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Market Confusion? More Like Frustration!

When I speak to vendors and even to some consultants, I often hear that customers who seek solutions in communications and collaboration are "confused," and that the primary cause is disorder within the market. There are, according to this narrative, too many choices, and with UC creating entirely new options for architectures, lead vendors and paths to implementation, not to mention the crappy economy, customers are pulling back and laying low.

I'm not so sure. For one thing, customers aren't monolithic. While some enterprises have, for a variety of reasons, stopped or seriously slowed spending, quite a few have continued along their communications and collaboration migration paths. Last week Frost & Sullivan reported that the enterprise telephony market had grown 14.4% in 2010 compared to 2009. Now there are some caveats with that finding--telephony is only one segment of the enterprise C&C market, 2010 was a bounce-back year and it's far from clear that 2011 will produce similarly positive results. But Frost & Sullivan's findings demonstrate that when enterprise purse-strings are loosened, buyers know what they want and they proceed accordingly.

The market confusion argument falls short on other levels as well. While it's true that there are more choices today than there were just 12 or 24 months ago, most of the customers I speak with welcome that development. It gives them more leverage with the vendors, it creates more opportunities to respond to the rapidly evolving end-user requirements for UC, social apps and mobility, and in a time when career paths within IT seem impassible, it creates windows for personal development and advancement.

More importantly, what I hear from customers isn't confusion, it's frustration. Frustration that solution packages too often deliver less functionality than was promised; frustration over the level of integration needed for new systems to interwork with existing systems; frustration that the tools for management and administration, while improving, continue to lag.

There are, however, some important elements of truth in the market confusion argument. It's certainly true that the old models for enterprise C&C are breaking down. UC, while significant, is only one of several potential game-changers that enterprises currently confront: the Cloud, communications-as-a-service, video that’s widely--and cheaply--available, the incorporation of social networks and apps into day-to-day business operations, the maturation of SIP Trunking and, perhaps the mother-lode, mobility.

The fact that these are all intertwined and, to some extent, interdependent, makes the planning process much more complex. And they also combine to create a new set of requirements--and expectations--that buyers of enterprise C&C have to meet.

So are buyers confused? For the most part, no. There's a lot that's changing in enterprise C&C and it'll take some time for enterprises to sort out what's real, what's needed, and to juggle the availability of new solutions against the framework they live within and the boundaries set by legitimate concerns about cost, depreciation schedules for existing investments, security, manageability and technology maturation.