Unified Communications is about People, not Technology

Convergence Corner

Unified Communications is about People, not Technology

By Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director  |  June 04, 2012

This article originally appeared in the June 2012 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY

Look across the UC landscape. What do you see?

You see the two giants, Cisco and Avaya (News - Alert). And you see a host of other very recognizable brands that have somehow fallen into the shadow cast by the two market leaders. But times seem to be changing, and the value proposition offered by some of these other players is putting the pressure on the frontrunners. Now, not only do they have to compete against each other for market share, they also need to look carefully at the likes of Siemens, ShoreTel, and several others.

Over the past few months, I’ve spoken with many of these companies. There is a distinct difference in the approaches to the market between incumbents and challengers. Specifically, the contenders – who also seem to be the ones making greater inroads as the IP communications market overtakes traditional voice – are focusing on what I’d call the basic capabilities of voice and UC and the ability to just make things work. Perhaps more importantly, they are equally content making their stuff work with Avaya’s or Cisco’s (News - Alert) pieces as they are selling a complete end-to-end solution. (We know how those two feel about playing nice with other vendors’ hardware.)

“It’s not a tech debate anymore. It’s about bringing it all together in a way that works for the business and drives productivity and business impact,” explains Siemens Enterprise Communications’ (News - Alert) Global CMO Chris Hummel. “It’s not hard to say, but it’s been very hard to do.” (Hummel will be keynoting ITEXPO (News - Alert) West this October in Austin, Texas. Visit www.itexpo.com for more.)

Siemens has long touted the benefits and value of openness in communication platforms, helping business leverage existing infrastructure while moving into the new world of UC, eliminating unnecessary capex while driving process efficiencies.

Process efficiency has always been part of the ShoreTel story, with its “Brilliantly Simple” tagline. In fact, I’ve taken on the task of making moves, adds and drops on a ShoreTel system with no instruction. No problem. IT staff are able to move quickly on to other network management tasks, spending little time on the phone system.

“The model business person has to be productive and have the capabilities to do things intuitively,” says Peter Blackmore, ShoreTel president and CEO. “Getting the mobility piece right is huge – it’s almost the Holy Grail. Everyone has some answer to mobility, but we really got down to making it truly an extension of your PBX (News - Alert).”

It’s not that the additional cloud services and collaboration features aren’t useful, or that they don’t add to the UC experience. But they aren’t core to the day-to-day UC use case, and they tend to add complexity, rather than reduce it. And they certainly add to the price tag.

If every time businesses want to add a new feature or capability, their monthly bill grows, the likelihood is they will forego additional capabilities in favor of cost savings.

“It’s hard to do UC if you don’t have access to the tools,” says Bobby Mohanty, vice president of product management at Vertical Networks. “If people have to make decisions based on cost, they tend to limit what people can do and how they can collaborate.”

Which is why Vertical has adopted what amounts to a single price model, where once business buy the license, they have access to all the Vertical UC apps and services, including IP PBX, conferencing, call recording, archiving and management, CRM integration, desktop call control, and IM. Vertical also has a mobility solution for iOS and is readying one for Android.

So where’s the difference? It’s really in the understanding that businesses have a choice and vendors cannot win by forcing them to use complex, proprietary, expensive solutions anymore. Today’s UC certainly is about cost savings, but it’s more about being able to connect people across multiple networks and devices, increasing efficiency, thus increasing ROI. It’s more about cost efficiency than cost savings.

That understanding is why companies like Siemens, ShoreTel, and Vertical will continue to succeed. They have corporate philosophies toward their UC products and customers that, as Blackmore says, are “the anti-Cisco.”

Edited by Stefania Viscusi