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Thinking Back on Interoperability and EC15

"Time is the longest distance between two places." Tennessee Williams

Time is a curious thing. Enterprise Connect Orlando 2015 ended only a short time ago, and yet it already feels like the distant past. It doesn't help that I've done about a million things since leaving Orlando, but even so, it wasn't that long ago, was it?

In addition to the myriad keynote sessions, meetings, planned impromptu get-togethers with friends old and new, hospitality suites, and wandering around the tradeshow floor exploring the latest and greatest in communications, I moderated a session on interoperability.

Standing in front of a crowd of people isn't a new experience for me, but this time I was told to do it without the crutch of a PowerPoint slide deck. I had to entertain, inspire, and motivate using only my words. It was my job to kick things off before enticing people up to the mic with their questions, experiences, and best of all, answers to each other's integration dilemmas.

My favorite speaking gigs are the ones where I not only educate the audience, but learn something from them in return. I like to think that we are all in this together, and I am not so vain as to believe that I know it all. My session, Interoperability: Has Anything Actually Worked?, allowed everyone in the room the opportunity to teach and to be taught.

Before too much more time passes, I want to step back from my daily grind to reflect on the highlights of my session. As you will see, there were many.

  1. Despite the fact that my session was held at 8 a.m. on the last day of the conference, it was very well attended. Even better, these were people that wanted to be there and didn't just wander in to rest their tired legs. My audience was extremely engaged in the topic and once the first person came up to share his experiences, we did not lack for conversation. I brought a bag of 8 gig USB drives to pass out to encourage participation, but in the end, they weren't necessary.
  2. Enterprises are still awash in vendors. At the beginning of the session, I asked people to raise their hands if their communications environment had equipment from three or more of the big players (Avaya, Cisco, Unify, and Microsoft) and nearly every hand went up. Communications vendors take note. There are very few purists out there.
  3. Despite the plethora of solutions that enterprises are required to support, very few people see that changing anytime in the near future. While some would love to standardize on a single vendor, and perhaps more importantly, a single set of management tools, multi-vendor environments are going to be around for a long time to come. No one vendor does it all, and best-of-breed often trumps consistency.
  4. Lots of folks have moved to SIP in one form or another. I listened to integration stories that involved applications, endpoints, mobility, trunks, and entire systems. It was not uncommon to hear about Vendor X's SIP-based voicemail connecting to Vendor Y's SIP-enabled PBX which has SIP trunks to two or more different carriers. Clearly, SIP is close to becoming ubiquitous.
  5. During the session, we discussed the many ways that SIP is less of the standard it needs to be. Specifically, I recall a detailed examination of the differences between the Diversion and History-Info headers. That led into one about products that send DTMF inside SIP INFO messages and those that use the more correct approach defined by RFC 2833/4733.
  6. Nearly everyone is doing something with Microsoft Lync. Most are using Lync for presence and instant message, others have added conferencing, and a few went so far as to roll out enterprise voice. No one in the audience was able to call themselves a full-blown Lync shop, but it was clear that Microsoft has made significant inroads into the overall communications strategy of most companies.
  7. WebRTC is on everyone's radar screen, but no one has done anything significant with it. That wasn't surprising to me, though. I asked about WebRTC during nearly every meeting I had that week and heard the same answers over and over again. Actually, that's not quite true. I ran into some folks that were still unclear as to what it was and how it was different from other forms of IP communications. That tells me that I and other WebRTC evangelists have to work that much harder to get the story out.
  8. People can be very clever when it comes to solving complex integration problems. As much as we would like to think that vendors have fully tested their wares against each other, that's rarely the case. Version numbers are always changing, and every enterprise deploys products in slightly (or not so slightly) different ways. Having an educated and industrious IT staff that is willing to think out of the box is crucial to today's modern day, kitchen sink approach to communications. System integrators play a big part here, too, as enterprises look outside the company walls for experience and expertise.
  9. There is still a lot of old fashioned TDM out there. SIP is making significant headways into all aspects of communications, but there is more analog and digital out there than people are willing to admit. SIP trunks are gaining acceptance, but ISDN still rules. Analog telephones are widespread in hospitals and large educational institutions. There are far too many contact center agents on digital telephones.

Whew! Looking back, I see that we covered a lot of topics in less than an hour. Of course, that was the point. No one, most of all me, wanted to spend the entire session listening to me tell my personal stories about integration. As I said earlier in this article, we all need to work together to complete the unified communications puzzle. Using brute force to make the pieces fit is never a good idea.

Andrew Prokop writes about all things unified communications on his popular blog, SIP Adventures.