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A Look Back at Unified Communications in 2013

A year of M&A activity, executive changes, new products and more.

The year is almost over and oh, what a year we had--some M&A activity, executive changes, new products and a bunch of other events. Here are the newsworthy items and other trends that I thought stood out above all others:

The Year of Lync
Without a doubt, 2013 will be remembered as the year Lync moved out of the labs and into the mainstream. Almost every reseller and systems integrator I speak to tells me that a significant number of their customers are asking for Lync today. Prior to 2013, Microsoft had focused on getting customers to deploy Lync for chat and presence. This year, Microsoft and many of its partners pushed customers to trial Lync voice, and while I think Microsoft still has some challenges with voice, the company certainly legitimized itself as a voice vendor.

Lync mobile also has much better feature parity on non-Microsoft devices, which had previously been a huge Achilles heel for the company. These are the primary reasons that reseller and customer interest in Lync is at an all-time high. Additionally, a number of vendors, such as Polycom and Aastra, launched Lync-compatible phones to complement the Lync-optimized phones on the market, giving customers a broader set of IP phones to choose from.

Operating System Flops
This year saw the release of two highly anticipated operating systems--Blackberry 10 and Windows 8.1. Blackberry 10 was supposed to be the new OS that would re-ignite Blackberry into being a strong #3 to Apple and Android. Windows 8.1 was supposed to fix many of the complaints of Windows 8 and drive customers to upgrade their PC operating systems. However, both operating systems flopped and did nothing to stop the exodus of users away from these platforms. It's certainly hurting Microsoft, but the company is shifting focus to cloud and mobile. For Blackberry, it's not quite time to turn out the lights, but they are certainly dimming.

Oracle Buys into Communications
When you have the kind of capital that Larry Ellison and Oracle have, you can do a lot of things. You could sponsor the America's Cup team, blow off your own keynote at Oracle OpenWorld and then watch your team come from behind to win the cup. Or you could buy the Hawaiian island of Lanai. Well, Ellison did both and then ponied up the money to buy both Tekelec, the market leader in Diameter signaling, and session border controller (SBC) market leader Acme Packet. For those who didn't think Oracle was a serious communications player, think again--they're here to stay.

Rich McBee Lights a Fyre at Mitel and Tells the Industry to Kiss Mi-Aastra
This was certainly a year of change for the previously-beleaguered Mitel. When the year started, Mitel stock was hovering around $3/share and it's fair to say the company had execution issues. CEO Rich McBee cleaned some things up operationally and created a leaner, more competitive Mitel, and today the stock sits at just under $10/share, so kudos to you Mr. McBee.

Along the way, Mitel acquired contact center vendor PrarieFyre and then later acquired Aastra. PrarieFyre gives Mitel a strong product to go after the emerging mid-market opportunity, and Aastra does expand Mitel's share and channel. Although, as I pointed out in my blog, I do think there are some integration issues, the company is clearly stronger today than it was going into the year. As a next step, I'd like to see Mitel acquire Magor and add video to its portfolio.

Cisco Reboots Collaboration Leadership
In late 2012, Rowan Trollope assumed the helm of Cisco's collaboration business. Since then many of the names we've all come to know--Kara Wilson, Barry O'Sullivan, David Hsieh, OJ Winge, Julie O'Brian and Lynn Lucas to name a few--all cut ties with Cisco and moved on to other roles outside the company. Even some folks, like Roberto De La Mora, have switched roles inside Cisco, completely changing the face of Cisco collaboration.

For the most part, the collaboration leadership team at Cisco is a number of new faces and I think a good move for Cisco. Rowan's mission is to simplify Cisco collaboration in all areas--licensing, ease of use, interoperability, deployment and so on. It seems he's having a positive impact, as the collaboration unit had its first quarter of order growth recently after several quarters of being flat.

Avaya Scores a Hat Trick with the Hiring of Pierre-Paul Allard
Avaya is one of many companies in the technology space that has good stuff but hasn't always executed well in the area of sales. Avaya made a key hire this year, one of the most important of Kevin Kennedy's tenure as CEO, and that was to steal Pierre-Paul Allard away from Cisco to head up worldwide sales and field operations for Avaya. Feedback from the Avaya salesforce and channel has been universally positive as Allard has made a huge difference with sales execution. Allard is an A-level ice hockey player and fellow Canadian, but it's more likely his Cisco experience that is contributing to his success with Avaya.

Siemens Enterprise Communications Becomes Unify
The fact that Siemens Enterprise Communications rebranded wasn't really a surprise to anyone, as the company was supposed to have gone through the rebranding process last year. However, product delays and a sluggish economy postponed the rebranding into 2013.

Early in 2013, the company announced its new platform, code named Project Ansible, which it positioned as the foundation for virtual meetings. Late in the year, the rebranding finally happened and the world was introduced to Unify, complete with a slick logo and a cool tag line of "Harmonize Your Enterprise." Then to top it off, CMO Chris Hummel, and CEO, Hamid Akhavan announced they were leaving, the latter of whom was replaced with new CEO Dean Douglas. All in all, it was a busy year for Unify.

Amazon Launches Mayday
In September of 2013, Amazon launched a remote support application for Kindle called Mayday. The way it works is, you simply click a button and up pops a Mayday window, and the virtual agent can converse with you, point to things on your screen and even control the Kindle remotely. First, from a competitive standpoint, it shows what a joke Apple's Genius Bar is. Second, it's a great example of a video-enabled application. Users don't need to think about launching a "video conferencing" session. They simply want help and when they click the button, everything is integrated. Video vendors, take note--this is the ease of use you all should strive for.

One more notable event in 2013, and that's Eric Krapf's Blackhawks beat my beloved Bruins to win the Stanley Cup, forcing me to be featured on NoJitter wearing a Patrick Kane jersey. All I can say as a rebuttal is that the Red Sox won the World Series and you Cubs fans, well you got Theo Epstein. How's that working out for you?

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