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UC in the Cloud: Confusion Reigns

Years ago, when Cisco and Microsoft first branded their products as unified communications, they were reasonably consistent with the commonly accepted definition. In keynote addresses at VoiceCon (now Enterprise Connect), Cisco CEO John Chambers and Microsoft Vice President Gurdeep Singh Pall each discussed how UC combined the silos of communications -- voice mail; email; audio, video and Web conferencing; instant messaging and presence; and so on -- and gave examples of communications integrated to optimize business processes, which encompasses UCStrategies' UC definition.

As other vendors entered the UC arena, many spun the definition of UC to help differentiate their products -- and, in many cases, to stall the market as they developed their product roadmaps. This caused confusion, with no consensus as to what constituted a real UC solution. For example, does a UC solution require an IP-PBX... or not?

As cloud-based solutions have entered the market over the past few years, most of the IP-PBX vendors have positioned cloud-based call control as part of their UC solutions. After all, since a premises-based call control system can be part of a UC solution, it makes sense that hosted or cloud-based call control can be part of a UC solution, too.

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However, in talking to some cloud vendors, we've learned that they are not comfortable with the UC nomenclature. For example, most of the smaller cloud providers we asked to participate in last year's UC Summit, an annual event to help consultants and resellers keep up with market trends, told us they did not identify themselves as UC providers. Even though they provide UC capabilities, they consider themselves SaaS providers first and foremost.

The moving target for cloud UC definitions is very confusing for small to medium-sized businesses and enterprise customers, as well as for the channel that sells and supports solutions and products. We had a similar challenge in the early 1990s as vendors started connecting computer and telephone systems to add new features and capabilities. Every vendor used different terminology, which led to market confusion.. There was no question among industry players: The market was not reaching its potential due to this confusion. Subsequently, the key vendors decided at an industry meeting to stick with the definition computer-telephony integration. CTI never met expectations; confusing or conflicting definitions likely contributed to its failure to take off as expected.

While product differentiation is a key marketing goal, what seems to have been lost here is that "don't understand" often leads to "don't buy." As we move forward there will be more technologies and the opportunity for more confusion. Our team of vendor-neutral consultants and analysts at UCStrategies is working to develop a set of definitions that could help eliminate much of the confusion, and would appreciate your input and suggestions. Add your thoughts in the comments section below.

Find Jim at Enterprise Connect 2015, March 16-19, where he'll be presenting UC Summit: Reality Check on Progress Toward UC

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