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VoiceCon Reality Check
I'd be remiss if I didn't post "YAVR" (yet another VoiceCon recap) given the tremendous job done by Eric, as well as my fellow NoJitter bloggers. This was my seventh VoiceCon, with my first being the infamous blizzard of 2002, which coincidentally was the last time the conference was held in Washington D.C. before moving to the warmer temperatures of Orlando.
I'd be remiss if I didn't post "YAVR" (yet another VoiceCon recap) given the tremendous job done by Eric, as well as my fellow NoJitter bloggers. This was my seventh VoiceCon, with my first being the infamous blizzard of 2002, which coincidentally was the last time the conference was held in Washington D.C. before moving to the warmer temperatures of Orlando.Without repeating too much of what's already been said, I wanted to expand on a few key themes I saw during my time at the event, both from vendors as well as the end-user attendees that I met or that submitted questions during my sessions. I'll break them down below.
The Business Value of UC - I lead with this theme because I believe this is now the single biggest concern of enterprises IT architects as they plan their organization's UC strategy. The argument that "UC increases productivity" resonates, but typically isn't strong enough to build a business case unless you can show that the 15 minutes or so that one can save a day by not having to look up phone numbers is put to good use rather than providing employees with more time to check fantasy sports stats or converse with friends on Facebook. Instead, the focus now is on top-line benefits of UC, e.g. additional revenue or demonstrable cost savings that UC can enable. We saw a number of vertically-focused solutions from vendors such as Avaya, Cisco, NEC, and Nortel designed to bring specific benefits to organizations as a result of UC, rather than just trying to sell UC for UC's sake ("Click-to-call as the UC value proposition is dead" was a comment I heard from one person).
The reality so far in the enterprise market is that UC adoption lags far behind UC hype. We've consistently found that most enterprises are still focused on VOIP, and while they're listening to the UC marketing hype, they're still not convinced of the immediate need to make significant investments to deliver a full suite of UC services to their users.
The need to build demonstrable business value for UC was a key driver in my opinion of the announcement that Microsoft and Aspect are partnering to integrate Aspect's contact center products with Microsoft OCS 2007. In our research we've found that the "low hanging fruit" for UC is to improve human-to-human transactions requiring faster access to information. In the contact center, these capabilities can easily translate into the top-line benefits I mentioned such as better ability to up-sell, and to answer customer inquiries faster leading to more calls per hour per agent, as well as greater customer satisfaction. I expect that for many organizations, the contact center will be the first place where they achieve widespread deployment of UC, and take the first steps to integrate UC with business processes, as well as with data repositories (and perhaps even social networks) all designed to give contact center agents faster access to the information they need to respond to customer or prospect inquiries.
Interoperability ¬- Eric has already covered the announcement by Microsoft and IBM Lotus to test interoperability of their IM/presence platforms. Indeed as we conduct interviews for a forthcoming benchmark on unified communications and collaboration, we continually find that interoperability is the chief concern of those responsible for planning UC strategies for their organization. But concerns over interoperability and the challenges of delivering UC in a multi-vendor environment go far beyond IM. Not only are organizations continuing to struggle to integrate legacy and emerging voice and video systems, but they continue to face difficulty in integrating those systems with other UC applications including unified messaging and web conferencing (both hosted and on-premise). One interesting product announced at the show was the NextPoint "Unified Communications Exchange", a platform that is in effect a session border controller for internal enterprise use to provide interconnection and translation services for voice, video, and IM services. Vendors such as AVST continue to benefit from the need for interoperable UC application platforms.
Perhaps most importantly, we're seeing considerable concern over interoperability from a management and operations perspective. A number of vendors in the VOIP management space including Prognosis (by Integrated Research) and NetQoS demonstrated platforms that would allow enterprises to integrate management of multi-vendor environments into a single console.
Interoperability concerns also extend to emerging SIP trunking services. While the SIP Forum recently announced the SIPconnect certification program to ensure interoperability between SIP trunking providers and SIP-enabled VOIP gateways, the number of vendors and service providers who have achieved certification is small. Increasingly we're seeing adoption by the enterprise of SBC products from vendors such as Acme Packet and Covergence to both provide security and solve interoperability issues.
Video - You would have had to have slept through VoiceCon to have not noticed the strong emphasis on video from many of the vendors. Whether it was Microsoft and TANDBERG's announcement of plans to deliver a low-cost high-definition USB camera (an announcement which likely made network managers everywhere cringe in anticipation of bandwidth demands), Cisco's high-profile telepresence session with John Chambers and Al Gore, or LifeSize HD video sitting inside ShoreTel's booth, video was everywhere at VoiceCon. We do see a strong and growing interest in high definition video, as well as telepresence, among enterprises we interview. But, interest in desktop video is still weak, again due to lack of a business case to justify bandwidth and management investments.
There were other key themes as well, including a growing emphasis on integrating mobile devices in UC architectures, and concerns about security and governance in the age of UC, but I think the key issue again comes down to the business case. As clear use-cases continue to emerge, I expect we'll see deployments rapidly increase.