Like many other observers with a business perspective, I have been skeptical of unified communications, but a day I spent at the recent Unified Communications Expo 2012 went a long way to convincing me that unified communications has entered the mainstream. At this point I think organizations should consider it as a viable option to improve the efficiency of their communications systems, the ability to collaborate internally and with customers, and the effectiveness of their multimedia contact centers.
The exhibit hall featured well-known communications vendors such as Alcatel-Lucent, Aspect, AT&T, Avaya, NEC and Nokia, some well-known computing brands such as Dell, IBM and Microsoft that are not widely recognized as being in the communications market, and a host of other vendors demonstrating all manner of communications products. The offerings ranged from fully integrated unified communications systems to communication services, headsets, mobile devices, video systems, and consulting and implementation services, and one or two specialist contact center system suppliers were on hand.
The three broad observations I took away from the show are these:
- Although there was a lot of specialist hardware on display, software now rules the world of communications.
- Unified communications is often associated with presence and collaboration, and although these were evident, a stronger focus was multimedia communications.
- Hard-wired communications is giving way to demand for supporting out-of-office and mobile workers, and customers on the move or in remote locations.
Typifying these trends was the presence of many Microsoft partners offering products and services based on Microsoft Lync. This is a software-only product that unites audio, instant messaging, video, voice and Web-based conferencing. It includes presence so users can easily find and connect with other parties logged onto the system and collaboration tools so users can share data and information such as documents, presentations and spreadsheets. Due to the overwhelming presence Microsoft has in many organizations, Lync offers the possibility of replacing traditional on-premises PBXs with a software system based on non-proprietary hardware; however, several vendors I spoke to predicted this won’t happen for a few years as Lync still lacks some of the capabilities required to manage a large contact center. One major player, Dell UK, has spotted this potential andpresented itself as the leading provider of services to implement unified communications based on Lync.
My primary interest was to assess the impact of unified communications in the contact center. I didn’t have to wander far from the Lync section to find Zeacom, which offers a software-only multimedia contact center product and recently announced full integration with Lync. In the same area I also found two vendors new to me, Aastra and Vocalcom. Among several unified communications products, Aastra was demonstrating Solidus eCare, its own multimedia contact center system. And Vocalcom was launching its Hermes.Net, also a software-based multimedia contact center product. My recent research into the maturity of customer relationships shows that providing multiple channels of communication to support customer interactions is now a must for companies, and with these emerging vendors and the ones I already cover, organizations now have a broad choice of suitable products to support their efforts.
My last observation isn’t about the show as such but about its organizers. They showed they are on top of current developments, and as well as all the usual channels of communications, by providing a mobile app for the show, available on all smart mobile devices. It allowed me to register, find information about the exhibitors, see a floor plan and the schedule of all the presentations, and download videos and presentations; I was pleased to have all that in the palm of my hand. I urge other conference organizers and companies that put on their own events to consider providing something similar; I predict that their audiences will like it as much as I did.
Has your company adopted unified communications? Have you seen how it could benefit your contact center and the way you interact with customers? If so please tell us more and collaborate with me further.
Richard Snow – VP & Research Director