COMMfusion President Blair Pleasant gave CoLab 2013 attendees a pop quiz:
Unified communications is _____.
a. An oxymoron
b. A new viral dance craze
c. A great name for a band
d. A way for companies to improve business processes, enhance employee productivity and reduce costs.
In joint irony, 80-odd audience members responded with a resounding “A!” and with good reason: The industry has been struggling for years to meet the criteria laid out in the definition of unified communications. Communications are not unified. Different vendors and analysts are split between the communication components UC encompasses.
In it’s simplicity, is UC a single client that combines access to multiple modes of communication, like the president of Stephen K Campbell Inc. describes? Or is UC the integration of any communication that optimizes business processes the way UCStrategies outlines?
Pleasant herself believes in a UC-U (user) and UC-B (business process) definition that splits up the term into two sets of technologies: those that help users manage their communications and those geared toward accelerating business processes.
By Gartner’s definition, nearly any vendor can qualify as a UC solution provider:
Gartner defines unified communications (UC) products (equipment, software and services) as those that facilitate the interactive use of multiple enterprise communications methods. This can include control, management and integration of these methods. UC products integrate communications channels (media), networks and systems, as well as IT business applications and, in some cases, consumer applications and devices.
Wainhouse Research draws a line by outlining the minimum set of features a UC vendor, platform or service should deliver:
• A presence-enabled contact list
• Instant messaging
• VoIP audio
• IP video
• Desktop sharing
• Conferencing with three or more participants for audio, video and desktop sharing
Pleasant told me in a conversation after her presentation that the term was developed at a time when unified messaging came into being. Because components other than messaging kept emerging, “communications” replaced “messaging” to be more inclusive. Perhaps at its inception, unified communications began as a misnomer. But are communications technologies today working toward truly unified platforms?
The hopeful say yes. Those who disagree have come together to reimagine the term. Communications platform vendor eZuce forgoes “unified communications” for the term “virtual communications.” Zeus Kerravala calls for an evolution from UC&C to visual collaboration.
This goes beyond making collaboration a part of the unified communications term. This is a call to the industry to agree on a definition or new term for UC altogether.
In honor of the Microsoft Lync 2013 conference that began today, I wanted to highlight a few articles that explain what has made Lync such a game changer in the world of unified communications (UC):
- UC guru Dave Michels says MS Lync does to unified communications what Outlook did to email in the 1990s. Outlook and Exchange were among the first mainstream solutions that combined email, calendaring and contacts into a single integrated application. Microsoft’s aim with Lync is to unify communications tools. What were the four most-significant improvements to the Microsoft Lync 2010 release? Michels highlights them in this Microsoft Lync article.
- Our very own Networking Media Group Director at TechTarget, Kate Gerwig, explains how Microsoft Lync disrupts the unified communications market this way: “If the future of UC is a set of features to integrate into other applications, who’s better positioned to do that than Microsoft — with its great developer environment and desktop mindshare?”
- TechTarget’s Microsoft Lync adoption survey found that — even though Lync is in it’s infancy, the product is off to a running start. The 329 international voice and network professionals who responded to the survey cited compelling motivators for deploying Lync, as well as Lync issues.
Are you left wondering whether Microsoft Lync is all its cracked up to be? Leave us a comment and let us know whether you think the MS Lync fever is hype or ripe.
The success of unified communications (UC) hinges on your users’ happiness. That “happiness” is otherwise measured by what the IT industry calls Quality of Experience (QoE) — a metric not easily obtained.
With Voice over IP (VoIP), for example, many factors influence the quality of a call. Finding the culprit can be a daunting task. Today, there are many tools, both free and costly, that help network engineers and managers find out what’s going on with the network: Quality of Service (QoS) tools, packet sniffers, network analyzers — the list is vast.
Fluke Networks Visual — the performance management brand of Fluke Networks — added to this list with it’s TruView announcement this week. Unlike other network monitoring solutions, the product enables network engineers to troubleshoot an application performance issue within three or four clicks of a mouse. TruView shows both packet and flow-based views of network and application performance. The depth and breadth of application performance monitoring (APM) coupled with the ability to troubleshoot network problems not only consolidates tools, but helps IT solve service quality issues more quickly.
The TruView tool can monitor all network traffic except for video (which is in the works), but Fluke Networks Visual Vice President Daryle DeBalski calls out VoIP monitoring specifically “because it’s so important in today’s business world…. Almost all of our customers use [VoIP].”
