Mobility, Cloud, Video Hold Keys to Future of Unified Communications

The unified communications market is growing, but the rise of mobility, BYOD and cloud computing could help spur adoption, vendors and analysts say.

Flotek Industries over the last dozen years or so has grown from a smaller, U.S.-based oil field logistics and products vendor to an international business with more than 400 employees on the move and dispersed around the globe.

Much of that growth was fueled by an array of mergers and acquisitions, which brought with them new sets of telephones and other communications systems that had to be cobbled together to support a rapidly growing and far-flung workforce. Outside of the email system, there was no uniform communications platform at the company, according to Mike Seagall, director of IT infrastructure at Flotek.

"Over the years, Flotek has grown from acquisitions," Seagall told eWEEK. "Through those acquisitions, it created quite a hodgepodge of phone systems."

What the Houston-based company needed was a unified communications (UC) platform that could bring together the disparate communications methods—from voice over IP (VoIP) to instant messaging to audio conferencing—and manage it all from a central console. Flotek also needed a system that enabled collaboration any time, from anywhere and on any device. Users of Cisco Systems' communications products, Flotek officials last year took a look at UC offerings from Cisco, Microsoft and ShoreTel, and settled on ShoreTel's platform.

The results have been positive, Seagall said: reduced capital and operating expenses, elimination of a third-party phone answering system, less administrative support time and costs, an expected return on investment in a year, along with a centralized and simplified management console. Whereas management of Flotek's 400 different endpoints required several people, now it can be done by a single person.

"It's pretty amazing that one person can manage all of those endpoints," he said.

That's the promise of UC—simplified management; reduced operating and capital expenses; greater and easier collaboration among workers, partners and customers; and a better overall user experience.

"If you look at the way people communicate, there are a lot of modalities people are using," Giovanni Mezgec, general manager of Microsoft's Lync UC platform, told eWEEK. "There are a lot of ways people communicate. … There is value in simplifying the user experience by bringing all of these modalities together."

The idea of unified communications has been around awhile and is a growing market. Market research firm IDC has the market—which includes UC technologies and services—at more than $26.2 billion this year and growing to almost $38 billion by 2016. However, it hasn't grown as fast as some had expected, due in part to such inhibitors as the complexity around understanding and integrating the various technologies involved, macroeconomic issues and an ROI story that isn't always clear, according to Rich Costello, senior research analyst of UC in IDC's Enterprise Communications Infrastructure unit.

"It's been talked about for quite a few years, but I don't think it's ever taken off like it was expected to take off," Costello said to eWEEK.

However, a number of trends—from a more mobile workforce to bring-your-own-device (BYOD) to the use of video—are beginning to ramp up the interest in UC, not only in enterprises, but also among small and midsize businesses (SMBs). In addition, the growing interest in UC in the cloud will have an impact, he said.

"It's been tough for the ROI piece, but companies are starting to get it, especially with mobility and what they can do there," Costello said.