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Systems Integrators Still Key to UC

The evidence is building that the remarkable growth of Unified Communications is coming alive thanks to the role of system integrators (SIs). Now, UC SIs come in many forms:

* Software developers in the enterprise IT department, both for the quick and simple mash-ups of UC into enterprise web pages, and for the more complex detailed integration with the enterprise applications such as CRM (customer relationship management), ERP (enterprise resource planning) or EHR (electronic health record) systems.

* Major SI companies such as HP (watch HP's Enterprise Connect Keynote), BT Services, Dimension Data/NTT, IBM Global Technology Services, Microsoft Consulting Services, Verizon Business Services, and many others. Most of the major UC and voice system producers also have SI organizations that can deliver customized UC solutions.

* Specialized UC SIs, who are experiencing phenomenal business growth by serving UC application and integration needs for businesses of all sizes. One example is Enabling Technologies, whose business is thriving though a combination of Microsoft Lync implementations and CEBP (Communications-Enabled Business Processes) such as the integration of customized presence and Instant Messaging into the Blackboard secondary-education software product.

These SI businesses are thriving because UC is growing much as we predicted. Let's look at the ways these SIs are delivering the goods.

First, UC can easily be implemented as a User Productivity (which we call UC-U) overlay to existing communications infrastructure, addressing only the UC functions needs. For example, this might be IM, presence, click-to-communicate, or social software for a department, location or an entire company, implemented in parallel to the existing PBX systems. This type of implementation can be very effective by providing the User Productivity benefits without the time or cost of upgrading or replacing the PBX infrastructure. The SI adds value by knowing the best ways to integrate the new UC functions, such as with gateways, and to train users to get the most out of the new tools.

Second, UC may be implemented for specific cost savings or applications. One of the most popular of this type is the use of desktop video conferencing, often integrated to meeting room video systems. This has proven to dramatically reduce travel expenses and perhaps even reduce or avoid facilities costs by enabling people to get their jobs done while mobile, when working remotely, or from home. The SI adds value by knowing the most efficient ways to deliver these applications, such as integrating desktops and room video systems, or how to optimize in order to minimize network bandwidth costs.

Third, UC may be focused on specific business process improvements, (which we call UC-B). Again, this can be delivered as an overlay to the existing communications infrastructure (whether PBX or e-mail or IM infrastructures). This is usually in the CEBP category, where the SI is embedding the UC software into the business applications, such as those mentioned above. In this case, the SI has the specific skills and knowledge for the applications, perhaps even with packaged integration modules, so as to minimize implementation time and cost and to help assure success.

Fourth, UC may be part of an upgrade of the PBX or e-mail systems. In this case, the SI will know how to deploy the advanced UC applications, so that the enterprise gets the full value of their purchase, rather than leaving the UC functions un-deployed and the benefits unrealized.

Also, SIs are increasingly skilled in delivering and supporting both on-premise and cloud-based versions of UC. Pure cloud-based solutions will still require gateways and bandwidth to bring the UC functions to the users. Hybrid cloud- and premise-based solutions will require skills in gateways, networking and administration to provide seamless integration. On-premise solutions will require conformance to enterprise standards for virtualization, security and other concerns.

So, If you want to get onto the fast-moving UC train, invite one or more SIs, from the appropriate three categories listed above, to make proposals for hard-dollar-justified UC investments for your enterprise. You don't have to board a train that isn't going where you want to go, but you may find some surprisingly interesting destinations. All aboard!