DeBalski said in a phone call that TruView can analyze VoIP traffic in realtime because its appliance stores all the packets and calls: “We can re-construct an audio call so [network enginners] can hear what the user heard.”
While other vendors store these packets, Debalski says the TruView appliance “does it in one place unlike anybody else.” It works with 1 and 10 gigs of data streams and generally saves two weeks of packet calls and application traffic unless their customer has specialized needs.
Rather than having to measure network traffic from weeks ago, the appliance is also smart enough to calculate baselines to let IT know what’s considered “good” performance on a typical Monday morning.
Ultimately, fixing “the network is slow” problems is what TruView is designed to do. While other tools may give you a bell or alarm to let you know something is wrong, a “true view” of network traffic can make that user experience all the happier.
“It’s no secret the USB webcam business is suffering due to the growth of embedded webcams. Consumers particularly are not concerned with high definition videoconferencing. … Good enough quality is fine when you are talking to friends and family,” Forrester Analyst Phil Karcher said.
Karcher believes that consumers will pick up on high definition (HD) videoconferencing slower than enterprises: “While desktop videoconferencing is becoming more popular in both the consumer and business markets, business buyers have a stronger appetite for high-quality audio and video.”
Due to this “good enough quality” attitude from consumers, some major players have exited from the webcam business, like Cisco. At the same time, consumer-oriented webcam vendors are targeting enterprises, like Logitech. The vendor recently evolved it’s classic desktop webcam into a small-group camera [shown left]. By pushing the roundtable BCC950 ConferenceCam, Logitech hopes to fill a niche for businesses craving video conferencing systems at palatable prices (compare a $249.99 conference cam to a $5,000 room-based video solution).
Karcher says that Logitech isn’t the only consumeristic vendor pushing into the enterprise market. Both Google and Skype offer free and professional video conferencing products and services for organizations to experiment with.
” The consumerization of IT is accelerating this trend. Its also more viable with the cloud allowing small start ups to scale up their operations by experimenting in the consumer markets before introducing more hardened enterprise offerings.”
Time will tell whether this enterprise experimentation will be enough to keep USB webcam vendors afloat.
After Cisco’s quarterly earnings call in November revealed soft numbers for the company’s collaboration business, I wrote a story about how Cisco was planning to bolster its collaboration strategy for the coming year. The story mentioned that users wanted to see more integration and interoperability from Cisco, something that CEO John Chambers mentioned in that same earnings call.
After the story published, Cisco requested a follow up conversation to talk more about the notion of integration and interoperability, so I got back on the phone with Roberto De La Mora, senior director of collaboration solutions marketing for Cisco.
De La Mora emphasized that customers are asking for better interoperability from Cisco, but they’re looking for the ability to integrate with third-party technology.
While Cisco’s collaboration products — like TelePresence and Jabber — can be purchased separately, they all play nice with one another. Businesses can purchase these products separately and the pieces do fully integrate with each other, even if they are purchased at different times, he said.
“We have bundling and pricing also to make it cheaper, but if you only want to buy WebEx for example, you can buy only that,” De La Mora said.
As an example, if a company starts off with only Cisco Unified Communications Manager (CUCUM), and then purchases Jabber down the road, Jabber will connect with CUCUM to allow phone and video calls. And because Cisco’s tools configure automatically, there is little involvement from IT needed, De La Mora added.
“All these pieces were designed to work together from the get-go, but that doesn’t mean you have to buy them all at once,” he said.
Sometimes for customers however, less is more. Other vendors — like Microsoft — bundle their collaboration product licenses into larger purchases for their customers. Cisco had always included Jabber as a separate line item charge for their customers, but recently saw the value in consolidating and began bundling Jabber licenses into CallManager.
Customers are fine with a monthly WebEx spend — but they don’t want to see the extra Jabber line item that could be growing rapidly each month. “When customers are seeing this extra line item spend increase, it’s an easy target to say ‘let’s eliminate that’,” said Bill Haskins, senior analyst for Wainhouse Research.
“People like WebEx, and so integrating that Jabber spend into something they are already buying is a great approach,” Haskins added.
Third party integration
UC and collaboration is still very much a mixed vendor environment, and customers have made it clear that they want better integration between Cisco products and their existing UC tools. Cisco will be making strides in satisfying their users in this area.
“We are doubling up on software investments, because most of those integrations users want aren’t just on a hardware level, but on a software level, too,” De La Mora said. Cisco currently offers integration to platforms like Microsoft’s Exchange, Office or Lync, and Google’s Gmail.
