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By 2010 analysts expect more partnerships between vendors, thanks to widespread adoption of the SIP and SIMPLE standards for IP telephony, IM and presence awareness. This will ease integration woes and help companies extend their messaging and communication capabilities beyond the firewall. It would enable a company to use an internal communications system to incorporate an offshoring partner into a document workflow, or to collaborate on a project with a third party. At the moment, these interactions happen mainly by e-mail and fax. "Standardization will help interoperability, but right now it's still a big hurdle," says Erica Rugullies, a senior analyst with Forrester Research.
That's because the playing field is still highly fragmented with small vendors that are more interested in grabbing market share by adding mediocre bells and whistles to their already limited offerings, rather than truly rounding out their product offerings or even conforming to standards. "The temptation is to add more features and see what sticks with the customer," says Radicati. A Web conferencing vendor might add IM and presence services to its software package, for example, or an e-mail provider might create a nifty way to connect calendaring to its core product. And only a few of these applications currently include VoIP. Standards would at least make it easier for companies to connect disparate tools from different vendors.
Even the vendors that have the potential to offer complete solutions are not playing nice. Oracle, Microsoft, AT&T and others are hitting the streets over the next six months with the first all-in-one communications software packages. But their platforms are built using different standards. So if your company uses Microsoft, but your outsourcing partner uses Oracle, the systems won't connect. Analysts say this will change within a year or so as companies more widely adopt SIP and SIMPLE as the de facto standards. "That's where everyone is coalescing," says Forrester's Rugullies.
It's important to think ahead and begin evaluating how your company will take advantage of these new tools, especially as organizations move more and more to embrace VoIP. But for now, a truly converged network is still as elusive as Einstein's theory for everything. "It's appealing," says AMR's Murphy, "but so far, unproven."