The New Workspace: Tech Players Jockey for Dominance at the Virtual Water Cooler

Cover Story

The New Workspace: Tech Players Jockey for Dominance at the Virtual Water Cooler

By Paula Bernier, Executive Editor, TMC  |  December 04, 2014

Work is no longer a place; it’s an activity. This statement became a popular utterance in business circles a few years ago. That still holds true today. In fact, at no time has it been more accurate.

As IDC reports, the world's mobile worker population will reach 1.3 billion in 2015, representing 37.2 percent of the total workforce. Growth in the number of mobile workers is obviously being driven by the rise of smartphones and tablets, and the widespread availability of both wireline and wireless broadband connectivity.

That, paired with the rise of cloud computing, and the availability of more affordable and integrated unified communications solutions, now means that both stationary and mobile workers can more easily and affordably connect with their companies, co-workers, and other colleagues, and to make more informed business decisions to drive efficiency and profitability.

In an effort to position themselves in the corner offices of this new workspace environment, many of the IT industry’s giants are ramping up their efforts to accelerate enterprise cloud adoption and, in some cases, sell themselves as end-to-end cloud solutions providers. Meanwhile, collaboration and unified communications specialists are working to expand their solutions on this front via acquisition and the introduction of homegrown cloud-based offerings.

Complete Cloud

It became crystal clear this autumn that Microsoft (News - Alert) is positioning itself to be businesses’ preferred vendor for everything cloud based, as TMC Senior Editor Peter Bernstein recently reported. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella in a recent speech explained that entails Microsoft using Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and Microsoft Dynamics to deliver what the company is touting as “the industry’s most complete cloud.”

“The enterprises of today and tomorrow demand a cloud platform that is reliable, scalable and flexible,” Nadella said. “With more than 80 percent of the Fortune 500 on the Microsoft cloud, we are delivering the industry’s most complete cloud — for every business, every industry and every geography.”

Another IT giant, IBM, this fall join forces with both Microsoft and SAP (News - Alert) to accelerate enterprise cloud adoption. The first alliance entails IBM and Microsoft making key IBM middleware like WebSphere Liberty, M@ and DB2 availability on Microsoft Azure, Windows Server and SQL Server available on the IBM cloud, and IBM support of software running on Windows Server Hyper-V for hybrid cloud deployments. The second duo is making available the SAP HANA Enterprise Cloud offering on IBM’s cloud.

Other IT giants like Cisco and Oracle also have cloud-based offerings addressing collaboration and data analysis, backup, and more.

Working It

Speaking of giants, Amazon and Google, which gave rise to the cloud, continue to push their cloud-based business initiatives.

In addition to its pioneering Amazon Web Services (News - Alert), Amazon offers WorkSpaces, a fully managed cloud-based desktop computing service that allows customers to easily provision desktops that allow end users to access the documents, applications and resources they need with the device of their choice.

Google, meanwhile, continues to add to its array of online productivity tools and partners. In fact, the company in late October announced an alliance with PwC, in an effort that Gigaom says aims to help Google prove that its apps and its cloud platform are ready for primetime use by big companies and to show that PwC understands the cloud. The deal entails combining the Google Apps cloud-based collaboration and productivity tools and PwC’s business insights to make companies more productive, and better positioned to cater to customer needs and make decisions to drive market innovation.

Lync has also made a huge impact in the UC arena. Microsoft Lync is an enterprise unified communications platform that provides a consistent, single client experience for presence, instant messaging, voice, video and meetings. It is available on Windows PCs, Windows Phone, iOS, and Android smartphones.

Microsoft late in 2013 told INTERNET TELEPHONY that more than 90 percent of Fortune 100 companies are Lync  and in Microsoft’s Fiscal Year 2013 earnings release it announced that Lync revenue grew 30 percent year over year.

As TMC President Rich Tehrani reported last month, the company will phase out the Lync name and embrace the functionality and name popularity of Skype, which it recently acquired, by using the name Skype for Business.

“The two services did work together but the Lync name will soon disappear,” Tehrani wrote. “This is a smart move from a BYOD perspective and moreover immediately makes Skype seem like it is safe for any enterprise.”

Stuart Cochran, CTO of Huddle, which provides video solutions that enable

ad hoc collaboration in the workplace, expects 2015 to bring some significant shifts regarding enterprise collaboration and an increased focus on data sovereignty. For collaboration, 2015 is going to be about mobile, intelligence and collaboration as a business enabler rather than just an efficiency driver, he said.

“We believe that the trend of workforces becoming increasingly mobile, as well as the increasing popularity of BYOD, will evolve away from simple workforce mobilization and secure access to documents, towards a stronger focus on productivity,” Cochran continued. “This will be particularly prevalent in larger organizations, where the number of documents, employees, and interactions is much higher. Mobile apps will need to move away from pure sync and share, and become true tools to help workers navigate, prioritize and action the huge number of interactions that they need to deal with.”

UC Consolidation

Many of the companies that specialize in the business telephony and unified communications arena are working to ensure their positions in the new workspace.

For example, Mitel in the past 18 months has doubled in size and expanded its market presence and product portfolio in what it says is a rapidly consolidating unified communications market. The company has done that via both acquisition and organic growth.

