- Unify’s free service offers a valuable taster of UC, but there are other ‘try before you buy’ options.
- Buyers and providers should both be aware that limitations on a service (e.g., limited integration) may hide the real value of a UC solution.
Unify (newly acquired by Atos) has moved to gain market attention and traction with the offer of free UC services. The free service is limited to only 100 users and provides only 1 gigabyte of storage (for further details, see: Unify Stakes Claim to SME Market, but Might Find Only Fool’s Gold, November 20, 2015). Although it is not without risks, this is a smart move by Unify. It offers a very competitive UC solution via its Circuit platform. However, overshadowed by Cisco and Microsoft and facing the growing popularity of rivals such as BroadSoft and Google Apps, Unify has a significant challenge to gain market attention and traction.
Persuading enterprises to pay for UC remains a challenge despite the relative maturity of UC as a concept and as an ICT solution. This is particularly true in the small business market, where take-up is well below 50%. Part of the problem is the prevalence of free apps such as Google+, WhatsApp and Skype. Indeed, the popularity of the latter has led to its acquisition by Microsoft and the rebranding of Lync as Skype for Business. As well as brand and interface familiarity, Microsoft hopes to use the free version of Skype as a gateway to its more advanced paid-for services. Unify is adopting a similar approach. For businesses, this is an attractive opportunity: One of the longstanding arguments about free apps has been about quality and security. Unify is offering a free version of a genuinely enterprise-grade service.
But, does this really offer enterprises a better experience? The short answer is “yes, but…” The restrictions of a 1GB inbox are not likely to affect a short-term trial or even medium-term usage, and besides, there are arguments for limiting overall inbox size. It is the limited integration the free service offers that is the truly constricting factor, although this may not be immediately apparent to users.
As well as the availability of free alternatives, a major drag on UC sales has been the inability of providers to make a convincing business case for paid-for services. This is changing as providers start to deliver solutions that integrate with other platforms and apps which deliver tangible business benefits, rather than selling UC as a technology in and of itself (for more on this, see: Application Integration Is Key to Delivering Effective Collaboration, October 27, 2015). Atos/Unify is hoping that by limiting integration it will make customers more aware of the importance of integration. However, by doing so, it is limiting one of the key selling points of UC. Enterprise users should therefore be aware that they may not be seeing the full benefit of UC. SMEs should certainly investigate Unify’s offer and be aware that it does offer integration benefits beyond what’s on screen. However, most UC solutions are now available on per-seat, per-month contracts and many providers offer a ‘try before you buy’ option, so the headline ‘free service’ may not be the users’ best option.