Don Van Doren
Don Van Doren brings 25 years of experience as the founder and president of Vanguard Communications, a leading independent consulting...
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Don Van Doren | December 16, 2009 |


Unified Communications and Gartner's Strategic Technologies

Unified Communications and Gartner's Strategic Technologies When Gartner identified its Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2010 at Symposium this fall, UC wasn't on the list.

When Gartner identified its Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2010 at Symposium this fall, UC wasn't on the list.

There was a buzz in the UC blogosphere when Gartner identified its Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2010 at Symposium this fall. UC wasn't on the list. In the two previous years, UC had been there, at least in name. The 2008 UC entry focused on the move to IP, and in 2009 on the effects of vendor consolidation. While hardly making the kind of compelling case and game-changing impacts that we see reported in many case studies, at least UC made the cut. But not for 2010.What happened? Will UC sputter and fizzle out? No, of course not. But it's instructive to consider the factors that may have caused Gartner to name other candidates.

First of all, consider Gartner's guidelines in their Strategic Technologies press release: "Gartner defines a strategic technology as one with the potential for significant impact on the enterprise in the next three years. Factors that denote significant impact include a high potential for disruption to IT or the business, the need for a major dollar investment, or the risk of being late to adopt." Moreover, Gartner's list tends to focus on what's coming up in the future. Many people think that they have UC figured out and are moving on to other things. (My view is that we have only scratched the surface of what the underlying shift in communications infrastructure will mean. Recall that the early estimates for electricity usage were based on how many gas streetlamps could be replaced. We have a similar issue here.)

Then, consider the items that were cited by the Gartner researchers: Cloud Computing, Advanced Analytics, Client Computing, IT for Green, Reshaping the Data Center, Social Computing, Security--Activity Monitoring, Flash Memory, Virtualization for Availability, and Mobile Applications. The primary theme here focuses on infrastructure costs and technologies that can demonstrate cost reductions. Not surprising given the current state of an economy that is showing renewed signs of future fragility.

No surprise, but cash is king, and enterprises are holding onto reserves wherever they can. Potential expenditures are scrutinized much more carefully, and approvals now have to come from a higher level in the hierarchy. We see this in our consulting work, and colleagues have told me of similar situations in their businesses, both products and services.

Potential investments in unified communications usually find one of two pathways to approval in this climate: demonstrable, solid ROI; and, piggybacking onto another approved or mandatory purchase. The latter case is often a new voice communications system that is required because of an end-of-life or end-of-service situation. For the former, solid ROIs are certainly provable. There are ample case studies on many vendors' websites that show excellent examples.

Here's the challenge. UC opportunities tend to fall into one of two major use case categories. UC-U(ser) cases provide communications tools that help individuals communicate more efficiently. The tools are easy to understand, but solid ROI is challenging, because green eye-shade types (and often line-of-business managers) tend to think of these as "productivity enhancements" with squishy ROI potential. UC-B(usiness Process), on the other hand, often brings demonstrable ROI and paybacks within the fiscal cycle. But the frequent perception is that these implementations require process change, integration into existing applications, and other potentially complex and risky changes. Unfortunately, therefore, in this economic climate more UC implementations languish than should.

So, is it surprising that UC isn't on Gartner's strategic technologies list? Not really, for three reasons. Gartner's focus tends to be on IT-related issues, a weighting many of their Top 10 selections reflect; the best benefits of UC accrue to the business operations. Finding the ROI has been challenging to those concentrating on UC-U, also shifting UC consideration to the back burner. And some companies feel they have a plan for UC, and are looking to the next great thing.

But not everyone. We are seeing growing numbers of results that are "game changers" for the enterprises implementing them. These kinds of results will become commonplace with the continued shift to software-assisted communications and the integration of communications capabilities into business applications and processes. Farsighted enterprises, seeking to take advantage of these times to enhance their competitive position, are making these investments and gaining these benefits now.

As those results become ever more widespread, UC will probably reappear on Gartner's list.

What do you think? Post your comments here, or write to me at Gartner identified its Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2010 at Symposium this fall, UC wasn't on the list.


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