Last week I accompanied a system integrator in the Midwest to meet with and help educate several of their customers about unified communications and building a UC strategy. In addition to the Midwest hospitality and better weather than I expected, I got some good insights into what these customers are thinking about regarding UC. I was gratified to see that these customers really understand and appreciate what UC can do for them in terms of saving time, making workers more efficient, increasing collaboration between work groups, etc.
One thing that came across loud and clear is that Microsoft did a heck of a job getting OCS out there for enterprise IM and presence. All of the companies I met with have OCS implemented to one degree or another, and most also have Sharepoint and Live Meeting. Several of the customers are Nortel shops, which makes me wonder if part of Microsoft’s success is based on the now-defunct ICA relationship between Nortel and Microsoft, although I tend to doubt it. Side note: Avaya stated that the ICA relationship has been terminated, although the two companies will continue to work on how they engage with each other, but Nortel (now Avaya) will no longer resell OCS. It will be interesting to see if this impacts OCS sales in any way, but it’s doubtful.
It’s clear that OCS is getting lots of traction, and vendors will have to work hard to compete with and displace Microsoft in the UC arena. A good portion of the customers I met with are Cisco shops, but none are using Cisco Unified Presence Server or Cisco Unified Presence Client – or any other presence/IM solution other than OCS. While none of the customers are using OCS for call control and don’t have any immediate plans to do so, none had gone the next step to integrate OCS with their PBX/IP PBXs. I’m glad to see more companies using IM and presence, but I wish more of them were actually integrating these capabilities with their voice capabilities to get more of the benefits that UC provides.
Some of the companies I met with clearly see the benefits of integrating OCS with their voice switches, but a variety of issues have prevented them from doing so. In some cases, the IT people are aware of the benefits of UC and acknowledge that the people in their companies could greatly benefit from it, but don’t want to deal with the integration or cost issues involved, and feel that they have enough to do without adding another layer of complexity. Others want to move to UC, but realize that in their particular environments it will be a major undertaking based on their existing technology and infrastructure.
For many customers, the will is there – they just need a good way to move to the world of UC. It needs to be simpler to implement and integrate all of the various pieces (data network, telecom environment, carrier networks, etc.). The vendors need to do a better job of working with each other to simplify integration and interoperability, and to help customers migrate. And to those vendors that would rather battle with Microsoft than accept the fact that they’ve made huge inroads into the unified communications world, I suggest you work harder to find ways to coexist in a multivendor environment, and to provide the necessary tools to your partners to help them support their customers’ mixed environments. Companies want to move to UC – let’s help make it easier for them.