Last week’s story about unified communications integration focused a lot on IBM’s Lotus software as an example of a vendor enabling the practice — specifically that Lotus’ open APIs allow enterprises or third-party developers to fold other UC apps into the Lotus interface (or vice versa).
But with just as many (or more) enterprises being loyal Exchange users, it begged the question: Where does Microsoft stand here?
Deadlines being deadlines, unfortunately the software giant’s PR team wasn’t able to get us an interview with a Microsoft executive within our time frame, and the unsigned corporate statement came too close to press time to squeeze in.
Rather than leave everyone in the lurch, I thought I’d share the statement here:
“From an enterprise perspective, interoperability is critical in unified communications, as most customers have a heterogeneous environment and need to make systems work from various vendors of different platforms. Microsoft is committed to supporting interoperability by adopting widely accepted industry standards, such as SIP/SIMPLE, and using concepts like federation consistently across our entire platform. We publish our interfaces and platform APIs to the public enabling third parties to extend the capabilities of our solution.
Microsoft’s advantage is an integrated client experience that supports presence, instant messaging, voice and video, as well as application sharing, collaboration and conferencing. This integrated experience is delivered via products like Office 2010, SharePoint 2010, Exchange 2010, etc., but can also through our APIs be integrated in third-party software through the extensible platform APIs of Communications Server. Using automation APIs of Communicator, click-to-communicate is easy to integrate in many applications. This extensible platform has been built with the goal to achieve business productivity at its best for our customers.
From a user perspective, we definitely see a trend of business users attempting to bring together separate pieces of data and applications into a “single pane of glass” for productivity reasons. We see these typically as non-technical business users wanting to concentrate their productivity experience within Office and within SharePoint because that is where they spend the majority of their time, bringing together data from other systems. In other scenarios, the “single pane of glass” concept is often an attempt to redefine the user experience, which may be incongruent and disconnected as a byproduct of multiple vendor clients within the environment.
For individuals who want their communication and collaboration experience to be seamless but do not have the developer skills required, SharePoint provides a set of capabilities related to “do-it-yourself mashups” that we collectively refer to as “SharePoint Composites.” And, if a business user has some technical inclination or is a developer, then they can definitely use power tools or development tools as well to create solutions that incorporate presence, communication, messaging, as well as data from other applications. You can learn more from that here.
I promise no one leaked the UCIF story to us.
It was convenient timing that we were planning a story on unified communications integration for Thursday just as the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum went public the day before. The two stories highlight a subtle but important difference about interoperability versus integration — one that was admittedly a bit lost on me when all the UCIF news first started to flood my inbox.
Reporters often look for (and latch onto at first sight, for better or worse) what we call a news hook. It tells readers more about why they should care about an issue. It tells them why they should care today, based on some recent event or revelation. It brings timeliness and relevancy. So when UCIF announced its formation on Wednesday, I thought it must be my lucky day. News hook falls into my lap! I even booked an interview with Polycom founder and CTO Jeff Rodman — not the usual director of product marketing spokesperson vendors offer us (no offense, directors of product marketing).
Jeff led me through an interesting 20-minute discussion on why and how UCIF was formed, and it sounds like it will serve an interesting role in unified communications (especially if, as he said they plan, the alliance is able to start stamping interoperable products as UCIF tested and approved). I asked him about what work they were doing or might plan to do to foster unified communications integration — so that we can all stop juggling/getting lost in five different UC applications. He told me it was out of scope for the alliance, but it might be something they’d consider down the line.
Well, there goes that idea.
Hopes dashed, I asked him something we had all been wondering about when we saw the UCIF starting lineup. Something juicier. There were lots of vendors on that member list. But besides Microsoft and HP, none of the other top names we usually hear about when we think of UC, such as Avaya, Cisco, IBM — where were they? Did the UCIF tree house have a sign outside that read, ‘No other multibillion-dollar companies allowed’? ‘Leave your Lotus at the door’?
Here’s the response I got, after the jump…
Since the release of OCS 2007 R2 there has been much discussion as to where telephone number manipulation to E.164 format can occur or where it must occur, (e.g., OCS normalization rules or media gateway manipulation tables). This blog presents the current functionality for telephone number manipulation provided in OCS 2007 R2 to help those deploying OCS 2007 R2 with telephony integration to understand when and where to do telephone number manipulation.
