'Change' Is in the Air for Enterprise Communications
Perspectives from an industry thought leader and IT professionals show the evolving views on voice and other communications services.
I want to call your attention to two of this month's pieces on UCStrategies.com, both for their focus on some of the fundamental changes charging through our business. The first is a podcast I did with Jonathan Rosenberg, Cisco fellow and VP/CTO for Cisco's Collaboration business, and the second is an article by telecom analyst Jon Arnold about a survey on modern business communications from UCaaS provider Dialpad.
Both of these pieces bring a view of where the business communications market is heading, and discuss what users and value-added resellers (VARs) need to know as they prepare for the future. When it comes to gleaning insights on what's going on in enterprise communications, it's hard to find anyone with more depth than Jonathan. His career includes stints working on SIP at the Lucent Technologies research lab as well as at SIP infrastructure provider Dynamicsoft, which landed him at Cisco when it acquired that company in 2004. A brief sojourn took him to Skype, and then Microsoft, before he returned to Cisco in 2013. Today he is one of only 13 Cisco fellows, the company's most senior technical position.
Value in the End Point
The interesting thing about Jonathan is that most of what he talks about are issues related to integrating with business workflows, adoption, and user experience -- this despite his panoply of technical achievements. As is typical with Jonathan, the subject matter tackled in the podcast is wide ranging. One of his first points is the user experience with personal technologies, and how that is shaping their expectations for enterprise communications tools.
Not surprisingly, a lot of the podcast conversation dealt with Cisco Spark, in particular how the company intends to drive its sale, and how Spark stacks up against offerings from Slack and Microsoft. Jonathan describes a three-pronged approach starting with the freemium viral component, delivering a familiar user experience modeled on consumer technologies, and finally backing the offering with resources only Cisco can muster, including "an army of sales guys."
Going forward, the real key is having APIs that allow other applications to provide value-added functionality by integrating Spark's capabilities and to lock customers in for the long term, he told me during the podcast. That will likely entail more VARs getting into development so they can meet customer needs for customized applications.
Jonathan said he also sees some real differences between what Cisco is offering vis-a-vis some of the consumer capabilities. With regard to Slack, the main difference is real-time communications, obviously Cisco's forte. Of course, with Slack's acquisitions of Spaces and Screenhero, we haven't heard the last of the company's capabilities in terms of screen sharing and real-time communications.
He also had an interesting observation regarding WhatsApp and the difficulties enterprise customers might face with it. In particular, the messaging company's security might be too good and not accessible by IT. He notes that the app's security "is so heavily encrypted that not only can WhatsApp not access it, neither could an IT department." He went on to say, "It would be so secure that their information security team couldn't get access to any messages in case there was a subpoena issued or some digital data loss that they had to forensically investigate. Who leaked the company memo through WhatsApp?"
Jonathan said he sees value in well-integrated end points. "We think the fact that we make the endpoint hardware integrated into our solution is a huge differentiator," he said. That is where he takes a different tack from what we see in the DialPad survey.
Through Lab42 Research, DialPad surveyed 1,014 professionals. Roughly half of survey respondents were with SMBs, a quarter from midsize companies (51 to 1,000 employees) and a quarter from enterprise customers (1,000+ employees). The survey focused on remote workers, and found that 84% of respondents supported a remote workforce; at least some employees were allowed to work from home in 67% of organizations.
With regard to the desk phone, 59% of respondents said they believed they were an outdated piece of technology and only 22% saw the desk phone as an "essential tool" three to five years down the road. Nearly two thirds of enterprise and midsize respondents hold that view, as well as a whopping 89% of SMB respondents. Also of note, 45% of respondents said their organizations provide and pay for employee cell phones, and 61% support BYOB plans.
It is interesting to see where Jonathan's views and those presented in the DialPad survey come together. In the DialPad survey, respondents indicated that voice is the most important communications tool for external communications and the second most important tool for internal communications after email. Further, 89% said they believe the phone system should integrate with apps, a view Jonathan certainly shares. Finally, on the importance of text, 89% said they believe the phone system should be able to text mobile devices and external clientele.
It is indeed instructive to see how the two viewpoints in these pieces compare and contrast. To be sure, how people view the importance of traditional voice service is changing, with a shift either to something like Spark or something else entirely. There is growing interest in text as the key new medium, either in a social collaboration tool or something else. Probably the biggest point of agreement is the drive to integrate voice communications into apps.
For enterprise communications, the times certainly are a changing, and both IT professionals and VARs will need to be adjust their viewpoints and their capabilities to get in line with what users will be demanding in the years ahead.