Unified communications technology has now been around for about a generation, having been born in the 1980s and ‘90s with the advent of voice-over-IP (VoIP). Yet the sophistication of most UC deployments by small and medium-sized businesses remains stuck in the UC 1.0 realm, according to a recent survey from PWC.
A chief reason for that slow uptake is that vendors have historically failed to offer a compelling value proposition for the technology, although that tide is slowly turning.
The survey is based on responses from 400 SMBs in the UK (defined as between 10 and 1,000 employees). In addition to the UC 1.0 vs. 2.0 discussion, the report also unearths a strong level of interest in WebRTC and some interesting expectations for the years ahead.
Differentiating UC 1.0 from UC 2.0
More than half of all respondents (55%) fall into what PWC calls the UC 1.0 camp. Here’s how the report defines UC 1.0:
When a company enjoys either a degree of integration between its fixed and mobile telephony routing and billing (known as Fixed Mobile Convergence, FMC), or uses a desktop based UC application that offers a minimum of integration with the company’s directory in order to offer presence, staff information and IM.
Only 21% of respondents have progressed to the UC 2.0 stage, defined as:
When both FMC and desktop-based UC applications are present, with the desktop (and/or associated mobile device) typically now the hub for office communication via a mix of real time (softphone voice and desk-based video conferencing) and non-real time (integrated instant messaging, presence and directory services) modes of communication. This may also include access to enterprise social networking, data sharing and integration with other business software.
In Search of an Improved UC Value Proposition
The reason for this rather low level of adoption is due in part to “inertia on the part of buyers,” the report says. But it is also attributed to “a supply-side failure to offer a compelling proposition that is delivered at the right price point with the right level of handholding.” In other words, vendors aren’t offering up a good enough value proposition with their UC offerings.
This is changing, however. As the report explains:
Unprecedented levels of investment in UC applications from Silicon Valley and elsewhere means that now fully 66% of [SMBs] surveyed are aware of leading Enterprise UC suites such as Microsoft Lync or Cisco WebEx/Jabber. Affordable per-user pricing and maintenance-free SaaS offers should continue to drive adoption going forward.
End users will continue to drive UC adoption, as Millennials have come to expect to be able to communicate across a “dizzying array of mode of communication,” the report says. “Seamless interaction across 10s of common forms of communication (both real time and non-real time) is already second-nature to Millennials,” the report says. Tough to argue with that.
Cloud and WebRTC Driving Further UC Adoption
Advances in technology are also driving adoption, particularly cloud-based offerings. While hosted UC offerings today represent 38% of the market, the report expects them to grow at 14% per year through 2018. More than two-thirds of respondents (39%) said they were already inclined towards cloud-based UC deployments, at least in part.
Cloud offerings are particularly well-suite to SMBs because they don’t require large up-front capital expenses; instead they’re funded out of operating expenses. They also offer “quick implementation, scalability and automated upgrades,” the report notes – all plusses for SMBs.
SMBs are also quite interested in WebRTC. As the report says:
WebRTC, a collaboration technology backed by Google that runs directly from the browser (no download required), offers the prospect of a potentially lower price point and more straightforward access of UC services. Despite its position at the early stage of development, 76% of buyers aware of the technology are either already using or plan to adopt the technology within the next 12 months.
It should be noted that Google is far from alone in backing WebRTC, as we reported previously.
UC Predictions for 2020
The report ends with some rather bold predictions for what the world will look like in 5 years with respect to UC, including “near 100% UC in companies,” with a mix of telephony-focused UC 1.0 and multi-media based 2.0 deployments. That, to me, seems a bit ambitious. Five years is a long time in technology circles, but if a company has not yet gotten on board with UC after 20+ years, I can see them sitting it out for another 5. On the other hand, if “UC” is defined as little more than VoIP, as seems to be the case here, then I’ll go along with that.
Another prediction: the smartphone will be “king” and the desk phone will be “absent.” That I can get behind. I work in a home office and when I (finally) moved it out of the basement to a second-floor room (with a window!) a year or so ago I didn’t want to bother dealing with moving my desk phone which required, of all things, a wire. So I forwarded the desk phone number to my cell and that was that. I also use Skype as much as possible and one of these days will get around to getting a Google Voice number so I won’t even need the cell phone in the office.
Got any UC predictions of your own? Let us know in the comments below.