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Risky Times for Enterprise Communications and Consultants

This current enterprise communications climate is the most risky of any time that I can recall. Sure, we've had risky times in the past... It seemed risky when the Carterfone decision opened up the premises equipment market to non-carriers. It seemed risky when AT&T's local exchange business was broken up into the "Baby Bells." It seemed risky when voice over IP began to replace time division multiplexing for telephone systems and trunks. And, it seemed risky when voice and data smartphones became the device of choice for about 30% of workers in most industries.

Yet each of those waves of change were relatively one-dimensional -- one thing was changing at a time. But not now! In today's environment, we see the entire enterprise communications ecosystem up for grabs. This makes it a very risky and uncomfortable time for enterprise IT and communications leaders and architects, as well as for the consultant community that advises these decision makers.

This risk will be front and center at Enterprise Connect Orlando, March 27-30. You only need to notice that the three announced keynote companies are Cisco, Microsoft, and Twilio to see that things are changing from days past. This year's event will feature a number of sessions that discuss the environment, the risks, and the related choices and contingency planning options, like the panel session I'll be moderating, "Managing for and Through Vendor Consolidation."

Let's take a look at all the moving parts to see where today's risks are coming from:

  • UCaaS: IP-PBX software is now offered in the cloud by several hundred new competitors (see " AWS Moves Up the Stack to UCaaS").
  • CPaaS: Core communications capabilities (call control, networks, PSTN, APIs) are available at commodity pricing for use by any application developer, not just the IP-PBX companies.
  • Workstream Communications and Collaboration (WCC): Messaging-based solutions such as Microsoft Teams, IBM Connections, Google G Suite, Workplace by Facebook, Slack, Atlassian HipChat/Jira, and Jive Software all include real-time communications or connectors. (For a better sense of this space, see this TalkingPointz post from analyst Dave Michels.)
  • Social Networks for Business Communications: This overlaps with the WCC segment mentioned above. Interestingly, none of the IP-PBX companies were in any quadrant of the most recent Gartner Magic Quadrant for Social Software in the Workplace 2105.
  • Communication-Enabled Business Apps (as a service): All of the major business application companies -- both cross-industry and in vertical markets -- such as, SAP, Oracle, and others are including options for UC and real-time communications or connectors.
  • Office Communications Suites: Very economical cloud-based business software suites such as Microsoft Office 365, Google G Suite, and IBM Connections Cloud offer a variety of communications options to meet user and enterprise needs.
  • Mobile Device Capabilities: Major cellular carriers are now integrating the mobile smartphone and tablet with the enterprise dial plan without any need for an IP-PBX license. Some also have fixed-mobile business offerings (see related post) such as Verizon's One Talk and T-Mobile's Digits.
  • New Networking Capabilities: The leaders in session border controllers (SBCs) all offer a directory-enabled gateway capability that can coordinate calls between multiple on-premises and cloud-based communications platforms and services. The IP-PBX is no longer the "owner" of the enterprise communications call routing directory.
  • Usage Profile Communications: With all of these new capabilities, users are expecting communications tools to be designed for their job or specific role. I believe this approach produces better business results at a lower cost (see related posts here and here).

In the face of these changes, the traditional IP-PBX producers are struggling mightily. Many major brands (e.g. Avaya, Siemens/Unify/Atos, Aastra, Ericsson, Alcatel-Lucent, Inter-Tel, and others) have been under stress from mergers or private equity deals in the past decade. In addition to that, many major IP-PBX brands have been trying to expand and grow their revenues and profits through entry into the WCC space (examples include Unify Circuit, Cisco Spark, Mitel MiCollab, Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise Rainbow, Avaya Equinox) only to find that space is already filled by IT powerhouse vendors (Microsoft, IBM, Google, Facebook) and by well-funded startups (Slack, Atlassian Hipchat, and many others). Some of IP-PBX vendors (e.g. Cisco) seem to be pushing toward WCC as an IP-PBX or UCaaS replacement.

In the context of all this simultaneous change, essentially every enterprise communications decision becomes super-risky. Particularly with regard to establishing solutions fitting various usage profiles, it will take great skill for decision makers and consultants to properly identify current requirements and plan for the communications requirements on the horizon for the enterprise. Moreover, these skills are not encouraged by the vendors and have not been required for the one-size-fits-all PBX model of the past.

Even after the requirements are well understood, enterprise decision makers and consultants will need to make some big decisions as to how soon and for what usage profiles will they bet on:

  • Cloud vs. On-Premises solutions, including betting on which vendors will survive for the future
  • Communications built into users' and departments' business applications or social networks vs. WCC solutions from IP-PBX vendors
  • Mobile-only, directory-driven architecture vs. either on-premises or cloud-based IP-PBX licenses
  • Immediate action or wait-and-see timing

Maybe it's a time for care, caution and pilot testing. A small amount of time and money spent on evaluation of the options may clarify the decisions or, at least, make the risks visible for the enterprise and the IT/communications leadership.

I'm looking forward to seeing you at Enterprise Connect Orlando, and talking more about this rapidly evolving space.

Learn more about UC&C trends and technologies at Enterprise Connect 2017, March 27 to 30, in Orlando, Fla. View the Unified Communications & Collaboration track, and register now using the code NOJITTER to receive $300 off an Entire Event pass or a free Expo Plus pass.