Ah, September. Back to school, back to football, and back to preparing for the cold months ahead. It was a quiet month, as always, at Lake Wobegon. Not so by the tempest-tossed waters of Lake Uceeisnow. For months, there were rumblings of disenchantment about the pace and depth of customer migration to UC. This was coupled by near-universal agreement that UC could not really be defined but nonetheless, you’d know it when you see it. Moreover, according to numerous analysts, UC could enhance your enterprise’s “business processes”, assuming you know what they are or can derive them.
In early September, Nick Jones of Gartner had the audacity to put forth the polarizing notion that UC is some sort of Ponzi scam http://blogs.gartner.com/nick_jones/2010/09/07/is-unified-communications-the-biggest-scam-since-ponzi/ This created quite a stir and (at last count) 27 comments both pro and con. It is still referred to in recent No Jitter posts. Of course, some UC pundits will write this off as a spurious Gartner analysis input which has little credibility, only Gartner’s Magic Quadrant with vendor rankings has “value”. The gist of my response to Nick-which I’ll stick with-was “It (UC) is overhyped, undefined, and un-measurable, but unfortunately the tag has been adopted by enough vendors, media types and others so that right or wrong we’ll all have to live with it. There’s no doubt that advanced and converged communications (IP and otherwise) can (eventually) improve an enterprise and how it does business. BUT in a down economy there are lots of alternative bangs for limited IT bucks. I don’t think a UC vendor or analyst’s “trust me” with or without B-School white paper will be the closing argument for moving to UC (whatever it is). One would think any CIO, COO, CFO or CEO would want real ROI as opposed to the proverbial marketing song and dance.”
Soon after the Ponzi reference and its analyst reverberations were felt, Microsoft announced the renaming of OCS to Lync. It was a timely event, in my opinion, because for months overall UC perception needed some sort of shot in the arm. There’s nothing like Microsoft and its resources (i.e., money) to boost any IT market opportunity. Unifying enterprise voice, instant messaging, applications/desktop sharing and video and audio conferencing into a “new, connected communications experience” was the theme of the Lync announcement. Nothing new here but welcome nonetheless as a reaffirmation of Microsoft’s vision for UC. In many respects, Microsoft was and is the primary driver of UC and this was clearly reflected in the sycophantic responses to Lync by the UC analyst claque.
To a one-time voice switching guy like me, Microsoft is hardly ignoring VoIP but continues to integrate it into their “stuff” (software, servers, etc.) in lieu of separate (IP) PBXs. By now, Lync’s voice functionality should be robust enough and user-acceptable. How fast users will dump operable PBXs for the Microsoft equivalent in these difficult economic times remains to be seen.
A mere two days after Lync, Avaya’s Flare came on the scene. The Flare “experience” and the “non-tablet” Desktop Video Communicator have been adequately discussed and dissected on these pages and elsewhere. The impact for me is that Avaya, the classic voice/PBX-centric UC participant, has done something innovative and out-of-character. It took “chutzpah” to do this, good for them. The announcement underscores the emerging importance (at least to vendors) of flexible, portable video conferencing and tablet-like devices. As for price points and whether the dogs will eat the dog food, as always, time will tell.
As noted, the Microsoft and Avaya announcements came when UC, by any definition, needed some positive press. Mission accomplished on that. Moreover, as far as I could determine, neither vendor tied their announcement and its contents to any mystical enterprise workflow improvements, reduction in “human latency”, or other UC pseudo-science rationale. Perhaps, the Apple-like approach may be taking hold, namely, easy-to-use solutions to real definable problems and provide an enjoyable “experience” in getting there.
The final September item of note was the No Jitter article by Zeus Kerravala of The Yankee Group on Cisco’s near-term UC strategy http://www.nojitter.com/feature/227500594. This created a firestorm of 19 comments and spawned a separate posting by another blogger commenting on all the comments! Why all the excitement? It was all about Cisco vs. Microsoft and there are a lot of strong opinions about that. Sort of like Fox vs. MSNBC on a political topic. Opinions, yes, market share demographics, not really, since those vendors as well as most others do not have a common definition of UC, and in some cases, even its scope. However, if you’re keeping score at home, Microsoft seemed to have the edge in UC mindshare.
September was definitely interesting, let’s see what October brings. As for the name game, one can hope that the fuzzy UC tag is sent to the recycle bin if and when adult supervision arrives. It would be useful to have a more descriptive set of terms rather than one misused global label. My initial suggestion is Advanced Converged Communications (ACC) and its 4 dimensions-voice/telephony, messaging/presence, conferencing/collaboration, and mobility. More on this at a later time.