Unified Communications Featured Article

The New Era of Unified Communications and Collaboration

January 27, 2012

Technology advancements in the telecommunications space are nothing new, although 2011 was an exciting year. To truly understand the impact, TMC wanted to get closer to the action, talking with key players in the industry. In anticipation of the upcoming ITEXPO 2012 event, Rich Tehrani, TMC CEO, recently spoke with Frank Stinson with IntelliCom Analytics. When asked his opinion on the most significant technological advancement in the past 12 months, Stinson pointed to the rapid adoption of tablet devices. As for the biggest trend in his market segment, Stinson highlighted Bring-Your-Own-Device (BYOD) strategies.

Stinson was also asked his opinion on the biggest challenge facing customers today and he noted the quickly evolving business communications space. It’s important, he believes, for providers to understand how quickly companies are adopting new alternatives. When asked about the impact of the cloud, Stinson noted it has given him and his colleagues something new to talk about as it ties closely to the broader software transformation of the business communications space. He also doesn’t believe cloud-based communications will expedite the end of the premises-based PBX market.

IntelliCom Analytics has taken a fairly conservative approach to social media, yet Stinson thinks it is very important for the large, consumer-driven company to have a social media presence. Asked about Microsoft’s potential dominance with tight integration between its mobile and desktop OS and Stinson noted that while he wouldn’t count them out, they do have an uphill battle. At ITEXPO, Stinson and Mark Ricca will represent IntelliCom Analytics as moderators for a number of panel discussions. As for his 2012 prediction, Stinson anticipates at least one major provider in the UC and Collaboration space will falter and undergo a major change in ownership, or business structure.

Their entire conversation follows:

1.      What was the most significant technological advancement in the past 12 months and why?

It may have been a little bit more than 12 months in the making, but the rapid adoption of tablet devices like the iPad has surprised a lot of people in its extent and has been highly disruptive to multiple markets. On the one hand, they are combining with surging interest in desktop virtualization solutions to raise significant questions on the value and long-term economics behind continued reliance on PCs in the enterprise. Within the UC space though, they have the potential to engage the business user in deployment decisions in a way that vendors traditionally selling into enterprise IT organizations have been salivating over for years.

2.      What has been the biggest trend in your market segment and how is it impacting your customers?

Related to the previous question, bring-your-own-device (BYOD) strategies have rapidly become the prevailing model that businesses are using to support smartphones and tablets over the past year based on a global survey we jointly conducted with unified communications earlier this month. In the case of both smartphones and tablet devices, 54 percent of respondents indicated support for at least a limited BYOD strategy allowing individual employees to select the mobile device of their preference, while the percentage of businesses standardizing on a specific manufacturer was in the single digits in both cases.

3.      What is the biggest challenge facing your customers today and how is your company helping address that challenge?

Over the past several years, the business communications space has evolved from being a market characterized by one prevailing delivery model and fairly similar value propositions from vendor to vendor, to its current state which is driven by an expanding variety of packaging models and a wide spectrum of both focused and broad value propositions. While there are some providers that still specialize in premise-based IP-PBX appliances, there are others that support a range of premise-based, private cloud, public cloud, and blended alternatives, often with the same basic software. There are also those that still primarily concentrate just on traditional voice applications, while others have expanded their focus to include a number of emerging collaboration segments. Understanding how rapidly businesses are adopting these new alternatives and how that is likely to develop over time is a key challenge for any provider in this space today. And we have structured our market research and tracking programs to provide important insights into these dynamics.

4.      How has the cloud impacted your business? How has it impacted your customers?

As analysts, it has certainly given us something new to talk about, and it ties closely to a broader software transformation of the business communications space that has been building over the past several years. Given the surging interest in the cloud -- especially private cloud initiatives that allow enterprises to incorporate voice and UC into their overall data center strategies -- we believe that the underlying software-centric architectures enabling this integration are rapidly moving toward mainstream acceptance relative to traditional, siloed voice systems. This has profound business model implications to the providers that we work with in this space which go well beyond just the technology considerations.

