Can Enterprise UC Ever Be Ideal?
For a communications system to be ideal, by definition it can’t be limited to one vendor's platform or one enterprise's boundaries.
Tom Nolle writes this week about "Ideal UC." He asked his survey base of enterprises to tell him what they think would be the best possible implementation of a Unified Communications system. As I interpret the results, they're not far off from what many of the enterprise platform vendors like Avaya and Cisco are talking about. But that doesn't necessarily mean that these vendors are the ones poised to capture the market, according to Tom's results.
When Tom asked enterprise decision-makers what they were looking for, the results coalesced into something Tom dubbed the "Connection Manager," which would broker all the various types of connections that an end user makes in the course of his or her day. The description of the Connection Manager makes this idealized process sound a lot like Session Management, which is the model put forward by companies like Avaya and by some of our own bloggers like Mykola Konrad of Sonus Networks, a company that makes session border controllers (SBCs). Though Tom doesn't mention the term "SIP," that's clearly the engine that enterprise vendors intend to use in this scenario to create a session connectivity fabric that can handle multiple types of media and end users.
Tom adds to the concept, however, noting that these connections should also include those from systems like your calendar, which turns it into a sort of machine-to-machine (M2M) play, or maybe CEBP (communications-enabled business processes), if you prefer. Again, this is something that Avaya, for one, has talked about, using not only these last 2 acronyms, but also the term "Contextual Communications."
Basically, Contextual Communications says the system should be able to learn almost everything about the systems you interface with, understand what that information really has to say about your communications needs, and then handle incoming communications accordingly. Sounds like a tall order, but when you break it down, it's really not—it's all processes and systems that are familiar and well-understood today, from presence to location to analytics and Big Data. For an interesting approach to the concept, check out this post by Bob Emmerson.
So why aren't the enterprise platform vendors the sure bet to win here? In his post, Tom turns his focus toward who he sees as the likelier winners--the public services like Google and Skype (which now, as part of Microsoft, has a unique position here). It's another way of looking at the world as opposed to the one that your Avayas and Ciscos tend to employ: You have to start with the public services because for a communications system to be ideal, by definition it can’t be limited to one vendor's platform or one enterprise's boundaries. (Note--this is my argument, and it goes beyond where Tom takes his own piece.)
In the private sphere, multiple non-interoperable platforms can all exist, and the enterprise just has to learn to live with the limits this imposes on the scope of its communications vision. But to succeed in the public network, by definition you have to have either true interoperability or only one provider. The threat to the enterprise that Tom Nolle's vision represents is essentially the same as the Consumerization of IT threat—that end users shun the enterprise platform entirely and instead choose to align their communications with publicly available networks. There are limits to how big a threat this represents—many enterprise users don't have the option of shunning their internal system. That’s why it's still an open question whether the Google/Skype public model can really capture the enterprise.
In any event, Tom's conclusion is one that I think many enterprises--and a lot of vendors even--would agree with: "Without this sort of thing [i.e., a Connection Manager that can interface with other systems], UC may face the challenge of being fragmented into disconnected tools, not 'unified' at all."