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Final Thoughts on Enterprise Connect 2015

Enterprise Connect 2015 is now in the books and the conference certainly didn't disappoint. As is the case with shows of years past, we saw some themes rise and come to the forefront and other topics pushed back. Here are the key themes I saw at the 25th edition of Enterprise Connect.

  • Video is everywhere. If you spent any time on the show floor then you know video has reached a tipping point -- interest in video is at an all-time high. Vendors at almost every booth I visited demonstrated some kind of video. This not only included traditional video conferencing system vendors like Polycom and Cisco but also many nontraditional video vendors such as Sonus Networks, Broadsoft, and Genband showing browser-based or mobile video. Christie Blake, a Sonus product marketing manager, told me the company sometimes had people waiting in line to see its WebRTC demo. Video is now everywhere.
  • No more phones. This may have been the first Enterprise Connect I can remember where I didn't receive a single press release about a new IP phone. Also, there weren't many booths that actually had phones on display. This is a big step forward for the UC industry as it shows that more and more innovation is being done on desktop and mobile applications -- the primary tools of workers today. I'm not saying the desk phone is going away any time soon -- it's a huge market and a necessary part of doing business, but I think we've seen that industry peak and it's headed for a long, slow decline.
  • Communications platform-as-a-service (CPaaS) is a real market now. I think I wrote my first report on the concept of communications-enabled applications about 10 years ago. Back then, developers had to have a high degree of telephony and networking knowledge to build something as simple as click-to-call functionality. The products have evolved to become more developer friendly and now are available as cloud-based services. The result has been an explosion of UC-enabled applications.

    Evidence of this is that Twilio recently announced it passed the $100 million mark in revenue, not bad for a company founded in 2007. In addition to Twilio, Genband had its Kandy-based applications available to see on a bus and Gary Barnett, senior vice president and general manager of Avaya Engagement Solutions, showed off the Avaya Engagement Developer Platform during Tuesday's keynote.

    CPaaS has come to life, and this will have a profound impact on the current UC market. It's my belief that the rise of CPaaS makes the UC client much less important. Users do not need more applications on their desktops. Rather, they need more functionality in the applications that they already use.

  • UC management goes sideways. Having participated in a UC management panel, I can say from the discussion that this market is still moving sideways. Many of the vendors that fall under the large umbrella category of UC management have evolved their products greatly over the past few years but most of the products are still focused on solving only part of the UC lifecycle. Some are focused on pre-provisioning, some on assurance, others on self-service and others on automation. This means businesses must purchase multiple tools to manage a UC deployment. I don't really expect to ever see a single UC management product that can solve all problems, but I do think that greater cooperation between management and tools vendors would help maximize value.
  • A new communications and collaboration category is emerging. Earlier this week I wrote about how we may see workplace as a service eventually become a new market category. I've seen another one emerge over the past couple of years, but I'm just not sure what to call it.

    Products such as Cisco Spark, Unify Circuit, Slack, and Biba all promote a new way of working (read related post, "Humanizing UC"). These tools allow workers to organize content and real-time and non-real-time communications around themes, conversations or rooms, depending on what nomenclature you want to use. I've heard Tim Banting, a communications and collaboration analyst at Current Analysis, call this catogory something like "mobile, social collaboration," and my fellow No Jitter blogger Dave Michaels, principal of TalkingPointz, has used the term "any-time communications." I'm not crazy about either of these name, but I can't think up a better one right now. What I do know is that it's not unified communications.

  • It's time for cloud providers to interoperate. The cloud has unquestionably had a significant impact on the UC market. Cloud UC providers such as 8x8, RingCentral, and Blue Jeans Network are growing orders of magnitude faster than those with premises-based solutions. However, I see a challenge in that the cloud providers are all islands unto themselves -- meaning customers lose many of the benefits when a session leaves the island.

    For example, many of the UCaaS providers offer wideband audio and the quality is outstanding. However, if I place a call between cloud providers, the call moves over to the PSTN and the quality is lost. Also, provisioning new features or users has to be done one provider at a time. This can be problematic for global enterprises that wish to use in-country providers for their cloud telephony needs. Cisco's Intercloud strategy is aimed at solving this problem, but it's something for which all cloud providers should strive.

Fond Farewell
I'd like to add one final note to my thoughts on Enterprise Connect 2015. At the end of the event, Fred Knight, program co-chair and general manager, announced he is retiring from the show. He mentioned he would come as an attendee but he has handed the management reins over to co-chair Eric Krapf, who is also editor of No Jitter. This transition is a little like the San Francisco 49ers going from Joe Montana to Steve Young, so I don't expect the show to be impacted at all.

We'll all miss FredEx (because he delivers), I do want to congratulate him on his retirement and on the past 25 great shows and sincerely offer my thanks to him for the role he's played in shaping this industry. If there were a UC Hall of Fame, I'd wave the five-year waiting period and vote him into it today! Thank you Fred and see you in 2016.