Questions for Enterprise Connect Next Week

Enterprise Connect Orlando 2013 takes place next week (there's still time to sign up, by the way). Here are the biggest questions I have about the industry, going into Enterprise Connect, that I hope the show might help to answer or at least inform:

1. How serious are enterprises about WebRTC? We know that certain technology companies--Google chief among them, but also notably Acme Packet--are very serious about WebRTC, and see it as a transformative technology. But it's still a very young technology, meaning that enterprise organizations are not spending a lot of time, at this stage, planning for exactly how to use it. We simply don't know enough about how strategic enterprise vendors--PBX players like Cisco and Avaya, SBC manufacturers like Acme Packet, as well as video providers--will actually implement WebRTC in their products. As a strategic enterprise technology, WebRTC seems like a building block, rather than a catalyst of change all by itself.

So I'll be interested to meet and talk to the enterprise decision-makers who attend our day-long conference within a conference on WebRTC. I'll be curious why they're there, what they think of WebRTC, and how they assess the vision that they hear from the podium from vendors, as well as their take on the WebRTC demos they'll see.

2. How is the Cisco-Microsoft Battle Playing Out? Vendors rarely fire broadsides at their competitors that offer point-by-point critiques of the competitors' products or approaches. This is especially rare when the company that goes on the attack is an incumbent that dominates a particular market. Such a move looks, frankly, like an admission of concern over the challenger's prospects. Yet that's exactly what Cisco did last month by going after Microsoft Lync in a very high-profile way. We've got a really fascinating session led by Phil Edholm, comparing Lync and Jabber--this may not completely track the debate that Cisco touched off last month, but it's certainly going to be part of the conversation.

So what's the lay of the land circa March 2013? Market data from MZA Associates (which will be presented at Enterprise Connect) shows Cisco taking a dominant position in the PBX market as of 2012, which you would think would make them even more secure. But Microsoft is no ordinary challenger, and the PBX market is no ordinary market--or else it's too ordinary, as in, too tied to a legacy architecture and vision of communications. One question within the larger Microsoft-Cisco battle is: What is "voice" market share good for? Is it good for selling desk phones? That used to be the one of the more reliable answers, as desk phones were a cash cow. But if, sooner or later, enterprises stop buying desk phones in large numbers, what does owning the voice market get you? Hopefully it gets you entre into the world of communications-enabled applications and business processes, mobility integration, and video market share.

So the question is: Who's best positioned for the next wave in communications systems: Cisco or Microsoft? And what about all the other companies? Is it really, in Jim Burton's phrase, a two-horse race? If not, what is it that will keep the Avayas, Siemens, ShoreTels, Mitels, NECs, etc. from falling out of contention?

3. Is the Cloud Finally Going to Become a Critical Part of Enterprise Communications? We've been hearing about the cloud for the past several years, and seeing some very impressive growth numbers for cloud services--with the caveat that these numbers show growth off a small base, and a market skewed toward small businesses. So what are larger enterprises doing about the cloud, and what should they be doing? We've got a whole track on Cloud, including a Case Studies session with end users, but I want to call attention to two sessions in particular that I think will be outstanding: Brent Kelly's cloud RFP, which offers a detailed look at how some of the major cloud providers would respond to an enterprise RFP for cloud-based communications; and Elka Popova's market research session, which has great data from Frost & Sullivan, as well as some terrific information on the decision points that should drive enterprise thinking about the cloud.

There are more questions that I have--about the continuing efforts to bring mobility fully under the umbrella of enterprise management; and about whether SIP Trunking will continue to be the single biggest draw for session attendance at the event, as it has been the past several years; and about what our attendees will tell us their biggest concerns are. Next week will be the best chance we'll all have, all this year, to get these and similar vital questions answered, or at least discussed. I hope to see you in Orlando.

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