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UC Consolidation Underway
Defining UC has always been problematic. In my writings I've always referred to UC as an architecture rather than as a product--one doesn't "buy UC," rather they "achieve" UC by integrating a variety of collaboration applications into a common set of services that easily allows individuals to leverage and move among channels including voice, video, and chat, through a unified interface.
IT architects increasingly tell us that achieving this vision of UC is difficult given the challenges associated with integration; differing implementations of standards, proprietary systems, and even the competitive marketplace that incentivizes vendors to limit external integration to force their customers to take on additional capabilities in order to achieve the most integrated user experience.
A key factor inhibiting multi-vendor UC is the rise of mobility. With an ever-increasing percentage of workers relying on devices like iPads and smartphones as their primary means of communication, the desktop (where UC integration is most achievable thanks to plug-ins offered by many UC vendors) is declining in importance.
It's relatively easy to leverage plug-ins like Avaya Client Applications (ACA), Cisco Unified Communications Integration for Lync (CUCI-Lync), IBM Sametime Unified Telephony, or protocols like Remote Call Control (RCC) to integrate telephony and UC desktop applications. On mobile devices it's a different story thanks to the closed nature of mobile apps. Those in mixed Cisco IPT/Microsoft Lync environments, for example, need to provision "both" Cisco Jabber and Microsoft Lync on mobile apps, one for access to Lync services, and the other to make phone calls (or look to third-party mobile app providers like Damaka that can provide unified client capabilities).
Nemertes' 2014-15 Enterprise Technology Benchmark captures the growth of consolidation: Nearly 77% of companies are either evaluating UC consolidation or have already started consolidating their UC environments. Already 25% will have started or will complete their consolidation in 2015.
Drivers include the aforementioned integration frustration, a desire for a single mobile app that mirrors the desktop, as well as a desire to reduce costs and management complexity by "picking a winner" in the UC market. Of those who've already picked their consolidated vendor, 41% are going with Microsoft, 29% Cisco, and 12% Avaya.
The move to consolidate doesn't mean that IT will achieve the nirvana of a single, completely integrated vendor, as no one UC vendor provides all components of a collaboration architecture. Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, Unify, and ShoreTel lack email, calendar, and document sharing capabilities. Microsoft lacks room video systems and bridges, branch survivability, and session border control. IBM lacks telephony and video control.
As a result, even those consolidating their UC architectures will still need to address integration, either by selecting certified interoperability partners to accompany their primary UC vendor, or by looking to products from companies like Esna to bridge messaging to UC. For those who are moving part of their UC environment to the cloud by leveraging SaaS offerings like Google Apps for Business and Office 365, interoperability means figuring out a way to extend presence, security, and sign-on services from within the enterprise data center to the cloud.
If UC consolidation is on your radar, consider the following:
• Current licensing – Often you will find that your existing licensing allows you more feature/functionality than what you have deployed
• Risk Tolerance – Consolidating UC apps onto a single vendor increases the risk of vendor "lock-in," meaning that you are tied to your primary vendor's roadmap and features
• Cost – Look at your management costs for your current environment. Often you'll find opportunities to reduce management spend, but with higher up-front investment to buy new capabilities, and of course the cost of transition (e.g. provisioning, user training, and so on)
• The Rest of Your Collaboration Environment – What are your plans for email and calendar, for document sharing, for social? If other groups are moving to the cloud, their choice of cloud provider will influence your decision
• The Network – If you're changing IPT providers, will your network infrastructure support features like auto-registration of endpoints to the correct VLAN, or location tracking for E-911?
Remember as well that consolidation doesn't have to happen all at once. Gather your workers' primary pain points, establish common themes across worker and collaboration types, and prioritize your consolidation strategy to provide building blocks that address the maximum number of themes.