A large majority of IT managers are planning to integrate unified communications (UC) into their infrastructure in hopes of saving time and money, but they're not ready to invest in video conferencing integration just yet, according to TechTarget’s Unified Communications 2011 Annual Survey.
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According to the survey, which drew responses from 445 IT professionals, enterprises believe UC video conferencing deployment would reduce the time and expense of business travel, improve interactive corporate communications and result in better collaboration for a distributed workforce.
Yet despite its advantages, video conferencing ranked fifth on the list when respondents were asked to select the top UC solutions they would like to deploy within their organization in the next 24 months. UC solutions that ranked higher included collaborative workspaces/dashboards (document and file sharing), click-to-communicate (voice, IM, video, web conferencing, mobile and social software), audio conferencing and calendar/directory integration.
In another survey question when respondents were asked to select three projects that their organization actually have plans to deploy in the next 24 months, three options were in close contention: 63.4% of respondents listed business collaboration solutions like Microsoft SharePoint, Google Apps and Box.net; 62.9% plan to deploy mobile infrastructure/devices with corporate messaging like email and voicemail; and 62.4% business conferencing solutions like web, video and voice. It is difficult to tell how much video would play a role in the top-three conferencing solutions.
Enterprise video conferencing presents network infrastructure challenges
It may seem counterintuitive that survey respondents see the benefits of video conferencing deployment but are hesitant to invest in it. The reason is that companies are concerned about how video conferencing technology will tax their network infrastructure, according to Ira M. Weinstein, senior analyst and partner with Wainhouse Research.
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Video conferencing is one of the more challenging pieces of UC because it uses a lot of bandwidth, Weinstein said. "[With] presence, sharing and chat, you don’t have to worry about controlling your utilization because it doesn’t tax the infrastructure. When you get into video conferencing, you get into performance, low latency and low packet loss on a global basis. The big challenge is protecting the network from the video traffic and vice versa," Weinstein said.
So when it comes to cost, it's not the licensing or endpoints that are daunting. In fact, according to the survey, 47.4% of respondents said they already own video endpoints. Generally a video feature carries no additional cost when buying a UC license. The decision often boils down to the cost of investing in network upgrades. The cost can be especially worrisome considering that once video conferencing is deployed, enterprises can lose control of how much bandwidth is consumed.
"You can’t lock down who can call who, so it almost becomes a free for all," Weinstein said. "This is good news because if people use it, they are getting value, but at the same time it’s only good news if you’re able to handle the traffic."
Partners to the enterprise video conferencing integration rescue
Partners can provide the missing link that bridges the gap between enterprises understanding the need for deployment and their willingness to invest.
Partners can teach customers how to integrate video conferencing with other enterprise systems to make deployment less expensive. "Partners can help integrate UC into back-end directory systems, existing PBXs, [and use] SIP trunking for special kinds of network connectivity," Weinstein said. Partners can also play a vital role in customization and integration into the business process.
"UC is not a product; it’s a combination of products. It’s not as easy as going to a vendor and saying 'I need your UC kit," Weinstein said. "Clients need people who do this for a living, who are trained and up to date on what’s happening so they can bring expertise to their company."
The future of enterprise video conferencing
While video conferencing uptake is slower than many have predicted, TechTarget's UC survey shows some positive signs of growth, with 17.8% of respondents saying their video conferencing budget has increased up to 5% in 2012 compared to 2011 budgets, while 16.4% said it increased 10-25%.
"The actual destination for video conferencing is not [as] an [individual] application, but rather it belongs behind other applications, according to Weinstein, adding that once video conferencing is available within other business tools and enters the corporate mind-set and workflow, further investment will happen.
"Technology-wise, we are there, but we’re not there yet in terms of culture. We’ve built the stadium; we’re just waiting for people to come," Weinstein said.