Lotusphere: Laying Down Some Hate on Handsets
IBM talking smack about desksets is so surprising because of the stress the company places on partnering with, not displacing, the PBX developers who are still very much in the business of selling phones.
The desk phone is dead. I'm used to hearing Microsoft hating on handsets, but IBM? The obsolesce of the desk phone was by no means among the overarching themes at the Lotusphere 2010 conference this week, nor did session and keynote speakers drone on about it. But the message was there, and frankly it took me by surprise.I first picked up on it in David Marshak's Sametime Unified Telephony break-out session. In it he described the Cisco IP phone on his desk as "lonely" since the majority of incoming calls get routed to his mobile. David went on to note that in most companies there exists an easily defined set of end users who are either highly mobile (and therefore live by their cell phone) or spend precious little of their workday away from PCs perfectly capable of running a soft phone client. In fact, according to David, IBM is currently identifying employees who don't really need their desk phones--probably among the 3,500 employees connected to Sametime Unified Telephony, a number that is supposed to increase to a startling 30,000 by the end of the year. A couple hours later Software Architect Chris Price briefly echoed the who-needs-a-desk-set sentiment in his Sametime Unified Telephony deep-dive, and during his UC keynote Vice President Bruce Morse played a video of an IBM customer who hailed the decommissioning of handsets as a key benefit as they consider deploying Sametime Unified Telephony.
IBM talking smack about desksets is so surprising because of the stress the company places on partnering with, not displacing, the PBX developers who are still very much in the business of selling IP phones to SMBs and enterprises. After all, Sametime Unified Telephony has no inherent call control software. Rather, it relies on integration with third-party PBXs--systems from Alcatel-Lucent, Avaya, Cisco, Mitel, NEC, and Siemens Enterprise are currently supported--to process calls. This is fundamentally different from Microsoft's approach since OCS can integrate with PBXs but possesses the call control software that allows it to replace them at the heart of a company's voice network. For a number of years now Microsoft has been very aggressive in positioning the Microsoft Office Communicator client as a viable alternative to a PBX-attached desk set.
The Sametime client can of course provide the same click-to-call and other telephony features. And with the release of SameTime Unified Telephony last year, IBM can now deliver a soft phone that combines instant messaging presence, telephony presence, and the ability to initiate and receive calls in a multivendor PBX environment. So while IBM has stayed out of the PBX business, it is quite capable of delivering a UC-enriched soft phone that works with a variety of voice systems. Until now I've only heard of these telephony-capable IBM clients positioned as alternatives to the soft phones and UC clients that PBX developers themselves sell. IBM now seems to be comfortable talking to customers about completely replacing digital and IP handsets.
I can certainly see why certain businesses would want to consider decommissioning either some or all desk phones. Why bother investing hundreds of dollars in an IP phone when a UC client or mobile phone can provide a richer communications experience? As UC clients proliferate it will make perfect sense to begin using them as replacements for, rather than adjuncts to, traditional desk phones. But this is all crazy talk if you're in the business of selling IP phones, and in the unified communications market IBM remains closely allied on companies with just such as business. With the sale of IP phones such a lucrative business for IBM's many PBX partners, I wonder if they will try to put the kibosh on all this no-need-for-desk-phones crazy talk.IBM talking smack about desksets is so surprising because of the stress the company places on partnering with, not displacing, the PBX developers who are still very much in the business of selling phones.