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Evolution at Enterprise Connect 2014

We sure saw a lot at Enterprise Connect 2014 in Orlando two weeks ago. Evolution would be one word to sum it all up. Here are some of the evolutionary highlights from my perspective.

Evolution Beyond The PBX: For years, the emphasis in the keynotes and in the exhibits has been on PBXs and on all the wonderful phones and features that come with them. This year, the keynotes from Avaya, Cisco and Microsoft did not even mention the PBX and there were no demonstrations of new phones or features of the IP-PBX.

Both Cisco and Microsoft emphasized advances in the user experience: Cisco with two impressive new video room system products and Microsoft with the adoption and value of communications integrated with workflows and federated with customers, partners and consumers. Even Avaya focused on its network architecture and success at the Sochi Olympics, rather than the PBX or even the contact center. The huge exhibit floor was similar--sure, there were phones, but the demos were about user experience, application integration, and video/meetings/collaboration.

Evolution of Communications in Context: This year, more of the presentations and exhibits highlighted the use of communications technologies as part of the users' and customers' experiences in operational workflows. Several vendors emphasized the integration of their real-time technologies, especially video and IM, into customer experiences in call centers, into various business applications such as, and into all varieties of web pages.

Evolution of Topologies: Communications architectures have been forced far beyond the enterprises' premises, which is another evolution that is eclipsing the PBX--don't forget, PBX is itself an acronym for Private Branch Exchange. Cloud offerings abounded, both from the traditional market leaders and from seemingly half of the other exhibitors.

One indicator of this shift was the prominence of the gateway and SBC (session border controller) producers at the show. Also, all the major mobile carriers, including some international players, were there, representing the shift of communications for a large portion of many enterprises' workforces to their personal devices connected via the cellular and Wi-Fi networks. Other factors are also changing the communications topology, including the emergence of "assistive intelligence" in the user experience and the delivery of communication services via the web.

Evolution to Populist Development with WebRTC et al.: Communications delivery and experiences have broken out of the pre-defined software clients and desktop phones we have known in the past. An entire day was devoted to a mini-conference on WebRTC as a new, flexible, and populist tool for creating, embedding and delivering new communications experiences. This trend is mirrored in many other new developer tools from a number of the leading vendors.

Evolution of Marketing: Given the shift to the adoption and consumption of communications from within the user and customer experience, the marketing has evolved to consumer-like formats. Gone are the side-by-side comparisons of 100 features. Rather, the emphasis is on look and feel, fit and finish, ease of use and personalization. The pendulum may have swung too far away for the core value to the buyer, but for now the emphasis seems to be on the WOW factor.

Evolution of Decision Making: There was also an evolution at Enterprise Connect toward justification of investments based on strategy and business impact rather than entirely on total cost of ownership (TCO) or simple functional savings, such as SIP trunk savings or cost per minute for conferencing. Customers were saying their investments were driven first by enterprise priorities and secondly by cost. Products or solutions had to make it through the first filter of value, impact and risk before the cost would become a determining decision factor.

All of this matches our forecasts of the evolution driven by UC at UCStrategies. Again this year we were honored to participate in several dozen Enterprise Connect sessions. Since the first UC sessions at VoiceCon San Francisco 2006, we have emphasized that UC is "communications integrated to optimize business processes." The growing adoption of this definition that we see this year includes both UC-U (User Productivity), as reflected in the growing emphasis on the user experience, and UC-B (Business Processes), as reflected by the integration of communications into applications or CEBP (Communications-enabled Business Processes).