Unified Communications: The Untapped Channel Opportunity

By Pedro Pereira  |  Print this article Print

Unified Communications is about to hit a hockey stick growth curve. Are you ready to take advantage of the opportunity ahead?

When you think of unified communications, it’s hard to imagine anyone not wanting to take advantage of the technology. I mean, unless you’re a Luddite, why would you resist integrating cell and landline phone service with email, video and instant messaging?

Think about it: You’re on the road and you want to check on your voicemail in the office or at home. If your voicemail is integrated with your email, you can simply log on to your email through your smart phone or laptop to hear your messages. This, to me, is one of the most attractive features of UC.

From a business perspective, the benefits are plentiful. The successful integration of email with voice, video and collaboration applications has the potential to seriously boost user productivity and improve the bottom line. Businesses that understand these benefits surely want to invest in UC.

That has to be why the Computing Technology Industry Association found that 49 percent of organizations in a recent survey were planning to increase their spending on UC more than on their overall IT budgets in the next 12 months. Large firms, with 500 employees or more, are leading the way, with 64 percent of those participating in the study saying they would boost their UC budgets more than overall IT.

CompTIA polled 600 IT and business executives and 300 channel executives for the study.

For these UC investments to occur, solution providers have to help businesses overcome certain obstacles. Price is a major inhibitor to the adoption of UC, and clients also have serious concerns about reliability, security and integration with legacy systems.

There is an obvious opportunity here for solution providers to pitch infrastructure and networking gear upgrades, as well as security and communications solutions.

The reliability issue could be related to VOIP-related concerns. While respondents in the CompTIA survey typically use VOIP as the foundation for a UC platform, few are truly happy with quality.

Only 16 percent classified their VOIP systems as "very close to ideal, "with 39 percent saying their systems are "close to ideal" and 36 percent rating theirs as "somewhat close." These results are hardly satisfactory, and point to the need to improve these systems, be it on the network side or the systems themselves.

For any UC solution to attain high levels of satisfaction, the voice component is fundamental. While most of us may shrug off email downtime – so long as it’s for a short period – I doubt we’d be as accepting of a phone outage. You pick up the phone to ask somebody a question, and you always expect to get a dial tone.

Still, email has become deeply entrenched in our lives, with 93 percent of participants in the CompTIA survey saying it is their most used communication tool. Email applications double as a database, with users storing information in various folders, which helps explain why it is so widely used.

In the coming months, solution providers have some work to do regarding UC. For one thing, they have to convey the message to vendors regarding users’ concerns over price, security and reliability. These are the types of issues that stifle technology adoption, and they must be overcome.

In addition, solution providers also must educate themselves on the technology and learn how to sell it. Gartner predicts the worldwide market for UC will near $18 billion by 2014, indicating that sales opportunities will abound for solution providers that learn the technology.

For the channel, UC remains a relatively new endeavor. CompTIA found that 61 percent of U.S. solution providers in its survey have sold UC for less than five years. Another 28 percent said they plan to enter the market in the next two years.

It is a good time for them to do so, considering the level of interest among end users to invest in the technology. But unless they work with UC vendors to overcome adoption obstacles, it could be a long, arduous road.

Pedro Pereira is a columnist for Channel Insider and a freelance writer. He can be reached at pedrocolumn@gmail.com.