What Does Universal Communications Mean for Our Industry?
Microsoft's vision for communications implies a third phase in the evolution, in which analytics provide the crucial element.
In his opening keynote at last week's Lync Conference, Gurdeep Singh Pall, Corporate VP for Skype and Lync at Microsoft, said the era of Unified Communications is over and we are starting a new era--Universal Communications. He went on to share his thoughts on the next phase in the evolution of enterprise communications, which I thought sounded very familiar.
In 2010, I wrote an article that appeared on this site titled The Next Phase in Unified Communications, and in 2011, I wrote a follow-up article titled The Next Phase in Communications in which I discussed what I saw as the 3 phases of UC evolution:
* Phase 1, UC for User Productivity (UC-U), best illustrated by the click-to-communicate concept
* UC for Business Productivity (UC-B), is what most vendors are promoting today: the idea of integrating communications into business processes or CEBP
* Phase 3, UC-Analytics (UC-A), what Gurdeep described as "Universal Communications."
In his article about the keynote, Lync Conference Keynote: Building Toward Universal Communications, Eric Krapf provided a good background for my thoughts on what Universal Communications will mean for our industry.
While he was away from Lync for the past 2 years, Gurdeep was running a team at Microsoft doing pioneering work in the area of analytics and Artificial Intelligence (AI), specifically Bayesian inference. That's the type of analysis that companies like Amazon use to analyze customer behavior and make suggestions regarding what else the customer might want to buy. Gurdeep sees that type of intelligence as key to enhancing the user experience UC can deliver, by analyzing a user's calendar entries, recent emails and texts, to anticipate who they will likely want to communicate with next and by what means.
If you look back at the vision Gurdeep presented in his first keynote at what was then VoiceCon (now Enterprise Connect), you can see he already had an understanding of how the industry would evolve: An industry where "call control" increasingly became less significant (but still required) while collaboration at many levels would become table stakes.
While all vendors, including Microsoft, will need to continue work on their collaboration solutions, Gurdeep has started to lay out his vision for the next phase of enterprise communications. If he is right--and if the past is any predictor of the future, he probably is--it will change the landscape of our industry.
Many of the major players in the UC space are IP-PBX vendors, and they were all able to hang on through Phases 1 & 2. However, Phase 3 (UC-A) will shift the battle to a new front, and that will present a major challenge to those with a legacy in call control. While several vendors have done some work in the field of analytics and AI, it will take a lot more to be a major player in this new market.
A look at who has been investing in analytics and AI may provide a picture of the future vendor landscape. Besides Microsoft, the big winner could be IBM; with its Watson technology and a division dedicated to analytics, it could certainly be a force. Then again, they could have been a force in UC, but failed to position Sametime as a viable UC solution in the minds of the channel and the customers.
The major IP-PBX vendors have evolved from mostly hardware to mostly software, but capitalizing on analytics and AI will require another level of evolution. It is time for each of them to update their UC strategy.
I was fortunate to spend some time with Gurdeep the evening before his keynote, and he shared some of his plans for aligning the various parts of the Microsoft organization to deliver his vision for Universal Communications. Some of that vision will be unfolded over the next few weeks, and I will be writing about it on UCStrategies.com.
Jim Burton moderates the Enterprise Connect session, UC Summit: Has the Market Caught On, Finally?