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Who's Driving the UC Bus?
I just finished my spring survey of 277 enterprises, and there's both good and bad news for UC. What's really interesting is that all of the news can be linked to the industry buzz surrounding Avaya's IPO and Microsoft's buy of Skype. And of course linked to the old black phone.
Let's start with the survey. What would you do with voice technology if you could start over? Over 70% of businesses in the survey said that their UC investment plan was constrained based on their investment in legacy voice equipment, their black phones in particular. If somehow all that gear was whisked away, they believed they'd very likely scrap phones completely and move to a PC-based form of communication based on headsets. The other 30% said that they needed to have their mobile workers tied into their UC, and because they couldn’t get mobile VoIP they would "wait" until mobile technology caught up. The service model they like best? It's Skype, but the way Skype works now isn't how they'd want their future UC platform to work.
What businesses want from Skype is interesting (listening, Microsoft?). First, they have major concerns about the security of the P2P model. They want the ability to create Skype sub-communities, voice services that are isolated from the rest of the Skype population. The problem with the current model is that registration and signaling traffic could pass outside their company, which businesses don't like. Five of six in the survey said that "closed user groups" or voice VPNs that still shared the P2P structure but that created a kind of special call community would not be acceptable to them.
Another thing businesses wanted was an administered "group" that replaced the notion of your own personal Skype contacts. They didn't like a worker being able to limit calls to a subset of the company, preferring there to be an "administrator" who would set up rules about who could talk to whom. One group would be "outside", for example, meaning anyone calling into the company from any public voice network, PSTN or VoIP. They believed that these groups should include settings for just what form of communication was permitted into, from, and within the group--voice, video, etc. Most also thought that video needed to be enabled on a per-worker basis given that workers have consistently expressed privacy concerns about video calls.
In terms of truly incremental features, businesses wanted the UCC features that are today available from third-party firms via Skype extensions built in and made part of the standard package. That included the ability to send files via IM as attachments, to support conference calling in both voice and video (one-to-many and pass-the-baton mediation should control who is seen). Whiteboard capability wasn't as interesting as desktop sharing. Call logging was viewed as important, particularly logging of video calls, and IM logging was needed both as a general compliance tool and to trace file exchanges for security purposes.
What's particularly interesting about this list is that vendors like Avaya offer this flavor of UC already. So why aren't businesses already jumping into the new UC model? Is it simply a matter of time, a wait until those darn black phones are finally laid to rest? It's not that businesses don't know about the UC vendor offerings. They say that the "UC vendors" are pushing them to change over to a new VoIP/UC system. It's not working; slightly over half the businesses said they would not buy their successor UC system/service from their current voice system supplier. The reason most often cited was a perception that the vendor was pushing a SIP-based transition that would leave them tied to the vendor for future growth and orderly upgrading. "I don't want a SIP PBX," said one user. "I don't want a PBX at all." The term "open" was cited by 92% as a desirable characteristic of a new UC approach, and almost 80% said they'd rather write down current elements in their voice system than perpetuate them into a new system.
This means that Avaya has some work to do if they want their after-IPO life to go well. While the company fares well in my survey as a vendor with quality, long-lived, products, it's viewed by its users as "conservative", as "locking me in", and as "having too SIP-centric a vision" in a market that seems to be shifting rapidly toward accepting a P2P model. And 88% of companies believed that the Skype community should be explicitly supported for in-calling to their voice and UC systems, not through expensive add-ons but with easy and nearly-free extensions. In short, they believed that Microsoft could make Skype into the perfect UC framework, and in fact into a pretty darn good global alternative to the PSTN. Nobody sees Avaya being in any position to offer anything comparable.
But despite this level of hopefulness regarding Microsoft's intentions with Skype, the companies in the survey believed that the period of digestion of Skype would be long, and that they would not likely have their UC wish list fulfilled until 2013. A quarter of businesses don't think Microsoft will ever deliver on Skype-based UC, or even want to deliver. So maybe Avaya has some time to get its house in order.