What Is Visionary About Microsoft OCS?
In response to the several posts about Microsoft's appearance in the Visionary section of the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Corporate Telephony, a comment from "Bithead" asked a great question as to "What is visionary?" As a long-time business strategist, I often ponder that question in any technology-based industry, including ours, because of my interest in disruptive technologies (ref. Clayton Christensen). This can apply to many areas such as hybrid cars, cable television (which turned into home networking), or corporate telephony.
In response to the several posts about Microsoft's appearance in the Visionary section of the Gartner Magic Quadrant for Corporate Telephony, a comment from "Bithead" asked a great question as to "What is visionary?" As a long-time business strategist, I often ponder that question in any technology-based industry, including ours, because of my interest in disruptive technologies (ref. Clayton Christensen). This can apply to many areas such as hybrid cars, cable television (which turned into home networking), or corporate telephony.Here are several answers that come to an industry observer's mind as to what might be visionary about Microsoft OCS in the Corporate Telephony Magic Quadrant. Please note that these observations are because I study corporate strategies, not because I'm necessarily a fan of Microsoft. Every company has one or more visions, and it is useful to think about what those might be. From my view, here are some visions that Microsoft (and others) might have regarding Corporate Telephony:
1. The vision that voice is just one form of corporate communications, so that Corporate Telephony can be served as one element of Corporate (office) Communications (aka Unified Communications). Yes, that could mean that voice becomes a feature of IM (reference Yahoo!, Google, et al.), but in Microsoft's case, I expect the vision would be that voice is a feature of the office working environment, including SharePoint, Exchange, web portals, enterprise apps (Microsoft Dynamics), and collaborative spaces (Office Live). Perhaps they believe that the specialized portions such as phones, message waiting lights, operator consoles or advanced contact center technologies will be served by partners or allies or appliance makers to provide a complete Corporate Telephony system. This vision seems to be shared by some others on the Corporate Telephony Magic Quadrant, such as Digium and Cisco (notice both their video and Webex directions independent of telephony per se), and by some not (yet?) on the Magic Quadrant, such as IBM Lotus, Interactive Intelligence or Google.
2. The vision that the Corporate Telephony solution is destined to be software-based, with rich developer interfaces, and a shared delivery ecosystem (another example of Unified Communications). Presumably the vision would be to enable wide distribution and adaptation, creation of many new applications for un-served markets, and much more economical solutions. This is probably the vision behind Jeff Raikes' comments at VoiceCon Orlando 2007 that by 2010 voice communications would drop by 50% in price and be provided by Microsoft to 100 million end-users. The former is already happening and the latter would seem possible only if the software is bundled with other packages and solutions, such as every copy of Microsoft Office or Exchange (each of which is already in the 100 million + range of "seats"). This vision seems to be shared by some others on the Corporate Telephony Magic Quadrant, such Cisco (at least via the WebEx play) and Siemens (software, with the IBM alliance as one vehicle for distribution to millions), as well as some not (yet) on the Magic Quadrant, such as IBM and Google as software providers and by Dell, IBM, HP, LG-Nortel, Polycom, Nortel, Dialogic, Quintum, Audiocodes, Avenade, Dimension Data, Touchbase, and many others as ecosystem players.
3. The vision that customers will continue to buy PBXs for many years into the future, but that there is pent up, un-served opportunity to deliver communications in new ways that just plain by-pass the PBX, i.e. that deliver telephony to the members of the enterprise in different ways that solve new problems and thus will get generate new spending (again, sounds like versions of Unified Communications). That this will progressively narrow PBX spending is not even the concern of companies with this vision, they will focus on the new solutions. It would seem that this vision might also be held by wireless players such as Nokia and RIM (and their carrier ecosystems), by social networks/workspace players such as Google, Facebook, IBM (Lotus Quickr and Connections), and by application portal players such as SAP, Salesforce.com, or Oracle, none of which are (or are ever likely to be) on the Magic Quadrant.
Hopefully, this will stimulate the imagination as to what might be "visionary" about the Microsoft Office Communications Server approach, as well as the many others mentioned above. Certainly, it is my view that Unified Communications, defined as "communications integrated to optimize business processes," is a major expression of these visions, in all three cases.
For more on this topic, I recommend Clayton Christensen's books, including his latest, "Seeing What's Next", certainly a visionary theme.
As always, your comments are welcome.