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Defining UC: Who Cares?

As I posted last week, Frost & Sullivan recently published my colleague Rob Arnold's latest research on the unified communications market. One of the issues that always comes up when we try to size this market is how to define UC, and how to measure sales in the space.

Strictly speaking, at Frost & Sullivan we define unified communications as an integrated set of voice, data and video communications, linked by presence information and delivered to the end user in a single client; the goal is to be able to click to communicate--that is, to choose a particular contact and communications mode as needed, then easily launch a call, chat session or conference with the click of a mouse. Social media, mobile clients and cloud services may also play a role in UC deployments.

But that is not necessarily how IT buyers and end users define UC. For some, integrated audio and web conferencing may be as far as they’ve gotten when it comes to unifying their communications; for others, basic IP telephony capabilities that deliver single-number reach and integrated access to corporate directories is enough to get them to say, "we use unified communications." Very few organizations have deployed a complete set of integrated audio, web and video communications and collaboration applications--and even fewer set out to do so even for Greenfield environments, let alone as part of an IT and business-process transformation.

Definitions matter, because when we try to size the market for unified communications, we need to ensure we are counting the right stuff. And really, that is only a small portion of the revenues people spend to support a UC implementation. So, UC clients like Sametime, Aura and Lync count, as do integration services and middleware. Professional services around change management and CEBP are included here, too. But if a company opts to integrate stand-alone telephony technology and an IM client, neither of those purchases would be counted as "UC" revenues--they would be considered telephony and IM revenues, respectively.

Of course, the only people who care about market size and opportunity are providers and their investors (and the analysts who do the research). Which means that while how we define UC is important, it’s only important to some people. Vendors need to pay attention to that distinction as they try to drive the UC market, and they need to realize that most customer organizations are years away from deploying an end-to-end UC suite to the majority of their employees, if they ever do. Instead, they are looking for ways to support an increasingly virtual workforce on a variety of devices and in a number of distinct use cases.

One-size-fits-all doesn't work in this scenario; for unification to succeed (defined as actually being used, and as delivering ROI), companies will have to deploy a mix of capabilities to different end users, based on their specific job roles and requirements. Whether they call it UC is irrelevant to all but the marketers.