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ALU Jumps Back into Enterprise Communications

The old joke goes: Why was God able to create the world in only six days? Because he didn't have an installed base. It reflects an enduring desire in technology adoption: What if you could start with a clean slate?

Alcatel-Lucent, which last year sold off its Enterprise division to the Chinese private equity firm China Huaxin, may have come as close to achieving that goal as any company -- vendor or user -- in recent memory, at least as relates to enterprise communications. Having sold off Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE) and its communications business built off legacy PBX technology, the ALU parent company is now jumping right back into the enterprise communications market with a platform called Rapport that it's positioning as a new way for enterprises to deal with their own installed base of PBX and unified communications (UC) systems.

Enterprise Connection
Rapport, built on ALU's carrier-focused IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS) platform, is targeted at the largest enterprises. The Rapport platform can be the foundation for a cap-and-grow strategy under which enterprises maintain their legacy systems but add new features and functionality via the cloud, ALU said.

Rapport's carrier heritage makes it a fit for this kind of strategy because "the DNA of the carrier space is open, interoperable standards where you have to work with other vendors," said Brian Davies, marketing director, Advanced Communications Solutions at ALU.

ALU is partnering with third-party providers for the devices and applications that run on top of the platform: Polycom and Mitel for desk phones and room conferencing appliances; and CounterPath for softphones and UC/collaboration applications like presence/IM (as well as federation to Microsoft Lync). ALU will use open APIs and the CounterPath SDK so enterprises can use Rapport to integrate communications apps and devices with their business systems and legacy communications, Davies said.

The go-to-market strategy is to partner with professional services firms, and Davies said ALU already has signed up Accenture, BT Global Services, HP, Orange, and Verizon for this role. These providers also can host the platform for the enterprise, or a large enough enterprise can choose to deploy Rapport in its own datacenter.

Back to the Future
ALU sees its IMS foundation and heritage supplying mobile providers as a key differentiator as it moves (back?) into enterprise communications, Davies told me. The idea is for the enterprise to essentially become its own mobile virtual network operator (MVNO), leasing cellular radio access to the Rapport platform from a wholesale provider, he explained. That way, an enterprise user's mobile device can register on the same Rapport server, whether via a local enterprise Wi-Fi network or the cellular system. "That gives you mobile integration that you just can't do today," Davies said.

The vendor will be trialing Rapport through 2015, as it rolls the system out to internal users as its first deployment, Davies said.

It strikes me that ALU has found the right positioning strategy for an offering whose time seems right: Enterprises clearly don't want to invest anything in legacy PBX systems and functionality that they don't have to, and the mobility piece should be compelling as enterprises don't appear to have figured out mobility so much as they seem to have almost given up on it. BYOD is a fact of life, UC clients aren't making much headway on mobiles, and new over-the-top collaboration/messaging apps like Slack, Talko, Glip, and others are the hot new thing for mobile-first collaboration -- apps that are inherently end-user driven. Whether enterprises really want to become their own MVNO may be an open question, but a more coherent mobile strategy would still be a step forward.

There always remains the problem of funding any investment in new communications technologies, and here ALU is offering a familiar pitch: Use Rapport's global routing platform to generate savings on PSTN costs by bringing more traffic on net and using centralized SIP trunks to eliminate PRI costs. Oh, and you can use Rapport's audio conferencing to bring that function in house -- a time-honored play for savings in the IP communications world.

It's telling that ALU couldn't resist getting back into enterprise communications almost as soon as it unloaded its existing Enterprise division. Of course, the impending Nokia acquisition could add all kinds of twists to the Rapport path, so getting the platform to market may not be as straightforward an effort as it might have seemed it would be two weeks ago.

In the end, though, more choice is good for the enterprise, and ALU seems to be preparing to offer up something substantial for large enterprises to consider.

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