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What Do Eric Schmidt and UC Have in Common?

In the wake of last week's announcement that Eric Schmidt had been bounced upstairs to Google's executive chairman’s suite, there’s been no shortage of theories about why the move was made. Among those I read was one that argued that Google co-founder Larry Page is replacing Schmidt as CEO because Google is no longer innovative enough; Google’s management move, the author asserts, reflects a "vote for disruptive change."

In this post, Tim Beyers summarizes the situation as follows: "Google has yet to make its best ideas into whole products, the way a certain Cupertino company does. More often, it simply partners up and hopes for the best.... This isn't necessarily an awful strategy. Microsoft has practiced a similar approach to great effect for decades. But with Page taking the reins, I get the sense that the company understands that users and investors want more. We want Google to be brash and disruptive rather than just an ecosystem builder." [Emphasis added.]

I don't know whether Beyers is spot on or a million miles off target. He could be right, or maybe the move occurred because Schmidt enjoys hobnobbing in DC more than plowing through Google product management progress reports. Or, maybe Schmidt believes it's time he was anointed the next Vint Cerf; Cerf gets credit for developing the Internet's DNA--TCP/IP--but under Schmidt’s leadership Google made the Internet accessible which, arguably, delivers the best of what Cerf and other Internet pioneers envisioned 25 years or more ago. Or, maybe the move was made because Schmidt has a ton of money and he wants to spend more time enjoying himself and his family, and eating bon-bons. Watch his waistline and judge for yourself.

But if it's not clear whether Beyers has read Google's tea leaves correctly, the thrust of his argument rings true for Unified Communications.

Many vendors offer many of UC's piece-parts, but few offer a truly "unified" suite of offerings. Interoperability remains a huge challenge, and not just from one vendor to another; often, it's maddeningly complex to integrate a single vendor's UC offerings. Moreover, while it’s nice to have presence, IM and video integrated with voice and messaging, that capability is only a game-changer in rare situations. And while there continues to be much talk about integrating communications into mainline business processes and apps--so-called CEBP (Communications-Enabled Business Processes)--there also continues to be much less action.

In short, UC, while long on promises, has yet to spark the buyers' imagination, or change perceptions of what enterprise communications and collaboration could and should be. UC has tinkered around the edges instead of, to use Beyers’ terms, becoming "brash and disruptive."

Now it's absolutely valid to point out that enterprise communications and collaboration take place in a much different environment than the advertising-driven and consumer-oriented worlds that Google inhabits. Offerings that are "brash" and "disruptive" also have to prove that they can be managed, scaled, secured and deliver an ROI that fits the company's investment criteria.

But even if you give those devils their due, UC is, well, a bit on the boring side. UC's value has been realized mainly via short-term cost-savings and productivity improvements rather than by producing significant improvements in how enterprises conduct their business. And despite all the UC Use Cases available on the Web, they haven't resulted in widespread adoption and fundamental change.

For whatever reasons, Google decided to shake things up; it moved Larry Page into the CEO slot. Enterprise Connect takes place in just a few weeks, and it would be great if the attendees used the event to shake up the UC marketplace. To demand that the interoperability logjam be cleared. To insist that presenters respond with pragmatic answers to tough questions. To persist in requiring that the vendor community work together on solutions that don't blow up the investments enterprises already have made. And to recognize and reward both new and established companies that have developed innovative hardware, software, applications and services.

Those may not sound brash or disruptive, but they seem like the right things to do.