Analyst Predicts Short-Term Chaos In Unified Communications Market - InformationWeek

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Analyst Predicts Short-Term Chaos In Unified Communications Market

Deployment of unified communication technology is likely to progress from early adopters this year to the mainstream between 2010 and 2012, attendees at VoiceCon were told.

Chaos is expected to rule the unified communications market over the next couple of years, slowing deployments as businesses wait for the dust to settle from mergers and acquisitions, new product rollouts, and the entrance of market-shaker Microsoft, a research firm said.

During a presentation Monday at VoiceCon in San Francisco, Blair Pleasant, analyst for COMMfusion, told attendees that deployment of unified communication technology, which enables the real-time redirection of voice, text, or e-mail to the device closest to the user at any given time, is likely to progress from early adopters this year to the mainstream between 2010 and 2012.

Pilot projects for small numbers of users will comprise most deployments this year, starting with collaboration software and general business applications such as Microsoft Office. Between 2008 and 2010, business process management and application vendors are likely to enter the market by adding unified communication capabilities to products. In the meantime, businesses are expected to launch more trials and spread deployments to more users. "We're going to see a viral impact and see it spread that way," Pleasant said.

Between 2010 and 2012, unified communication is expected to move to the mainstream as companies find that it offers a competitive advantage through more efficient communications among staff and with customers and partners. "I don't know if we're going to see hockey stick-like growth here," Pleasant said, using the analogy as a reflection of a sudden spike in adoption. "I have a feeling it's going to more gradual."

Businesses are more likely to take a wait-and-see approach over the next couple of years before jumping in. Keeping customers on the sidelines will be the inevitable chaos, familiar to most emerging markets, as vendors try to stake out their territory through mergers, acquisitions, and partnerships, and new products that take different approaches.

Consolidation in the market has already begun, reflected in recent acquisitions such as Cisco Systems gobbling up Five-Across and WebEx, Microsoft buying TellMe, and the Mitel/Inter-Tel merger.

Companies are expected to migrate over time to communications software poised to eventually replace PBX switching systems that interconnect telephone extensions to each other as well as to the outside telephone network, Pleasant said. Leading the migration to software will be Microsoft, which plans to release its unified communications platform in October; and IBM, which is building its platform around its Sametime collaboration software and WebSphere application server.

Because of its desktop dominance, Microsoft is expected to have a major impact on the market, as it adds communications capabilities to its Office productivity suite and other business applications. "Microsoft is going to shake up the market," Pleasant said. The software maker, however, will need to partner with companies for advanced telephony capabilities.

In the meantime, Microsoft will market its Office Communications Server and other software as a complement to PBX and IP PBX systems. Pleasant, however, said the software maker is actually offering a "Trojan horse," since its likely when companies are ready to replace their PBX systems, Microsoft will have many of the telephone control capabilities they'll need.

Because of Microsoft's strength in the technology industry, many companies are likely to hold off for a couple of years on making major changes to see which direction Microsoft takes. "I think we're going to see a little bit of a freeze in the market," Pleasant said.

One area in which activity in unified communications has been relatively quiet is among ERP software vendors, such as SAP and Oracle. "They're not making a big splash," Pleasant said. The ERP vendors are moving slowly, but the pace is expected to quicken as partnerships form between them and telephony vendors.

Along with software companies, network providers such as Cisco Systems, Siemens, and others are also expected to take a lead role in communications, providing wired, wireless, and hosted communications, as well as software.

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