Alcatel-Lucent and the Dynamic Enterprise
I'm hoping to see a bolder, edgier ALU Enterprise over the balance of the year.
Tuesday April 5th kicked off Alcatel-Lucent's Dynamic Enterprise Tour in Barcelona. The opening of the conference was a keynote delivered by Enterprise President Tom Burns that highlighted some new positioning for ALU's Enterprise Group, new organizational structure, a good vision statement and was supported by some solid product announcements.
Tom started the keynote off by announcing that ALU has created and branded the "ALU Enterprise" division. There has always been an enterprise division but now it's actually labeled "Enterprise". ALU Enterprise will be composed of three groups: its call center group (Genesys); communications, which is primarily the UC software; and then a network group. The first two are obvious but I like the equal airtime for network business unit. At this conference, the new network group launched some new products (I'll get into that later) that can allow the networks group to stand on its own competitively, but it can't be seen as just a contact center or UC enabler.
The vision that Tom outlined in the keynote was similar to what you see from the other UC vendors--more of how communications is moving away from traditional voice and e-mail and moving to mobile devices and social media. The tag line in the keynote was "Changing the conversation," which is what all of the UC solution providers are attempting to do. ALU did have a differentiated message, though; there was a heavy emphasis on using these tools to improve customer interactions and change the way companies deal with their end customers.
Before everyone goes nuts and comments on the fact that Cisco, Avaya and the others position their tools that way, I know that's true, it was just a much bigger part of the ALU story, where with the other vendors UC is positioned as a tool for internal collaboration. This makes obvious sense with the installed base of Genesys being as large as it is. The keynote included a cool video from an insurance company called Groupama that uses mobile interactions to improve the experience it has with its customers (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xTK2eiOFuII). The customer presentation was also heavily skewed towards improving customer interactions as well, which was consistent with the overall theme of the morning sessions.
From a product perspective, there were two main announcements. The first one was to announce ALU's session management solution, OpenTouch. Since Eric already blogged on this I won't spend a lot of time on this announcement except to say that OpenTouch can be positioned as a communications middleware solution, similar to Avaya’s ACE that I’ve stated is badly needed in this industry. Have a read through Eric's blog if you want to understand how ALU positions OpenTouch versus Avaya ACE. From my perspective, having both succeed would be great as the competition would drive more innovation into this part of the market.
The other major announcement here was ALU's vision of how the data center evolves, the role of the network and how ALU specifically solves that problem. Ever since Juniper announced Stratus (now known as QFabric) a couple of years ago, network fabrics have been all the rage, with Brocade, Cisco, Juniper and Avaya all throwing their hats into the fabric ring. ALU announced its fabric vision ("mesh" in ALU vernacular) as well as the OmniSwitch 6900 top-of-rack switch and OmniVista 2500 Virtual Machine Manager. These combined with the previously released OmniSwitch 10K core switch that was announced late last year are the components used to build ALU's version of a fabric and drive ALU's application-fluent network vision.
One unique solution that ALU did release as well was a "pod" where up to six top-of-rack switches could be connected to one another making a mini-fabric capable of supporting up to 240 server-facing ports. No core switch is needed, so--positioned correctly--this could be a great way for an organization to get comfortable with the fabric concept without having to commit huge up-front dollars. Once the organization is comfortable with it, the "pods" can then be attached to a 10K and the larger fabric vision can be fulfilled.
What's exciting to me about the fabric space now is that all of the vendor solutions are unique. Over the past decade, switching hasn’t been all that exciting. Differentiation was built on either being slightly faster than Cisco (Brocade) or slightly cheaper than Cisco (HP) but essentially all the products looked the same. You could argue the single biggest innovation that caused some share shift since Y2K was HP’s free lifetime warranty. In this case, Cisco's Fabric Path is different than Avaya’s VENA, which is different than Juniper's QFabric and Brocades VCS. ALUs application-fluent story and "mesh" is also different. The solutions are different enough, and it's important enough that I think it’s not a slam dunk that Cisco wins; and the market is wide open now to the vendor that can prove a distinct advantage in the evolution of the data center.
Overall I like what I saw at the Dynamic Enterprise event but ALU still has much work to do to directly drive customer demand, particularly in North America. Considering the sizeable installed base of Genesys, ALU needs to beat its chest a bit more and stop being so shy about where it has been successful. In the EMEA roundtable we actually discussed the passive positioning of being the industry’s "best kept secret". How a company could have the footprint in call center that Genesys has and be a secret is beyond me, but that’s the challenge ahead of it more so than anything product related. I'm hoping to see a bolder, edgier ALU Enterprise over the balance of the year. Dynamic Enterprise Barcelona should be the start of it.