SHARE



ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Andrew Prokop
Andrew Prokop has been heavily involved in the world of communications since the early 1980s. He holds five United States...
Read Full Bio >>
SHARE



Andrew Prokop | August 31, 2015 |

 
   

Disruptive Innovations in Unified Communications

Disruptive Innovations in Unified Communications Just as smart phones drove up the size of email storage limits, innovations such as WebRTC will force similar disruptive changes in communications.

Just as smart phones drove up the size of email storage limits, innovations such as WebRTC will force similar disruptive changes in communications.

A disruptive innovation is a technologically simple innovation in the form of a product, service, or business model that takes root in a tier of the market that is unattractive to the established leaders in an industry.

-Clayton Christensen

Do you remember your first public email account? I remember mine. It was a Yahoo account that I created sometime in the 1990s. While I had a work email account for a number of years prior to that, it was only used for professional emails within my company and to other companies. It wasn't the kind of thing I would have used to send links to cat videos (even if cat videos existed back then).

Compared to what is available today, those original Yahoo mail accounts were pretty bare bones. Messages were written using basic text, and the only bells and whistles that I recall were rudimentary spam filtering and block lists. There was no html or rich text formatting. You couldn't prioritize emails or set custom stationary backgrounds. The account was free, though, and despite its simplicity, I was happy with what it could do.

I can't exactly recall how much storage space each account was allocated, but by today's standards, it was minuscule. Actually, minuscule is being too generous. It was either 1 or 1.5 megabytes. Yes, you heard me right -- 1.5 megabytes. And no, I don't mean message size (which was probably a lot less). I am talking about total storage for all emails sent or received.

Such innocent times we lived in.

You can still get a free Yahoo email account ... and do you know what the new limit is? One terabyte. That's 666,666.667 times more storage than what I started out with all those years ago.

So, why the big change? Did people suddenly become more verbose and every email rivaled the length of Gone with the Wind?

Of course not. What changed was that we moved far beyond simple text. We wanted color and different fonts. We wanted to bold text and emphasize important words in italics. We wanted some phrases to stand out. More importantly, we wanted to send emails that didn't rely on text alone. We wanted to attach documents, videos, and embed photographs. We wanted our emails to reflect the multimedia world that we lived in on our computers.

For many people, the driving need for a larger email storage limit was the invention of the smart phone and its built-in camera. Now, instead of having to lug around "real cameras," pockets and purses are loaded up with these mobile recording studios. Everything from tonight's dinner to our kids' soccer games are captured, uploaded, and emailed to friends and family around the world. The 5K email of 1997 became 5meg, and a single message would have exceeded a 1.5 megabyte inbox by almost a factor of three. Practically overnight, email accounts replaced the shoeboxes of photographs and Super-8 film reels of my parent's era.

Disrupting the Applecart

Joseph Bower and Clayton Christensen wrote of "disruptive innovations" in their 1995 article Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave. Christensen defined it even further in his book The Innovator's Dilemma.

The principle notion of disruptive innovation is fairly straightforward. For most of its life, a particular technology will be incrementally enhanced and refined through minor changes and steady improvements. However, every so often something new will come along that completely disrupts this drip, drip, drip trajectory and turn that technology on its head. The change, big or small, can either force a major rethink or cause some technologies to either disappear or significantly drop in importance.

These changes can make or break an otherwise successful company. As stated in their original article, Bower and Christensen write:

One of the most consistent patterns in business is the failure of leading companies to stay at the top of their industries when technologies or markets change. Goodyear and Firestone entered the radial-tire market quite late. Xerox let Canon create the small-copier market. Bucyrus-Erie allowed Caterpillar and Deere to take over the mechanical excavator market. Sears gave way to Wal-Mart.

Several years ago, a coworker posted a list of the top ten Minnesota (my home) companies by decade. I was shocked at how many companies at the top of the list one decade were either gone or far less significant by the following decade. Off the top of my head, I recall names such as Cray Computer and Control Data Corporation. Once upon a time they were worldwide powerhouses, but Cray fell on hard times before being acquired, and CDC is long gone. The lists were peppered with similar first to worst stories. Clearly, being on the top of your game one year doesn't guarantee you will even be relevant the next.

Communications Relevance

Our industry has seen more than its fair share of disruptive innovation. In my 31-year-career, we've gone from analog, to digital, to proprietary IP, to finally, open standards IP. Where once we spoke, we now send instant messages. For some, it's not enough to hear you speak or read your words. They want to see you talk and chew gum at the same time. We want conferences that allow us to show charts, play videos, put up surveys, and raise our hand with a question.

Some companies have kept up with these sweeping changes, while others have been swept up in the dustbin of history. Do you remember Rolm? Nortel?

Some of those that survived are not as dominant as they once were. Avaya has lost significant market share over the years. ShoreTel was a hot prospect when they burst on the scene in 1996, but their luster has significantly dimmed. Unify and NEC are still players, but neither is rated as leaders in Gartner's Magic Quadrant.

The surprise newcomer is Microsoft. Who would have thought that a free consumer product like Skype would become synonymous with cutting-edge business telephony? Clearly, someone did, because not only does Microsoft rate very high in the Gartner Unified Communications Magic Quadrant, but I am hard pressed to not find some Skype or Lync presence in the many companies I work with. Whether or not these companies have gone full-blown Skype is insignificant. That fact that it's there is very telling. You can only kick the tires for so long before making the decision to drive a car off the lot.

