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Four Conferences and a Funeral

In the past three weeks, I've been to four analyst conferences, including one in New Orleans where the tradition of jazz funeral processions is alive and well (and hopefully you got the reference to the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral"). By looking at the similarities and common themes across these conferences, we can identify some key trends and industry directions.

In chronological order, I attended analyst conferences for traditional communications and networking companies Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise (ALE), Avaya and NEC, as well for relative newcomer CafeX Communications, which provides innovative customer engagement and collaboration solutions. While each vendor clearly had a unique story to tell, we heard some obvious similarities in the messages, too. The key topics heard repeatedly include application development and embedded communications, various approaches to the cloud, and advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), biometrics, bots, and more.

ALE, Avaya, and NEC are for the most part reinventing themselves as they move beyond UCC to new areas for differentiation. As a much newer player, CafeX isn't reinventing itself, but it is expanding beyond its roots to become an outcome-focused customer engagement and workforce collaboration solutions provider that helps companies transform the customer experience.

Connections, the New Communications

At these events, the term "unified communications" rarely got mentioned. Rather, the vendors focused on innovation and new technology solutions such as Internet of Things (IoT), software-defined or fabric networking, and other technologies. With the exception of CafeX, which introduced an enterprise collaboration solution following out of its January acquisition of mobile-first virtual meeting room provider Vayyoo, communications and collaboration took a back seat to other technology solutions.

CafeX introduced Chime Spaces, a collaboration workspace built to drive business process outcomes. Chime Spaces helps connect individuals within an organization, but more importantly, connects businesses with their customers -- banks with mortgage applicants, insurance companies with policy holders, attorneys with clients, and so on.

Indeed, along with innovation and disruption, "connections" seemed to be a key theme. For example, ALE's vision is "To deliver the customized technology experiences our customers need -- to make everything connect." NEC's vision is "Orchestrating a brighter world," which is about connectivity based on new business solutions, notably IoT, AI, biometrics, and data analytics.

Hybrid Cloud Rules

Not surprising, when discussing their cloud portfolios, ALE, Avaya, and NEC highlighted hybrid solutions as opposed to pure cloud offerings. While these companies all offer public cloud services (Rainbow, Zang, and Univerge Blue, respectively), they all emphasize hybrid configurations that support their existing premises-based or cloud solutions.

In fact, one of ALE's stated goals for 2020 is to be a "leader in hybrid communications." It operates the Rainbow cloud service as an overlay to existing solutions, whether its own or third-party PBXs. ALE calls Rainbow "the glue between PBXs and cloud-based applications," and notes that Rainbow will have minimum UC capabilities so organizations needing full-fledged UC will need to stick with its OpenTouch platform.

Avaya highlighted its Powered by Avaya IP Office cloud offering, which can be deployed in a hybrid environment. Partners hosting IP Office can use the Powered by cloud offering to move their installed bases to the hybrid model.

For its part, NEC noted that today's smart workspaces need smart (hybrid) architectures. The Univerge Blue cloud service relies on the company's Univerge 3C as the core UCC software; using the same software stream for both the premises and the cloud offering makes hybrid configurations possible. Businesses can install telephony equipment on-site and/or utilize cloud services according to their specific needs.

As a relatively new vendor with no legacy equipment or installed base to deal with, CafeX didn't focus on hybrid solutions. However, it did note that it will offer a pervasive video collaboration solution, called Chime Meetings, as a pure-cloud or hybrid solution.

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