2011 UC Takeaways - Disruption and Uncertainty

22 Dec 2011

I can't think of a better word to sum up the state of UC in 2011 than "disruption." By its nature, UC is a fluid concept, and in some ways this has been its Achilles Heel. Despite this, 2011 has seen a host of new trends and drivers that are stretching UC into forms we don't fully understand or even recognize. Many of these have been analyzed at length here on the UCStrategies portal, and I'll just list them in bullet form - in no particular order:

  • Apple's runaway success with the iPad
  • Android's ascendancy to become the #1 mobile OS
  • The broader rise of BYOD and its impact on IT as well as UC
  • RIM's scarily rapid fall from grace and lack of uptake for PlayBook
  • Social networking's continued creep into almost every facet of our lives
  • Microsoft's capitulation to the cloud and Office 365
  • Microsoft's entry with Lync, and the potential impact Skype could have on their UC story
  • Avaya now following Cisco's lead by focusing on collaboration
  • Continued momentum/acceptance of the cloud, virtualization and all forms of hosted communications services

This list could go on, but it's fair to say that few of us would have seen these developments hitting the market the way they have, especially during the second half of 2011. The above list provides enough disruption for a lifetime, let alone one year, and this is setting the stage for a pretty tumultuous 2012.

If this isn't enough to make the UC value proposition difficult to nail down, let's consider how all this looks from the buyer's point of view. From their perspective, there is a great deal of uncertainty - some of it related to UC, and some being a more general malaise. Based on what I'm seeing and hearing, there is still solid concern about the state of the economy in the U.S., and to a lesser extent, here in Canada.

This economic uncertainty means that budgets are tighter, and IT has to be more cautious, meaning they will take as few risks as possible with their network. This means needing to get more mileage from their existing systems, and if UC is news to them, they may not be in a rush to deploy. The last thing IT wants to do in this situation is try something totally new, so even if they're keen to deploy UC, they will likely do it in phases or small pieces.

Of course, the industry-wide disruptions listed above add another layer of uncertainty, and this is where UC providers need to be most careful in 2012. In addition to economic uncertainty, these technology disruptions provide more questions than answers for UC decision-makers. Aside from the sheer number of disruptions, their nature is widely varied, and more than ever, IT needs guidance on which horses to bet. They're not in a gambling mood, and will generally take the path of least resistance. This means that innovation will be secondary to making safe choices that save money and are easy to deploy.

This is a pretty tall order, and the onus really falls on the channel to make sense of all this for their clientele. Of course, this filters back to the UC vendors, who really need to have a clearly defined value proposition that channels can get behind and will cut through the noise with their customer base. In that regard, I think 2012 will be far more challenging for UC than 2011. There simply are too many options to consider and a great deal of shifting terrain beneath the feet of the vendors. Having so much choice could lead to inertia or decision paralysis, and nobody wants to see that.

This may seem like a gloomy outlook, but I actually think UC will have a breakout year in 2012. Problem is a lot of deployments may not fit the mold of what passed for UC circa early 2011, but that's ok. As long as the benefits are being realized, I don't care much whether it fits what most would consider UC.

Increasingly, end users have more input around defining the UC experience, and with BYOD hitting its stride, IT - and vendors - need to concede that they can no longer set the agenda on their own. This may be the biggest shift for 2012, and the faster UC vendors incorporate it into their thinking, the better their chances for driving the market. Otherwise, we may see a new set of players setting the tone for what UC is going to look like in the wake all this disruption. If you're not sure who those players are or what shape they'll take, keep following us here at UCStrategies - we're all over it.


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