Study: Unified Communications to dominate by 2018

As organizations deal with increasing challenges and uncertainty, raising communication efficiency has become more crucial than ever. While the concept of unified communications (UC) has been around for some time, it continues to present enterprises with new opportunities for productivity improvement.

According to Manoj Menon, partner and Asia-Pacific managing director for Frost and Sullivan (Frost), UC is the integration of various tools and applications used within an enterprise and with external partners for business communications.

Speaking at Frost and Sullivan’s Unified Communications Summit, Menon puts UC on the same level of importance as other major issues like rising oil prices and the U.S. economic slowdown.

“UC is expected to become the norm among enterprises 10 years from now,” he said. “IP telephony has already become standard deployment in most markets today.”

Menon added that increasing business collaborations and changing user communication preferences have driven demand for UC solutions. Consequently, competition among vendors has heated up, with giants like Microsoft seeking a piece of the UC market.

Creating business value

UC solutions provide enterprises the opportunity to reduce total cost of ownership and raise productivity, according to Menon. “For example, McDonald’s U.S. operations use a centrally hosted IP telephony solution to cut manpower needed to handle customer orders.”

However, he noted several deployment challenges including communication security and reliability, as enterprises are still in the “early stages” of adopting such solutions.

Interoperability is another issue. “Because no single vendor can currently provide a complete end-to-end UC solution, enterprises need to leverage on offerings by multiple vendors,” Menon said.

He added that UC applications are adopted in phases, with strong growth in demand for conferencing and mobility applications. “UC is also driving IP telephony upgrades.”

“When enterprises consider a particular UC vendor, they should also consider other players in the vendor ecosystem to ensure successful deployment,” Menon said.

Redefining customer service

Customers are now empowered with more information thanks to the internet, and can voice opinions about products and services on public forums. Consequently, they expect companies to deliver a better customer experience.

“Customers want knowledgeable contact center agents and flexible self-service systems,” said Steven Tan, regional marketing director, Asia-Pacific and Middle East, Aspect Software (Singapore). “They also expect a choice of communication channels with the company and to have enquiries resolved on first-time contact.”

He noted that contact centers can redefine customer service by leveraging on UC. “In future, customers won’t be limited to just getting help from the agent who answered the phone.”

Instead, knowledge workers across the enterprise will be available through messaging, chat, and other mobile devices to help meet customers’ needs in real time, Tan said. “With UC, customers will also be able to communicate how they prefer to be reached, speeding up their access to information and people.”

Tan added that the industry is moving from transactional communications to real-time collaboration between companies and customers. “The convergence of all communications on IP networks and open software platforms has enabled a new UC paradigm, and is changing how individuals, groups and organizations communicate and collaborate.”

Industry collaboration

According to Tan, Microsoft has made an equity investment in Aspect to accelerate UC solution delivery and adoption. Both companies will cross-license relevant intellectual property and fund joint R&D.

“As part of the collaboration, Aspect will offer an end-to-end contact center solution based on Aspect Unified IP and the Microsoft UC voice over IP platform,” he said.

Tan said that UC streamlines and enhances business processes that deal directly with customers, cutting operational cost.

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