Key Takeaways from Enterprise Connect 2013
Well, the 2013 version of Enterprise Connect is behind us now, and the show seemed to have more energy and activity than other shows in years past. This wasn't your typical Enterprise Connect, as topics such as interoperability or the cost of VoIP weren't dominating the conference. Instead we saw a number of new topics take center stage in a big way, particularly true mobility (see this post and visual conversations (I'll get to this later). Overall, a great conference, well worth the four-day investment. Here are my key takeaways from Enterprise Connect 2013:
* Conferencing is dead. Well, not really dead but certainly heading that way. Now, that doesn't mean tools like web, audio and video conferencing are going away. Rather they are becoming integrated components of a larger collaboration platform that includes conferencing tools as well as chat, shared white board, etc. Conferencing indicates single-purpose tools that are used independently. At this show there were many demos that showed the "unification" of these to deliver more efficiently. I've been using the term "visual conversations" to describe this type of environment. It's actually the lead report currently on zkresearch.com if you want to check out in more detail what I mean by visual conversations.
* Lync has arrived. Although I thought the Derek Burney keynote wasn't exactly earth shattering (I really didn't need to see Microsoft prove they can set up users and make calls), I do think the Lync era is upon us. Many of the customers I ran into there were looking at Lync now. Also, most of the larger system integrators and telcos are building Lync practices to complement their Cisco ones. Whether you believe Microsoft can do real time or not, Lync is going to get many, many looks from customers, and it appears to be here to stay.
• It's WebRTC time. There may have been no hotter topic at Enterprise Connect than WebRTC. The WebRTC sessions were packed and a number of the video vendors I talked to had either adopted or were in the process of implementing it. Now, we've had other Web enabled video technologies before, such as HTML5, but WebRTC seems to be much simpler for developers to use than other technologies. However, the industry does seem to be building yet another video island, which could slow down video ubiquity, as interoperability between these islands remains the video industry's single biggest challenge.
* Software Defined Networking will impact communications. One of my Thursday morning sessions was on the impact that SDNs can have on the software industry. I did this session with the esteemed Terry Slattery and while we weren't exactly in agreement on how to define SDNs, we did agree that SDNs could be used to improve real time communications. In theory, network virtualization could be used to isolate traffic such as video and VoIP, similar to MPLS. However, MPLS does not create total isolation of network traffic, meaning SDNs could allow for more granular traffic engineering.
* Innovation is back in UC. I must admit that a few years ago I was concerned that the UC industry was starting to look a little old and tired. The same vendors and the same themes were coming up over and over again. At this year's show there were a number of innovative, smaller companies such as Plivo, Twilio, Magor and best of Enterprise Connect winner Voxeo. During the Locknote, I asked co-chair Fred Knight how many vendors were exhibiting here for the first time. While he didn't know the exact number he did say it was well above the 10-15% number that has been a historical benchmark. I think this is great for this industry and should keep the innovation engine going for the foreseeable future.
* Managing UC remains a headache. I co-moderated the UC management panel with Eric Krapf on Thursday morning. While everyone was of the opinion that UC management was needed, it was hard to understand where organizations should start. One of the problems is that there's not a really good understanding of what UC management is. The network industry used a model called FCAPS (Fault, Configuration, Accounting, Performance and Security) but there's no "FCAPS" equivalent for UC. There are very good monitoring companies such as panelist NetScout and great provisioning vendors such as VOSS. UC security seems to be its own specialty, and there's no real sense of accounting in UC. Unfortunately, in today's market, any company wanting a robust UC solution would need to cobble together their own solution through the use of at least 3-4 different tools to effectively manage, monitor and secure UC.
Overall I was excited about what I saw at this year's show, as we're talking more about things that can drive UC into a new wave of growth. Looking forward to Enterprise Connect 2014!