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Reflecting on Enterprise Connect 2015

Enterprise Connect 2015 is in the books, with my time at last week's event spent co-chairing the WebRTC Conference-in-a-Conference, delivering a session on UC in the cloud, and meeting with more than 30 enterprise organizations, vendors, and service providers. In these conversations, several key themes emerged: cloud confusion, WebRTC comes of age, and the upheaval from the introduction of team messaging into the UC and collaboration market.

Clouds Still Overhead
Despite the hype, cloud represents a dilemma for enterprise IT, which wants the benefits of flexible scale, greater resiliency, and more predictable billing models without the need to undertake major server upgrade projects. But as enterprise IT shifts to the cloud, it is facing challenges related to security, governance, data management, geographic expansion, and perhaps most importantly, cost.

Nemertes' latest IP telephony/UC TCO research data shows that most moves to cloud are predicated on saving money, but in reality operational costs are higher in the first year for cloud than they are for on-premises solutions. This, our research shows, is largely due to the extra work that companies are putting in to make sure their cloud efforts succeed.

Those in regulated industries continue to struggle to realize cloud's benefits due to security and data management concerns that still often cause risk managers to prohibit widespread cloud adoption. And the cloud landscape continues to confuse as IT leaders assess a wide variety of deployment options including SaaS, private-hosted, managed, multitenant, single-tenant, and more. They are still trying to figure out how to bridge on-premises and cloud platforms, and how to federate among different cloud providers (for example, voice to email/calendar to CRM to video conferencing). Fortunately the range of options continues to improve.

WebRTC for Real
As became clear at this year's conference, almost every vendor now has a WebRTC story, and increasingly that includes actual shipping products. During the WebRTC track, all the early discussion about WebRTC's limitations due to standards battles and lack of a ubiquitous video codec turned into a discussion of how WebRTC was already powering solutions like distance learning and telemedicine. WebRTC is quickly moving from being a technology that people investigate to being a technology that is part of a solution that people buy. I think you'll see less and less discussion of "is WebRTC ready?" and more discussion of the solutions that people are deploying that leverage WebRTC benefits.

As Brent Kelly, my track co-chair and president of KelCor, noted, more than 200 WebRTC-based products and services already are available today. I think people will find that they are using WebRTC long before they made the conscious decision to deploy it.

Gunning for Slack
The final big theme was the rise of team chat applications. During one meeting, when asked which vendor made the biggest splash at the show, I answered, "Slack" -- a company that didn't even exhibit. It seemed to me that companies including Cisco with Spark, Unify with Circuit, and Interactive Intelligence with PureCloud Collaborate all clearly have the innovative collaboration startup, complete with all the press attention and funding it's received, in their crosshairs.

Each of these three is trying to leverage its own particular advantage, and its legacy in the voice/video/Web conferencing and contact center worlds, to position a team collaboration application as a new user interface. The interfaces they've created are optimized for mobile; leverage WebRTC for a lightweight, browser-based client; and incorporate social features to enable teams to come together in dedicated workspaces to chat, share files, and even engage in rich media conferences, either with people inside their company or outside of it.

During our WebRTC track a great deal of discussion focused on whether or not WebRTC would enable startup messaging vendors like Redbooth, HipChat, Moxtra, and Slack to leverage WebRTC and challenge incumbent UC providers by providing an alternate environment for voice, video, and screen sharing. As these apps increasingly work their way into the enterprise and add rich media communications capabilities, IT leaders will struggle to determine if their go-forward strategy should remain centered around a single UC application suite for everyone, or whether it should include a variety of stand-alone applications that workgroups may find better meet their collaboration needs.

I expect that the trends around cloud, WebRTC, and team chat applications will generate a great deal of discussion as we move through 2015, and I look forward to continued conversations on these topics. Before long, it will be time to plan for Enterprise Connect 2016!

Adios Amigo
Finally, I'd be remiss if I didn't join my Enterprise Connect and No Jitter colleagues in recognizing the retirement of our patriarch, Fred Knight.

When I first joined the analyst community in 1999, I was an avid reader of Business Communications Review, the long-time must-read network and telecom journal at which Fred served as publisher and general manager. All I ever wanted to do was to write for his magazine, which I was able to do for several years before it transitioned into No Jitter. Fred has served as the guiding hand, along with Eric Krapf, No Jitter editor and new Enterprise Connect general manager, who together have successfully directed Enterprise Connect through the ups and downs of the telecom industry, through its change in direction to encompass more than voice, and to where it now remains firmly entrenched as the must-attend annual enterprise collaboration conference.

I know the show will be in good hands with Eric, but we will all miss Fred's warmth, smile, and friendly engaging personality in future years. Best of luck Fred!

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