Unified communications (UC), which involves the integration of different communications channels, such as phone, email, instant messaging and conferencing, on a single IP-based platform for the purpose of speeding communications and improving collaboration among employees, had a modest market of just $302 million in 2008.
But according to the research firm's latest report, "Vertical Market Opportunities in Unified Communications," UC is expected to be used by a wider audience in the coming years. One compelling reason for this, says ABI Research, is that UC allows organizations to make use of only those communications channels they really need -- such as, wanting to only integrate phone, email and IM -- and hold-off on conferencing and other integrations until further down the road.
"Companies have been buying only those component technologies that they think will deliver immediate value," says ABI Research practice director Stan Schatt. "It's only later that they start tying it all together as true Unified Communications."
The report finds that once companies start integrating applications, "synergies multiply: for example, many companies have messaging by voice and email, but when they are integrated, a user can 'see' voicemails and have emails read aloud. Such synergies can deliver increased productivity and efficiency, and greater customer satisfaction."
Larger corporations with multiple locations are expected to see immediate benefits from UC.
But many unified communications vendors will face obstacles due to the fact that their systems are not interoperable. According to the report, there are still gaps where no standards exist. Even the largest vendors, don't make everything, so there's a premium on partnerships. Some will try to sell end-to-end solutions, but most others will attempt to integrate their offerings with the legacy components they find. That could open a tremendous opportunity in replacing older equipment.
Though the largest companies may have the required integration expertise in-house, Schatt believes many will need assistance.
Despite the large potential, the report foresees companies facing choppy waters ahead, as they combat internal corporate "turf wars," a widespread lack of understanding of the benefits UC can deliver, and a high initial cost. Nevertheless, the market is ready for a boom.
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