Businesses looking to managed services model for unified communications

Market interest in unified communications (UC) is increasing, but evaluations and pilots aren’t yet translating into full deployments. Rather, according to a report from Forrester Research, factors such as an unclear return on investment and a confusing vendor landscape have many technology decision-makers opt to rent rather than buy, opening an opportunity for the channel with a managed services play.

The report by Forrester analyst Henry Dewing, entitled Firms Want Managed Unified Communications, confirms market interest in UC is increasing. Over the past year the number of firms evaluating or piloting UC solutions has risen dramatically. Among North American enterprises there was a 21 per cent increase, from 36 per cent to 57 per cent of organizations, while in the SMB the increase was 14 per cent, from 26 per cent to 40 per cent of SMBs evaluating or piloting UC. The interest, indicates the report, is because organizations see UC as a key technology to support collaboration.

As far as how to get into UC, Forrester reports 71 per cent of organizations are already using or are interested in managed UC, with a number of factors driving that decision. One is uncertainty in the market around how to define UC, and IT managers are also concerned about making a decision that will box them in architecturally and limit their flexibility going forward.

“They’re looking for a trusted advisor to share some of the risk and help them take first steps – espically because the desired feature set of UC is complex and includes many dispirate and far-reaching capabilities,” said the report.

Conflicting standards around UC are also giving buyers pause, as is the difficulty of forecasting hard savings as part of a business case for upper-management. A hosted implementation can be a proof-case of the value of UC before going in-house down the road.

With demand expected to increase further over the next three years, Forrester says business leaders will be taking a greater interest in UC decisions and vendor selection, and the channel will need to adjust its sellng strategies to the growing influence of business unit leaders. Greater UC integreation with business applications will also drive the UC value proposition deeper into the business.

The role of systems integrators (SIs) will also be increasingly influential, with Forrester seeing SIs playing the role of “prime contractors” and acting as the central point in delivering vendor-neutral UC advice and solutions to businesses.

“SIs will be well positioned to win many UC deals because they have the relationships and the skills many other industry participants do not – and they have a deep understanding of industry business processes where UC and collaboration will have the biggest impact,” said the report. “SIs have relationships in place with business executives and can interact with those business leaders as strategic advisors.”

Business-class Hosted UC is difficult for many businesses to believe in, says Forrester, because to date delivering enerprise-class services has been a challenge. However, with the entry of vendors such as Cisco Systems, IBM and Microsoft, and large network service providers such as AT&T, along with the market appetite for the managed services approach, Forrester says the hosted UC market is poised for success.

To succeed, Forrester says partners should lead with their ability to manage IT risk on behalf of their clients and deliver hard business value, as well as seek to develop expertise around key verticals where they can demonstrate a strong understanding of a customer’s business processes and market needs.

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Jeff Jedras
Jeff Jedras
A veteran technology and business journalist, Jeff Jedras began his career in technology journalism in the late 1990s, covering the booming (and later busting) Ottawa technology sector for Silicon Valley North and the Ottawa Business Journal, as well as everything from municipal politics to real estate. He later covered the technology scene in Vancouver before joining IT World Canada in Toronto in 2005, covering enterprise IT for ComputerWorld Canada. He would go on to cover the channel as an assistant editor with CDN. His writing has appeared in the Vancouver Sun, the Ottawa Citizen and a wide range of industry trade publications.

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