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New Research: Unified Communications 2012

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The good news in our 2012 InformationWeek Unified Communications Survey: The percentage of respondents who've deployed and are using UC jumped six points, to 36%, in the last year, and the number of "fence sitters" is down, too. The not-so-good news: For 65% of those who've deployed UC or plan to do so, their initiatives have reached only half or less of their employees.

What's the holdup? For 51% of those not deploying, other projects have a higher priority; an additional 32% say they see no definitive business value. Maybe that's because these shops aren't up on new trends in UC, notably an increased emphasis on collaboration and social networking. IBM began using the term "UC2" to identify its Sametime unified communications and collaboration platform some years back, and Cisco has made collaboration the centerpiece of its UC marketing.

One of the quickest UC paybacks is from routing internal voice and video connections over existing MPLS backbone facilities rather than paying "cents-per-minute" to a conference provider. Those savings can be increased by federating your UC system with partners, suppliers, and other external groups with whom you regularly communicate.

As part of its collaboration suite, Cisco has been pushing its Intercompany Media Engine to extend video connectivity to intercompany environments. Even more interesting is the idea of tagging and retrieving video content; Cisco's incorporated speech-to-text transcription and real-time video transcoding. A search platform performs dynamic content tagging, letting users locate and rapidly access specific parts of the program.

IBM is pushing the concept of UC-based social networking to make businesses work smarter and more efficiently. It doesn't take much research to realize that in large companies, the left hand often doesn't know what the right hand is doing. Further, managers are finding that the way to get the best work out of younger employees is to give them the feeling they're empowered and involved. The use of social networking tools in a UC environment lets businesses achieve both of those goals. For example, by scanning emails and texts for keywords, a social-aware UC system can discover users who are working on the same things and help connect them.

One more thing: Don't assume that VoIP is a prerequisite for UC. While that's the message of IP PBX vendors, the reality is that many of UC capabilities can be added to TDM-based PBXes. Microsoft has incorporated PBX-like capabilities into its Lync UC product, and IBM offers its Sametime Unified Telephony, which provides IM, presence, email, and other capabilities, and interfaces to virtually any PBX, IP, or TDM. In fact, IT can eliminate standalone PBXes altogether and integrate call processing functions into a new type of communications infrastructure that incorporates video, email, and collaboration.

Is your company deploying unified communications?

Michael Finneran is an independent consultant and analyst. Write to us at [email protected].