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The UC Bright Spot: Conferencing and Collaboration

UC won't continue on the same trajectory it's been on for the past few years. But there are still some bright spots.

While I was revising my market numbers for Unified Communications to take into account the impact of the economic downturn, it became clear that UC won't continue on the same trajectory it's been on for the past few years. But there are still some bright spots in terms of technology purchases.In particular, while revenues for some UC components like IP-PBXs and unified messaging will be relatively flat, revenues for collaboration tools and conferencing will increase significantly. The net or what I call "True UC" revenues (revenues that can be attributed to being used in a UC solution as opposed to being used as a stand-alone product) for conferencing and collaboration premise-based products will grow from $9.6 million in 2008 to $20.5 million in 2009. As companies cut travel budgets, they are replacing in-person meetings with virtual meetings using conferencing and collaboration tools.

I've been speaking with lots of vendors, IT managers and UC customers recently, and it seems pretty unanimous that web and videoconferencing and web collaboration will be the leading UC applications for the next few years. Conferencing is one of the few areas where it's easy to determine and measure ROI based on travel expenses that have been eliminated and replaced. Whether it's expensive telepresence systems, Microsoft's Roundtable, desktop videoconferencing or laptops with built-in video capabilities, more and more companies are turning to these solutions.

Several enterprise customers noted that their companies have eliminated all unnecessary travel, but because they have been able to meet with customers, co-workers and partners via videoconferencing, they have been able to maintain the relationships and get their jobs done without having to get into a train, plane or automobile. In addition, videoconferencing helps make meetings more effective than audio-only conferences, because you can see what the other person/people are doing; in short, video helps to ensure that participants pay attention to what's being presented and discussed, instead of checking their Blackberries or doing other unrelated activities.

Several people noted that videoconferencing makes it easier to communicate, especially with people whose native language is different from theirs--perhaps because they can see facial expressions, hand motions and maybe even read lips. As one person put it: "Working in different languages and seeing the person using video lets you communicate better. They can understand me better and I can understand them better."

I've also been asking customers to estimate how much time and money they have saved by substituting conferencing for travelling, and the responses have been very impressive. One person uses videoconferencing instead of traveling at least four times a month, saving her company $4,000-$5,000 and four travel days per month. Another mentioned that while she still travels to meet with clients, she no longer travels for internal meetings, which saves her company about $1,500 a month. In addition to the cost savings, substituting videoconferencing for traveling enabled workers to spend more time with their families, which as one marketing executive said "is priceless."

Web collaboration is also picking up steam; tools like desktop sharing and document sharing let people work together on a project, regardless of their location. Many of those I spoke with claim that web collaboration helps them save time while making it easier to work together on documents or presentations. One person who was working on an internal communications piece was able to share the document with her co-workers so they could work on a single version of the document instead of passing different iterations around. Web collaboration tools also help to reduce the chance of miscommunication, since everyone can view the same thing at the same time.

So, conferencing and collaboration look like they'll be bright spots in an otherwise flat UC market during the coming year. I expect to see more companies coming on board during 2009. What's your company doing or, if you're already using these tools, what's been your experience? Drop me a line at [email protected] or respond to this post.UC won't continue on the same trajectory it's been on for the past few years. But there are still some bright spots.