Organizations Primed for Broader Use of Unified Communications

Deployment of unified communications solutions is poised for growth as organizations build on a foundation of voice and data applications to include more video, collaboration, and social communications tools, according to new research from CompTIA, the non-profit association for the information technology (IT) industry.

Nearly half (49 percent) of the organizations surveyed for the new CompTIA study, "Unified Communications and Collaboration Market Trends," said their expenditures on unified communications technologies will grow relatively faster than their overall IT budget during the next 12 months.

Large firms with 500 employees or more are significantly more likely to increase their unified communications investment relative to the overall IT budget than the smaller firms with fewer than 50 employees, 64 percent to 35 percent respectively.

"This likely reflects the complexity of communications at a large firm compared to a small firm," said Tim Herbert, vice president of research at CompTIA. "More staff, more locations, more end-points, and possibly more IT systems make for a more complex communications landscape and a stronger desire to simplify through a unified communications strategy."

IT channel companies express similar positive sentiments about growth in unified communications adoption. Among IT firms with a unified communications practice, 31 percent expect significant growth in their practice during the next 12 months, while 59 percent expect modest growth. Few expect a drop-off in their unified communications business.

While IT companies and their customers are bullish on the future of unified communications, the CompTIA study indicates that greater clarity about what constitutes unified communications is needed.

From the IT channel perspective, technology product and solution providers also have several hurdles to overcome with customers. These customer challenges include price sensitivity, cited by 39 percent of channel respondents; reliability concerns (36 percent); security concerns (34 percent); difficulty in quantifying return on investment (33 percent); and a general lack of understanding of unified communications products and services (32 percent).

Defining Unified Communications 
Customers and their technology partners are fairly consistent when asked to define unified communications. For each group, core areas include email, Web conferencing, unified messaging, video conferencing, audio conferencing, and IP communications.

But despite the media attention of technologies such as social communication and location-based services, they are not yet strongly associated with unified communications, according to the CompTIA study.

Additionally, fewer respondents have made the leap from viewing unified communications as an incremental improvement for interaction and sharing to the higher-level communications-enabled business processes. This is seen in the relatively lower numbers of respondents making a strong connection between unified communications with other enterprise systems such as customer relationship management tools.

Many of the technologies associated with unified communications are already widely adopted, according to the CompTIA study. For example, 64 percent of organizations surveyed have Web conferencing; 58 percent, use video conferencing; 54 percent, collaboration applications or platforms; and 51 percent, voice-over-IP (VoIP) telephony.

"The integration of all these elements is the hard part, tying all these things together," said Seth Robinson, director of technology analysis at CompTIA. "Voice and data will still be important, but more effort will be devoted to complement them by bringing more video, collaboration, and social elements into the enterprise."

Before this can happen, however, organizations must perform a network analysis to determine if their networks can support the requirements for new solutions.

"Voice and video are the components of a solution that will drive network upgrades since they consume the most bandwidth and must be handled properly to assure high quality," Robinson explained.

Indeed, among companies in the CompTIA study that have installed a VoIP solution, 61 percent upgraded network equipment such as routers and switches; and 51 percent upgraded infrastructure, such as cabling and network drops.

CompTIA’s Unified Communications and Collaboration Market Trends study is based on separate online surveys of 600 IT and business executives involved in their organization’s communications initiatives or strategies and 300 companies in the IT channel. Surveys were conducted in March. 

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