Telephone number manipulation is one of the key actions or processes that must be implemented when deploying OCS 2007 R2 along with voice integration, (i.e., placing and receiving phone calls to/from the PSTN). Microsoft recommends — although the product does not specifically require — that the E.164 telephone number format be utilized when storing and using telephone numbers within Active Directory. This provides for the enforcing of a uniform standard for managing telephone numbers stored in AD and/or Outlook contacts. Using the E.164 format also enhances the end-user experience — or user experience (UX) as MS refers to it — by allowing such features as incoming calls to MOC to display not just the incoming phone number, but the calling person’s name and other information.
They say things happen in threes, so let’s try the Hewlett-Packard edition of this association game: Colubris, 3Com… Palm?
Those three letters probably sum up most of the IT world’s reaction to HP’s announcement it will buy the flailing Palm Inc. for $1 billion in cash. Although there’s been plenty of pontificating about what the Palm merger means for the smartphone market, I’m not seeing much of a forest through the trees.
Where does this piece fit in the puzzle? What does it mean for everyone who’s not a mobile device manager, mobile app developer or garden variety Palm customer? What about telephony, collaboration and networking professionals? I’m not going to pretend I have the answer, but here’s some food for thought:
In the Complete guide to caller ID spoofing: Safeguarding your resources, I talked about the dangers of caller ID spoofing when wielded by malcontents. I also talked about The Truth in Caller ID Act of 2007 — a bill written to prohibit fraud and harassment via caller ID spoofing, while still permitting legitimate, responsible companies to use caller ID spoofing so long as they were acting within the confines of the law. A bill, by the way, which never became a law.
The Truth in Caller ID Act of 2010 is more pointed, but still leaves too much room for interpretation. A bill, by the way, which has not yet been written into law.
It shall be unlawful for any person within the United States, in connection with any real time voice communications service, regardless of the technology or network utilized, to cause any caller ID service to transmit misleading or inaccurate caller ID information, with the intent to defraud or deceive.
Interpreting the law is why we need lawyers. Interpreting this bill (should it be passed into law) could put responsible companies on the defense, forcing them to spend time and resources justifying the legitimate and productive use of the technology.
Caller ID spoofing was originally created to help businesses. It has been around as long as caller ID. It was first used by businesses with PRI (Primary Rate Interface) telephone lines. Essentially, a business with one PRI line could support up to 23 unique phone numbers and make each of those appear to have originated from a single phone number, typically the company’s main number.
Tony Bradley pointed out in his blog Caller ID spoofing ban is bad for business:
Businesses have a vested interest in displaying the primary number for the business for all inbound and outbound calls regardless of whether those calls were placed from a desktop phone, a personal smartphone, or a software-based VoIP client or the PC.
Google Voice is similar. The very concept of Google Voice is to provide a single contact point — one phone number that can be shared with everyone, and that won’t change even if you move, switch jobs, or change wireless service providers.
Could Skype and its SkypeOut’s feature (that enables Skype users to assign a caller-ID number) soon be on the defense?
The dangers of caller ID spoofing are real and there should be laws in place to punish those who clearly abuse the technology (like the examples noted in my caller ID spoofing article), but could this bill impede technological innovation? Are we fringing on the Net Neutrality/Internet Freedom Preservation Act argument?
It’s like clockwork — anytime there’s some weird weather pattern or some other disruptive event, the disaster planning PR kicks into overdrive. Sure enough, my inbox started getting flooded last week about how enterprises can’t wait for the next Eyjafjallajökull (or swine flu or blizzard or flooding) to start beefing up remote access and collaboration spending.
We sort of roll our eyes when we get these, and it looks like you’re doing the same. At a disaster planning session yesterday at Gartner’s Wireless, Networking & Communications Summit 2010 overlooking the marina in gorgeous San Diego — where it’s hard to imagine a disaster — research vice president John Girard pointed out that 76% of enterprises are ready for a power outage, but only 64% ready for a natural disaster.
So, I’ll have to ask you to excuse me while I eat my words in this next observation — three of Gartner’s European analysts were stranded this week in Europe by the Iceland volcano ash cloud, including research VP Steve Prentice, who was scheduled to give today’s keynote entitled, “Are we nearly there? The art of being there when you are not.”
