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October 03, 2012

ShoreTel CEO Suggests UC is at a Tipping Point

By Peter Bernstein, Senior Editor

ITEXPO Austin 2012 got off to a provocative start when Peter Blackmore (News - Alert), president and CEO at ShoreTel and unified communications (UC) evangelist, started his keynote address that kicked off the proceedings. “Our industry will see more change in the next 20 months than we have seen since the introduction of voice over IP (VoIP),” he stated.

Blackmore went on to say that “the UC industry is at an absolute inflection point!”  

Given that UC has been around for many years and that every year industry analysts have predicted “next year will the year of UC,” what has changed? A lot, as it turns out, and as somebody who has watched this market for several decades, I happen to subscribe to the Blackmore view.

We live in what I have characterized as the “Age of Acceleration,” and all of the puzzle pieces, as Blackmore articulated, are in place for the type of disruptive transformation that will finally enable UC to live up to its promise and become more widely adopted. 

The case for the tipping point

So what does Blackmore see as the drivers behind us being at a UC tipping point? Three things:

The rate of technologic change is accelerating: The communications, collaboration and analytic tools that are rushing into the market have demonstrable value for engendering significant business process optimization, reducing costs and enabling more meaningful engagement across enterprises and with customers.

Business models are changing: We are literally at the bottom of the on-ramp of fully leveraging and appreciating the impact of virtualization, “E”verything-as-a-Service (XaaS) and the way in which companies can dynamically use real-time business intelligence to rapidly change the game in markets.

UC as a tool to enable all of this is critical in terms of internal enterprise interactions that drive faster and better decision making, and regarding interactions with ecosystem partners and customers.

Outside influences:  The proliferation of smart personal devices (aka the BYOD phenomenon) has gone from being feared by IT to being seen as a powerful trend to be capitalized on. It is creating tremendous demands on IT as the “work is wherever I am” becomes reality for most people be they C-levels or employees, and the resulting “consumerization/socialization of IT” driven by the explosion of smart personal devices with all of their apps has resulted in expectations that the user experience people enjoy in their personal routines are replicated or exceeded when it comes to having access to all of their business tools in hand.     

On the later point, Blackmore says this need to be productive wherever and whenever has resulted in acknowledgement that, “business success is defined by team productivity.” In short, a priority of a communications environment is to assure that the right people have the right tools at the right time and anywhere at any time in order to please customers and gain competitive advantage.

Speaking of success, Blackmore focused in on three keys: 

User focus: This means improved GUIs, and making usage of devices and functions intuitive so all of the UC capabilities are easy to use and become second nature. It also means aligning the needs of three important stakeholders — IT assets managers, business managers (sales, marketing, HR, etc.) and consumers – with the end goal being exceeding the expectations of a demanding and increasingly disloyal (thanks to the Internet) customer base.

Mobility: We are all mobile and being so is transformative and this must be accommodated in any communications solution, whether it be cloud- or premises-based.  

Cloud and SaaS (News - Alert): He noted that the cloud market is expected to equal the premises market by 2015, and that it is already clear that things like SIP trunking, and the ability to have unified call control along with the opportunity to move CapEx to OpEx is not only rapidly changing the way SMBs buy and use communications functionality, including or particularly UC, but is starting to show strong interest in the larger enterprise community driven in no small measure by BYOD.

As noted, adding up what is turning out to be a perfect storm for UC taking off the Blackmore brief is compelling. I would also be remiss if I did not mention his view about the future of the industry and the debate over cloud v. premises. 

On the former, he noted that there are currently 80 UC vendors in the U.S., many of them cloud-based, and clearly industry consolidation is on the way. On the latter he was clear, and I think accurate, when he stated, “premises-based solutions are not going away anytime soon if ever.” He noted that it was his belief that the cloud trend is more than a trend and that for vendors in the future to be successful they should be expert in both areas and in fact insure that they work together seamlessly so that customers can choose the solution that best fits their unique needs and have the flexibility to adopt as those needs change.  

Accommodating change is critical

Blackmore closed with a somewhat cautionary note to the audience when he said that in an age where everything is moving faster whether you are a vendor or an enterprise customer, you need to be moving faster if you are to survive and prosper. In this case as it relates to UC it means letting the trend be your friend because market realities are saying the business case for UC is compelling. 

As for his leadership of ShoreTel (News - Alert), he closed with the following famous quote: “Only the paranoid survive.” 

Given that we live in an era where the only thing that is constant is the fact that the pace of change is accelerating, this is not a bad posture to take. It resonates particularly in light of what is certainly looking like an industry tipping point, one interestingly being driven by UC’s coming of age. Ironically, that could also be said of the cloud which under the names of “shared space computing,” in the telecom world “Centrex,” “hosted services” by ASPs has been around since the late 1970s and likewise has note just come of age but is the center of discussion of what will be needed to succeed now and in the future.

A great start to what promises to be an exciting next few days at ITEXPO (News - Alert).

To find out more about ShoreTel visit the company at ITEXPO Austin 2012. Happening now at the Austin Convention Center in Austin, TX, ITEXPO is the world’s premier IP communications event. Pejman Roshan (News - Alert), Vice President, Product Development, will be another speaker at the event. For more information on ITEXPO Austin 2012, click here.

Edited by Braden Becker
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