Looking Back on Enterprise Connect 2014
Another Enterprise Connect is in the books. This year’s event was marked by large crowds, and a subtle shift in focus.
With all due respect to the famous "is it a desert topping or floor wax" sketch from SNL, this year's Enterprise Connect provided an interesting perspective on the state of UC: Is it an application, or infrastructure?
Any discussion around UC over the last few years has largely centered on the products and features: telephony, video conferencing, unified messaging, instant messaging, presence, and mobility. Vendors pitched their wares on the basis of cost, features, scalability and resiliency to an audience of buyers accustomed to creating detailed RFPs with complex sets (and many pages) of technical requirements. But this year a shift seemed to be taking place on the show floor and in the session rooms as vendors and buyers begin to focus on the potential of UC to change business processes, enable new services, and foster innovation.
The shift for me started out with the once again jam-packed WebRTC "Conference-within-a-Conference" that I co-chaired with Dr. Brent Kelly on Monday. Discussions around WebRTC didn't focus on its cost, video quality, or speed, but rather on the transformative impact WebRTC could have on customer service, remote worker support, B2B and B2C applications, and even gaming. Tutorials and sessions demonstrated the need to involve application developers in WebRTC discussions, and to educate them on the potential benefits--a wholesale change from the focus on those from traditional telecom backgrounds.
Over on the show floor Twilio had a large presence, equivalent to that of traditional UC vendors. Yet Twilio doesn't sell a PBX or a video conferencing system. Rather, it provides a platform for developers to use to write business communications applications. Again the focus wasn't on PBX administrators, but rather on application developers.
Just down the aisle was Unify (formerly Siemens Enterprise Networks) with long lines waiting to see its upcoming Ansible collaboration application that integrates not just voice, video and messaging, but also social and document collaboration into the context of conversations and workgroups, across public and private networks, accessible by any device (and leveraging WebRTC).
Around the corner was CaféX, the "Best of Enterprise Connect" winner demonstrating a customer service application enabling companies to build Amazon Mayday-like voice and video chat into websites, even with the ability to share content (also using WebRTC).
In other spots, vendors such as ShoreTel and 8x8 highlighted integration with cloud business applications like Salesforce. And up front Avaya demonstrated its Collaboration Environment that, like Twilio, offers developers a platform for writing communications-enabled applications.
Data and analytics were on display as well, from companies like Calabrio and Empirix, who highlighted their ability to improve contact center operations via data analysis. Meanwhile, contact center demonstrated its linkage to UC, with an ever-growing array of on-premises and cloud CC vendors showcasing their wares.
That's not to say traditional UC applications and vendors weren't well represented. For about the fourth year in a row, video conferencing vendors seemed to dominate the show floor. Not just market share leaders like Cisco and Polycom, but also emerging companies including BlueJeans, StarLeaf and Vidyo. One of the more interesting areas that I found is the extension of immersive collaboration beyond video as provided by vendors including Acano, Jupiter Systems, Magor and SMART.
Those charged with actually figuring out how to integrate, implement and secure an ever-diverse world of collaboration technology found solace in talking with vendors including AudioCodes, Dialogic, Oracle, and Sonus, and the numerous systems integrators, managed service providers, and network performance management vendors who could help them overcome growing complexity.
As the nature of collaboration changes, so does Enterprise Connect. I look forward to spending an ever-increasing amount of time focusing on the transformative impacts of collaboration and less on pixel density, frames per second, and MOS. Let the journey continue.