“If a user wants to start an instant message session with someone using Lync, or a video conferencing session with a person that has a unit from Polycom, we have open APIs and we use industry standards to make sure it’s not just integrated with Cisco,” he said.
SayWhat — a 5-employee start-up — released a product today that actually makes our smartphones smarter. How you ask? By giving phone call recipients the ability to know what a call is about before the phone is answered. It also gives callers the ability to see presence on a phone and check availability before you make a phone call.
SayWhat goes beyond caller ID. It also goes beyond ditchmail services like YouMail, or forward-to-voicemail-and-listen services offered by Google. My Personal Secretary is a mobile app available in the Google Play store today that offers ditchmail and auto-reply SMS to phone calls. But SayWhat goes a step further by allowing callers to explain the urgency, mood and subject of a call before the phone is even answered — much like the subject line of an email.
The downside? It’s currently only available on Android. Noam Wolf, co-founder and CEO of SayWhat Labs Ltd, says he plans to make it iPhone and Windows’ phone compatible in the near future.
As you could probably guess from the infomercial above, the app is geared at consumers. But the company plans to target enterprises down the road provided enterprises show enough interest in the app.
“There’s nothing bad about this app from the enterprise perspective. I know my buddies over in sales would love it if it could interact with Google Chat statuses, CRM and automated marketing tools — which Noam seems capable of doing if the demand is high enough,” Mobiquity Marketing Associate Ben Bell said.
He noted companies looking to deploy SayWhat would probably own an enterprise app store. One hurdle to enterprise adoption would be finding a way for IT groups to “wrap the app … to do what they need to [do] security-wise,” he said.
While SayWhat may enjoy consumer adoption to start, enterprises looking for similar programs may be more interested in apps like Mosec, Mobile Secretary, which sorts through emails, instant messages and voice calls and interfaces with a company’s CRM,” Bell said.
Still, SayWhat is the only mobile application that can tell you what a call is about before you recieve it.
It was a rivalry of ShoreTel’s premise-based and cloud- based offerings last Wednesday at the TD Garden in Boston…sort of.
The Boston Celtics, a customer of ShoreTel’s premise-based phone system went up against the Brooklyn Nets, a new user of ShoreTel Sky, a cloud-based business VoIP offering made possible through the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based vendor’s recent acquisition of M5 Networks.
My night kicked off with a tour of the Celtic’s data center — housed across the street from the Garden — by Jay Wessel, vice president of technology for the Boston-based basketball team. Formerly an Avaya customer and a self-proclaimed “hardware guy,” Wessel had been interested in ShoreTel’s software-based phones for several years before making the switch this season in a newly renovated office.
While the employees (and just maybe the players, too) are enjoying caller ID and forwarding capabilities that the new, slick-looking phones provide for the two Boston-based and Waltham offices, the Brooklyn Nets were looking into making an even bigger leap of faith.
Once inside the Garden before the start of the game, Mireille Viau Verna, senior director of IT for the Brooklyn Nets, described the recent relocation of the Net’s office from their New Jersey location into Brooklyn. Rather than rip out and bring their legacy equipment with them, the New York-based team decided to go big and adopt a cloud -based phone system.
Verna and her team reached out to M5 — now ShoreTel’s Sky division — and was up and running in the cloud within hours, she said.
The cloud-based system — a newly-appointed leader in the UCaaS Magic Quadrant this year by Gartner, and also the first year Gartner has announced leaders in this category — is a great fit for the small Nets administration team, Verna said, noting that the new system came in handy when Superstorm Sandy struck the East Coast earlier in the Fall.
“If we had it to do all over, we’d go with the cloud-based system again,” she added.
The two ShoreTel customers may have different phone system preferences — and probably other differences as well, judging by the scuffle that broke out between several Celtics and Nets players after a technical foul. However, both teams can agree they are enjoying new digs, complete with new IP phone systems helping them accomplish greater business goals and handle larger call volumes, with less risk of downtime.
Upgrading to unified communications is similar to making the switch from a standard cell phone that just makes calls and sends texts (the horror), to a smartphone with all the bells and whistles — like an app-filled iPhone or Android. Once you have access to important capabilities all in one place, there really isn’t any turning back.
Having the ability to make a quick phone or video call, check someone’s presence status or send an instant message from an integrated system can change an employee’s job experience quickly. And once a business decides to go all out and implement UC or collaboration tools into the workflow, they are in it for the long haul.