Mitel in March bought contact center company OAISYS; in January it snapped up Aastra; contact center company prairieFyre joined Mitel in June 2013; and Mitel acquired Inter-Tel in April 2007. Mitel tried to bring another company – UC and contact center provider ShoreTel – into the fold via unsolicited bids, but ShoreTel’s board rejected both offers.

As for ShoreTel, this company also seems to have positioned itself well to compete in the new workspace arena judging by its recent financial report and new financing.

Like Mitel, PGi has been on a tear – acquiring complementary companies and expanding its solution set at a rapid pace. The company has a half-billion-dollar credit facility, and it continues to seek acquisitions in the collaboration/UCaaS and managed video services arenas. That could position it well to move on the growing opportunity in collaboration applications, a market that IDC expects to grow to $5.7 billion by 2018.

PGi, a 20-year-old company that says it’s the largest pure-play collaboration provider, has a global presence in 25 countries, and serves 50,000 enterprise customers, including 75 percent of the Fortune 100. In October PGi announced the acquisition of Central Desktop Inc., which sells cloud-based team collaboration and project management solutions aimed at marketing teams. Central Desktop offers SocialBridge, which enables marketers to collaborate with others within the enterprise, as well as with outside partners such as advertising agencies, to formulate and approve marketing collateral. The platform provided by Pasadena, Calif.-based Central Desktop, which has an annual revenue run rate of about $9 million, is in use by more than half a million users worldwide. And PGi plans to take the solution global.

 “We’ve done five acquisition in the last 15 months, and we’re just getting going,” PGi’s Sean O’Brien, executive vice president of strategy and communications, recently told INTERNET TELEPHONY.

New Positioning

While companies like Mitel and PGi are bulking up, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise aims to find growth by splitting off from its parent company. But that too could lead to acquisitions related to the enterprise cloud.

Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise this fall announced plans to become its own company with the assistance of China Huaxin Post & Telecommunication Economy Development Center, which recently closed a Eur 202 million deal with Alcatel-Lucent for an 85 percent share of Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise. China Huaxin is a Chinese investment company with more than Euro 1 billion in assets and a keen interest in information and communications technologies, including the cloud, optical communications, smart city, telecommunications solutions, systems and software, and now enterprise and mobile applications.

About a year ago, Alcatel-Lucent decided to look for external investors that could help empower the Enterprise business to cement a leadership role with businesses as they transitioned to new IP- and software-based technologies and on-demand IT business models, Michel Emelianoff, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise president, explained. China Huaxin will help Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise grow both through its knowledge and relationships in China; and its strong financial position, which can help fund the company’s organic and non-organic growth around the world. While the companies have already identified areas in which Alcatel-Lucent can accelerate its growth, Emelianoff said, they are not ready to disclose in what areas they are considering acquisition.

As noted in the September issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise has been promoting its vision of the personal cloud, which it describes as a mobile computing and communications environment in which individuals can seamlessly merge the personal and professional use of their various devices, leverage popular applications and services like Dropbox and Twitter for business and pleasure, and otherwise control how they communicate.

Another company with a rich history in telecommunications, Unify (formerly Siemens (News - Alert) Enterprise Communications), recently took the wraps off a new SaaS-based workspace solution called Circuit that gives business users access to a range of collaboration and communications tools from any device, all via a single interface. Circuit is the official brand name of the effort previously referred to as Project Ansible, which the company first discussed in June 2013.

Circuit is a a WebRTC-based clientless platform that delivers voice, video, screen sharing, messaging and file sharing capabilities in an integrated way to drive productivity. As a result, says CMO Bill Hurley, “people can focus on their work instead of focusing on the mode of communication to get the work done.” This solution was created in collaboration with Frog Design, a German company that has produced award-winning designs for Apple, and worked with other top-shelf companies such as Disney and Sony.

While there are a multitude of unified communications offerings already on the market, Hurley says many of them are not elegant solutions but, like Frankenstein, are stitched together from different piece parts, which are often brought in via acquisition. Circuit, meanwhile, offers an easy-to-use way to collaborate and share and find documents, even as users move between different endpoints.

These are, of course, just a few examples of companies best known in the telecom arena that are now bringing to or expanding their portfolios with cloud-focused enterprise solutions that address the new mobile workspace. Others include GENBAND, NEC, and NTT (News - Alert).

Big Picture

Consolidation in the UC space is expected to continue, but the good news is that decreasing costs due in part to the rise of cloud computing mean more businesses will embrace such solutions. Cost is the most important factor driving cloud UC adoption, according to Infonetics Research.

"The barriers to adoption no longer outweigh the benefits of unified communications, and as a result there are fewer and fewer businesses not utilizing UC," said Diane Myers, principal analyst for VoIP, UC, and IMS at Infonetics Research. "Enterprises have a number of choices, from traditional premises-based solutions to a variety of cloud capabilities. This makes for a fragmented market for businesses to wade through, but it also provides options to best fit a wide swath of requirements."

David Danto, principal consultant for collaboration, multimedia, video and UC at Dimension Data, added: “Costs are coming down and with costs dropping, you are starting to see businesses utilizing the technology in much larger numbers.

Edited by Maurice Nagle


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