Unified goal

With research suggesting that half of all enterprises in the Middle East plan to deploy unified communications (UC) in the next three years, networking and telecoms resellers that haven’t already explored the revenue opportunities available in this growing market need to start giving it the attention it deserves before it’s too late.

Tags: Avaya IncorporationBTCisco Systems IncorporatedFVC - First Video Communications IncorporationSystems integratorUnited Arab Emirates
  • E-Mail
Unified goal Wael Abdulal, Cisco.
More pics ›
By  Piers Ford Published  June 15, 2010 Channel Middle East Logo

Unified Communications (UC) seems to have been with us for years. In reality, until very recently, it was always a concept waiting for vendors to develop the technology and integration tools necessary to deliver the promise. They have just about done that now and a new generation of applications is penetrating the market, delivering a genuinely unified, collaborative communications environment.

As a relatively new high-tech market place, the Middle East is particularly well positioned to exploit the benefits of UC. Multinational enterprises have been effective harbingers of the technology, demonstrating the potential of unified, global applications that truly incorporate voice, video and data in a single, user-friendly platform.

“The Middle East UC market is still in its early growth stage, offering plenty of opportunities for vendors,” says Frost & Sullivan analyst Gassan Mutwali. “We are witnessing a growing demand from enterprises to understand the UC value proposition and reap its benefits of increased productivity, collaboration and OPEX savings. The economic recession negatively affected Middle East enterprises’ ICT budgets.

However, according to a recent study conducted by Frost & Sullivan, over 50% of enterprises in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Egypt expect to deploy UC applications in the next three years. The combined UC market in the same countries is expected to reach US$238 million by 2014.”

The Middle East channel, then, should be poised to ride the rising tide in demand. Systems integrators are cautiously optimistic that this will materialise.

“I believe that enterprise adoption of UC continues to increase,” says Venkat Raghavan, general manager at Al-Futtaim Technologies. “However, implementation rates remain low. In a conservative post-2009 economic scenario, some CIOs will choose to retain valuable existing investments in technology rather than a quick ‘rip and replace’ technology. But I believe the smart CIO will adopt UC as an opportunity to cut costs and increase overall productivity in order to further reinforce the profit focus attitude of his IT department.”

Raghavan says financial institutions and geographically-dispersed enterprises are among the typical early adopters, and cites Etisalat, an Alcatel-Lucent My Instant Communicator project for 10,000 users across the UAE, as an example. The solution integrates with Etisalat’s existing enterprise e-mail infrastructure, allowing users to connect with teams and collaborate via voice, e-mail and messaging, and to share documents through appropriate applications.

Alcatel-Lucent’s regional approach — strong partnerships with local system integrators — reflects typical vendor strategy in the region. According to Mutwali at Frost & Sullivan, most UC vendors are focusing on increasing and strengthening their channel partners across the Gulf region.

“Partner specialisation programmes are conducted regularly, ensuring that the partners are well-trained to assist customers,” he says. “Middle East UC vendors have realised the impact of the SMB sector and created customised solutions for the segment to realise greater revenues. Further, networking vendors like Cisco have been leveraging their existing customer base on the networking side to up-sell UC applications.”

Cisco, like Microsoft, represents the one-stop-shop approach to UC of many — though not all — vendors. Others, like Avaya, IBM and Siemens have opted for co-opetition, delivering application sets themselves while looking for integration with best-of-breed point solutions from other vendors.

Cisco aims to cover all UC capabilities, and most of its recent brace of 61 UC products are already available in the Middle East, says Wael Abdulal, product sales manager for collaboration. “I can comfortably state that the UC market has taken off in the Middle East — a little late, but we have taken off. In terms of revenue opportunities, Cisco can now address all layers — infrastructure to applications — and application is a major revenue stream. Video is on the top of the list and we are seeing a positive demand from the market for TelePresence and Business Video in general.”

Abdulal says many of Cisco’s partners reflect this focus and their investment in training, seminars and webinars has prepared them to add application skills on top of their proven expertise in IP telephony. Ideally, he says, a UC channel partner will have a combination of telecoms, networking, audio/video and applications skills — a sophisticated portfolio, even in today’s fast-moving market.

The unified communications opportunity has also reached the open source space. One company benefitting from that is DVCOM, the regional partner for Digium, which develops the Asterisk open source telephony platform.

Sabu Thomas, vendor and channel manager at DVCOM, says regional enterprises are gradually coming round to the open source way of thinking when it comes to deploying call centres and IP telephony platforms. “The interface card is already approved by the TRA here in the UAE, so it is easy for organisations to customise their own PBX solutions or a unified communication platform through Asterisk software,” insists Thomas.

Add a Comment

Your display name This field is mandatory

Your e-mail address This field is mandatory (Your e-mail address won't be published)

Security code