Regarding UC's Future: Toss Out What You've Known
As the unified communications industry continues to transform, all that was predictable is now in flux. Here are eight examples.
I've given up on year-end forecasts because this darn industry moves at a crawl. Consider that I incorrectly predicted HD desktop video for years. The technology did arrive, but so slowly that I find pinpointing an actual "when" hard to do.
I can't blame the vendors; they're moving quickly and delivering plenty of innovation. But customers take decades to get on board. Glaciers recede faster. So instead of making predictions, I'll simply pontificate on the future of communications.
The industry is undergoing phenomenal, unprecedented and extraordinary change. Twenty years ago, vendors competed on speeds and feeds. Imitations happened more than innovation, and declaring a leader was as fruitless as announcing varsity leapfrog.
The buzzword for unified communications continues to be transformation, though the term now applies more to the industry than the technology's use. Presence/instant messaging, mobility and video are table stakes. In flux now are all the things we previously considered rock solid and predictable. Here are eight examples.
- Globalization: The old rules favored local players -- Ericsson did well in Scandinavia, Siemens in Germany and Mitel (via BT branding) in the U.K. Nortel and Avaya dominated the Americas. NEC, Toshiba and Panasonic were strong in Asia. IP flattens the world. Ericsson ended up in Dallas via Canada, China Huaxin is the leader in France, and Huawei is doing well in Canada. Global players have always existed, but globalization is eliminating the home court advantage. This represents more of a threat than an opportunity. The largest smartphone maker in the world quite possibly will soon be Xiaomi.
- Brands: Quick, recite a UC tagline. If you had trouble, it's understandable why so many brands are undergoing makeovers. Brands are much less important. Loyalty is fading coincidentally along with capital commitments. Unify rebranded in 2013. Mitel relaunched in 2014. Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise is expected to rebrand this year. Microsoft will drop one of the fastest growing enterprise brands (Lync) and expand/create a new brand -- Skype for Business (see my UCStrategies post, Goodbye Lync). Customer retention is becoming as important as new sales. Portfolios are expanding into uncharted (unbranded) areas.
- Complexity: For decades, complexity sold. Anyone could build a simple solution, but advanced solutions required years of evolution. The three most powerful attributes of an enterprise communications system were: features, features, features. Somewhere we hit the complexity threshold. Customers are demanding simplicity. The small and medium are flocking to the cloud for outsourced solutions. Enterprise accounts are asking solution integrators to figure it all out. Forget offsite training, webinars and manuals -- intuitive is all that matters.
- Channels: Historically the key attributes of a successful channel partner included skills, inventory, ladders and trucks. But now that industry-standard boxes dominate the hardware business, trucks, ladders and inventory are liabilities. Even when a channel partner makes a big win, it still displaces many more partners due to centralization. The keys to channel success now include services such as project management, licensing expertise, training, vertical specialization, design and savviness on interoperability.
- Disruption: Yes, somehow this new term became an old term. But disruption isn't going away, it's getting worse. The real competition isn't coming from the usual suspects but rather the next big thing. The barriers to creating new companies or new communications solutions have never been lower. WebRTC is spawning all kinds of new ideas.
- Security: A general sense of helplessness surrounds information security and integrity, with frightening examples of how weak the mechanisms are that protect our interconnected lives. Everyone wants, and is generally getting, your private information -- be that medical records, location or shopping habits. Intruders lurk everywhere -- smartphone apps, email, paper mail, websites and elsewhere. The same is true for businesses; many visible breaches took place in 2014, including those at Sony, Target, Home Depot and literally hundreds more. The problem is getting worse, not better. Accountability is easier to control and manage than the thieves, so expect slow and big changes.
The Corporate and Auditing Accountability and Responsibility Act of 2002 (Sarbanes-Oxley) was the direct result of financial mistrust and abuses at firms such as Enron and WorldCom. Over the next few years it's quite likely that IT security will follow suit. I expect to see an increase in liability, even prison sentences for IT and corporate leaders, as well as vendors, for negligent behavior regarding information security.
- Video: Video cameras are everywhere, but still on the periphery of enterprise communications. Video will rapidly expand beyond just conferences and into workflow. How and where we use video will radically expand -- without headphones and with better lighting, improved graphics and alternatives to YouTube for recording.
- Collaboration: Since the PBX transformed into UC, collaboration has been the coveted outcome. The initial problem was adapting in-person activities, such as meetings and water cooler chats, to accommodate distributed teams. Even if you personally work in an office, other team members likely work elsewhere. UC technologies such as voice over IP, IM/presence and video are certainly key enablers, but not the end-all. Effective collaboration requires new methods, practices and disciplines. We have more Inboxes -- not only for our multiple email accounts but also for our social, SMS, enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management and IM accounts -- than ever before, and this is placing enormous pressure on prioritization and communications. As a result, expect a major migration toward workflow-based communications (sometimes referred to as communications-enabled business processes) and improved solutions for conversation management.
As a side note -- we'll probably see a few such collaboration-enabling products at the Innovation Showcase at Enterprise Connect Orlando in March. The Innovative Showcase intends to introduce new solutions or solutions newly focused toward enterprise communications, and this year we're focusing on collaborative solutions. Existing and proven solutions for collaboration exist within ecosystems such as a CRM and also live on their own (increasingly as mobile apps). Get information on the Innovation Showcase here.
Dave Michels is a Contributing Editor and Analyst at TalkingPointz.
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