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Must-Do's for UC in 2009

2008 is gone--and no one knows what's in store for 2009. But for the Unified Communications market to get to the next level, certain things will have to happen. Here's a list of some "must do's"--things that vendors, resellers, and enterprises need to work on in 2009 if the UC market is to reach its potential:1. Channel training and incentives for UC: The channel is the key to selling UC, and they need to be incentivized to go beyond selling switches to selling UC solutions, especially solutions that integrate with business processes and applications. Most VARs and system integrators (SIs) are still leading with IP Telephony or Unified Messaging rather than UC, and are especially falling behind in terms of selling UC integrated with business processes, which requires additional business analysis skills that most VARs and SIs lack.

2. Develop and provide ROI tools that demonstrate how UC will impact the bottom line: UC provides significant productivity benefits and enhancements to individual workers and workgroups, but how does it impact the enterprise as a whole and the bottom line? Without a way to demonstrate hard ROI to CIOs, it will be difficult for companies to prove the case and get UC implemented.

3. Federation and interoperability: We made some headway in 2008, but we still have a long way to go. Vendors like IBM and Microsoft are working together on UC interoperability, and we're seeing more interoperability testing from many of the leading UC vendors, but the industry needs to do a better job sharing presence information between components and between vendors to make UC more valuable to companies, both internally and externally.

4. More involvement from line-of-business managers: It's important that business managers understand how UC can impact their business processes by reducing latency and making them more effective and efficient. IT managers don't have a vested interest in purchasing and implementing UC, but business managers do, and they need to work with the IT managers, vendors, and SIs to determine which business processes can be improved with UC capabilities.

In addition to those "must-do's" there also are a few "should do's" for 2009. These won't make or break the market, but will certainly help the UC market grow:

1. Integrate UC with social networking. Social networking software has been gaining ground within enterprises, and these applications become even more compelling and useful when integrated with UC capabilities for basic functions such as click-to-call or "find the expert."

2. More UC product offerings from applications vendors like Oracle, SAP,, etc. UC is most valuable when it is embedded into business processes and applications, and it makes sense for the leading application vendors to offer UC-capable products. There's been very little progress from these vendors in terms of offering UC solutions.

3. The switch vendors need to find ways to add value to their products and remain relevant. Mobile phones and services are becoming the predominant means of communication even within the enterprise, and unless the switch vendors find ways of proving their value, they will be relegated to limited uses that mobile devices do not currently provide. Extending UC capabilities to mobile devices has been one of the key focuses of UC vendors but, on the downside, the value of desktop phones and, to some degree, the PBX/IP-PBX, has been greatly diminished.

The bottom line: The UC industry has made good headway during the past year, but there is still much work to be done.