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The Year in Review: Part 1

(See, for example, Blair Pleasant's recent post.)During 2008, many vendors continued to define UC in ways that fit their specific needs and product offerings. Some repositioned their company and/or products, claiming to offer "UC solutions" when, in fact, they were merely rebranding existing products and adding "UC" to the product description. As the realities of the global economy set in, these efforts were usually counterproductive--the uncertainty about what UC is delayed customer buying decisions.

So, let me offer a word of warning to enterprise customers: Be careful; if the products you're evaluating don't deliver real solutions--business improvements--that can be integrated (unified) with other communication or business components, you could wind up with a dead-end technology.

On the positive side, however, and there was much to be positive about during 2008, UC made significant evolutionary progress. For example:

* Siemens, even while going through a change in ownership, continued to evolve its products and positioning and ended the year with a deep, well-rounded UC portfolio, including Siemens OpenScape Unified Communications Server, OpenScape UC application, and a new OpenScape Video portfolio.

* Cisco integrated WebEx, which it acquired in 2007, into its product set, and it came out with new offerings and major releases, including advances for Cisco Unified Presence and Cisco Unified Personal Communicator.

* Aastra catapulted its world-wide IP-PBX offerings via its Ericsson acquisition and it migrated its Clearspan PBX into a UC platform.

* IBM and Microsoft continued to develop Sametime and OCS respectively, with updates announced in 2008 and additional releases expected early next year. Both companies garnered leadership positions in the Gartner 2008 UC Magic Quadrant, and Microsoft also placing as an innovator in the Gartner 2008 Enterprise Telephony MQ.

* Interactive Intelligence hit UC's sweet spot by demonstrating how the company has evolved its Customer Interaction Center (CIC) product into a business process automation platform.

* Mitel took revolutionary steps by implementing a new and unique approach to hosted services, as well as delivering a highly energy-efficient UC solution based on the Mitel Unified IP Client running on a Sun Microsystems Sun Ray server.

In addition, Avaya and NEC have repositioned themselves to compete as "UC vendors" rather than PBX vendors. Both also are now focusing on the needs of end users (as opposed to the IT organization or what the IT people think the end users needs). NEC has established a portfolio management team to better address end user needs with a focus on several vertical markets plus support for the channel.

2007 began with most vendors promoting UC-User Productivity (UC-U), which integrates or unifies an individual user's silos of communications. But despite the value UC-U can deliver, the channel often has had difficulty selling this and quantifying "hard" ROI.

With the economic downturn, many enterprises need to achieve a 12-month or less payback, and I believe that best way to accomplish that goal is via UC-Business Process (UC-B) - integrating communications into a business process. By focusing on UC-B, vendors can show their customers cost savings, but also help them gain a competitive advantage and improve employee productivity.

Next week, Marty Parker will continue UC eWeekly's year-end review and examine progress from the customer and application perspectives. the UCStrategies team will provide a more detailed year in review on our website - has been a very exciting year for our industry--but there is still confusion about some of the fundamentals--like what does UC really mean?