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UC Friday: Unified Communications in 2008

There are two fundamental missions for unified communications: Either to enhance productivity of individual users, or to integrate communications directly into business processes and transform how work gets done. In both, the user can initiate the communications event. But in the second, the workflow software or a business application itself often triggers the communication. From what we've seen, the business benefits from the second approach are often an order of magnitude greater.

During 2008, the suppliers will push both methods. You can expect to see the major vendors launching concerted sales efforts during the first half of this year, which will ramp up during the second half. Many will promote the "business process" approach, but time will tell whether they can sustain that focus or whether the vendors slip back into selling IM. The outcome will have a profound impact on the long-term success of UC.

I also believe that there'll be progress in the systems integration side of UC during 2008. I hope to see several systems integrators "getting it" and successfully developing a substantial business using SDKs and APIs to integrate UC into business process applications. Who these SIs will be is anyone's guess, but the early movers are likely to be rewarded; this is likely to become a significant business opportunity by year end and into 2009.

The key UC application winners in 2008 and beyond will be collaboration, issue resolution and support of voice and data mobility. Mobility, of course, is the hot story for 2008, and UC supports portals for mobile devices. Opportunities for portal applications will accelerate the move from ordinary cell phones to data devices from the likes of RIM, Nokia and Motorola, using their own operating system or Windows Mobile. And watch Google.

Another in trend in 2008 is the continued de-emphasis on desk phones. In more and more business environments, people spend their entire work day inside a business application portal such as SAP, Salesforce.com or a home-grown system. The combination of mobility solutions and applications enhanced with UC-based communications capabilities diminishes the need for desk phones (just as Marty Parker predicted about 18 months ago.

The diminished role of desktop phones is more evidence that PBXs--and the vendors who depend on PBXs for their survival--are becoming marginalized. I don't expect that the PBX market will collapse during 2008, but I do expect to see some of the traditional telecom suppliers jumping onto the system-integration train later this year.

Partnerships of all types were the rage during 2007, and the trend will continue into 2008. Welcome to the era of "co-opetition." As the year progresses, however, these partnerships are likely to start coalescing, reflecting the trend toward consolidation that we're seeing throughout the industry. Since no single vendor can do it all, the need for vendor coalitions/partnerships will intensify and, naturally, some will be stronger than others. For the vendors, the stakes are high; if they don't pick the right partner(s), they may not last.

One of the disappointments of 2008 is likely to involve presence. While the industry will continue to pay lip service to federation and advanced functionality, there's not likely to be meaningful progress for at least three reasons:

1. Implementation is much more complex than is generally acknowledged; 2. The industry will not make much headway selling the kinds of applications that require rich presence 3. Each supplier believes that it can "own" the presence engine, diminishing incentives to work together.

Finally, social networking. Collaboration is a key UC application, but it's also a critical element in social networking. There are innovative ways for UC and collaboration to come together, but I don't expect to see much progress during 2008. 2009, however, will be a different story!

So, what do you think? You can share your thoughts about 2008's big UC issues and trends by writing me at [email protected] or by posting comments here or in the VoiceCon Unified Communications eWeekly forum.