ORLANDO — Whether it’s the BYOD trend, or the idea of UC federation, one theme keeps jumping out at me as I sit in sessions at Enterprise Connect in Orlando this week — the increasing focus on the user experience (what a concept).
While it may not be the most important feature vendors focus on when creating or upgrading a unified communications platform or application, “user experience” is growing in vendor mindshare. Users are making it clear that they have devices (smartphones and tablets, namely) that they love and would like to leverage to get their work done, not just to play Angry Birds.
Along with BYOD, users are asking for ease-of-use when it comes to UC offerings. A.T. Kearney’s Kevin Rice mentioned that his own enterprise uses an internal UC platform with an interface that “looks like Facebook,” so it is easier and more familiar to users. It results in employees actually using the UC platform — which is the major critical success factor for UC.
Users are also asking for communication and collaboration capabilities to be better integrated into their workflows. Most employees already use email, instant messaging and intranet platforms every day, and that’s not even counting other social media tools like LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. Who really wants to have to remember another password and sign into another application at work?
Analysts are stressing this “no more passwords” requirement from users, and vendors have listened, as well. But challenges lay ahead. UC is already a mixed vendor environment, and most companies have different vendors for voice, video and collaboration. Everybody admits that integration is a major unsolved issue.
An interoperable inter-vendor federation for UC is a realistic goal that a panel of speakers from Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft, and Nextplane — led by Russell Bennett, principal analyst of UC insights — believe in.
While UC federation sounds like a great idea for enterprises, establishing trust between UC platforms is not something that is going to happen overnight, according to Albert Kooiman, senior product manager for Microsoft.
But Kooiman predicts that in the future, the idea of UC federation will be a thing of the past, as different companies will have the ability to work together seamlessly without dissimilar UC vendors standing in their way.
After all, isn’t it called unified communications for a reason?
Go ahead and knock yourself out making list upon list of the unified communications and collaboration elements you’d like to deploy in your enterprise. Lists are never a mistake, but Nemertes Research Vice President Irwin Lazar’s best advice on how to build a UCC roadmap is to forget about the technology. It’s an interesting point of view, particularly since Lazar kicked off the Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando today to a standing-room-only crowd of IT professionals wanting to know how to build a UCC roadmap at a show where UC vendors are making about a million announcements.
With backup in the form of talking to hundreds of enterprises about UCC each year, Lazar makes a good point. UCC technology in a vacuum may be cool and new, but it can cost you big money and present lots of bad surprises in terms of who’s not using it and why. He urges that instead of looking at the technology, the UC question of choice should be how to help employees do their jobs. The major measure of UC success is how often employees use the capabilities available to them.
One of the problems that UCC brings with it is that the more ways enterprises have to collaborate, the more confusing the options have become. Despite social business tools and desktop video deployments, most employees rely on email first and foremost, Lazar says.
According to Lazar, communication of the most basic kind will guarantee greater UC success, with people inside the business talking to other people inside the business. Creating a Business Technology Liaison (BTL, not to be confused with a BLT) team is a critical success factor when designing a UC deployment that has a chance of working, he says. BTLs are preferably designated employees with IT backgrounds who are charged with explaining and socializing the UC effort to the business side of the house and finding out who really wants to use what. BTLs also need to ensure that employees in all business units are aware of new UC rollouts and know how to use them.
Recent Nemertes surveys show that 81% of companies have someone in a BTL role, even if they don’t call it that, and 63% of those BTLs have IT backgrounds, according to recent Nemertes data.
“Depending on the size of the company, one is usually not enough,” Lazar said, adding that enterprises planning UCC deployments have at least one BTL per business unit in place for the rollout and keep the team in place over time to deal with issues as they come up.
No matter how the BTLs connect — video conference, webcast, social media or actual telephone — they almost guarantee better adoption and use of UC technology. The use of social tools, for example, is exploding, but often outside of ITs’ knowledge within different business units. Lazar maintains that BTLs have a key role to play and are a must-have for any UC roadmap so business units from legal to HR to IT itself know what collaboration apps are available so the left hand can talk to the right.
