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What's In Store for Unified Communications in 2009

I think 2008 will be remembered as the year that the transformation of UC to software began in earnest. I know we talked about it for a year or so before that but I think 08 was the year we started to see some serious interest from the software community. Along with this, the market also began its transformation. Siemens followed Avaya the year before and was acquired by a private equity firm. More industry consolidation occurred, Microsoft and IBM became legitimate UC vendors and Cisco launched their SaaS based offering based off of WebEx.

As we look into 09, the theme of "transformation" will continue broadening the already large ecosystem of UC vendors, creating opportunity for everyone in the ecosystem (although there will be only a few long term winners). So, enough of the preamble and onto the predictions:

* The strong get stronger, leaving limited opportunity for the rest. The current economic problems are causing many companies to rationalize down the number of vendors they deal with. Additionally, the trend will be to either stay with incumbent vendors or move to a vendor where there's certainty around its ability to continue to innovate and with the financial stability to survive a prolonged economic slump. Because of this, advantage Cisco, Microsoft, IBM and to some extent Avaya. Companies such as ShoreTel, Nortel and Siemens should be able to maintain the majority of their installed base but will find new customer acquisition a challenge. This separation will lead to the eventual demise of many of the current UC vendors, although that's not likely to occur in 2009.

* Enter the ISV interest. To date, the concept of UC as a platform has been just that, a concept. The ISV interest hasn't been there to move the concept to reality primarily due to the lack of customer demand. However, there are a number of proof points now around how to enhance vertical software through the use of communications. These proof points will stimulate more ideas from both customers and in turn, ISVs. Even a handful of ISVs will be significant for the overall acceleration of growth of UC.

* UC goes SaaS. To date, Cisco's the only vendor that's outlined a SaaS strategy, which was built on their acquisition of WebEx. It's interesting to note that in other major software areas, the SaaS based offerings have been the fastest growing segment. At Yankee Group we predict that by 2012 more software will be sold as SaaS than as traditional software. So, if UC is moving software, why shouldn't it follow the SaaS trend? Most likely vendors to enter the "SaaS UC" market would be Microsoft building off Live Meeting and maybe Avaya building on their "On Demand" product. SaaS will also create great scale for the UC market, allowing it to reach companies of all sizes much faster than through traditional software deployment models.

* New market entrants. Expect the landscape of UC vendors to continue to grow, causing further disruption with the traditional communications industry. Google and Oracle have danced around the space stealthily but I fully expect them to enter the enterprise UC market in a major way in 2009. Also, 2009 will see the network operators expand their VoIP offerings to an actual UC solution. The expansion of the vendor landscape and its transition to software and SaaS will create a communications market that's much bigger than it is today.

* CEBP becomes xEBP. The term "communications enabled business process" became part of our UC vocabulary in 2007 and we've seen a few proof points along the way. What has been recognized since the birth of CEBP is that the value of UC is its ability to transform and create new business processes. Some of the derivatives of UC will be realized by its ability to be wrapped around a business process as well. In 2009 the industry will see the "mobile enabled business process" and "video enabled business process" become part of the UC market. The year past saw both mobility and video gain center stage at VoiceCon, but to gain center stage in the buyer's minds, the ability to transform business process will be critical. CEBP is a great concept but very broad. MEBP and VEBP are smaller subsets of CEBP that can more easily be applied to specific vertical processes.

UC has been a market in transition for the past few years, and that transition will be one of the few constants in this market. While some may fear the transition, the industry needs to understand that the transition may look threatening but creates new and broader opportunities for everyone in the UC ecosystem.