Top three trends from Unified Communications Expo 2013

The recent UC Expo 2013 in London highlighted the key UC trends to expect in the coming years.

Mon, March 25th, 15:33


I’ve just come back from the UC Expo 2013 in the London Olympia. As a friend of mine described it: “this is the big one” for unified communications (UC) in Western Europe. It’s a great chance to touch base with all of the major UC vendors and get a sense of where the world of UC is now.

First things first – the best gag told at the Expo, credit to Paul Cheslaw from AVST (in fairness, it hadn’t much competition). “What does ‘UC’ stand for?” “Utter Confusion.” “And ‘UC&C’?” “Utter Confusion & Chaos.”

For those of you who don’t know – this is what Unified Communications & Collaboration (UC&C) is and this is what it does for you.

Over the course of the couple of days, I noticed a couple of particular trends and themes that I thought I’d share.

UC is now mainstream

UC in its current form (IM/presence/voice/video/collaboration/mobile) has matured and is no longer new. This doesn’t mean every business has adopted it, but it does mean that the technology has passed the “early adopter” phase and is therefore seen as less risky by more cautious organisations. A related point is that the rate of change and innovation in the sector has slowed somewhat to the point where any changes that we are seeing now are more incremental than seismic. The well-established vendors in the space (Cisco, Avaya and Microsoft) are focussed on honing their products as well as driving adoption

It seems the changes that we will see in the future of UC are likely to come from outside factors. Wearable tech (e.g. Google Goggles), contextual information (e.g. Plantronics Headsets that know whether you’re wearing them or not), offshoots into Big Data (e.g. your IM client reaching into your CRM system to give you information about a customer before you send the IM) are all examples of what I call “Applied UC” where the underlying UC layers are leveraged by other, newer, value-adding services. If you think about it, UC services did exactly this themselves in the beginning; standing on the shoulders of the more mature IP and telecoms infrastructure.

WebRTC and Google Enterprise

If there is one thing that could be seen as new in the UC space, it’s WebRTC or Web Real Time Collaboration. This essentially takes the core elements of the UC environment and makes them available through a web browser. This seems to be the most likely technology to open up UC to the consumer at large as well as smaller businesses who may have perceived UC as something they couldn’t afford until now.

Google is making a serious play into the enterprise UC space and WebRTC sits at the core of that offering. The Google Apps Suite, which offers functionality analogous (if not directly comparable) to Office, Exchange, Sharepoint, Yammer and Lync, is a compelling story and was well represented at this year’s show. The leading vendors (Cisco, Microsoft, Avaya and Siemens) still have the lion’s share of the market and it is very early days for Google in this space (they don’t even feature on Gartner’s UC Magic Quadrant yet). That said they do have the capability to be very disruptive. One to watch with interest.

WebRTC and Cisco

The WebRTC story intersects strongly with the traditional UC market via other interesting third party companies providing on-premise solutions linking, for example, your Cisco Communications Manager (CUCM) and cloud-based services. So, if you can imagine, seeing an online contact in your browser and being able to call their mobile directly from there, but having your CUCM make and control the call. Also, if you take or make a call through the CUCM, your online status or presence changes to reflect this. This is still UC, but delivered in a browser. Again, it’s very early days but it is interesting.

Other points to note

I picked up a couple of other nuggets that bear a passing mention:

  • Cisco’s view of the UC space is widening as they look at integrating UC into other key business systems, e.g. presence/IM/click to call from within SAP.
  • Google claim 5 million businesses globally are using Google Apps, although they didn’t provide any drill down on that statistic.
  • Microsoft claim to have passed 5 million enterprise voice users.
  • For a comparison and to provide a scale, Cisco have sold over 50 million IP phones up to the end of the last quarter and sell approximately 2 million UC licenses per quarter.
  • Single vendor UC solutions are now very possible, however many organisations will still elect to deploy a ‘best of breed’ (or ‘mix-and-match’) solution despite the added complexity of this approach.
  • Look out for The Millienials (born >2000). They will change everything in a few years. They don’t have any of the technological baggage we have (email, over reliance on manual processes, non-instant communication).
  • Big Data – every day we create 2.5 quintillion bytes of data. For scale, a quintillion pennies would make a cube 27,000km wide!
  • In 1930, the average age of the companies in the S&P500 was 75 years.
    • In 2003, 25 years old.
    • In 2013, 10 years old.
  • Kensington and Hyde Parks make a lovely route to go for a run on a spring evening after a long day’s Expo-ing! Note – I took this photo on my fabulous Nokia Lumia 820 while I was running.

Stephen Mulligan is Solution Principal at eircom, specialising in Unified Communications. Contact Stephen on LinkedIn or here to discuss how UC can benefit your business.

Stephen Mulligan

eircom Business Centre