NEC Transformation: Ready for Second Century
UC transformation combines multiple standalone applications (and channels) into a unique, integrated IT portfolio.
Most UC briefings now include the word "transformation," with companies using the term to describe the shift from hardware to software, software to services, and capex to opex, and, increasingly, to indicate how they're transitioning into broader communications services.
NEC knows something about transformation and has used the term many times over the past 117 years. Over the past few years, NEC has virtualized its UC offerings, launched UC as a service, and introduced opex models for many products. The company has gone through several transformations, and Boston Consulting Group recently named NEC among the most innovative companies in the world.
UC offers are generally mature, so vendors are moving beyond enhancements such as mobile clients for differentiation. The emerging diverse paths include cloud services, workstream messaging, and mobile integration. NEC's unique, transformative approach for 2016 is to integrate and combine its UC technologies with its broader IT portfolio -- a concept it calls "Smart Enterprise."
Smart Enterprise Gets Sharper
When NEC introduced the Smart Enterprise initiative last year, the strategy was a bit hazy... merely a bunch of solutions presented on a single graphic. But at its recent annual partner event, NEC Advantage Executive Conference, the company demonstrated how far Smart Enterprise has evolved, and set high expectations regarding where it will go.
Smart Enterprise combines NEC mobility, fault-tolerant and high-availability server and storage, networking, and video solutions, as well as knocks down the boundaries between divisions.
Specifically, NEC is combining its channels (it has more than 3,000 channel partners across its operation), and it is bringing together its portfolios of UC, IT, software-defined networking (SDN), biometrics, and analytics technologies to extend the value of existing solutions. By combining UC and biometrics, for example, NEC can now offer a solution that allows UC users to unlock a desktop phone with just a glance, using the company's video facial recognition software.
NEC Advantage, previously limited to UC partners, was broader this year -- showcasing many new exhibits and drawing new attendees. Here are some of the noteworthy demonstrations and announcements.
- Last year NEC introduced its UT880 desktop video phone, which runs a variety of general-purpose and vertical applications. Vertical integrations included medical records, hospitality systems, or video surveillance systems. In a retail example, NEC showed how staff can access video CCTV cameras and how security systems can leverage the device's built-in camera.
- NEC is now shipping its ProgrammableFlow SDN controller with its SV9500 UC platform. Introduced in 2011, the NEC ProgrammableFlow Suite was the first commercially available SDN solution to leverage the OpenFlow protocol supported on most network switches. SDN automates network administration for improved agility and better utilization of other IT assets. NEC demonstrated several SDN-UC use cases in hospitality, customer care, and healthcare.
- NEC demonstrated how its suite of solutions work together for high-availability requirements. In addition to its Univerge Blue cloud service, which can be combined with its premises-based solutions into a hybrid offering, NEC offers its own fault-tolerant storage and servers that are further enhanced with virtualization and SDN.
- NEC has teamed with cloud video platform provider Vidyo to expand its native video calling services into broader in-room video conferencing. With Vidyo, NEC can either offer a new video room solution or can be used in conjunction with an existing room system. NEC also intends to integrate its NeoFace video biometrics technologies with Vidyo. NeoFace can recognize many types of activities and events, such as fights and medical emergencies. NEC has supported point-to-point video for years, and now with Vidyo it has far richer conferencing capabilities. In one example, a 911 call can be upgraded to include video with response teams over wired or wireless networks.
- In an SDN partnership, NEC completed UC interoperability testing with Dell's S Series of OpenFlow switches. Partners can combine their UC (and data center solutions) with Dell switches, and Dell now offers SDN-based Ethernet fabric solutions with NEC technology. Dell's family of switches complements NEC's switches. Entry-level pricing of NEC's SDN Controller starts around $3,000.
- NEC has begun the process of consolidating its separate Univerge 3C and SV9000 UC platforms into a single set of applications. Previously the SV range was hardware-based, but both families are available as software and support virtualization now. This is a multi-year transition that NEC is starting with the consolidation of contact center, collaboration, and mobility solutions.
- NEC announced its new BX Series of media gateways and SBCs. The BX Series features technology from AudioCodes, but is branded and distributed by NEC. NEC has dramatically simplified its Univerge Blue UCaaS offering, with simpler pricing, a new user portal, and applications for verticals such as hospitality.
In some regions, including America, NEC combined its IT and UC organizations and their associated channels. "Smart Partners" is one of several channel programs launched last year designed to broaden partner skills and certifications. NEC said 205 partners participated in Smart Partner last year, and expects more this year.
NEC's UC transformation combines multiple standalone applications (and channels) into a unique, integrated IT portfolio. The kicker is it's the integration and go-to-market that's new -- not the core components, which are mature and robust.
Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.