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Themes and Takeaways from VoiceCon San Fran

As always, VoiceCon was a great way to hear what's going on in the industry, catch up with old friends, make new friends, and get the pulse of the market. The focus on unified communications has moved from "What is it?" to "How do we do it?" and "How do we prove its value?"The economy is on everyones mins, and many discussions centered around how (or if) UC can help companies save money and reduce costs. There are certainly great case studies demonstrating the value of UC and how companies are transforming their business processes and saving money, and we heard quite a few good examples from the various speakers. It's become clear in today's economic climate that CIOs and CEOs are not going to spend money on a "nice to have" technology that makes employees 10-20% more productive, and that a new sales approach is needed.

Several themes came up in several of the sessions and panels I attended:

* Presence is the glue that unifies UC * It's all about business value * Focus on the business processes in order to get the most ROI * Look at specific ROI areas for UC, such as conferencing * The importance of the end user experience is key * The PBX is dead and now it's all based on software * When looking at their UC strategies, enterprises should build an inclusive team with expertise from all of the various organizations in the company * Interoperability is key, but there are different types of interoperability (interdomain, intradomain) * Contact centers are one of the best ways to demonstrate the power of UC - especially by being able to link to "expert agents" or subject matter experts. Much of this is along the lines of what the team has been saying for a while, and it was nice to hear our beliefs validated.

Several articles about VoiceCon commented on the fact that there was less hype about UC and there was more discussion about how to sell it within the enterprise and how to overcome some of the management issues related to UC. We're at the point where most people understand what UC is all about, but don't know how it can help them with their particular needs, and how they can or should use UC within their organizations. This is one of the reasons several vendors are focusing on the end users and business users, as well as vertical applications or specific horizontal applications (such as expert agents for the contact center, or sales force optimization). The vendors that break the code and figure out how to get the IT manager and line of business managers within the enterprise to work together will have a significant advantage over those who don't. UC is all about business process optimization and communication-enabling business processes and applications - but helping enterprises to understand how best to do this within their particular environments is challenging.

Based on what I heard at VoiceCon, several vendors are headed in the right direction. There will be significant challenges ahead, and until the economic outlook improves it will be harder to convince enterprises that they should consider UC in order to help them increase revenues or reduce costs. But those companies that have the foresight to look at their business processes and how UC can help them reach their strategic goals will be able to leapfrog their competitors.