By Seth Robinson, Director, Technology Analysis, CompTIA
As companies continue to pursue their strategies for mobility, cloud and social tools, they are also looking for a common thread that ties together their technology investments – allowing their employees to interact, share information, manage processes, and balance work and home life. The understanding that unified communications (UC) is more than a collection of technologies is essential for selling communications as a service.
When embarking upon unified communications technologies, solution providers should spend even more time than usual in the needs assessment phase of a job to ensure a deep understanding of customer use cases and expectations. CompTIA’s research found that a number of power users, such as customer service staff, sales people and remote workers, are often excluded from the unified communications evaluation and purchase process. Solution providers that interact only with the person writing the check – like the CIO – will likely miss out on valuable insights that could ultimately affect the organization’s overall satisfaction with their deliverable. Not surprisingly, the research also confirms that customer understanding of terminology varies. For example, only 40 percent of IT or business executives report familiarity with the emerging concept of communications as a service (CaaS). Complicating matters, many channel partners have differing views of the unified communications ecosystem as well. A net 80 percent of channel partners think there needs to be further clarity with definitions and terminology to improve the sales/marketing process and increase efficiency in the channel.
Time and again, the research points to the strong desire of end users to reduce IT complexity. Somewhat paradoxically, the same research will often also include findings of end users wanting more features, more capabilities and more flexibility from their technology. Yes, customers want it all! For solution providers, this may be an opportunity to introduce customers to cloud-based communication and collaboration options. One of the top perceived benefits of cloud solutions is ease of use and reduced complexity. Additionally, 53 percent of end users cite speed and ease of implementation of cloud-based communications solutions as an appealing feature. Solutions providers that are adept at keeping IT complexity in the background will be well positioned to succeed in the unified communications space. According to the research, 30 percent of end user organizations definitely plan to consider cloud-based solutions for their next communications and collaboration initiatives, while 31 percent probably will consider this option. Following the pattern of cloud adoption for many organizations, expect a hybrid approach, whereby a combination of on-premise and cloud applications will work in conjunction with one another.
Work on Collaboration
For most, the core elements of unified communications include voice, video and data. That’s changing though. The collaboration element often entails a mash-up of voice, video and data, but in some cases, it may be viewed as a unique component within the unified communications (or UCC) ecosystem. Fifty-nine percent of UC solution providers see customer demand for improvements in staff productivity and efficiency as a primary market driver. Collaboration tools play a major role in satisfying this objective. From the end user perspective, the top collaboration features desired include document management, task or project management, workflow management, and screen/desktop sharing. Many of these elements fall into the category of communications enhanced business processes (CEBP). Mastery of collaborative technologies and processes does not happen instantaneously – organizations must work at it.
In an increasingly mobile world, it goes without saying, there will be implications for the unified communications market. Sixty-four percent of end users indicate smartphones will play a major role in their firm’s communication and collaboration strategy over the next two years. Similarly, 44 percent indicate tablets will play a major role. For solution providers, mobility represents an opportunity on many fronts. Realistically, many mobile devices are so user-friendly, it doesn’t take much tech know-how to install an app, setup email or connect to company data. The challenges come in deep integration, security, customization, data back-up, deploying mobile virtual desktops and more. These are the opportunities ripe for solution providers to capitalize on.
Bring It All Together
The channel plays a critical role in the unified communications value chain. Efficient and effective partnerships between solution providers and vendors are especially important in the unified communications space. Addressing customer objections and concerns requires the right mix of technology, service and on-going support. CompTIA members have full access to additional unified communications information and business resources at www.comptia.org.