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VoiceCon Themes

Another VoiceCon has come and gone - with lots of news around unified communications--of course. Several themes became apparent at VoiceCon--here are a few that I believe are of most interest (to me, anyway).1. It's all about business process integration and business transformation, not about individual productivity improvements or time saved. During Marty Parker's UC tutorial, the panel of UC vendors reinforced this over and over. For example, Mitel's Kevin Johnson noted that Mitel is linking UC to business process improvements and business intelligence, and providing tools to identify who in the customer organization is using these tools and how are they using them. Nortel's Phil Edholm built on this theme and gave a great customer example of a hospital's patient discharge process utilizing UC. Orlando National Health reduced the amount of time it took to discharge a patient from 7 to 3 hours by using UC to locate and communicate with the various people who needed to approve the discharge. The result was $25-35 million saved by being able get the patient out of the hospital bed sooner. And during her keynote, Cisco's CTO, Padmasree Warrior, stated that collaboration is one of the technology-driven strategies that doesn't end with the technology, but has to extend to business processes. During a briefing, Interactive Intelligence told me about its Communication Based Process Automation (CBPA) methodology, providing real time routing of any kind of work process, using rules in the system to automate business processes. These are but a few examples of vendors and users discussing this theme.

2. Several vendors are enhancing their professional services offerings by adding services organizations to work with customers to better understand their business processes and communication "hot spots" and to identify how UC can help transform their business. For example, Nortel created an "evangelist team" made up of consultants who dialogue with customers about the customers' businesses and business needs. By finding out where the customer pain points are, Nortel identifies and prototypes specific use cases to focus on the top UC priorities that can provide the customer with the greatest return and drive the transformation. Other companies are taking similar approaches. For example, Brett Shockley leads Avaya's horizontal application team, focusing on UC and contact center horizontal applications, working with customers to understand their business processes and needs; Cisco has had a group dedicated to this for a while.

3. Vertical applications are taking off. For example, during a meeting with NEC, President Jeff Kane described the company's First Responder application using UC, as well as UC packages for the hospitality industry. Alcatel-Lucent continues to build on its vertical expertise, and I had a chance to chat with Abilene Christian University's Arthur Brant, who is working closely with ALU to help expand ALU's education vertical expertise.

4. Social networking is gaining steam. Several speakers discussed the growing role of social networking, and there was even a "Birds of a Feather" session about the subject. During his keynote, Avaya's Kevin Kennedy noted that its new Aura SIP-based architecture makes it easier to link organizations' UC and communication environments with social networks. IBM's Bob Picciano also used his keynote address to discuss integration of UC with social networking, noting that by integrating social networking tools like microblogging, tagging, wikis, etc. to UC platforms, users can have the tools they need and often expect, in a secure environment that is not in the public domain. A demo during the IBM keynote showed how "Communities" of workers who are interested in the same topic can help each other using UC and social networking tools.

One disappointment is that the theme of openness wasn't as evident as I would have liked. Siemens' new CEO James O'Neill was one of the few presenters to really stress the importance of openness, and went so far as to say that enterprises should not take a single vendor approach, but instead should use an open SOA-based approach. Mark Straton of Siemens reiterated this during the VoiceCon UC Summit session, stating that "We don't believe any UC solution will come from a single vendor" and that organizations have to integrate with different applications, which requires openness and a software-based approach.

While there weren't as many breakthrough announcements made at VoiceCon as in previous years, it was a great conference that demonstrated the growing importance of unified communications, even in a down economy.