The need for increased employee efficiency and productivity is driving uptake of UC across the region, according to Audrey William, research manager for Frost & Sullivan. 'Having a converged network has driven more organizations to deploy IP to take advantage of and enable easier management and maintenance,' says Williams. 'UC offers feature-rich applications such as presence, mobility, unified messaging, conferencing and collaboration.'
Indeed, one of the problems with UC is that it encompasses so many things. It's often tough to break it out from the mainstream IP telephony business. And it's often confusing to business customers who say they want it when they hear about it but don't always recognize when they experience it.
'The market is still very much emerging,' notes Elizabeth Herrell, a VP with Forrester Research. 'There is still a lot of vendor uncertainty. While there is a lot of integration going on, no one has a true single, unified communications platform available yet.' Still, there are plenty of vendors chasing the market's seemingly limitless potential and staking out an early lead. Australia has emerged as an especially important UC market in Asia Pacific.
'Some of the most innovative unified communications implementations within banks, insurance organizations, healthcare organizations and the government sector are integrating presence with telephony, using high-end video-conferencing solutions,' says William. She adds 'many such trials are taking place in Australia, and this is expected to increase over the next three to five years.'
Frost & Sullivan says other strong UC markets in APAC include India, China, South Korea and Japan. The Telecom Industry Association's 2007 market forecast, meanwhile, notes that UC revenue in the US grew 14.1% last year with continued double-digit increases predicted during the next four years. The TIA predicts UC revenue will reach $3.9 billion in 2010, up from $2.2 billion in 2006. As enterprise networks converge, the UC opportunity will grow, according to the TIA.
In APAC, Australia appears the leading UC hotbed. Indeed, Nortel (which struck a global UC alliance with Microsoft that shook the industry a little more than a year ago) recently reached a deal with Australian financial service company Austock Group to deploy a unified communications network in Austock's Melbourne and Sydney offices. The network allows staff to go online to see which colleagues are available to quickly deal with client requests. The network integrates Microsoft's Live Communications Server (LCS) with Nortel's Communications Server 1000 PBX hardware.
Similar UC networks are being installed in Wannon Water, an Australian utility company, which has used the technology to create a 'single collaborative environment' for more than 200 staff across one dozen operational centers. Beca Group, a New Zealand-based engineering firm, recently implemented a Microsoft-Nortel UC solution.