Strong Growth Expected for UC and IP Contact Centers

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With the growth of offshore call centers and ever-increasing modes of personal communication, unified communications (UC) has filled a niche for businesses with disparate locations, and people who rely on a combination of voice, email, and text messaging to stay up to date and in touch. From both operational and business aspects, vendors have marketed unified communications toward companies wishing to increase productivity and save money.

In a report released by Infonetics Research in July, analysts state that the technology is closer to more widespread adoption, stating that both unified communications and the IP contact center markets are growing more rapidly than IP PBX.

There are two key components that form the cornerstone of UC: unified messaging, which stores all message types, and communicator, a presence-enabled directory that shows contact availability by communication mode. A true UC user will have both, and in fact they are the top two applications being deployed by IP PBX adopters.

Titled, "Unified Communications and IP Contact Center Market Outlook," the Infonetics report states that worldwide sales of unified communication
applications increased 21 percent between 2005 and 2006, to $363 million. Analysts expect sales to grow in the high double digits each year from now until 2010. Similarly, worldwide sales of IP contact center applications, including automatic call distribution (ACD), interactive voice response (IVR), and computer telephony integration (CTI), totaled $482 million in 2006, a 26 percent increase over 2005. The IPCC market is forecast to grow in the single digits to low double digits through at least 2010.

"The contact center market is well understood, and is undergoing a technology transition similar to the PBX market, from TDM to IP. That’s causing the IPCC market to grow quite rapidly," explains Matthias Machowinski, directing analyst for enterprise voice and data at Infonetics.

Machowinski further says that the increased acceptance of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) technologies within the past several years has made companies more aware of the potential impact of unified communications. "I think the PBX market is kind of a precursor to this UC market," he says. "If you look at what the UC vendors sell, it’s very much based on VoIP. That’s one of the big changes—people actually know what VoIP is today."

Machowinski also notes, however, that despite forecasted rapid growth in unified communications, the numbers offer only a reflection of the market. "UC is going to be the fasest-growing because it’s still a smaller market at this time, and also because not many companies have deployed UC," he says. "The IP PBX market has slowed down because it has grown so much that now it is the majority of the market."

Still, big-name companies like Avaya, Cisco Systems, Nortel, and Alcatel-Lucent have all made strides in gaining market share for these types of applications. Each company, however, leads in different aspects of the UC and IP contact center markets.

While IP contact center markets encompass ACD, IVR, and CTI, unified communications, according to Machowinski, includes both unified messaging and communicator.

Presently, Avaya has the largest market within unified communications, unified messaging, and the IP contact center market. Alcatel-Lucent is the market share leader in worldwide communicator applications.

These vendors, explains Machowinski, have played a crucial role in the dispersal of unified communications and IP contact center technologies. "I think leadership within these two areas mostly has something to do with your overall leadership in the PBX market, and Avaya is one of the big ones," Machowinski states. "It also has to do with how things are packaged, so some vendors are packaging things alongside a PBX. For example, if you buy a PBX maybe you get a trial of UC, and that might result in additional sales."

Further, the positive effects the technology can have upon business operations remains a motivator for businesses with call centers, he says.

Machowinski also feels that both business operations and processes can be positively impacted by integrating UC solutions into their operations. For example, he says, a business can improve its operations by implementing an IP contact center, allowing it to "use one network for different applications, or manage multiple locations as one."

A business’ productivity is also affected: "You can shave off one, two, or three seconds from a transaction," he says. "It may not seem like much, but when you’re doing hundreds of thousands of transactions a day, it adds up."

Though the applications can significantly save a company money, Machowinski says that certain uses of the technology may give a better return on investment than others. "If you can reduce your telecom bill, that’s how you can figure out if there’s a payback," he says. "If you only use it for clicking to dial, it’s a bit harder to justify those costs."

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