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Technology trend spotting for 2008

Industry analysts identify unified communications and open source

There are many ideas around hot technology trends for 2008, with a number of industry analysts tapping unified communications as an area to watch. Whatever the technology however, most analysts agree putting that technology in the right business context will be increasingly crucial for the channel over the next year.One area that traditionally hasn’t gotten much attention from the channel is open source but Jon Arnold, an analyst with J. Arnold & Associates in Toronto, says it’s time for the channel to come to grips with the advent of open source, which he says is business-ready with a lot more solutions available than there were just two short years ago.

“Some companies can bring really interesting solutions to the end of the market that’s willing to experiment with open source,” said Arnold. “That’s not everybody, but still there’s a great opportunity there for people that can bring an open source, out of the box solution to market.”

And that’s where the channel opportunity is, says Arnold. While open source has often been seen as configuration-heavy, and there are still some companies out there that want to tinker, the technology has now evolved to the point where partners can offer pre-packaged, open source solutions that don’t even have to be called open source.

“If you bring it to market in the right way, at a really attractive price point, I think that’s a really exciting tool for the channel to say ‘hey, I have something I can bring now even to that micro end of the marketplace that would really never look at a premise-based solution,’” said Arnold.

The emergence of the hosted solutions model is another area Arnold will be watching in 2008, particularly in the SMB space. He notes Rogers came to market in 2007 with a solution from Mitel Networks and Natural Convergence, one of the first cable companies to challenge the incumbent telecommunications carriers in this space. While he doesn’t know if Shaw Communications is ready to follow suit, Arnold says Videotron and Telus shouldn’t be ruled-out.

There’s still an opportunity for over the top providers, says Arnold, to come to market with some form of business-based solutions. If a company has the expertise to deliver services efficiently to customers it can come up with services for small business.

“The pieces are there to be had, and the fact is the big carriers don’t own the whole market,” said Arnold. “There are ways to get to these guys if you do it right.”

Unified communications is on the radar of Jayanth Angl, a research analyst with London, Ont.-based Info-Tech Research Group. Particularly applying these emerging and developing unified communications technologies to the enterprise situation. The technology is available now, he says, and most of the leading vendors have a solution around unified communications.

There’s an understanding now of what the technology is. A trend in 2008, says Angl, will be applying unified communications to the business scenarios that businesses have and helping them realize business value.

“The next step, and where the channel can play an important role, is applying that technology to the business environment to actually drive the productivity benefits,” said Angl. “On it’s own the technology doesn’t do much, it’s really about identifying the specific business needs and how that technology can improve that.”

That’s a view shared by Wu Zhou, a senior analyst with IDC in Framingham, Mass. She sees unified communications heating-up, adding it enables a lot of business potential. She cautions though the implementation and cultural change can be challenging.

“Companies need to consider their business end goals, and if those goals call for greater integration of multi-modal communications,” she said.

Zhou believes companies will be looking for something different from their channel partners in 2008. She says IT managers will be considering skills and capabilities solution partners bring to the table, and their ability to further its business strategy.

“IT managers need to think about technology adoption from a business perspective,” said Zhou. “They need to understand, really, what kind of true capabilities and understanding their channel partners and vendors have of their business, recommending technology solutions to meet their business goals.”

While in the past there was a lot of technology for technology’s sake, Zhou says partners need to develop their skills around developing more customer-centric solutions. Tools for innovation and collaboration to empower flexible decision making, increase productivity and improve flexibility will also be important.

“IT managers want to work with a solution provider that has their best interests in mind,” said Zhou.