I recently revised and updated my unified communications market forecasts and projections, and the news was not happy. Several areas of the UC market saw decreased revenues and shipments in 2009, with lower-than-expected growth for 2010. Sales of products such as IP PBXs generally decreased in 2009 as IT budgets were slashed to the bare minimum.
The economy has taken its toll on many technology markets – and unified communications is certainly no exception. The economic downturn has caused companies of all sizes to delay planned technology purchases, with aspects of UC near the top of the postponement list. Many companies are finding it challenging to prove the ROI for UC and have not seen the need for implementing UC solutions while they’re struggling to stay alive.
The good news is that there is one technology segment that’s growing - collaboration. While other aspects of unified communications are experiencing slower than expected growth, the conferencing and collaboration segment is expected to show a 25% compounded annual growth rate over the next five years. It’s clear that collaboration technologies provide value to companies, even in these challenging economic times.
Companies are recognizing that they can save money on travel while keeping their employees productive by implementing collaboration technologies. Conferencing/collaboration is one of the few areas where it’s easy to demonstrate a hard ROI. Whether it’s a sophisticated, high-end telepresence system or a more cost-effective desktop video solution, companies can show significant ROI while enabling their workers to continue doing the work they need to do – without stepping foot on a plane.
Most conferencing capabilities have been provided to enterprises via services offerings, rather than on-premise products. This is beginning to change, as vendors have introduced more cost-effective conferencing products that companies of all sizes can implement.
Not only do collaboration and conferencing technologies save money by reducing travel expenses, they also let workers be more productive. Instead of spending time getting to and from the airport, sitting on a plane, driving to a hotel, workers can actually be – working!
A couple months ago I was speaking with a vice president of a very large UC systems integration company and asked what, if anything, customers were buying in this economy. Without hesitation he immediately said “conferencing,” noting that their videoconferencing practice was going gangbusters. While he acknowledged that times were tough and they were not implementing as many UC solutions for customers as they had anticipated, he noted that they’re actually installing more videoconferencing systems than expected.
Of course, for collaboration technologies to succeed, they have to be used in ways that make good business sense. In the past, many of the companies that implemented video technology, for example, were unhappy with the results. Some thought that it would be important to simply be able to see someone’s face while interacting with them. “Talking heads” as they’re known isn’t the best use of video technology. Instead, companies are getting tremendous value from using video and collaboration for training, technical support, document sharing, and other use cases. The key is not to use technology for technology sake, but to reach a specific business outcome.
So while the UC in general has taken a hit from the economy, collaboration technologies are the one exception, as they help companies save time and money, while adding value to the organization.