He delivered his argument for enterprises to embrace “immersive virtual environments” via a (ever so slightly jittery) live videoconference — broadcast on a big screen to attendees — supported by a colleague in the room who IM’d him with any questions that popped up live or via Twitter… including mine.
“Technology has broken down the constraints of geography and technology has allowed us to project our presence,” Prentice told the audience. “We tend to take the view that being there is more important [than virtual attendance] …. but any of you who are familiar with teenage children [know] face-to-face communication isn’t always where it needs to be.”
He set up a familiar scenario — presence matters when we have meetings. But what happens to people sitting in meetings? They reach for their smartphone or laptop and start checking email or doing something else other than participating or collaborating.
There’s no one answer for enterprises, Prentice said. In some cases, something like Cisco’s Telepresence might be the solution. For others, it might be appropriate to use an avatar-based virtual reality environment such as Second Life (though I confess I’m still skeptical on this one, but who would’ve thought Facebook would have a business use five years ago?).
The key is not the technology itself, Prentice said. High-def or 3D doesn’t guarantee productivity. It’s understanding user behavior and needs, which is where a unified communications specialist can shine — making sure the next unpronounceable volcano doesn’t shut down your business.
“Don’t necessarily go for the highest technology solution,” Prentice said. “Sometimes simple solutions work best. Technology succeeds when it meets the needs people care about.”
Applied Voice & Speech Technologies, Inc. (AVST) and NEC Corporation of America (NEC) just announced a long-term strategic technology relationship that includes the integration of Active Voice, a division of NEC, into AVST to deliver interoperable, scalable and customizable unified communications solutions for small, medium and enterprise-class customers.
CallXpress embeds speech-recognition technology into applications, such as personal assistants and automated attendants. This handy (or hands-free rather) feature enables employees to access their company’s communication infrastructure, provides speech-initiated mobile management of telephone calls, emails, fax messages, contacts and calendar and complies with the hands-free mobile phone laws enacted in many states and countries. Oprah would be proud!
It may be possible for AVST to capture a new growth vector if they can provide UC solutions and applications that are not usually packaged with SMB, or even enterprise, communications systems. Also, it may be possible that a UC refresh of an installed VM or UM system is possible solely using some future AVST product packages, rather than requiring a company to upgrade their key system or PBX or to install separate products and servers in order to capture UC benefits.
Customers, of course, stand to benefit in both categories. Since AVST has a very feature-rich messaging system that supports multiple PBXs, multiple sites, and multiple message store methods (VM as well as UM with Exchange and Domino), the NEC customers will have even better investment options. And, in the UC category, AVST has more development resources to deliver new value for both the AVST and NEC customer sets.
During my travels to and from VoiceCon last week, I missed this little nugget about Gores Group approaching Polycom for a possible merger with Siemens-Enterasys.
Citing “people familiar with the situation,” the Financial Times reports that the private equity firm Gores Group has approached Polycom (again) about acquiring the videoconferencing vendor and combining it with Siemens Enterprise Networks, the company Gores formed when it acquired a majority stake in Siemens Enterprise Communications in 2008 and merged it with Enterasys Networks.
Gores first approached Polycom in October, the Times says, but its overtures were politely declined. Gores has come calling again because it heard that another private equity firm, Apax Partners, is also in the hunt for Polycom.
When Cisco Systems announced its plan to buy Tandberg, Polycom’s primary rival, last October, industry experts told us that Cisco’s rivals in IP telephony, unified communications and networks would gravitate toward Polycom, forming tight partnerships with the enterprise video company in order to offset the broadened product portfolio Cisco would have to offer in unified communications. That’s definitely been borne out by what we’ve seen this year. Polycom announced partnerships with Siemens and Juniper in January. At VoiceCon Polycom and HP unveiled a new relationship that includes marketing and sales cooperation and some future joint technology development.
Now Gores Group wants to take things past the “friends” stage and establish a true marriage of companies. It makes sense from a technology perspective. Siemens puts out a quality UC and IP telephony product. Its OpenScape UC Server 2010 won Best of VoiceCon last week. The Enterasys division of Siemens is also well-respected for its technology. Its customers tend to be loyal.
