Standards and Interoperability and Open, Oh My!
What's a buyer to do? The way I see it the customer has four choices.
VoiceCon 2010, the last VoiceCon (the show's been re-named Enterprise Connect), is now behind us and the themes of interoperability, standards and openness was a theme in many of the sessions as well as a point of concern from many of the attendees I spoke with (users not vendors). It has been a big problem, continues to be a big problem and will be one of the main reasons our industry crawls instead of runs.Sure, all of the vendors claim to be open and standards based but designing a proprietary protocol and then throwing it into a standards body and trying to force everyone to adhere to it doesn't exactly count as being "open and standards based". Nor does publishing APIs that limits the features that others can use of your product. The demos that we see on stage when vendors show how great things work when you use everything from a single vendor are cool but not practical in many customer environments. So, what's a buyer to do? The way I see it the customer has four choices:
Choice 1: Do nothing. This has a pretty attractive TCO argument. No capital or operational costs and appears to be what many customers are doing, but organizations that do nothing will rapidly fall behind their competitors so do nothing isn't really practical for much longer.
Choice 2: Buy everything from a single vendor. This might seem like a good strategy. Standardize one vendor, everything works and go from there. However, there are many issues with this. First, even if you choose a single vendor, there's no guarantee their portfolio works seamlessly. Also, what happens in the future if you merge with or buy another company? What happens if you want to use some cool new technology from another vendor? Or if your vendor gets acquired by another? Single vendor just isn't a viable long term strategy.
Choice 3: Pay a systems integrator to do the integration for you or use a managed services provider (MSP). Depending on your environment, this could be a decent option. Keep in mind though, if you're environment is highly dynamic; the SI will need to continually be back in to help with updating the integrated environment, which could get costly. An MSP works well if you stick with mainstream vendors and aren't using the most leading edge technology. For many organizations this might be one of the better routes.
Choice 4: Look for ecosystem vendors that have recognized this problem and solve your most immediate need. Considering the breadth of UC, there's no single vendor that can solve all of your interoperability woes, so start with your most pressing issues. There were two vendors that I was exposed to at VoiceCon that I thought were worth highlighting: Vision OSS (VOSS) and Vidtel.
VOSS describes themselves as a "real time, centralized and fully automated UC service delivery and management platform". As big a mouthful as that is, it's an accurate description of what they do. VOSS is a policy based tool that provides a single screen to help enterprises create and manage UC services and applications. VOSS also works in multivendor and hybrid environments meaning customers can migrate to UC at whatever pace they choose to.
During the locknote session, we actually had a short discussion on testing and management tools and I brought up the point that to keep up with the speed of the business and user demand, many of the processes used to provision and activate UC applications need to be automated. The full automation of many of the day to day tasks has been a key focus area for VOSS. Automation means the people that manage the UC systems don't need to touch multiple servers every time a user change is made and it also cuts down on human errors.
Obviously VOSS doesn't do everything. For example, they don't address the unique needs of video and they don't do MOS scoring but for those who are looking for that single pane of glass to manage a multi vendor UC environment they do as good a job as I've seen so far.
The next vendor that I thought could help with the interoperability problem is Vidtel. Vidtel is a cloud based service that helps enterprises and service providers roll out multi vendor, multi customer video services. I've written and blogged over and over that the two biggest hurdles to broader use of video are interoperability and the B2B limitations of video, and Vidtel addresses both of those. How Vidtel works is that a customer can have any video system, let's say a Polycom system that connects to the Vidtel cloud. That customer can then connect to any other location that has any other system, let's say a Tandberg system, that also connects the Vidtel cloud and Vidtel will take care of the translation in the cloud.
Customers that use the Vidtel service will also have access to the other customers (if they choose to do so) which helps with the B2B barrier to video. So at a minimum, a customer of Vidtel can roll out multivendor video within their own organization with the assurance it will work, and ultimately use the service to reach a broader number of video endpoints, further increasing the value of video.
Neither of these companies solves all of the industry's open, interoperability and standards problems--that needs to be solved by a commitment from all the UC vendors. However, until that happens (which could take decades) both VOSS and Vidtel can solve specific deployment challenges and allow customers to squeeze a bit more bang out of the UC buck already spent.What's a buyer to do? The way I see it the customer has four choices.