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The UC Summit Hits New Heights

Last week, along with most of the UCStrategies team, I participated in the 4th annual UC Summit, an event aimed at bringing together solution integrators or "SIs" (a category that includes VARs, resellers, system integrators, and telecom dealers), consultants, and leading UC vendors. The UC Summit is unique in that there are no end users at the event, so the participants can speak frankly about channel business relationships. There were keynote sessions by Avaya, Cisco, NEC, Microsoft, Siemens, as well as presentations by other vendor sponsors and the UCStrategies team. There were panel discussions with the resellers and consultants, and focus sessions where vendors could exchange ideas with small groups of SIs or consultants. The goal of the UC Summit is to help vendors, channel partners, and consultants learn actionable best practices, strategies and tactics to accelerate the adoption of unified communications and collaboration.

The tagline of the Summit was "Thought Leaders Working Together", and that's exactly what happened. There were many, many opportunities for the sponsors and attendees to talk, network, and get to understand each other's perspectives. If you were to ask any of the participants what was the biggest benefit of the conference, 99% would say the networking (with the "wine selection" coming in as a close second!).

Key themes that were discussed throughout the event included the usual suspects: mobility, BYOD, cloud services, video, virtualization, interoperability, and business process integration. Other topics that cropped up included social software and the need to integrate UC, collaboration, and social, as well as the changing role of the contact center. In addition to providing compelling reasons why SIs would want to work with each of the vendors based on their products, solutions and roadmaps, the vendors provided information about how their VAR programs are structured and how they can help their channel partners be more "sUC&Cessful". There was also a lot of discussion about how the SIs and consultants can better work together to help each other. While these two groups are often at odds, most found there is a significant opportunity to work together to complement each other's services.

So much information was shared that it's hard to pinpoint my key takeaways, but here are a few issues that really resonated:

* All of the leading system vendors now offer UC&C suites providing both basic UC functionality such as presence, IM, call control, click-to-call, etc., along with mobility solutions, conferencing, and a variety of collaboration tools. This means that it is getting more and more difficult for vendors to differentiate themselves based on features and functionality. Instead, vendors and their channel partners will have to focus on other areas, such as vertical market focus, customization, interoperability, and so on.

* IM and presence are no longer separate elements that need to be bolted on to a call control system (PBX) or UC solution. As Richard McLeod from Cisco noted when explaining why Cisco is now offering its Jabber client for free to any Cisco Unified Communication Manager user, IM and presence are now "a basic human right" and "an on-ramp to all collaboration."

* There are certainly still technology issues that need improvement, especially in the area of interoperability and federation, however many of the challenges facing customers deploying UC&C solutions are based on cultural issues and how workers will adopt these technologies. The key is to focus on how people get their work done, and how companies can reach their business goals by using UC&C solutions. The solution integrators and consultants in the audience clearly understood this, and there was a lot of discussion about how to best bring it about.

* Organizations need to look beyond the call control or desktop elements of their UC&C solutions during the purchase cycle, and include other components of the UC&C solution, such as session border controllers, headsets optimized for UC&C, endpoint devices (including video systems) and SIP phones. Other key components of UC solutions include SIP trunking, gateways to integrate between UC&C systems and existing PBXs, and more.

* While everyone is talking about enterprise mobility, there are still very few examples of companies successfully deploying UC&C mobility solutions. As Michael Finneran pointed out, while the benefits of enterprise mobility are accessibility, productivity, and information, UC isn't even a topic among the enterprise IT staff responsible for mobility. He pointed out that while "mobility" is a major topic in UC, the topic of "UC" doesn't even register in the mobility market..

* The cloud (i.e. hosted solutions, SaaS, etc.) is real. Almost every vendor, from AVST to Interactive Intelligence, Siemens, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, Avaya, NEC, and IntelePeer pointed to the growing importance of cloud-based solutions. While many of the SIs and consultants in the audience are actively engaged in cloud-based projects and deals, there are still some that need help in changing their business and sales models for this new growth area.

* Voice is still a critical capability, but as Wayne Baines of Microsoft pointed out, voice is not an application--it's a "feature". A mission critical feature to be sure, but a feature. As a result, the way SIs sell voice is different today. As Marty Parker told the audience, "applications are the value-add that has no ceiling." While you can only drive costs down so much, there is no limit to the revenues that can be driven based on selling and deploying applications. The biggest opportunity for SIs and consultants is to help guide the customer with applications that can help grow their business.

* This leads to the next key point, the importance of understanding the customer's use cases, whether the use case demonstrates the requirement for using a headset or for deploying a CEBP solution.

* One last point: Start watching developments in WebRTC. As Phil Edholm of PKE Consulting drove home, Web RTC is likely to be a major game changer.

There were many other topics discussed, and we'll be posting videos of some of the sessions and presentations on the UCStrategies website, so be sure to visit. The role of solution integrators and consultants is changing, and the opportunities provided in the evolving UC&C market are huge--at least for those companies and individuals that take the time to understand the changes taking place.