It’s the connection between what the technology has to offer organizations seeking better collaboration and what users expect and will take advantage of. This gap will always exist, but it’s your job to minimize the disconnect. Here’s how. (R1040610)

Survey Name: InformationWeek Analytics 2010 Unified Communications Survey
Survey Date: April 2010
Region: North America
Number of Respondents: 406

Research Report