Oscar Wilde may have believed that the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, but it is questionable whether a decade of talk has translated into anything more tangible for the unified communications (UC) market.
Doing the talking this month has been IDC, which took an in-depth look at the IT spending priorities of businesses and examined the post-recession appetite for UC and collaboration kit. The analyst’s European Services Survey reveals that last year cost was king, with many firms admitting their top IT priority was simply reducing how much they spent on it.
Over the past three years the main technological aim of European companies has been aligning IT with business needs. From 2008 to 2010, more than 40 per cent of the 500-plus companies asked in the survey cited this as their top priority.
But, beyond this, 2009 saw a dramatic swing from wanting to improve IT service levels to simply desiring a reduction in cost. The trend has been reversed somewhat this year, but about a quarter of organisations still cite reducing the cost of IT as their primary ambition.
When it comes to network spending, IDC’s WAN Manager Survey, which quizzed 1,392 firms, reveals many Western European firms continue to take a belt-and-braces approach.
Security remains the primary driver for splashing the cash on networking technology, with a score of 3.8 out of five (where one is “not important” and five is “very important”).
Simplifying network structure and improving the performance of applications on the WAN tied in second place with a score of 3.4. More high-end goals, such as voice and data convergence and adding video, UC or new enterprise applications, were deemed far less important.
But what has the increased importance of cost control and reticence to take risks meant for UC? Perhaps unsurprisingly, uptake remains low, and Western Europe is lagging way behind the US.
Fewer than 20 per cent of European firms asked are using the technology, compared with more than 30 per cent of US counterparts. Almost nine in 10 companies on the other side of the Atlantic use it, or plan to do so. But more than 30 per cent of those in Western Europe claim to have not considered UC or to have rejected the idea, according to the WAN Manager Survey.
IDC’s EMEA UC research director Chris Barnard claimed UC has to be sold on a strong business case, lest it be considered frippery. The channel would do well to drive adoption through a strong services offering, he added.
“We believe UC should be accessible from desktop and mobile devices and link closely to business applications,” he said. “Ultimately, UC is all about the business.
“The role of the CIO is changing. It is not just technology for technology’s sake. It is looking at different consumption models. In the initial years [of the UC market], we see a huge role for professional services.”
Barnard added that, while cloud computing is set to play a huge role in the future of UC, on-premises offerings remain by far the most popular option for the time being. The hottest market in the comms space at the moment is the Microsoft OCS space, according to IDC.
“We expect market disruption later in the year when Microsoft releases the latest version,” said Barnard.
Other analysts also expect big things from OCS, including Infonetics Research, which now positions Microsoft with Cisco as the leading UC vendors. Infonetics tips double-digit growth for the market for the next few years, up to an annual worth of $1bn (£647m) in 2013.
“Against the backdrop of significant enterprise spending reductions on all kinds of products, the UC market is holding up remarkably well,” said Matthias Machowinski, directing analyst for voice and data at Infonetics.
Not every industry onlooker is as convinced by the merits of UC, though. Gartner distinguished analyst Nick Jones penned a scathing blog earlier this month, decrying the technology.
“UC looks to me like an ill-assorted mix of technologies that vendors want to sell in a single bundle because it is convenient for them, rather than because they are what your employees actually need,” he wrote.
“For the next few years UC will be a battleground between mega-vendors such as Microsoft and Cisco who want to suck you into their technological whirlpool where you will be trapped paying licence fees for a decade.”
One such mega-vendor is IBM, and Darren Adams, portfolio manager for UC and online collaboration at Big Blue, said the technology has suffered from a cloudy definition.
“There is confusion around what UC is,” he said. “Some solutions seem to be a little bit expensive, but you have to measure that against the return on investment.”
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