But new tools, especially those that are infamous for hogging bandwidth — like video — can wreak havoc on an enterprise network. The good news is that many network monitoring vendors have noticed this new blind spot that real-time UC traffic causes for IT.
Tone Software Corp, a provider of network monitoring and management for converged telecommunications and IT infrastructures, recently announced a free, downloadable monitoring tool for Microsoft Lync UC environments. Once downloaded, the ReliaTel Lync tool offers IT a full view of Lync quality issues, call quality statistics, and QoS dashboards to help pinpoint the root cause of developing and historical Lync quality problems, according to the company.
Tone Software’s ReliaTel product suite supports many different UC environments, including Avaya, Nortel and Cisco. The latest version of the provider’s ReliaTel VoIP and Unified Communications (UC) Service Assurance solution, 4.1, was the first version to offer proactive monitoring and management for Microsoft Lync UC environments — something that many enterprises are asking for.
As Lync adoption continues, organizations are realizing they need greater visibility into the voice quality of their Lync UC services, which can overload their IP network and put additional strain on each Lync users’ desktop resources, Tone Software noted in a recent press release.
“The free ReliaTel Lync Monitoring Tool builds on that premise to provide Lync users with a quick and easy methodology to monitor and manage critical QoS across their Lync UC environment,” said Amit Kapoor, director of strategic technology for Tone Software.
Just like with any new network application, monitoring is key. And since enterprises can’t stop UC and collaboration once they start, being able to quickly identify performance degradation culprits and smooth out potential bottlenecks along the way will be essential to helping users take advantage of all the unique (and pretty exciting) features that UC tools have to offer.
- The world of unified communications is expanding with mobility — and consumer communication devices are being brought into the enterprise. While not a great number of organizations are supporting bring-your-own-device policies, users expect applications to work across multiple platforms, mobile devices and operating systems.
- More UC vendors are beginning to standardize video by using codecs like SVC, which enable competitive vendor pricing as well as scale to multiple devices.
- The cloud has affected every side of IT, and UC is no exception. UC as a Service (UCaaS) will pick up in popularity and incorporate cloud provider behemoths like Google into the competitive landscape.
- Last but certainly not least, is the introduction of collaboration products. Collaboration has been so integrated into UC that the market term is now known as “unified communications and collaboration (UC&C or UCC).”
UC Magic Quadrant author Bern Elliot, VP Distinguished Analyst, explains the reason for such a tight-knit integration:
It’s a natural fit to start integrating collaboration capabilities with communications capabilities… It really was enabled by the convergence of communications into software environments on Internet networks around Internet standards…. As unified communications comes together, the environment can do more because it’s software [which can break down] … unified communication silos.
These trends will continue to evolve the definition of UCC. In the coming year, we can hope for fewer silos between different types of communication, like messaging and telephony. We can expect more cloud services for UCC; UCC products with mobile clients will become the norm; and video will become more integrated, higher quality and less pricey.
Users want and expect interoperability and reliability from their UC and collaboration tools. As enterprises learn to pick and choose the right vendor to match their unique business goals, vendors typically rely on their channel partner’s expertise within certain market verticals for deeper insight into what features these businesses actually need.
Industries — such as healthcare, education and finance — all require a specialized tools for communication and collaboration. UC vendor Avaya and Genband, an IP infrastructure provider, have expanded their partnership with the hopes of targeting “carrier-class” enterprise customers, or large higher education, health care, government and finance organizations.
The two companies will actually recombine elements of Nortel Networks, both Nortel’s carrier VoIP and applications software unit now owned by Genband and Nortel’s enterprise segment, scooped up by Avaya in 2009. The extended collaboration is about continuing to support the existing customer base of Avaya Communications Server 2100 (CS 2100) and Avaya SL-100 products — a definite plus for former Nortel users who will still be able to use of their legacy assets.
And Avaya and Genband will continue to target niche enterprise customers. “UC needs to be carrier class and beyond reliable. For government and health care in particular, downtime is intolerable — we’re talking about lives on the line,” said Richard Travis, senior product manager for Avaya.
“It’s really about enabling these industries with applications for video conferencing and emergency notification services,” Travis said, noting that the Avaya Aura and Genband Genius platform will enable customers to take advantage of any new features along the way.
It’s been a bumpy ride for Nortel customers since the company went bankrupt three years ago, but the new roadmap should help to put more minds at ease, Travis said.
“Customers are kind of in a wait and see mode,” he added.