There’s a war on for control over the future of unified communications. On one side there is the telecommunications community that tends to view unified communications as an extension of the PBX. Then we have Web-based entities that tend to view unified communications as a variation of a Web 2.0 application. And finally, there are companies such as Microsoft that is delivering unified communications as an application that runs on a local server.
None of the major providers of unified communications, however, are locked into one approach over another. Each of them to one degree or another is moving in each other’s direction, albeit from slightly different points on the unified communications map.
Not surprisingly solution providers that view unified communications as the next great extension to personal productivity applications tend to view Microsoft Lync favorably. In fact, a new “Contact Center Applications for Microsoft Lync: A Reseller View of the Market” report from the McGee-Smith Analytics research firm that was commissioned by Zeacom, a Microsoft business partner that builds call center applications based on a variety of unified communications software from multiple vendors, finds that ubiquitous Windows interface is starting to have an impact of unified communications preferences.
Sheila McGee-Smith, founder of McGee-Smith Analytics, says that based on the research her firm did it’s clear that reseller enthusiasm for Microsoft Lync is being driven by customers that view Lync as an extension of the Microsoft Office footprint. That perception has simultaneously expanded the available market for unified communications along with the number of resellers interested in selling unified communications, while at the same time exacerbating tensions between traditional PC application resellers and the partners of network equipment vendors such as Avaya and Cisco.
But it’s not at all clear how much conflict there may actually be between solution providers of different classes of unified communications. Microsoft Lync, for example, may be more widely used with traditional enterprise, while unified communications offerings from other providers might be used more heavily in call centers. In fact, the bigger issues for Microsoft Lync resellers might by Skype, which Microsoft acquired last year. While Skype is clearly considered to be a consumer-grade service, the fact remains that it’s used heavily in many small to medium business (SMB) environments. Microsoft has pledged to federate the Skype and Microsoft Lync environments, but it’s not clear to what degree that will draw a line in the sand relative to usage in SMB environments. And just to make matters a little more interesting from a channel perspective, Microsoft is also making Lync available as a cloud computing service as well.
There’s no doubt that the unified communications market is anything but unified. At the same time, however, in a world where customers are trying to get a lot more done with less, interest in unified communications is high. Beyond simply saving money on travel expenses, many organizations have come to view unified communications as a critical tool for boosting employee productivity. In addition, internal IT organizations tend to view products such as Microsoft Lync as a way to consolidate a number of messaging and collaboration products that they currently have to manage and support separately.
The goods new is that all this interest in unified communications tends to create a lot of opportunity for the channel. The bad news is that a lot of customers are not exactly sure what they mean by unified communications, which can make it hard to get those customers to commit to anything more substantive than a pilot project that doesn’t do much for solution providers unless it mushrooms into a full-scale production deployment somewhere down the road.