Enterprise Connect 2012 Revisited
Now that Enterprise Connect has come and gone, I’m comparing notes with other attendees and fielding inquiries from colleagues and clients alike about my thoughts on the UC market’s biggest showcase event. A couple of years ago, the then-called VoiceCon event was aptly renamed Enterprise Connect as it became obvious that the enterprise communications market had evolved to become an ecosystem of integrated technologies spanning voice, data/text-based, and video applications of both the communications and business software.
As usual, my Enterprise Connect schedule, as well as those of my colleagues and everyone I met with, was extremely packed. There was so much to see, many new announcements, and yet it seemed, so little time.
The exhibition floor was a flurry of activity, with flashing lights, and boisterous as well as polite spokespeople competing for attention. Crowds gathered at the booths of the usual suspects, while other exhibitors enjoyed a more even flow of visitors.
In no particular order, here’s what stood out to me:
Video applications continued to rank among the hottest topics. Cisco, Avaya, GlowPoint, Vidyo, RADVISION, LifeSize, Polycom, Logitech and others all either unveiled new solutions or showcased their most recently introduced visual communications solutions. Common threads here were enhancing the user experience, improved interoperability as well as reducing the costs and complexity that have traditionally hampered adoption. Customers have raised these same concerns for years. Obviously, developers are listening.
Cloud appears to gain momentum by the day. Avaya, Siemens Enterprise Communications, Sprint, NEC, 8x8, and ShoreTel were highlights among many cloud-centered discussions as these providers articulated their latest initiatives to make UC&C solutions more flexible, reliable, feature-rich and cost-effective options for customers. However, conversations in session tracks and numerous panels served to remind us that real-time applications served up from the cloud still need further development and maturity before many customers are ready to offload their mission-critical services to the cloud.
Demoing the latest UC clients, whether desktop, Web-based or mobile, pervaded the early part of my schedule. Representatives from Aastra, ALU, Cisco, Siemens Enterprise, Avaya and others readily drove me through their respective next-gen interfaces. It soon became clear that UC developers are still in competition to deliver the most intuitive interfaces while packing in the most features. And getting my hands on the latest devices from Logitech, snom, Plantronics, Digium, Jabra, Yealink, Sennheiser, RTX, ClearOne, and others reinforced my belief that endpoints remain pivotal to UC adoption, utilization and ROI, as it is the end point that connects a user to his/her applications and where the user experience begins.
Now that the value proposition of network convergence is widely understood and proven, business process integration has finally emerged as the next powerful driver for UC&C. Customers can appreciate the elegance of a UC client from which a long list of comms apps can be accessed. However, customers are looking for solutions that deliver real business value that can be measured with metrics that matter to them. UC&C is manifesting itself as a means to streamline and otherwise reduce latency in business processes and workflows—a promise that resonates with any enterprise decision maker or influencer. Nearly all the booths I visited (with Microsoft, Thrupoint, Siemens Enterprise Communications, Avaya, Interactive Intelligence, Cisco, ShoreTel, and Genesys coming to mind) displayed a solution in which communications features (presence/IM, click-to-call/IM/video) were exposed within business applications (e-mail, CRM, ERP, etc), thereby enabling users to remain in their current working environment while collaborating with others.
VoiceCon may now be Enterprise Connect, but connectivity and networking have not diminished as talking points at the show. Discussions of enterprise SBCs, multi-vendor interop, reliability, next-gen connectivity and enabling cloud solutions have only served to brighten the spotlight for providers delivering the often-overlooked essentials of UC&C architectures. Accordingly NET, ADTRAN, Acme Packet, AudioCodes, HP and others appropriately leveraged Enterprise Connect to announce and showcase their latest and greatest developments.
There were sessions, demos and discussions on social business, yet it was notably much quieter on this front than it was last year.
Yes, BYOD took a head seat at the table of many discussions. Developers are trying hard to help, and to capitalize. Despite these efforts it is obvious that most enterprises are struggling with the phenomenon, and this raises my last topic.
One of the most valuable things for me was the opportunity to listen and talk to all types of customers. We know that sponsors carefully screen the reference customers that they invite to speak publically. It’s always good to hear the positive things that they say about their chosen technology partners. It’s rare that customers raise strong concerns when asked to evangelize for their provider. This year was notably different in that regard. Customers I interacted with were seemingly more candid than in the past. Perhaps it is because they realize they have options to go elsewhere if needed. Product viability was a concern raised by customers several times, as was help with managing BYOD, moving to the cloud or optimizing their investments in video solutions. I’ve long thought that UC&C requires a much more consultative approach and a more tightly knit customer-developer relationship compared to siloed product deployments. It looks like that has not changed, despite the progression of technology itself. Rather, some of the talking points have shifted.
This is only a partial diary of my time at Enterprise Connect this year. I’m still digesting everything I’ve learned. After I’ve settled back in at my desk for a few days I’ll probably begin to look forward to the hustle and bustle of next year’s show.