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Enterprise (check!) Connect (check!) Orlando 2012 (check, check!)

The annual pinnacle event of the enterprise communication industry is here again this week!

The new Enterprise Connect name (announced in 2010) is right on target. Thousands of enterprise representatives have signed up for a four-day update on how their users can best Connect--with each other and with their customers and supply chain partners. So, two checks on the new name!

So, what's new and different? Well, the game has changed, for sure. Let's take a quick look.

* Connect, not just call. That’s the "connect" part of Enterprise Connect. The number of ways to connect is just exploding. Presence is everywhere, to guide the who and how of connecting. More and more connections are with IM or texting or collaborative workspace posting or social networking, jumping to real-time voice or video only when needed. Federated presence, IM and even voice or video are emerging in some product lines, so enterprises can connect to their partners and customers in the new media using Ethernet transport, rather than PSTN calls. So the connect in Enterprise Connect really nailed it.

* Mobile and UC clients, eclipsing desk phones. You can't see a demo without seeing the UC clients for iPad, Android tablets, and practically every brand of smartphone. And those mobile clients look more and more like the desktop software clients for PCs, Macs, and some vendor-branded tablets. So the user has essentially every possible "connect" option at their fingertips, literally. Sure, you'll find desk phones on the exhibit floor here, but you'll have to move the 18-inch HD video terminals out of the way to find them.

* Cloud, as well as premises, or hybrid. Wow, the cloud options really blew in quickly! Practically every vendor has some cloud-based spin on their product line. And a number of new names are showing up here with pure cloud plays. Eight service providers responded to the Cloud-based Services version of this year's Enterprise Connect Unified Communications and PBX RFP, with pretty competitive options. About half of them are the traditional premises-based vendors--Avaya, Siemens, Cisco (bid by Verizon), Interactive Intelligence, and Microsoft (bid by BT). But the other three are pure cloud-based offerings--M5 (recently acquired by ShoreTel, but still with separate software), Thinking Phone Networks, and West Corporation. We will write more about the UC and PBX RFP following the show--watch for those updates.

* UC and C, not PBXs. You can call it unified communications, you can call it collaboration, or you can call it whatever, but the prediction from VoiceCon 2007 that UC software would dominate the market has come true! It'll be hard to find the word PBX or even IP PBX on the exhibit floor, let alone in a keynote speech from Avaya, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Siemens, or Verizon (alphabetical order). It is all about UC & C software that supports all the connect modes from PC/tablet/smartphone UC clients.

Further, Siemens has delivered on their promise at VoiceCon Orlando 2007 to cut the price per user for enterprise communications by 75% (in response to Microsoft's keynote promising a reduction of 50%). In my post "Solving the VoIP and UC Pricing Puzzles-Part 1" in August 2007, following these two challenges, the acquisition price of VoIP systems was logged at $643 per user, excluding maintenance. If annual maintenance of $100 per station per year is added, the total 5-year price in 2007 was $1,143. In our 2012 RFP: UC Without a New PBX, i.e., using UC clients instead of new phones, the Siemens solution is $173 per user--not per year, per user! On this basis, they bested their promise enormously, reducing the cost per user by 85%, not just 75%.

By the way, in the same RFP response, many others are in the ballpark, such as Avaya (80% lower), NEC (67% lower), and Microsoft (consultant analysis--55% lower). These prices are a bit low, since they use the installed PBXs as PSTN gateways, but with native SIP functionality, they are not far off. Pretty thought provoking, seems to me.

* Video, elbowing voice, for a price. Video is everywhere at the show--in the keynotes, in the breakout sessions, and on the exhibit floor. From all the hype, you would think it is rude or obsolete to talk with just voice anymore. But, that's the battle that is raging for the real-time connect minutes that are left after users shift to presence, IM, and social. This move is not cheap in terms of end-point devices, video conferencing and control units, and bandwidth requirements ranging from 2x to 30x that of voice. But perhaps the savings from UC Software (see above) and from lower transmission costs with Ethernet backbone or even SIP trunks will create space in the budgets to fund the video investments.

* Gateways and interoperation, to glue it all together. Like any industry shift, there is a surge in gateways and interoperation protocols, both to connect between all the new vendors and to connect those new solutions to the installed base of PBXs, e-mail, TDM ports, contact centers, and conferencing bridges. We are seeing plenty of economical and effective interoperation tools here in Orlando.

* Lastly, it takes services from Value Added Resellers (VARs) and System Integrators (SIs) to make this all work. This year has more VAR and SI exhibitors than ever before. Some specialize in a few vendors' products, others specialize by vertical industry or by specific technology (e.g. video), but there's no doubt they are ready and willing to deliver competitive statements of work (SOWs) to connect your UC & C & Social & video & mobile solutions.

So, this is going to be a great Enterprise Connect. It's living up to its name and to its promise, thanks to really enthusiastic participation from the vendors, the enterprise attendees, and the Enterprise Connect team and presenters. Check in at No Jitter or for information, keynote videos, and more.