Musings on VoiceCon San Francisco 2009 – Unified Communications Still Rules

Another VoiceCon has come and gone – while the exhibit hall wasn’t as full with exhibitors as in years past, it was still a great VoiceCon, with lots of information-packed sessions, and opportunities for networking with vendors, customers, and peers.
To help prepare for my locknote session, I jotted down notes about what I thought some of the key take-aways were.
• I’m happy to say that we are not talking about unified communications definitions anymore –instead, we’re now talking about how customers can get payback from implementing UC. For the past couple years, the UCStrategies.com team has been presenting our definition of UC at VoiceCon, and the good news is, we no longer have to do this – people get it. Everyone now knows that UC is “Communications integrated to optimize business processes,” and that there are two types of UC – UC-User and UC-Business Process.
• The focus this year was on how UC will make companies and workers more productive and efficient. The discussion has moved to implementations – what problems customers are having in their business processes and where UC can help them. For example, during and after my UC Market Overview presentation, I was asked was about how to get people in the organization on board with UC, and how to get the buy in from the people who make the final decision. People know they want UC, now they have to figure out how to get the approval for it from the people holding the budgets.
• We’re talking more about the business value of UC. Most of the vendors did a great job of talking about customer examples of UC and the business value it provides to them. There were good case studies and examples of real UC implementations, discussing the ROI and value that UC provides to businesses.
• It’s about collaboration, or UCC. The real value of UC is collaboration – finding the people, resources, and information we need, when we need it. Will we still call it unified communications in a couple years, or will the “C” stand for collaboration?
• UC is really integrated communications – we’re not unifying our communications, but integrating them. While this is true, as Jim Burton noted during one of his sessions, the term “integrated” has a negative connotation – involving lots of professional services needed to make things work together. This is also true for unified communications, but the term “integrated” isn’t as hopeful as “unified.”
• There was consensus throughout the various presentations that it’s about the customer experience – regardless of device, locations, etc. What really matters is the customer experience.
• Customers are in charge – not the vendors. Some things that came across loud and clear: they don’t want softphones – they want real phones that work and don’t cost a fortune to maintain. They want standards and interoperability – standards should come first, products second.
• Social networking will subsume UC. In addition to Mark Straton’s cool demo of integrating Siemens OpenScape with twitter, there was plenty of discussion about the role of social software in the enterprise, and the benefits of integrating these capabilities with UC. I was disappointed that there weren’t more examples of companies integrating social media with UC (click to call from an enterprise twitter- or Facebook-like application, for example), but hopefully we’ll see more next year.
• Mobile devices will be the main device of use, even in the enterprise.
• Voice is still the killer app – it’s not going away any time soon.
• UC and CEBP are viral. Capabilities like IM and collaboration have more value when more people are on it and sharing information. When people in parts of an enterprise seeing other departments and workers using UC, they get excited and want to use it also.
• Google is on everyone’s mind
• Federation and interoperability are mandatory – hurry up!
All in all, VoiceCon San Francisco was a great conference. Despite the lack of some key vendors participating (yes, Microsoft and Cisco, you know I’m talking about you), there was some good energy and lots of sharing of information about the future of unified communications. Looking forward to Orlando.

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