Unified communications (UC) spending took a dive in the first quarter of 2009, but some bright spots like desktop video conferencing still managed continued adoption growth, a new Synergy Research Group study found.
Overall, however, the story was bleak: While analysts and vendors herald the quick savings and return on investment (ROI) that UC and IP telephony can generate, enterprises apparently are having a hard time buying in.
The leading UC application vendor, Avaya, saw an 18.5% drop in quarter-over-quarter application sales, while No. 2 Cisco plummeted 33%. Rather than raw revenues or user seats, Synergy bases its numbers on application suites deployed, with the caveat that to qualify as UC, the deployment must include IM and presence as well as IP telephony.
The drop is a marked change for the industry, which as late as the fourth quarter of 2008 was seeing robust growth, according to Ken Landoline, a vice president at Synergy.
"The recession is still hitting in the enterprise and small business market particularly," he said. "There's a fairly close relationship between lagging UC purchases ... and the economy."
Landoline said many of the claims about fast ROI and cost savings simply were not borne out in practice.
"I don't think the transition to IP is driven by savings. I think it's the functionality associated with 'anytime, anywhere' calling that is driving the move," he said. "What we've found is that there are no real savings, from a product cost perspective, over traditional telephony."
Economy, not technology, stalling UC market
The good news is that the adoption stalls do appear to be born of economic rather than technological issues, according to Landoline, and deployments might bounce back even before the end of the year.
He said, however, that even now there are some segments, particularly around desktop video conferencing and collaboration tools, where Synergy found continued growth.
"A lot of that is driven because it does cut down on getting 12 people to come together from across the country for one product management meeting," Landoline said. "This is really the first time I've seen that inflection point where people are conscious of the savings and cutting back on travel [with collaboration software]."
The savings from these benefits in terms of employment and recruitment could actually be very significant, he said.
Grace Kim, a senior manager of marketing for Cisco's WebEx collaboration suite, said desktop video conferencing technology investments were one of her team's highest priorities and that the collaboration suite was seeing strong growth.
Each month, Kim said, the service connects more than 10 million users to more than 200,000 meetings.
"On the high end, [Cisco's video conferencing] is a very big part of our growing business," she said. "We are investing in many different aspects of the distributed work force."
The service already supports up to six concurrent Web users, and Kim said that Cisco hopes to improve upon this in the future.