A Post-PBX Post?
Panelists said vendors are increasingly relying on indirect sales; products are becoming more complex; and the channel has not been sufficiently prepared to do the integration work necessary.
Are we in the post-PBX era? Is that what all of these people are doing here at the Gaylord Palms?
Enterprise Connect Orlando 2012 kicked off this morning, with attendance and exhibitor space up from last year, and with a focus among the audience that seems to be shifting ever so gradually. The past couple of years, SIP trunking dominated as the best-attended session of the first morning; this year the level of interest basically held from past years for SIP trunking, but sessions on mobility, video, and collaboration were just as crowded. Saving costs and upgrading WAN connections is still valuable, but new opportunities and challenges are emerging fast.
This seems to reflect a reality that enterprises are increasingly coming to grips with: There is a new environment for communications in the enterprise, and we’re just beginning to see its outlines. It was a theme that panelists expanded on during our first morning General Session, a discussion with leading strategic vendors entitled, "Has the Post-PBX Era Begun?"
Warren Barkley, GM for Lync Customer & Partner Management at Microsoft, responded to the titular question by saying that customers do want voice, but not necessarily PBXs. He said Microsoft asks them, "What are the enterprise voice features you're really looking for?"
Another way of looking at this question, according to the session’s co-moderator, Jim Burton of C-T Link/UCStrategies.com, is to ask what the PBX will look like in 10 years—since the process of moving toward products that provide these functions will necessarily have to be evolutionary.
Given that this was a panel made up of UC or UC-related vendors (representatives from Avaya, Cisco, HP, Microsoft, NEC, Siemens), there was remarkably little of the usual sniping over issues of interoperability, no one-upsmanship over whose products have more of that elusive quality known as "openness." Indeed, Microsoft's Warren Barkley noted that, "My team talks to Cisco's every week, multiple times a week, to see how we can make things work together." He didn't assert that they end each of these confabs with a chorus of "Kumbayaa" or "We are Family," but he was at least not looking to do battle.
The panelists seemed in agreement that the real key to making next-generation communications systems work together would be bringing channel partners into a more active systems integration role, as well as promoting the work of industry groups that go beyond standards-setting, to develop compliance testing suites and other mechanisms for ensuring interworking. The UC Interoperability Forum was mentioned, though neither Cisco's nor Avaya's representative volunteered to say when their companies might join.
Nevertheless, the need for higher-level integration, driven by or through the channel, seems clear. Warren Barkley noted that making plain old telephony interoperate among vendors is fairly straightforward, but when you build complex communications systems, the proliferation of elements and factors to consider makes interoperability difficult if not impossible. "As we add more modalities, it becomes more complex," he said.
The session moderator and Enterprise Connect GM/Co-Chair Fred Knight described the issue as a perfect storm of challenges: Vendors are increasingly relying on indirect sales; products are becoming more complex; and the channel that will make those sales has not been sufficiently prepared to do the integration work necessary. Several panelists expressed hope that emerging cloud-based services may be able to help the channel by handling some of the complex integration, and selling the results as a service.
Panelists also stressed the need for the vendor community to better understand their customers' businesses (something that’s obviously critical for folks within the enterprise as well). Vishakha Radia, Managing Director, Customer Business Transformation at Cisco, said that understanding what your customer considers their differentiator will let the vendor and channel craft a solution that generates business value. And Todd Landry, Senior VP at NEC Corporation of America, said enterprise decision makers must ask themselves, "What will your business look like as it works every day?"