Unified communications goes big

2008 will be the year unified communications technology sees large scale customer deployments, according to industry experts.

This will be the year where unified communications goes large scale, says a Verizon Business top executive.

Robert Le Busque, director of collaborations solutions, Asia-Pacific for Verizon Business, said in an interview with ZDNet Asia that most unified communications deployments last year were typically small-scale proofs of concept.

Last year's expectations of the lucrative unified communications market saw large industry players the likes of Cisco and Microsoft launching their offerings to take advantage of the growing interest.

However, customer take up may have been slower than the vendors had hoped.

IDC Asia-Pacific communications research manager Shalini Verma, told ZDNet Asia that while network equipment vendors are bundling unified messaging with IP telephony products, in reality, many customers are just using the voice mail functionality of unified messaging.

"In 2007, vendors were beefing up their unified communications portfolio, hence many customers were either trialing the product or had adopted a wait-and-watch approach," said Verma.

Le Busque's offered reason was similar: companies were still evaluating the investment in the technology, he said.

"When customers assess technology, they're assessing game changers. But when they deploy, very few of those are 'big bang' deployments, but rather phased approaches," said Le Busque.

Robbie Kruger, Avaya Asia-Pacific CTO, too said in an interview: "While many would agree with [unified communications' benefits] in theory, companies are often reluctant to take the actual plunge.

"They may view unified communications as just too big or expensive to tackle, or think it will never work in their multi-vendor, mixed technology environment."

What companies need to do, said Kruger is simply to come up with a clearer plan. Nearly every module of unified communications--multimedia conferencing, instant messaging, having a unified portal, for example--can be implemented separately and achieve positive results, he added.

Verizon Business' Le Busque said the most important aspect for consideration is the customers' networks--whether those can handle the additional traffic from unified communications, and what the possible business impact of lagged transfers may be.

Le Busque raised an example of a stock trading house which needs all its network bandwidth to transfer transaction logs at the end of every day to a server in another country; such a customer would have to plan its network load around the crucial transfer period that occurs at that hour each day.

IDC's Verma is optimistic about unified communications' take up this year.

"Many of the pilots that started in the second half of 2007 will start to convert into a purchase," she said.

IDC forecast in a report released December last year that the unified communications market in the Asia-Pacific region excluding Japan would generate some US$1.2 billion between 2007 and 2011.

Avaya is experiencing much demand from the region's hospitality sector. "Industry executives are searching for that competitive differentiation...to stay ahead...Traditional methods don't cut it anymore," said Kruger.