Will Social Business Change the Conversation?
Many of the vendors have been adding social features to their product portfolio, although their positioning has been different.
For the past five years, the UCStrategies team has been preaching that a UC strategy needs to start with an analysis of the business process you are trying to impact. The IP-PBX vendors have strongly suggested (read: tried to sell) that you start by upgrading to their latest IP-PBX to initiate the process. They've managed to make the conversation all about what they need rather than what you need.
The good news is many of them have evolved their business model and product offerings so they are not as completely dependent on new IP-PBX sales.
The emphasis on the IP-PBX has meant that one company has been left out of these conversations: IBM. IBM has consistently steered clear of offering a PBX capability and as a result, too often, they have been shunned by the telecom-oriented teams pursuing UC solutions. IBM's strategy is based on the idea of raising the "big tent" and supporting all vendor PBX implementations.
The rationale for IBM's position is based on two elements. The first is that IBM has traditionally dealt with larger customers, and those enterprises have often been created by acquisitions. When the M&A crew values a potential business combination, they rarely look closely at the technology infrastructures, so it is no surprise that the resulting entity has a combination of Avaya, Cisco, Siemens, NEC, and who knows what other elements. Large enterprises have to deal with the challenges of integrating those polyglot environments.
The second factor is IBM's emphasis on standards-based solutions. This posture is ironic to those who have been in the industry for some time. In the '70s and '80s, IBM's industry dominance was based on its proprietary Systems Network Architecture (SNA). However, the company recognized the error of their ways and embraced TCP/IP and the standards that have powered the Internet revolution.
At the same time, Microsoft has taken a different approach. Rather than defining a complementary role in a multi-vendor environment, Microsoft looked to incorporate call control (the basic function of a PBX) into its overall Outlook/Exchange/SharePoint/ complex. Microsoft has done a good job at establishing OCS as an enterprise standard for IM and presence, but those elements are still divorced from the core voice communications in most enterprises. However, the future of enterprise communications will be based on bringing all of the communications modalities together.
UCStrategies continues to press the point that UC is not about the PBX. We define UC as "Communications integrated to optimize business processes", and this definition is still valid, as UC solutions continue to evolve.
One area where UC will likely gain traction is social networking or, as IBM calls it: Social Business. Many of the vendors have been adding social features to their product portfolio, although their positioning has been different.
Microsoft has built social networking features into SharePoint, with a new and improved profile page, dynamic activity feed, knowledge mining, and more. The other UC platform vendors, Avaya, Cisco, IBM, Siemens, etc., have been adding social networking capabilities and integrations to their products too.
While these competitors continue to grab for a product advantage, the one company that stands out is IBM. They were an early entrant to the social scene, and coined the term "Social Business." IBM has embraced the slogan “Get Social: Do Business,” and backed it up with more social networking capabilities and features than their competitors.
So, will social business change the conversation? Will IBM be invited to the table? Not if its competitors can keep the conversation about something else, and not if enterprise customers follow the Pied Pipers, as many did when they first developed their UC strategy. If IBM can change the conversation to collaboration and social business, and away from call control, IBM has a good chance.