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Siemens Bets Big on Project Ansible

Siemens leverages WebRTC for its new UC&C platform, but the key to adoption will be tying into the users' business processes.

Big changes are afoot for Siemens Enterprise Communications (SEN). At its analyst conference in Denver, the company announced that it will rebrand itself this October, and gave the analysts a sneak peak of its new platform.

On day one of the analyst conference, executives from SEN set the stage for these announcements by laying out their view of the challenges facing the industry, and the opportunity for SEN. CEO Hamid Akhavan stated that the company spent a lot of time looking at the trends in the market, recognizing that telecom is going to evolve at an even faster rate than in the past, and that SEN has to adapt to these changes. Akhavan noted that while this seems simple, it's profound and has changed the company's thinking.

Chief Commercial Officer Chris Hummel then posed the question, why isn't this market segment getting the attention it deserves at a time when collaboration is on the top of everyone's mind? He noted that UC is becoming less relevant to the CEO and CIO, yet it is increasing in complexity and expectations. He added that the UC market has stalled and the promise of UC remains largely unfulfilled, creating silos of social, video, email, etc., with each channel operating differently. This ultimately creates a barrier to people working together. According to Hummel, UC adoption, as well as social adoption in the enterprise, is anemic, mainly because they are too hard to use and embrace.

Based on studies and research the company conducted, SEN found that 79% of employees work in virtual teams, but use yesterday's tools. This creates a productivity gap, which is exacerbated by stovepiped and incomplete vendor product offerings. Hummel stated that today's offerings are fragmented and incomplete. Workers spend far too much time orchestrating work, which prevents them from actually doing work, especially when it comes to collaboration.

Much of an information worker's day is spent planning, sharing, and managing work artifacts rather than creating value, according to Hummel. Case in point, he said: We spend untold amounts of time scheduling meetings, tracking down emails, forwarding files, searching for presentations, managing version control, etc.

Hummel went on to explain that while information is contained in intranets, wikis, knowledge management systems, etc. (what's known as explicit knowledge), most information is in workers' heads, based on the experiences they have had (i.e., implicit knowledge). The challenge is to bring all of this information together.

Siemens Enterprise Communications spent the last two years working on a solution to these challenges, and introduced the result: Project Ansible, "an internal name for the development of a new enterprise communications and collaboration platform for increasing productivity through real-time engagement." The company says the offering "is designed to extend the power of unified communications through full aggregation across social software, business applications, video, analytics, and traditional voice communication while also introducing an exceptional user experience."

It will operate in any browser on any platform, along with native iOS and Android clients. SEN expects the first customer pilots by the end of 2013, and more detail will be available in mid-July.

A key element of Project Ansible is the user interface. SEN worked with frog, a global product strategy and design firm, to help create a user experience that it hopes will be adopted and embraced by workers.

One of the things that stuck out for me is the use of WebRTC. Eve Aretakis, Executive VP Voice and Applications, said SEN made a bet on WebRTC two years ago. WebRTC plays an important role in Project Ansible, which embraces the audio, web, and video capabilities of WebRTC.

Here's my initial take on Project Ansible: As an analyst who's been focusing for the past few years on the intersection of unified communications, contact center, and social business, I was very pleased to see Siemens embracing this, creating a platform that ties together these various areas. My main concerns or questions aren't related to the technology, but rather to execution, go-to-market, user adoption, and other related areas.

Similar to UC and social business, the key to adoption will be tying into the users' business processes. It will require a new sales approach, new partners, and even a new pricing model. When combined with the new company branding that will be introduced in October, this means a tremendous amount of change for SEN.

The development teams working on Project Ansible have done a very commendable job, and the work that went into this was huge. An equal amount of work will be required on the marketing and go-to-market side. I'm looking forward to the release of the platform--and hearing what its actual name will be. Any guesses?

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