Death of the Desk Phone, Part Whatever-We're-Up-To-Now
It's becoming an article of faith that the desk phone's best days are behind it. That might even be true.
This article on Forbes.com struck me for the casualness with which it tossed around the phrase, "the desk phone's demise" and various equivalents. The author focuses primarily on the telephone as a sales tool--or, in her case, as a tool for blocking sales attempts--but I don't think her basic take on the desk phone's utility is off base for a lot of other types of knowledge workers:
"The desk phone’s demise began when we went overboard using technology to replace one-to-one relationship building with one-to-many communications.... By bombarding [buyers] we replaced sharing valuable information with a cacophony of noise. Buyers, in turn, used technology to effectively shut us out."
Again, this author isn't really talking about using the phone as a collaboration tool, they way a lot of us frame our thoughts when we're thinking about how enterprises use phones. But her larger point rings true--that social communications--and multiple other channels for interacting with the people with whom we do business--have diminished the role of the desk phone.
But is the oft-predicted demise of the desk phone really at hand? Alaa Sayed, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan, tweeted out some statistics from his research recently that make a pretty compelling case that the transition from hard phones to soft clients really is well under way:
* "Year 2013 is expected to close hard on Cisco's IP desktop phone numbers, with a negative growth rate in terms of unit shipment."
* "In 2013 both Avaya and Cisco are expected to end with more than 4M UC clients shipped, perceiving at least 40% growth in comparison to 2012."
* "Cisco's UC client shipment has been growing from 4% of total IP desktop phones + UC client count in 2007 to represent ~44% in 2013
Another tweet notes that, despite major vendors like Cisco seeing declining growth rates in IP phone shipments, "Major SIP phone vendors continued to grow low double-digit figures in terms of units in 2013." This would seem to bolster the idea that desk phones may still be a useful appliance for certain types of users, but that it's increasingly likely to be a low-end, commodity type of purchase.
I think Dave Michels probably put the state of the (office-based, at least) endpoint most succinctly when he wrote at UC Strategies: "The popular debate is hard phone vs. softphone, not no phone." The only way that's not the case is if enterprises start massively cutting the cord and just going all-cell phone with their work forces. That could happen, though it hasn't yet.
We're actually going to be exploring both of those issues at Enterprise Connect in a couple of months. Dave Michels is going to be moderating a session we've dubbed, Reports of the Desk Phone's Demise are Not Exaggerated, in which Dave will, in his inimitable style, draw out conflicting opinions from various interested parties. And Michael Finneran, who's written for No Jitter about the struggle to go all-mobile, will chair a session entitled, "Evaluating the All-Mobile Option."
I think we are already into a new era of the desk phone. The days of figuring that one-third or more of your procurement cost was going to come in the form of desk phones--those days are gone. Doesn't mean you'll be spending any less on endpoints, by the way. Client licenses are a whole new area of cost evaluation, no less complex than having to figure out which executive gets which buttons on his or her phone.