ORLANDO — The mobility trend is growing by leaps and bounds within the enterprise, with BYOD taking center stage over the past couple of years. But now, BYOD is evolving into bring-your-own-applications (BYOA), Michael F. Finneran, Principal, dBrn Associates, Inc. explained at Enterprise Connect in Orlando today.
Not only do users want to use their own devices, but they want to use applications familiar to them to get work done. “Users want consumer hardware, as well as consumer-type devices,” Finneran said. While tools like Microsoft Lync are ok, LinkedIn is preferred by many users, as is Skype over other real-time video products developed specifically for the enterprise by the likes of Avaya and Polycomm he added.
BYOD is all well and good, but this is where a mobility strategy must come into play. It’s not crucial for IT to make users happy by allowing them to use their iPhones and applications they enjoy for work, Finneran said. It is critical for IT to create a balancing act with users, however, by making them accessible and enable them to easily reach the right person at the right time, while offering a certain level of support for certain devices.
“If you can’t beat them, join them — responsibly,” he said, noting that some companies have even begun offering something of an app store for its employees and their devices. Companies are learning that if the UC product or application is not easy to use or familiar to the employee, they won’t use it.
But the responsibilities of IT are not changing with the addition of the mobility component. “Their responsibilities are staying the same with a different set of tools in a different environment,” Finneran said. In developing a mobile strategy, identifying the right tools (Apple iPhones, Android and Blackberry devices, tablets and applications) appropriate for the company and user, and ensuring security without breaking the bank is where IT should begin.
From there, different use cases should be established — like what applications can/should be downloaded on the device, depending on the user’s job function, for example. IT also must consider device issues “from the cradle to the grave,” Finneran noted, explaining that the policy must address what happens when users lose or purchase a new device or leave the company, because IT can’t worry about whether or not they can wipe a device after a person has been terminated.
Since the game is always changing in mobility, a mobile policy just can’t be set and forgotten. BYOA is a major change and new struggle for IT departments, so addressing these issues early on can mitigate problems for enterprises later.
“The goal with mobility is to enable business transactions based on what tools are available, not necessarily making users smile,” Finneran said.
BYOD and BYOA are the little issues enterprises are facing now in the grand scheme of things, but the ability to improve business with available tools in a responsible fashion, all while balancing user experience will be the grand-scale concern as the need for mobility continues to grow.
As communication and collaboration platforms and software become more advanced, enterprises are trying to find ways to keep up without having to spend a small fortune.
Avaya has recently announced a new offering –Avaya Communications Outsourcing Solutions (COS)–aimed at managing communication operations of a company. Moving into managed services is a smart move for Avaya, as many companies with aging communications infrastructures would like to make improvements but may be constricted by a budget.
In fact, Ed Nalbandian, vice president of Avaya Operations Services told me recently that these are the types of companies that are benefiting the most from this offering. By offering a managed service and charging per month, enterprises can migrate from their older infrastructure while reducing risk of performance issues and avoiding a big investment.
Matrix, the front-end management platform for COS customers is cloud-based, providing a private cloud-like environment for the user. Customers really want a transparent view of their infrastructure, Nalbandian said. The offering also offers multi-vendor support, which makes sense given UC is a bit of a mixed vendor environment.
While enterprises seem to be selectively outsourcing, the managed service trend appears to be growing for enterprises struggling with product upgrades and tight budgets. As vendors continue to develop and grow communications and collaboration offerings, demand for managed services for communications infrastructures from enterprises could certainly increase.
Walk down the streets of a busy city and you’ll find people glued to their mobile devices, texting, checking their email or doing something else with their smartphones. That “something else” is nothing short of revolutionary.
Beyond playing games or interacting on social networks, people are accessing information literally on-the-go. Increasingly, what they’re accessing extends well beyond consumer-centric information into the work-related realm. Enterprises are looking to build enterprise app stores to securely deploy and manage mobile enterprise applications.
