The Keynotes of EC12
The big common themes in the presentations were mobility, clouds, video conferencing, and collaboration. Several of the keynotes also stressed interoperability.
Enterprise Connect is a highly focused conference on unified communications and collaboration. Each year, I look forward to the keynotes--they provide a glimpse of both vision and current realities of state of the art enterprise communications. This year, there were five keynotes: Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft, Siemens Enterprise, and IBM.
The keynote sessions provide an opportunity to assess each company's take on the current market, and see how what they are doing with their products. Some people complain about the demos, but I think they are important. Demos seal the deal in the vision--more than just talk, let's see what you are bringing to market.
Each keynote is 45 minutes long. The vendors go to great lengths to maximize each second. You might think that these fierce competitors have nothing in common, but that simply is not true: their similarities outweigh their differences. I'm pretty sure all of the major vendors exhibiting at Enterprise Connect agreed to each bring an iPad app and cloud story this year. The big common themes in the presentations were mobility, clouds, video conferencing, and collaboration. Several of the keynotes also stressed interoperability.
What makes a great keynote? That varies by the individual, but what I look for is a report card, articulate vision, announcements, customer feedback, flawless demonstrations, and a compelling delivery. That seems reasonable, but only two of the five delivered all that. One skipped the demo completely, and two experienced technical difficulties.
That was a bit ironic really as a common theme was to downplay the technology this year. It was actually one of the strongest messages--that the technology alone isn't the solution and we need to be looking beyond it for true productivity improvements. Brett Shockley, SVP/GM from Avaya said the problem with presence, is that, "It's mostly about making it easy for people to interrupt you." OJ Winge, SVP/GM at Cisco repeated several times that he and Cisco "don’t care"--about devices, platforms, and deployment models--that the focus needs to be on people. Kirk Koenigsbauer Corporate VP, Microsoft Office Division said, "customers don't want to be in the business of running what does not differentiate themselves."
Chris Hummel, CMO/GM-North America of Siemens Enterprise compared various technologies to stovepipes, and blamed the focus on technology for not delivering on the promise of UC. Then Alistair Rennie, GM at IBM Software Group declared that "We have no shortage of technology; we need context."
So the stage was set for productivity and competitiveness rather than speeds and feeds. Of course, these speakers and vendors had some different approaches to solving these challenges, but the solutions had overlap too. Particularly around iPads, BYOD, mobility, video, and the cloud.
Every demonstration featured an iPad. Siemens didn't do a demonstration, but does offer iOS clients for communication and collaboration. Chris Hummel also stated that their future desktop phones (no one else mentioned phones) will use mobile chipsets to ensure a consistent experience.
All of the keynotes highlighted video conferencing, several included one-click to connect for remote external users. Cisco used the keynote to launch and demonstrate its new TX9000 telepresence solution. Siemens' Chris Hummel pulled a prototype device out of his pocket that will convert televisions to video conference systems. Microsoft and Avaya talked about the pervasive opportunity that video enabling desktops and tablets offers. IBM talked about the power of escalating a social connection to IM, voice, and/or video.
All of the keynote vendors except Cisco offer a direct hosted service now. Cisco takes a different approach with its UC-focused Hosted Collaboration Solution (HCS), which it distributes through through service provider channels. OJ Winge stated Cisco has signed up more than 2 million customers with commitments over the next two years. Avaya used the keynote to launch its new cloud service brand AvayaLive. But they all agreed the cloud is not enough--each vendor stressed the importance of offering a choice to customers between cloud, premises, and hybrid deployment models.
The keynotes were not all the same--only aspects of their visions overlapped. They each brought a unique perspective to enterprise communications.
Avaya believes presence needs to be upgraded with more intelligence and context, something it calls Awareness. Cisco continues to promote telepresence rooms and systems. Video is even more important with distributed workforces, and Cisco believes mobile devices will drive productivity in what it calls the post-PC Era. Microsoft prefers to describe the times as a post-PBX era, and brought customers on stage that are eliminating hundreds of them. IBM believes the future lies in the power of social interactions, and wants to optimize productivity through online communities. Siemens Enterprise has its focus on a single unifying infrastructure and APIs.
The keynotes set the stage, but the exhibit hall backed it up. iPads and other mobile or video devices were abundant; presence/IM, and APIs with SDKs were bountiful for premises, hosted, and hybrid solutions. The big differences between vendors are hard to see at a conference--the pricing, the complexity, the bundling, and the interoperability. Also, even more important to many is the specific migration path--from what customers have today to what they saw at the conference.
Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and independent analyst at TalkingPointz.com