5.      Will cloud-based communications expedite the end of the premises-based PBX market?

I don’t think so, and it depends on how you define “the cloud.” To me, a private cloud implementation supported on equipment purchased by the enterprise and deployed within the company’s own data center is still a premise-based solution. And our research indicates that enterprises are still far more receptive to this approach than solutions sourced entirely from public cloud providers. However, many businesses are open to a blended model utilizing the cloud to extend functionality to remote users or small branch offices, or to provide incremental functionality to specific users or functions within the business. But I don’t see the PBX or PBX-like functionality deployed in a premise-based UC software suite disappearing anytime soon.

6.      What approach has your business taken to social media? If you have implemented a social media program, have you been able to evaluate your program’s success?

We have been fairly conservative on social media up to this point and are primarily just using it to stay connected with personal business contacts, which can be a challenge given how often people seem to be moving around in the current business environment.

7.      Does every business need a social media presence? Why or why not?

For large, consumer-driven companies, I think it is very important to have a social media presence. Customers that have had a bad experience with a company’s products or customer service do not mince words in the blogosphere. An active social media initiative may provide a second chance at satisfying these disgruntled customers, but more importantly, it can limit the damage that can be done to a company’s reputation when these issues go unanswered. But on the other hand, I think the medium is being misused by many who could benefit from more self discipline. For an analyst using Twitter, for example, I can potentially see followers deriving benefit from hearing their initial reactions to a major announcement or introduction as it happens. But I am not sure why anyone on the outside would care whether the A/C was set too high or that the chairs were uncomfortable in the meeting room used for the announcement.

8.      With Microsoft touting tight integration between its mobile and desktop OS, can it become a major competitor in the enterprise mobile market?

I wouldn’t count them out given the growing strategic importance of competing in the mobility space, but they definitely face an uphill battle based on their lack of success with Windows Mobile to date. I think they are starting to realize the extent of the threat that the BYOD trend and consumerization of IT in general poses to their PC-centric vision for UC and to their business more broadly. So I would expect them to place a lot of focus on this over the next year. But even if they do succeed in building differentiated capabilities through tight integration with their desktop applications, it is hard to say how much share they can realistically gain at this stage in a market increasingly driven by the end user rather than the enterprise.

9.      What can attendees expect from your company at ITEXPO?

Mark Ricca and I will be representing IntelliCom Analytics as moderators for a number of panel discussions at the event. I am conducting two sessions, one that focuses on the relative advantages of public and private cloud alternatives for deploying UC applications, and another that will take a detailed look at the potential business benefits that UC virtualization can deliver. These both tie closely to a number of the issues raised in this interview, so they should be interesting discussions.

10. Make one technology prediction for 2012 and consider its impact.

For most of the leading providers in the UC and Collaboration space, this is shaping up to be a year of execution. There has been a lot of R&D invested over the past five years in the technologies enabling the software- and cloud-based packaging alternatives, UC applications, and expanded user device choices discussed throughout this interview. The vendors now seem to be more focused on getting the packaging and support models around them right as enterprises show increasing signs of mainstream consideration of these new approaches. There will be winners and losers, though, based on which approaches gain the most momentum in the market. Given that a number of these providers face significant financial challenges and questions around long-term ownership, it is hard to see all of them getting through this transition unscathed. I think it is quite possible that you will see at least one major provider falter and undergo a major change in ownership or business structure within the next 12 months as a result.

To find out more about FRANK STINSON and INTELLICOM, visit the company at ITEXPO East 2012. To be held Jan. 31- Feb. 3 at the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami, Fla.  ITEXPO is the world’s premier IP communications event. FRANK STINSON is moderating “Unified Communications: Is the Public Cloud Your Enemy?” For more information on ITEXPO registration click here.

Stay in touch with everything happening at ITEXPO… Follow us on Twitter.

Susan J. Campbell is a contributing editor for unified communications and has also written for eastbiz.com. To read more of Susan’s articles, please visit her columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

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