But would Polycom want to tie itself to a company with such a small North American presence? Siemens has a sturdy international business, but its still just a small timer in the United States. And Enterasys is such a small part of the IP networking industry in general. One would think that if Polycom were interested in merging with a UC and/or networking vendor, it would set its sites one someone like HP ProCurve or Avaya, both of whom are a much “bigger deal.” Avaya was billing itself as the number one vendor in unified communications at VoiceCon, a claim it can now make since it closed the deal on Nortel Enterprise Solutions. HP ProCurve is the number two enterprise networking vendor out there and its a division of HP, one of the biggest IT vendors in the world. Both companies would bring good technology and good market opportunities to the table in a Polycom merger.
On the other hand, Gores Group might present the best option Polycom has for a strategic merger rather than a straight-up acquisition. We haven’t heard any rumors from HP about it being on the hunt for a video vendor. It’s sole participation in the videoconferencing space is its Halo service. Silver Lake Partners, the private equity firm that owns Avaya, may not be in an acquisitive mood after spending $900 million on the Nortel deal. The Times says the Apax-Polycom have put Polycom’s possible price tag at $3 billion or so. If Gores is prepared to spend that kind of money, it could lead to some interesting things for both Siemens and Polycom customers.
As Leigha noted, TechWeb is retiring the VoiceCon conference name this year, renaming its 20-year-old conference EnterpriseConnect. This is meant to reflect the changing nature of the conference. It’s pretty clear that VoiceCon isn’t just an enterprise voice show anymore. Unified communications, video, messaging, and collaboration are all hot topics at the show and on the exhibition floor.
Is this conference be defined by the vendors who are pushing the envelope or by the technology professionals who are hear to learn?
I was chatting with Adam Boone, vice president of marketing for Sipera Systems yesterday (Sipera specializes in securing unified communications, especially voice). He noted that enterprises have only spent about 1/3 of the total projected global enterprise spend on IP telephony thus far. That means there are thousands of companies which are either still waiting to migrate to IP telephony or are still int he process of doing so. With that many people focused still on moving away from legacy voice, does the concept of EnterpriseConnect speak to them?
I spoke to one voice project manager whose organization moved to IP voice four or five years ago. She was at VoiceCon to learn about UC, to figure out how to win budget to deploy UC. Her day-to-day working life is still focused almost 100% on voice and voice alone, but she is thinking about UC. I think this is the typical VoiceCon attendee today. Many of them are still very much voice professionals who are interested in learning about what they can do next with UC. VoiceCon is their show. A show for voice professionals who aspire to something more.
The organizational impact of unified communications has interested me for a few years, ever since I heard a couple network engineers at Interop joking about how useless and difficult traditional telecom engineers are. I’ve since heard those sentiments echoed, perhaps a little more politely, many times over the years. If network pros and telecom pros feel this way about each other, who are they going to work together when voice converges on IP networks?
At VoiceCon this week I attended a coffee talk roundtable discussion on the organizational impacts of unified communications to hear about what progress (or lack thereof) unified communications managers have made. Here are the two major problems I heard them discuss.
1. UC managers are still struggling with integrating their organizations. It’s not just about integrating telecom engineers into an IP networking team. One manager noted that video poses a new problem. The teams that support and maintain legacy videoconferencing technology in many companies report into the facilities management organization. That’s bound to present cultural problems during integration. Also, other organizations are starting to realize that voice is becoming “just another applications” on the network, and voice and UC is starting to integrate with critical business applications. This means that UC organizations need to start collaborating with the admins of those enterprise applications. One UC manager noted that unified messaging, with voicemail feeding into email inboxes, forces the telecom team to talk to the “Exchange guys.” Sounds awful!
2. Nimbleness is another major organizational challenge for UC managers. With enterprises bringing personal smartphones to work and using consumer services like Twitter and Google Voice, UC managers are struggling to provide comparable enterprise-grade communications and collaboration tools quickly enough. Users adopt the consumer tools they believe will help them do their job better as soon as they identify them. Unlike UC managers, end users don’t have to get budget for these consumer tools, go through an RFP process, nor integrate the tools into the UC environment. They just download the thing or sign up for it and start using it.
It probably won’t surprise you that no one came up with a panacea solution to these challenges during the session. It was more of an opportunity for UC managers to compare their organizational challenges with those with their peers. Hopefully the discussion will help them figure out the solutions on their own after they head home at the end of this week.