Similar to consumer-based app stores, like iTunes, the enterprise app store is a concept with which any smartphone user should be very familiar. As opposed to browsing a catalog of hundreds of thousands of apps — which may or may not have been tested and curated — “customers” (employees) are instead offered any number of mobile applications to download to improve productivity.
The benefits of creating an enterprise app store should be rather self-evident. First of all, enterprise app stores replicate public app stores by extending the familiar user-centric view of application deployment. Enterprise app stores also provide organizations with a means to deploy custom applications in a private and secure fashion, bypassing public infrastructure and approval processes to disseminate the applications.
Do you remember what you were doing on July 10, 2008? Let me jog your memory a bit by rephrasing the question: How did you react when Apple launched the iTunes App Store? You know, the marketplace that in just three years amassed over 500,000 applications for iPhones, iPods and iPads?
Research in Motion (RIM) was undoubtedly the pioneer in mobile messaging with its iconic BlackBerry devices, but Apple reinvented our perspective on smartphones by suggesting we could do almost anything with our mobile devices. How can we forget the catchphrase, “There’s an app for that”?
While we have collectively fallen in love with slaying pigs on Angry Birds, remembering a forgotten song with Shazam or checking into our favorite coffee shop with FourSquare, another mobility trend emerged — the consumerization of enterprise mobility.
The hype around unified communications (UC) has been percolating for years, yet by and large there’s been a disconnect (pun intended) among enterprises to develop and execute forward-thinking, comprehensive UC strategies. Ready or not, the consumerization of IT is forcing enterprises to plug into UC, and ironically, the productivity needs of end users.
The meteoric acceleration of innovation in the mobility space and the global domination of social networking has even best-of-breed companies—or technology innovators—struggling to keep pace, let alone anticipate how mobile device types and collaborative applications are likely to evolve, and plan accordingly. Inarguably, the challenge is a formidable one. By some estimates, the speed of mobile innovation is two times faster than it was just five years ago. There are currently close to 450,000 available iPhone apps alone, which is about twice as many as there were this time last year. Prior to 2010, tablets weren’t even in the picture.
The rapid evolution of collaboration and mobility technologies took off about the same time as the economy tapered off. Year-over-year budget cuts had IT departments doing more with less, and necessitated a “triage” approach to IT needs over a strategic one. Though IT budgets are on the rise, the influx of employee-liable smart devices—a.k.a. the BYOD (bring your own device) movement—and the subsequent user demand for network access via multiple mobile operating platforms and device types, social networking and other collaboration applications like CEBP, has IT fielding requests on an ad hoc basis.
To varying degrees, many enterprise organizations are letting end-user demand steer their UC strategies, as getting ahead of the innovation curve has simply proved to be too much. This forced shift from the traditional top-down management model to a more bottom-up approach is at last giving substance to years of UC hype.
The core purpose of UC is to enhance overall productivity based in large part on the specific needs of individual end users and the applications they use day-to-day. Lack of time and budget has historically fueled the already difficult task of identifying and accurately assessing end-user need, a key element of successful UC deployment strategies. The consumerization of IT and the BYOD trend are reinforcing the original aim of enterprise UC—helping users maximize collaboration, improve operation efficiency and provide a platform for innovation that will sustain long-term viability.
In an unsolicited bid, Microsoft bought Skype for $8.5 billion, roughly 10 times Skype’s 2010 annual revenues. The company’s questionable investment in Skype has reignited speculation about Microsoft’s indeterminate future based in part on Microsoft’s past acquisition bungles.
Dissension in the ranks at Microsoft has arguably contributed to the company’s ineffective acquisition assimilations and habitually slow product releases. IB Times’ Jake Thompson spelled out three reasons why Microsoft’s buyout of Skype will fail, ultimately tracking back to Microsoft’s dysfunctional corporate culture.
With Skype, Microsoft has committed to an important change in its organizational structure that may help the company overcome some of the obstacles it faced with past acquisitions. The Skype division will be reporting directly to Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer—a new strategy for Microsoft.
