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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