Telecommunications suppliers have traditionally focused more on connectivity and less on business optimization, leading to integration issues as they add other communications applications into their phone systems, as I noted in a June 2014 No Jitter post. The real question to me has long been whether these solutions are able to solve core business needs by helping companies capitalize on technology and boost productivity.
At the time of that previous post, I had recently left the world of telecom consulting to join a contact center integrator. I've now re-entered the consulting world, and I am pleased to see that the mainstream vendors (along with numerous specialty vendors) have risen to the occasion. It looks like they finally "get it," and now have products and services that do focus more on solving business needs and, maybe for the first-time in this industry's history, less on meeting their own self-professed "this-is-what-you-need" offerings.
A month ago I attended Avaya Engages in New York, where the message couldn't have been more potent. Avaya announced it was changing the way it does business, partnering with Google and others to create an "open engagement model" including a contact center agent built into a Chrome laptop (see "Avaya's Barnett: It's All About Engagement".) Yes, Avaya has been down that road before, and yes, the messaging did seem to have a familiar "Aura" about it, but what is different this time is that it worked. What worked was seamless connectivity between Avaya's own products, but also website content, and third-party applications.
A Google representative set up a contact center agent on the fly with the new Chromebook within minutes. Does this a full contact center make? No -- but the tools and ability to do this in a matter of minutes from a laptop connected to the Internet, be connected instantly to the system's administration software, and provide quality multi-channel response is something to be taken very seriously. As part of Avaya's new open engagement initiative, it understands that some of its longtime partner relationships may have to change. Further, new partners that can prove they understand the business model will be brought on board.
A week or so later, I attended the SPS Collaboration Roadshow at Microsoft's New York offices. There I learned more about and saw the Skype for Business collaboration platform, and was honestly blown away (see "Skype for Business Gets Real"). Microsoft has created a business environment that allows the end user to instantly create and orchestrate a high-end, multimedia, multichannel presentation from a PC. It is able to incorporate analytics and database information from the user's own company databases as well as third-party information sources. The SPS event also featured a demonstration by Acano showing how to create a video conference between previously incompatible systems via WebRTC connectivity.
If you attended Enterprise Connect Orlando 2015 last month (kudos to Fred and Eric for creating one of the most fun and best technology showcases ever - we will miss you Fred), you saw these and other Web-enabling technologies and applications. Vendors treated you to a virtual smorgasbord of new products, software, and services specifically designed and dedicated to allow your company to integrate communications services throughout its entire corporate structure.
I have always maintained and still hold that unified communications is a bunch of applications that when banded together can provide a cohesive working synergy -- it is not actual technology. Today, UC, along with cloud applications, WebRTC, and collaboration tools from companies like Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft, and HP, users can finally be in control of their own meetings, networks, and data collection (see "UCC 2015: the Year of the User").
What this means is that for the first time your company can access the information it has stored in disparate databases, view outside content, and create the types of analytics that will allow it to develop better customer engagement strategies. This is not to be confused with developing those analytics and gathering the necessary data -- that is still the backend of a data processing function -- but it does mean that information can be made available at the touch of a button, by a voice request, or built on the fly during a video conference.
It seems that we have finally turned the corner and the future is in software, software-defined networks, applications, mobile devices, SIP, and WebRTC access -- not hardware, desktop phones and PCs, or long-term, limiting carrier contracts. It is a an exciting communications technology world out there; it will be fun, frustrating, and yes, confusing, until everyone figures out what they want to be when they grow up. But the future is in the hands of the user, and to that end, there are professional ethical consultants to help them navigate these uncharted waters.
Dennis Goodhart is the Principal of IP Network Consulting, an independent consulting practice, which he founded in 2007. As an Executive Consultant with over thirty years of industry thought leadership experience, Dennis is adept in devising and delivering innovative workable cost effective state-of-the-art solutions. He has designed developed, negotiated, implemented and managed global mission critical projects for Fortune 500 companies, banking and financial intuitions, manufactures and retail companies.