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Is a New Model Needed?

Convergence… What was once considered to be telecom's Holy Grail is largely taken for granted. And with good reason: It's hard to think of a piece of gear--from hand-helds and desktops, to switches and servers, to network access and transmission equipment--that isn't multi-functional, equally adept at working with voice, video and data over a mix of wired and wireless networks. Our communications is more converged, more unified, than at any time in history, and the direction and slope of this curve isn’t going to change.

The ongoing blurring of technology boundaries has resulted in a major shakeup among the vendors. Nobody can argue that Cisco has a grip on the lead, but if Microsoft's Lync turns out to be to all--or even most--of what it's cracked up to be, Cisco will face its strongest challenge to date. Meanwhile, Avaya is trumpeting Aura as the path to the future for two huge groups of customers--its own and Nortel's--and the combined size of its installed base is an enormous potential asset. Meanwhile, IT giants like IBM and HP are shoring up their communications and collaboration portfolios and are already having an impact on buyers' decisions.

And, of course, there's the Cloud. An altogether new delivery system for communications and collaboration apps, and it has much appeal: Slash your capital budget and maybe your headcount as well. In this crappy economy, no enterprise can afford not to consider what the Cloud has to offer. Seeing the Cloud opportunity, Skype just hired a new CEO, Tony Bates, who knows the enterprise market well--Skype spirited him away from Cisco where he led its Enterprise and SMB businesses.

So let's review the bidding--converged, unified communications has arrived, and while the there are still significant gaps--interoperability and management tools being high on the list--the impact of UC is already being felt. Many UC deployments are aimed at narrowly-defined targets of opportunity, and before major rollout can occur, there is a need to re-examine the existing communications and collaboration requirements and systems, and make decisions about architecture and focus.

And there are new players, as well as many familiar vendors who are in the process of redefining themselves. The net result: It can no longer be taken for granted that the vendor partners you had in previous decades are going to be your partners in the decade to come.

These inter-related issues form the backdrop against which we’ll present our first Enterprise Connect conference, Feb 28-Mar 3, and finding ways to cope with them will be the cornerstone of the conference sessions and, I'm sure, the expo floor as well. Two programs, in particular, merit your attention.

On Tuesday, March 1, our opening general session will feature a panel of IT execs giving their take on whether a new model is needed for enterprise communications and collaboration. For example, we’re all used to making architecture decisions--and vendor partner decisions--based on the three traditional pillars of enterprise communications--voice, data and video. But will that triad continue to be relevant in a converged, unified environment? Will the familiar triad be replaced with a new one--choices organized around the desktop, the network and the Cloud?

And for two days during Enterprise Connect, on February 28 and March 1, we’re running a special Strategies Summit. Targeted at the top of enterprise IT organizations, the Summit will focus on a few linchpin issues--the choice of platform, the readiness of the Cloud, and getting communications/collaboration strategies aligned with data center strategies--that will determine both how organizations proceed in the coming decade and with which partners.

These foundation issues have been smoldering for some time and it'll take more than a few sessions at Enterprise Connect to resolve them. But it's critical that the job start sooner rather than later, and in Orlando we intend to get things moving in the right direction. Registration is open and I hope to see you there.