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We have heard from folks in the hosted, the mobile voice and the emerging voice as a service spaces, but now let’s hear from someone in the highly criticized, yet ever so promising space of Unified Communications. David Schenkel is the CTO of Objectworld, a company that provides unified communications software solutions that enable small- to medium-sized businesses with Microsoft® Windows® platforms to drive workforce productivity and improve organizational responsiveness.

As CTO, David is tasked with the overall technical direction of the company and its product development plan so obviously he is at the forefront of what’s happening in both the Unified Communications and VoIP spaces. Couple that with over 25 years of experience in the area of technology convergence and you can bet that David has a good idea of where the industry is heading.

Let’s see what he has to say…

Mobile VoIP was one sector of the VoIP industry that really took off in 2008, what sector(s) do you think will take off or see tremendous growth in 2009?

We’ll probably see more VoIP in traditional brick and mortar operations, more growth in VoWLAN and more growth in applications with SIP-enabled VoIP end-points.

Brick and Mortar? I haven’t heard that come up yet. Who are the VoIP companies to watch over the next six to twelve months? Who will have the hottest products and or will be releasing the most innovative or game changing services?

Companies that combine VoIP with productivity applications, particularly unified communications. The leaders will be new entrants, primarily ISVs like Microsoft, Objectworld, IBM, SAP, and so on.

What consumer and or business market segments or verticals are the looking the most attractive for VoIP companies over the next six months to a year?

It’s difficult to predict, but with the economy slowing, businesses that have a lot of mobile employees and branch offices will see the greatest benefit from VoIP. Verticals that put an emphasis on business transactions and customer service by phone (e.g., logistics, real estate, health services, finance, etc.) will be most interested in VoIP.

Do you foresee any sizeable shifts in the type of businesses that will be potentially migrating to VoIP in the next six months to a year? Are they the same as this year or will they be different?

The type won’t change, but there will be a greater overall diversity. Gradually, VoIP is becoming table stakes as a way to lower TCO, which is something that will interest all businesses going forward for the next 6-12 months (perhaps longer).

Some feel the VoIP industry will actually benefit from a recession, since consumers and businesses will be looking for low cost alternatives, while some feel that the industry will feel pain as well since many will look to put off technology and infrastructure improvements until more certain times, what’s your take?

VoIP will help customers meet critical challenges in terms of cost reduction. If the difference is between putting in IT to reduce costs so that a business can re-purpose human resources without cutting versus just reducing head count, forward-looking businesses with choose the former. Crisis is always an opportunity for growth, and IT in general and VoIP in particular (when coupled with unified communications) can help businesses cut costs and growth their relationships.

Agreed. I see a tremendous upside for those companies that get it in this environment. Speaking of being smart as a business, what advice can you offer to companies in the VoIP industry for the next year? What are you doing to make sure that your company continues to grow?

Objectworld has always focused on keeping costs trim, and we put most of our efforts into working with customers and partners to ensure those relationships are strong. In that respect, we’re a very nimble, disciplined company and that’s largely a cultural disposition. However, businesses should look to cut costs where it hurts least (in operational expenses where IT can reduce them painlessly) and keep their eyes on long-term growth. Economic cycles that involve contraction are invariably followed by periods of growth, and we advise our customers and partners both to be prudent, but also to be ready for that growth.

With the number of open source telephony platforms continuing to grow each month it seems, will open source telephony continue to grow in importance and prominence during 2009?

At Objectworld, we don’t think so. It’s more likely the businesses will turn to solutions that are dead-easy to deploy and manage, with feature/functions and benefits right out of the box. For most businesses, especially in the SMB, that typically means Windows-based.

Interesting to hear that you think open source will slow. What about Unified Communications? Will 2009 finally be the year that it see’s a big “adoption rate” increase?

It will be if smaller new entrants can wedge themselves into public mind-share. Larger new entrants and incumbents still aren’t providing solutions that are low-cost up-front, low-cost to deploy, and provide clear benefits in a very short, manageable and predictable timeline. Analysts are advising customers not to purchase UC solutions if they won’t see a clear ROI in 12 months. Customers, especially in the SMB, should insist on seeing an ROI much more quickly than that. When vendors provide that as the norm rather than the exception, UC will see a big adoption rate increase.

Any parting shots, David?

VoIP solutions are going to start to see some challenges to adoption in the form of unified communications solutions that are adjuncts to existing PBX systems. VoIP does cut costs, but if a business doesn’t do much long distance, doesn’t have a strong IT champion, etc., VoIP is more of a luxury item. Vendors will either need to provide low-cost VoIP solutions that include UC productivity applications, or they should expect to see some slowdown in their growth.

Garrett Smith

Garrett Smith is an author, consultant, and marketer with almost 20 years of experience selling and marketing VoIP solutions. Garrett has helped thousands of businesses select the right VoIP system over his career, in addition to helping hundreds of vendors, and dozens of service providers with their go to market strategies. This experience gives him a unique position in industry that allows him to cut through all the noise. Garrett has been named one of the most influential people in the VoIP, and has written over 3,000 articles about VoIP since 2004.

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