Tight budgets haven't prevented agencies from looking to streamline through unified communications
Today, unified communications (UC) is considered much more than integrated voice, e-mail and instant messaging (IM). Providing government workers with flexible and productive tools that allow them to work efficiently from any location has become increasingly important for all organizations.
The number of organizations integrating multiple types of communication — including IP telephony, e-mail and IM — into a unified and cohesive communication experience continues to grow. After collaboration tools, the second most important UC capability is mobile device integration, according to Infonetics Research, Campbell, Calif. “Smart phones, tablet computers, video phones and audio conferencing bridges” are the fastest-growing devices being deployed for UC, according to recent survey results.
UC solutions offer government organizations the opportunity to reduce costs, enhance productivity and increase mobility. But the transition from legacy communications infrastructures can be difficult, as evidenced by the slow pace of migration from FTS 2001 to Networx, still under way five years post-award. (See related Networx story in this report.)
UC is becoming increasingly essential as a way to deliver e-mail, voice, texting, video, presence, IM, click-to-communicate and mobility, along with collaboration technologies (shared workspaces, meetings and conferencing) and social tools (communities, user profiles, microblogs and activity feeds).
“Paramount to UC’s growth are two primary trends — an increasingly remote workforce and globalization — which encompass all associated technologies, including voice, IM, audio, video, web conferencing,” said Elka Popova, director of unified communications and collaboration at Frost and Sullivan. “It’s all of these tools that enable collaboration across geographically dispersed teams.”
Interestingly, although Frost and Sullivan expects the UC market to show double-digit growth in the next five years, the number of UC clients expected to ship by 2016 is estimated to reach only 30 million, about 20 million fewer than previously predicted. In government, Popova explained, tight budgets and equally stringent security requirements have slowed the adoption of UC.
The U.S. government’s current preference for operating expenses over capital investments is likely to lure even diehard organizations with legacy communications infrastructures to hosted cloud services, Popova continued. Those organizations tend to favor private cloud services due to ongoing security concerns about public clouds. Additional cloud issues yet to be resolved include reliability and integration across cloud-based services. “These, too, may slow conservative organizations into waiting for more mature solutions with proven technological capabilities,” she added.
According to industry observers, top UC technology trends include:
• Mobility. Full mobility requires more than an ability to use a laptop PC as a phone or redirect calls to a smart phone. A true mobile UC experience for government workers would include a mobile client that can use the smart phone’s data network for voice calling, along with a single phone number and the ability to send SMS messages from any location or device.
• Cloud services. If cloud solutions are trusted to run mission-critical applications, voice communications services are likely to take hold. Expect to see large government organizations move toward private UC clouds while smaller agencies use shared, multitenant UC cloud services.
• Killer apps. The ability to use any wireless data connection for voice calling and text messaging, along with speech-recognition apps such as Siri and Vlingo, are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the UC apps likely to emerge in the coming months.
• Enhanced video. In a recent survey, 80 percent of respondents said they plan to use video as part of UC in 2012, according to Infonetics Research. High-quality video and declining costs increase the viability of using video to enhance employee collaboration and reduce travel costs, according to survey results.