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A Long and Winding Road

With apologies to The Beatles, the migration path for enterprise communications and collaboration has turned out to be quite the long and winding road. Until recently, this trek seemed to be proceeding along a fairly predictable path: from TDM to IP, then onto Unified Communications and, from there, embedding UC capabilities into enterprise apps and business processes. While this overall blueprint remains in place, there've been more twists and turns than anyone could have imagined.

There's no question about this road being a long one. R&D on TDM PBXs essentially stopped around 1995-97, as the focus shifted to IP. But while TDM certainly is a shrinking element in enterprise inventories and architectures, there’s still plenty of it out there. While IP-based communications accounts for around 75-80% of new system sales each year, the remaining percent that isn't IP has held stubbornly constant for the past 3-4 years.

But it's in the wide area where enterprises remain most heavily dependent on legacy transport systems and, despite all the attention paid to new gadgets, systems and apps, the dominant element in enterprise communications and collaboration budgets remains transport costs. The conventional wisdom has been that SIP Trunking will bring down those costs--and in many cases it can and it has. But it’s not a slam-dunk.

That was brought out in a pair of posts on No Jitter. The question, "Are SIP Trunk Cost Savings Being Overstated as a Justification for Migrating?" was debated, with Marty Parker arguing "yes," and Sorell Slaymaker arguing "no." Now, the two protagonists may have been arguing past each other, I'll leave that for you to decide, but Marty made a strong case for two key points:

* An IP-PBX isn't a prerequisite for migrating to either SIP Trunks or to UC.
* While SIP Trunks certainly deliver costs savings, UC/Collaboration/Social applications should be the justification for migration.

This debate highlights the importance of focusing on specific goals and objectives and then weighing next steps accordingly. Sounds obvious, I know, but we've all either experienced or heard how colleagues overlooked this fundamental step. If you've already got an IP-PBX--which is the case for the majority of U.S. enterprises--SIP Trunking often is a big cost-saver, not to mention an important architectural element in moving toward full, end-to-end IP. If you have IP-PBXs in some locations and not others, then the decision becomes more complex. But even locations without an IP-PBX can still deploy some UC.

It's in the decision about whether/how to deploy UC that the twists along the migration path become more severe, in part because of two other issues.

The first and, so far, the more significant of the two, is mobility. Simply put, smart phones and tablets have changed the game; while far from perfect, they deliver enough UC to satisfy many enterprises and their users. Eventually, perhaps, we'll all get so hooked on the capabilities these devices provide that we’ll demand them for our office desktops and workspaces-- that'd certainly help UC's proponents.

But I can't shake the feeling that, at least so far, mobility has acted more to slow enterprises moving into UC, simply because people can get much of the benefit via their mobile devices. Mobility is now starting to move into CEBP or what some call UC-B, with the adoption of machine-to-machine (M2M) mobile applications.

The rise of social networks and apps also contributes to the less-than linear path for C&C migration. You'll find contrasting thoughts about the interplay between social and UC on No Jitter--here from Blair Pleasant and here from Melanie Turek.

Melanie makes a point that brings me back to where this post started--we're on a long and winding road to our communications and collaboration future. She writes: "buyers still need to weigh the value of any investment, and since most organizations move about as fast as the Titanic when it comes to up-ending the way they do business (which is, effectively, what UC&C and Social Business are asking them to do). That's gonna take some time. A lot of time, if history is any guide at all." Amen, sister.