The State of Unified Communications: 2012 and Beyond

By Chris Talbot  |  Print this article Print

Mobility and collaboration will continue to drive the adoption of unified communications in 2012. Here's a look at the state of the market.

Unified communications projects moved beyond the basics of VoIP, IM and presence in 2011, with many businesses starting to adopt more of the advanced features that UC vendors have been talking about for the past few years.

Video, mobility and collaboration were the real stars of the year, and projects including them are sure to continue into 2012 and beyond.

Although the growth of unified communications was dampened by the shaky economy, the market for UC solutions has continued to grow, said Rich Costello, senior research analyst for unified communications and enterprise communications infrastructure at IDC. Overall growth is expected for 2012 even through the health of the economy is still a concern. Deployments will likely continue to extend into video, mobility and collaboration solutions as businesses look to take advantage of the technologies’ robust features and the cost savings typically associated with UC.

"There seems to be a lot of discussion in 2011, in particular around those things as key drivers for UC, and obviously beyond 2011. We’re looking at the next phase of deployments for UC beyond the basic stuff like IP telephony, instant messaging, unified messaging," Costello said. So far, though, there haven’t been many use cases available, but he noted he hopes that will change in the next year.

According to Blair Pleasant, president and principal analyst at COMMfusion, the state of unified communications is changing as collaboration technologies become of greater importance to businesses. Depending on the vendor defining UC and collaboration, UC is either a part of collaboration or vice versa. Pleasant sees collaboration becoming the dominant force.

"What’s really going on these days is we’re seeing UC being subsumed by collaboration," she said. Pleasant added that companies that consider UC to be a part of collaboration do so because they’ve been focused on the messaging part, and what UC is really driving is a different way for people to communicate and work together.

Some people see UC as the plumbing behind the merger and intersection of UC, collaboration and social media, but Pleasant has a different take on it. She sees it as more than that.

"It’s really the way to get people to communicate," she said.

More businesses in the last year adopted UC, but the growth rate is still not going "gangbusters," Pleasant said. When UC launched, there were expectations for explosive growth, but the numbers are still much lower than previously anticipated.

"We’re seeing companies starting with the capabilities and the components that they need and then gradually adding on to that. We’re seeing a lot more adoption of enterprise-grade IM and presence capabilities," Pleasant said.

However, much of the adoption of IM and presence has still not been integrated into IP-PBXes, which is the next step that Pleasant said she would like to see. She anticipates more integration between IP telephony, IM and presence over the next few years.

Mobility was a major driving force for UC in 2011, she said. It’s been driven from the end-user up.

"I have seen a pickup in the last year. Things were kind of stagnant the last two to three years, but in the past year things have started picking up a bit. Especially we’re seeing the idea of consumerization of IT and bring-your-own-device, so companies are really making an effort to find ways to make mobile devices and mobile workers more a part of enterprise communications, so using UC is very important for that," Pleasant said.

The bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend will likely hit IT departments big time when people return to the office following the start of the new year, said Michelle Warren, president of MW Research & Consulting. Tablets are expected to be a big seller for the holidays. When people shake off their New Year’s Eve hangovers and return to the office on January 3, 2012, there’s little question that they’ll want IT to connect them to the corporate network.

Another trend that has been pushing the boundaries of UC is the emergence and popularization of the cloud. Hosted and cloud-based UC services launched in 2011, and although the uptake has been slow so far, there is plenty of interest among SMBs and enterprises.

"In 2011, that became a big talking point, and then we also talked to a lot of vendors and service providers who were starting to roll out some of these cloud-based UC solutions," Costello said. "There’s a lot of interest in those deployments, particularly among the target, which is the mid and small level of customer organizations."

Potential customers spent 2011 kicking the tires of cloud-based UC, but Costello said he expects many organizations to look at it as a viable alternative to traditional UC implementations in 2012. He predicts that it will first attract SMBs, as well as any business looking for a cost-effective UC option.

As with many other areas of cloud services and applications, businesses are looking for ways to move from a capex to an opex spending model, Pleasant said. She had a different take on the main adopters of cloud-based UC going forward.

"We’re seeing mainly small companies and very large companies being the first ones to move toward the cloud," she said. "Some mid-sized have, but it’s really at the very low end and at the very high end. Over the next year, that’s going to be changing as more mid-sized companies and large companies also go in that direction."

Looking ahead to 2012, Pleasant said she expects some key trends to include more integration with social software and more adoption of UC by contact centers.

"I think it’s more of a continuation of what we’ve seen in the past year – hosted, cloud, mobility, virtualization," Pleasant said.