Will Enterprises Be Left Standing on the UC Platform?
Everybody assumes the next stage is one where the PBX disappears somehow or other. But what comes next?
We've had some spirited debates going on here over the past few weeks, centering around some of the basic issues of Unified Communications. One such discussion takes off from Dave Stein’s recent post about the nature of the UC decision: Is it a platform decision, or a business case decision? Dave's position is that enterprises are adopting UC because it happens to be the next/current communications platform, rather than because they've identified specific business value to it.
I tend to think he's right about that. And it's not because UC doesn't have business value, or that the UC industry doesn't know where it's headed, or what UC is supposed to really be. It's because enterprises don't know where they're headed--and that's because no plausible "next stage" has presented itself. Use cases are in the process of being sorted out, but we're far from any broad consensus about what role voice is going to play in communications going forward.
When voice over IP (VOIP) technology emerged, it soon became clear that there would be a staged, orderly migration from TDM-based PBXs to IP-based PBXs. That made for a fairly clean decision: Keep the TDM stuff as long as you could, and migrate to the IP stuff when you had to. There would be cost savings in the form mainly of reduced interoffice trunking costs, bringing audio conferencing in house, and SIP trunks (eventually) for PSTN access.
You weren't looking to fundamentally change your approach to voice communications because it was 2005 and there was no such thing as the iPhone, and so most people were resigned to having desk phones and landlines. Cisco early adopters like Bank of America's Craig Hinkley were telling VoiceCon audiences that "dial-tone is a God-given right."
Everyone believed that IP could enable more than just old-school telephony, but nobody quite knew what that future technology was. And for the most part, while we know several things that it could be, we still don't have a compelling thing that it surely must be (if anything). In the meantime, when you hear about the business case for UC systems like Microsoft Lync, you tend to hear about...reduced interoffice trunking costs, bringing audio conferencing in house, and SIP trunks (eventually) for PSTN access.
Everybody assumes the next stage is one where the PBX disappears somehow or other, fading into the woodwork as the UC platform supplies voice functionality to business applications or software clients that also support instant messaging and video. But Dave Stein, in responding to Comments on his post, sees this as a very gradual process, if it happens at all: "I think we'll see voice around as a standalone application for a long time as well as UC and other implementations," he writes "The point I was making in the article is that the business cases for UC seem to be limited (i.e. not ubiquitous). The uptake in UC licenses seem much more of a platform decision."
One of the other Commenters on Dave's article, Jim Bell, put his finger on what I think the real issue is when we talk about the market directions. Jim's Comment read in part: "As I read recent posts on this site I sensed a frustration that UC adoption was not happening as rapidly as some thought it should or, more precisely, as they hoped it would. Well, there is nothing that that causes buyer caution more than an industry that seems to be redefining itself every several months."
With vendors jockeying for position in whatever this future communications world is going to be, I'm not optimistic that this constant redefining will end any time soon. In the meantime, enterprises will keep doing what they do...make platform decisions.