New systems that merge e-mail, telephony, and online collaboration are taking root among companies—and increasingly moving onto the Internet
Enterprise take-up of Unified Communications (UC) – the merging of IP telephony, conferencing and collaboration, messaging and communications tools – is on a "steeply rising curve", according to analysts.
Spending on UC among businesses worldwide is expected to rise from just $302m last year to $4.2bn in five years' time, according to industry watchers ABI Research.
But despite the uptick, it won't all be plain sailing for UC. Adoption will be held back by internal corporate "turf wars", a widespread lack of understanding of the benefits unified communications can deliver, and a high initial cost, the analysts predict.
ABI Research practice director Stan Schatt said at the moment companies are only buying the unified communications components they think will deliver immediate value. "It's only later that they start tying it all together as true unified communications," he added in a statement.
But when they do, the analysts said, that's when the "synergies multiply". While many companies have messaging by voice and email, 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, ABI Research said.
Large corporations with multiple locations will benefit most immediately from unified communications, according to the company. And with the lack of UC standards and vendors who can provide end-to-end systems, it's the largest businesses that are also most likely to have the in-house expertise necessary to integrate disparate systems from vendors.
"We foresee a booming market for managed services, simply because unified communications is tricky and many companies won't want to spend the time and effort to do it themselves. That applies to the market as a whole, but particularly to smaller businesses," Schatt added.
At the same time, new research has found, Unified communications is migrating to the cloud.
According to a report by analysts In-Stat, tech vendors are now working closely with providers of hosted VoIP services, leading to several flavours of unified communications now emerging from the cloud.
These include versions featuring a "hybrid mix" of customer-owned equipment with managed or hosted services, which target medium-sized businesses; fully hosted offerings with smaller businesses in mind; and revamped broadband telephone services targeting small office/home office users.
The shift to a more cloud-centric approach can be seen in the way vendors are now positioning UC as a service rather than a product. Unified communications implementations bring together a variety of digital communication tools to make it easier for users to collaborate and improve business processes.
UC, for example, might mean bringing together instant messaging, presence information, videoconferencing, as well as email, SMS, fax and voicemail to improve productivity, and potentially trim the cost of an organisation's IT infrastructure.
While unified communications has yet to achieve its full potential, In-Stat said, the tech will get a boost from trends such as SIP trunking, now touted as a cost-saving mechanism, which will ultimately enable the interconnection of unified communications systems.
The move towards higher mobile data allowances will also see the extension of unified communications to smartphones and other wireless data devices, according to the analyst.
As the world economy rebounds, so will unified communications: total revenues for products and services are expected to reach $39.7bn in 2013.
In related news, ISP TalkTalk (CPW.L) is predicting email could die out as younger internet users develop a preference for shorter-style messages such as tweets and IM.
The ISP claimed email is turning into "grey mail" with older generations now more likely to use email than younger ones (98 per cent of people aged 65-plus, compared to 86 per cent of 15 to 24-year-olds). According to TalkTalk, young people prefer technologies that allow them to contact whole groups of friends rather than individuals one at a time.