Of course, I can't help but think back to the decade-by-decade list of top Minnesota companies. We have some major disruptive innovation on our doorstep in the form of WebRTC. While I cannot predict the future, I expect it will play a big part in who survives past 2020 and who doesn't. Some companies have embraced it wholeheartedly, while others (e.g. Microsoft) have been reluctant to make a commitment. The same can be said for virtualization, communications enabled business processes, SIP, cloud technology, and mobility. These disruptions in how we enabled communications a decade ago are still making waves today.

Returning to Bower and Christensen one more time, I am struck by these words:

The research shows that most well-managed, established companies are consistently ahead of their industries in developing and commercializing new technologies -- from incremental improvements to radically new approaches -- as long as those technologies address the next-generation performance needs of their customers.

As we head towards the close of 2015 and past the midpoint of the decade, it's important to take stock in where we are and where we are going. Just as smart phones and other data producing technologies drove up the size of email storage limits, innovations such as WebRTC will force similar disruptive changes in communications and communications suppliers. While I would love for every vendor to be a winner, history tells me that that's not going to happen. Like Control Data, the laggards will simply fade away.

Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.

Follow Andrew Prokop on Twitter and LinkedIn!
@ajprokop
Andrew Prokop on LinkedIn





COMMENTS



August 16, 2017

Contact centers have long been at the leading edge of innovation in communications technology, given their promise of measurable ROI and the continual need to optimize customer interactions and sta

July 12, 2017

Enterprises have been migrating Unified Communications & Collaboration applications to datacenters - private clouds - for the past few years. With this move comes the opportunity to leverage da

May 31, 2017

In the days of old, people in suits used to meet at a boardroom table to update each other on their work. Including a remote colleague meant setting a conference phone on the table for in-person pa

August 16, 2017
World Vision U.S. is finding lots of goodness in RingCentral's cloud communications service, but as Randy Boyd, infrastructure architect at the global humanitarian nonprofit, tells us, he and his team....
August 11, 2017
Alicia Gee, director of unified communications at Sutter Physician Services, oversees the technical team supporting a 1,000-agent contact center running on Genesys PureConnect. She catches us up on th....
August 4, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, has lately been working on integrating enterprise communications into Internet of Things ecosystems. He shares examples and off....
July 27, 2017
Industry watcher Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares her perspective on this acquisition, discussing Mitel's market positioning, why the move makes sense, and more.
July 14, 2017
Lantre Barr, founder and CEO of Blacc Spot Media, urges any enterprise that's been on the fence about integrating real-time communications into business workflows to jump off and get started. Tune and....
June 28, 2017
Communications expert Tsahi Levent-Levi, author of the popular BlogGeek.me blog, keeps a running tally and comprehensive overview of communications platform-as-a-service offerings in his "Choosing a W....
June 9, 2017
If you think telecom expense management applies to nothing more than business phone lines, think again. Hyoun Park, founder and principal investigator with technology advisory Amalgam Insights, tells ....
June 2, 2017
Enterprises strategizing on mobility today, including for internal collaboration, don't have the luxury of learning as they go. Tony Rizzo, enterprise mobility specialist with Blue Hill Research, expl....
May 24, 2017
Mark Winther, head of IDC's global telecom consulting practice, gives us his take on how CPaaS providers evolve beyond the basic building blocks and address maturing enterprise needs.
May 18, 2017
Diane Myers, senior research director at IHS Markit, walks us through her 2017 UC-as-a-service report... and shares what might be to come in 2018.
April 28, 2017
Change isn't easy, but it is necessary. Tune in for advice and perspective from Zeus Kerravala, co-author of a "Digital Transformation for Dummies" special edition.
April 20, 2017
Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, shares insight gleaned from the firm's 12th annual UCC Total Cost of Operations study.
March 23, 2017
Tim Banting, of Current Analysis, gives us a peek into what the next three years will bring in advance of his Enterprise Connect session exploring the question: Will there be a new model for enterpris....
March 15, 2017
Andrew Prokop, communications evangelist with Arrow Systems Integration, discusses the evolving role of the all-important session border controller.
March 9, 2017
Organizer Alan Quayle gives us the lowdown on programmable communications and all you need to know about participating in this pre-Enterprise Connect hackathon.
March 3, 2017
From protecting against new vulnerabilities to keeping security assessments up to date, security consultant Mark Collier shares tips on how best to protect your UC systems.
February 24, 2017
UC analyst Blair Pleasant sorts through the myriad cloud architectural models underlying UCaaS and CCaaS offerings, and explains why knowing the differences matter.
February 17, 2017
From the most basics of basics to the hidden gotchas, UC consultant Melissa Swartz helps demystify the complex world of SIP trunking.
February 7, 2017
UC&C consultant Kevin Kieller, a partner at enableUC, shares pointers for making the right architectural choices for your Skype for Business deployment.
February 1, 2017
Elka Popova, a Frost & Sullivan program director, shares a status report on the UCaaS market today and offers her perspective on what large enterprises need before committing to UC in the cloud.
January 26, 2017
Andrew Davis, co-founder of Wainhouse Research and chair of the Video track at Enterprise Connect 2017, sorts through the myriad cloud video service options and shares how to tell if your choice is en....
January 23, 2017
Sheila McGee-Smith, Contact Center/Customer Experience track chair for Enterprise Connect 2017, tells us what we need to know about the role cloud software is playing in contact centers today.