Unified comms message is still too complex

It is some time since the concept of unified communications (UC) became generally known, but it is clear that there has been a lack of education around it because challenging questions are still being asked.

It is some time since the concept of unified communications (UC) became generally known, but it is clear that there has been a lack of education around it because challenging questions are still being asked.

This raises the concern that UC has not been sold as anything other than a rather fuzzy, complex concept that turns off the average CIO, when in fact it can be made very simple.

But major vendors in the market are now waking up to this problem. At the UCExpo trade show in London earlier this month, a panel of industry heavyweights conducted a lively debate on how to address the market in a more constructive manner.

Lee Shorten, UK managing director at Avaya, says: "As an industry we need to find ways of seeing the business benefits rather than throwing buzzwords around. We have done a bad job of explaining it to people."

Mitel enterprise director Marcus Jewell points out that the majority of UC installations have been sold as a straight PBX replacement, but he says this needs to change and the emphasis should be placed elsewhere.

"We have not explained the benefits in terms that decision-makers can understand. We have overcomplicated it," he says. "Until about a year ago, UC solutions involved an inordinate amount of boxes. We should have targeted the spend towards the software."

Jewell says that there has also been confusion over who within an organisation takes responsibility for handling the UC implementation. "If you are selling a LAN solution, very few people in the business really care about it, but when you get into UC everyone has an opinion, so it has been more technically complex to put in," he adds.

"It is getting simpler, especially with the growth in SIP trunking, but UC still crosses over multiple budgets and vendors have not necessarily felt comfortable addressing that," Jewell says.

ShoreTel EMEA marketing director Tom Perry says resellers have shied away from UC because it is perceived as a "complex beast".

"Solutions have become more complex when the core message should be ease of use," he says. "But until we can prove a technology's acceptability and vendors can articulate that, there will not be a standardised message."

Interoperability and openness
Perry's remarks bring up the issue of standards within the UC environment, as it emerges that customers are crying out for interoperability and are curious about the impact of open source solutions on the communications world.

IBM's unified communications leader for northern Europe, Brendan Buckingham, says the openness inherent in the UC environment means CIOs are coming to expect either open or de facto standards within the industry.

Interoperability is in demand when it comes to the multi-faceted communications world. Mark Summerson, general manager of UC at integrator BT Global Services, who ties together different vendors' solutions, says it is a huge challenge to make them work together.

"Microsoft is doing a lot of work to integrate solutions with OCS, IBM is doing something similar. "It is getting there, but there are far more interoperability issues on the voice side than the application side," he adds.

Avaya's Shorten says the vendor community has been working on this area but has neglected to make a point of it. Avaya's Aura platform, which is rapidly approaching its first birthday, is one example of a multi-vendor UC set-up, he says.

Buckingham at IBM maintains that the growth of interoperable platforms has partly come about because businesses are becoming more receptive to using open source platforms and applications.

"Many of those applications have UC capability and need to be able to collaborate with more established software packages so that the channel can still drive realistic costs and licensing," he says.

Jewell at Mitel adds that costs will still be a consideration, even with open source communications. "All of these companies have an agenda to make money elsewhere because they are advertising companies," he says. "You will pay for it somewhere along the line."

Next week on MicroScope.co.uk, we explore the impact of consumer technology, social media trends and generational workplace shifts on the UC sale.

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