Unified Communications Picking Up Steam

With business customers from the SMB to enterprise level looking to cut costs, increase productivity, and streamline business practices, demand for unified communications solutions -- both on-premise and in the cloud -- is picking up speed.

The total unified communications market is growing at 12 percent a year, and expected to reach $18.5 billion by 2013, according to research by COMMFusion.

3GC Group is a VAR and consulting firm based in Los Angeles that provides converged network and integrated communications solutions for the enterprise market. There are a lot of disparate definitions out there for unified communications, but 3GC’s CEO Henry Park said it’s all about finding streamlined communications solutions for his clients that merge a variety of cool functions in a platform that people find simple to use.

’UC is taking any platform used for communication within a business environment and making it as elegant as possible, as user friendly as possible,’ Park said during a session at the COMDEXvirtual conference. ’That’s the goal for us as a VAR: to manage that user experience for the client.’

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Unified communications can combine a variety of features, and ultimately, its makeup is driven and defined by what the client wants and needs, according to Dave Michels, an independent industry analyst.

A UC package might include voice, video, conferencing, call center, IM/presence, clients or endpoints, social networking or mobility features in any combination, said Michels. Resellers can combine products from multiple vendors to provide the complete solution that their clients are after. They can sell end users different suites of products or sell unified communications solutions a la carte.

For 3GC’s Park, ’uncontrolled’ demand for over the past two years has been the feature that has kicked his company’s UC business into high gear.

It started two years ago with the ’bring your own device’ trend, he said. CEOs had to deal with their executives bringing Apple iPhones and other smartphones to work and struggled with how to bring these devices into the communications infrastructure. But now, businesses are thinking about building complete communications strategies around their mobile devices.

According to Blair Pleasant, president at COMMFusion, an industry analyst and consulting firm, a lot of businesses are already utilizing some component of a UC solution -- like IM or conferencing -- but many haven’t yet tapped the full potential of unified communications.

NEXT: SMBs Getting Into Unified Communications Too

Solutions for large enterprise customers have been on the market for a while, but now more solutions are coming out to target the SMB market. And as these solutions become more complex, the channel will have a role to play in providing end-user clients with the best insights about how to implement UC solutions across their organizations.

And apart from the revenue to be made by simply selling UC products and services, VARs could make another 20 percent to 30 percent by adding their expertise in the form of professional services, according to Pleasant.

The gains from professional services can get even better. Park said that 3GC derives 50 percent of its business by offering professional services -- which include detailed assessments of the enterprise’s total communications infrastructure.

’Those assessments are crucial because communications isn’t only about tech, it’s about habits. You have to understand how an organization communicates in three ways: with clients, with employees, and with its supply chain,’ said Park. ’If you’re just selling a box solution, you’re not solving problems.’

Cost savings is certainly a factor that motivates business end-user customers to seek unified communications solutions, but it isn’t the only one, said Marty Parker, and industry consultant with UniComm Consulting. UC can ramp up employee productivity, save time and streamline business practices, which are valuable improvements for any business that can be tough to put a dollar amount on.

3GC’s Park said that although some organizations are focused primarily on cost and savings, others truly are thinking about the workflow improvements that unified communications solutions can offer and are willing to invest in them. So for the VAR who knows how to present the full range of possibilities of UC, opportunity abounds.

With new technologies like cloud and mobility driving demand, solution providers have an opportunity to mine new profits from the rapidly expanding unified communications market. In fact, those that don’t offer some aspect of UC to their clients, could soon be struggling to stay relevant.

’Everything in the UC universe is touching everything else," said Michels. ’It’s no longer possible to just be the voice guy anymore.’