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Will Enterprises Buy Hosted UC?

This week the carriers are having their big show in Las Vegas, NXTComm, so we're seeing announcements like this one from Nortel, of a joint solution with Microsoft for carrier-hosted Unified Communications. The focus of that particular release is SMBs, which have generally been the target market for hosted services. There's an ongoing debate about whether larger enterprises will opt for hosted UC.The Forrester Research report that I cited last week suggests significant interest in managed UC on the part of businesses. Asked about their interest in purchasing a managed UC service, 30% of Forrester respondents said they were "very interested," and 31% were "somewhat interested." The survey base included both SMBs and enterprises, however.

Nevertheless, we have seen evidence that use of managed services in general is increasing in the large enterprise. I've moderated two Webinars in recent weeks where the issue came up, and in both cases, market researchers presented data indicating growth not just in interest, but in actual adoption. Most notably, Robin Gareiss of Nemertes Research presented data suggesting that 63% of enterprises would use some managed services (not specifically voice-related) by the end of this year.

The flip side here is that while managed-service adoption may be growing, especially for WAN services like MPLS and Ethernet, there isn't much evidence of a growing enterprise appetite for hosted services -- in other words, for having the application live in the carrier cloud instead of in equipment that resides on the customer premises. Gareiss found that the share of enterprises using hosted VoIP or planning to use it within a year was smaller than the historic 10% of the market that bought legacy Centrex before the VoIP migration began. The Forrester survey had this number a bit higher, at 13%, presumably because of the SMB component of their survey base.

Legacy Centrex never drew a large market share because it was inflexible and it offered limited feature/function at a relatively high price. Hosted VoIP services could offer more flexibility, and hosted UC could, in theory, provide an a la carte menu of converged applications that would let companies mix and match applications to be offered on their own CPE versus the carrier's gear. But the market isn't at this point yet.

What's more, even traditionally strong offerings like outsourced conferencing services are falling out of favor as enterprises see in-sourced IP-based audio, video, and Web conferencing as a key way to make the ROI for VOIP and UC. Indeed, the Forrester study found that 40% of respondents already had deployed audio and Web conferencing, and another 20% were in the process of rolling them out; just 10% reported "no plans" for such deployment. Likewise, 37% already had deployed videoconferencing, and another 15% were rolling it out, while just 14% had no plans to do so.

Enterprises will need to look outside their own organizations for help as they begin to assemble the piece-parts of a Unified Communications system. But more likely, they'll want to look to systems integrators and VARs that can work with the enterprise IT staff to create an in-house system that aligns closely with the enterprise's unique needs.