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Collaboration, contact centers are key UC investments in 2009

While more advanced features might be put on hold, areas where unified communications can cut costs, particularly in the contact center and in collaborative scenarios, will still see strong sales, if not huge growth.

As technology budgets tighten in 2009, unified communications deployments should focus on features that can boost productivity and cut cost, such as contact center automation and collaboration.

Overall, communications spending is expected to slow next year, according to an analysis by Matthias Machowinski, directing analyst at Infonetics Research.

"We expect the overall telephony market to decline in 2009," he said. "People are locking in and freezing budgets, and they are looking to cut expenses where they can, and [unified communications advanced features] aren't seen as mission critical because [they are] not widespread yet."

Despite the downturn, however, Machowinksi believes the unified communications market will do relatively well -- if not as well as it would have done without the downturn -- because the tools provide key ways to cut costs and can help companies get by with less.

Particularly strong will be the IP contact center (IPCC) market, where unified communications can allow companies to cut the number of agents needed while reducing time-to-resolution or time-to-sale.

IPCC technology enables automation, which is playing a bigger role in the contact center, Machowinksi said. Advanced automation features from such companies as current market leader Avaya, as well as Cisco and Alcatel-Lucent, allow intelligent transferring and escalation to the right expert, for example.

"Automation can also be useful when you're scheduling a meeting: Who likes to punch in all those numbers, especially when you hit the wrong button?" he said. "Those automation schemes can make it a lot easier."

Central to a lot of these automated, hopefully cost-saving capabilities are richer integration and deeper sets of presence information.

"Most analysts will say that presence is a key part of unifying communications," Machowinksi said.

This is because presence ties together disparate forms of communication, letting colleagues know whether – and how – someone is available.

Cisco, for its part, has made collaboration a key part of many of its communication initiatives, often stressing the social aspects of its technologies.

"We need to make sure users can connect, communicate and collaborate seamlessly," said Chris Thompson, senior director of marketing for Cisco's unified communications group. "Everybody thinks it's about technology, and it's not. The more important pieces are the corporate culture: Does it facilitate collaboration, and how are business processes changed?"

Thompson said that -- particularly as more young workers enter the job market -- this sort of collaboration will become more natural even as it becomes more necessary.

"My favorite example is someone who sits just outside my office who we hired last year," he said. "She came to our organization without a good understanding of how email worked – she really grew up on Facebook and MySpace – and we had to send [her] to training on PowerPoint, which Cisco lives and breathes on. But she grew up on Google applications."

According to Thompson, the difference between what she uses – and what Cisco corporate is used to – is a "style of continuous connectivity," which Cisco is now working hard to integrate into all its communication tools.

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