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Predicting the Future

I begin many consulting engagements with an exercise that tries to predict the future of the market the client competes in. While no one can be 100% accurate on these predictions, those who can keep an open mind and stay objective, and who pay attention to the facts--and to history--do a better job at planning for and making strategic decisions.Note, however, that past is not always prologue; you need to consider more than history alone. A decade ago, most of the members of the telephony industry -- equipment suppliers, service providers and analysts - couldn't or wouldn't foresee the profound changes that would accompany IP. That reluctance or inability to shed their past created a huge opportunity, and now Cisco has become the leading IP-PBX supplier.

While much of what follows is aimed at the vendor community, these comments can also help enterprises make better decisions. Vendors will try to predict the competitive landscape, and enterprises will try to predict which vendors will survive and flourish in the future. In many respects, the two sides are looking at mirror images of the same analysis.

As the UC market evolves, vendors need to understand where their company and products fit into the competitive landscape for the short and long-term. There are several key issues to consider:

* Which vendors have the best chance of success based on their dominance in a related product or services area? For example, Microsoft is the dominant market leader in PC operating systems with Windows, Cisco with networking, Oracle with databases and IBM with services. Microsoft, Cisco and IBM already have moved aggressively into UC, while Oracle and others certainly are well positioned to do so.

* Which competitor is best organized for success? Are their products developed based on market feedback or on the intuition of the development team? How do the incentives for their sales teams reinforce or detract from their UC programs? Can the company quickly integrate acquired products and companies? Major vendors often don't hold up well under scrutiny on all of these issues, and it is important to remember that as they working through some of these, they may be creating a window of opportunity for new entrants.

* Does a major vendor have a gap in its product offering that can create an opportunity for your company to capture? If a major vendor plans to enter your market space, would a strategic alliance with them give you the runway you need to reengineer your product line or company? A good example is Microsoft's upfront acknowledgment that it would provide call control as part of OCS. Even though most PBX vendors view Microsoft as a competitor in call control, some have been making sales over the past 18 months by working as a partner with Microsoft even as Microsoft works on adding more PBX-like functionality to the next release of OCS and the PBX vendors reposition their product line.

* What are your strategic partnership opportunities? No vendor has a complete UC offering, and strategic partnerships are taking on increased importance to help provide total solutions. If you become a strategic partner, try to become the preferred partner rather than just one of many.

With an industry that is evolving and an economy that is impacting every business--and every business decision -- it is critical that both vendors and customers spend time trying to predict the future as they plan their UC strategy. I hope the list above helps get you started as you evolve your UC strategy, and I welcome your thoughts, either direct at mailto:[email protected] or posted on NoJitter.