When Tandberg, then Polycom’s biggest competitor, was acquired by Cisco back in October, 2009, and Logitech acquired LifeSize just three weeks later, Polycom emerged from the consolidation chaos as the last pure-play UC, video and voice provider standing. Polycom has since parlayed an ominous position – one mired in industry-wide speculation about an imminent takeover – into an impressive success story both for Polycom and for the enterprise video and unified communications market. With Microsoft’s recent acquisition Skype, Polycom is again challenged to turn uncertainty into opportunity, and few companies are better matched for the challenge.
Cisco’s takeover of Tandberg left Polycom with two choices: succumb to takeover or takeover the unified communications’ industry – more specifically Cisco’s long-held grip on the market share. Polycom chose the latter, structuring an aggressive campaign to gain market share over Cisco while bringing to fruition the company’s UC Everywhere vision. Today Polycom has an estimated 40% share of the video conferencing market, backed by industry consensus that Polycom is winning the market share over Cisco.
The start of the Polycom revolution
Polycom enlisted a visionary leader to head up the company’s aggressive new strategy, the company’s own EVP of Global Field Operations, Andrew Miller. With experience as a former executive with both Cisco and Tandberg and an impressive 28-year career in technology and sales, Miller was tailor-made to spearhead Polycom’s aggressive strategy as CEO.
With a know-thy-enemy tactical recruiting strategy, Miller made quick work of pulling together a formidable executive management team, appointing former Cisco powerhouse, Joseph Burton, as Polycom’s senior vice president, chief strategist and CTO, along with other notable hires from Tandberg, Motorola, Oracle and Xerox. The company recently announced new additions to its executive line up to help push Polycom’s global growth initiative.
Microsoft announced its plans today to buy Skype for $8.5 billion. Skype is obviously a behemoth in consumer VoIP and desktop video conferencing, but it has been trying to claw its way into the enterprise over the past year. It exhibited at Enterprise Connect–formerly VoiceCon–for the first time this year, boasting enterprise customers such as Netflix in a keynote address.
Is Microsoft the perfect vessel for Skype to finally break into the enterprise?
Maybe. Enterprise unified communications (UC) pros have been consistently ambivalent if not outright skeptical of Skype’s ability to be a true enterprise UC player–and that includes IT pros using Skype in their environments today.
David Gurlé, vice president and general manager of Skype Enterprise (Skype’s enterprise business unit), told me in January that Skype has no intention of competing with incumbent UC vendors, such as Cisco and Avaya:
“We are not in the substitution market. We are in the complementary market,” he said. “It’s kind of an overlay across other communications infrastructure and application that people have deployed.”
But that is likely to change under Microsoft, which holds a large chunk of the overall UC market with its Lync 2010 server and legacy Office Communications Server (OCS) footprint. Microsoft spokespeople declined to comment specifically on how Skype might fit into Lync, which has its own desktop video software, but Microsoft’s press release offers a taste of what’s to come:
Skype will support Microsoft devices like Xbox and Kinect, Windows Phone and a wide array of Windows devices, and Microsoft will connect Skype users with Lync, Outlook, Xbox Live and other communities. Microsoft will continue to invest in and support Skype clients on non-Microsoft platforms.
It seems pretty clear why any UC vendor aligns with Skype: access to its user base.
This is why Logitech LifeSize recently announced its federation capabilities with Skype video conferencing a few weeks ago. Avaya, which plans to federate with Skype later this year, is also after its half-a-billion registered user base. No word yet from those vendors about what the acquisition will mean for these relationships.
Aside from the fact that Skype has been a juicy acquisition prospect for some time, Microsoft obviously sees the value in owning Skype’s massive user base. The dividends are probably much higher for Microsoft on the consumer side (especially federating Skype with its Xbox Live community and Kinect products), but don’t count it out for the enterprise. UC pros are looking for some quality, reliability and support reassurances before embracing Skype. Say what you will about Microsoft’s track record with product development (yes, we’ve heard the “Blue Screen of Skype” jokes–and love them), but it has a huge install base and has earned a heck of a lot more trust from UC pros than Skype has.
UPDATE: An Avaya spokeswoman says Avaya will continue to “honor that agreement” to support Skype for its customers.