Rob Arnold's Blog


Is IBM Backing Away from UC?

20 Jan 2012

The answer is… not exactly. IBM has announced no plans to discontinue any of its current UC products or to end any of its partnerships with other UC providers. That said, the company is now devoting greater emphasis and resources toward other opportunities in the enterprise communications market.

Since the early days of UC in the mid-2000’s IBM has presented Lotus Sametime as its flagship UC offering. The platform natively supports rich presence and instant messaging functions, tight integration with Lotus Notes, as well as web conferencing capabilities. In addition, through its partner ecosystem, IBM provides integrations with many other apps in the UC stack, namely telephony, audio conferencing, video conferencing, mobility applications, etc., and hardware endpoints in Sametime-based UC environments.

Whether IBM’s lack of its own end-to-end portfolio of UC apps has hampered its competitiveness in the enterprise communications market is arguable. However, it is clear that the company has been overshadowed by Cisco and Microsoft in the UC space, in terms of mind share. Meanwhile newer and potentially very lucrative opportunities are emerging in the enterprise communications market. Driven by shifting business requirements, new technology and the consumerization of IT, the concept of the social enterprise has taken the enterprise communications industry by storm. IBM is well positioned to adjust its stance to be a strong competitor for this opportunity.

Leveraging a greater breadth and depth of its strengths, IBM is now placing the bulk of its emphasis on social business. For IBM, UC has become a component or a subset of capabilities within social business environments. Sametime’s IM and presence applications are powering rich communications, mobile and real-time capabilities within IBM’s flagship next-gen collaboration platform, Connections. From Connections features/apps such as user profiles, contacts, communities, activity streams, directories, documents, micro-blogs and more, users can consume and publish presence/availability information, launch voice and video calls as well as multi-party, multi-media conferences driven by Sametime (as well as third-party UC platforms).

The company intends to continue to enhance social business by embedding UC into advanced collaboration platforms, to improve communications through improved context, and to make rich communications available to users whenever and however required. Examples of potential future capabilities may include allowing Communities to own meeting rooms (whereas individuals typically do so now), and to make Sametime’s persistent and group chat features available within Connections. The intent is to create an environment where users spend their day, and improve their productivity and efficiency through the ability to quickly and intuitively access a range of business and IT tools, and rich communications and collaboration applications. And IBM plans to utilize analytics to raise awareness of and to prove out the benefits of social business solutions which are often difficult to qualify using traditional ROI measurements.  

IBM is effectively bringing to bear its content management, analytics, collaboration, SOA and other assets, along with its strong services capabilities and partner ecosystem to create social business solutions that empower change management and transform business processes. This is approach is creating clear differentiation for IBM—more than was possible in a purely UC-centric approach. And with the burgeoning social business opportunity, IBM is leveraging capabilities that provide it with clear advantages over others that are vying for a claim of the emerging space, including Cisco, Google, Jive, Microsoft, and others.

IBM is not abandoning UC—the company is leveraging UC to enable social communications.

Enterprise Session Management May Be the Perfect Storm for UC

29 Aug 2011

We recently wrapped up a Market Insight on next-generation UC architectures. The study specifically focuses on enterprise session management solutions. Please watch for it to be published in coming weeks.

For purposes of the study Frost & Sullivan defines session management solutions, or architectures, as those that incorporate premises-based SIP session management and IP telephony applications, SIP trunking services and enterprise session border controllers to integrate/unify disparate voice infrastructure (TDM/IP and multi-vendor) to achieve centralized control, uniform dial plan and ubiquitous access to central UC applications for all end users.

A primary value proposition of these advanced, SIP-based architectures is the ability to unify multi-vendor networks and disparate components, whether hardware or software, to improve intra-company communications and enable operational efficiencies of centralization. Session management environments provide enterprises with phased migrations to IP communications that leverage existing investments in legacy platforms, orchestrate the rollout of IP telephony and UC, and scale to connect the islands of IP communications that exist in a company’s network.

There are broadly two types of competitors in the enterprise session management market: applications developers (e.g., PBX and UC vendors) and infrastructure vendors (e.g., media gateway and SBC manufacturers). Elements from both camps are typically required to create session management architectures.

While Avaya is credited as a thought leader and innovator in the space, a number of UC solutions developers now offer session management solutions of their own. Most notable among these are UC applications developers such as Alcatel-Lucent, Cisco, and Siemens Enterprise Communications. Developers position session management solutions as defensive strategies to protect and migrate their installed customers, and as offensive tools to move their own laggard customers as well as competitive accounts toward end-to-end IP communicaitons capabilities.

Infrastructure suppliers such as Acme Packet, AudioCodes, NET and others have increased concentration on the opportunty. Infrastructure vendors have generally stuck to their knitting by providing solutions for network connectivity, security, interoperability and integration. 

While not optimized for all enterprises, we generally believe that session management may be the perfect storm of capabilities needed to help to move enterprises toward the end-to-end IP communications capabilities that promise to unleash the full potential of UC and address a number of impediments to adoption.

Market trends coming together to form this perfect storm include:

  • Ability to protect and prolong use of existing enterprise investments
  • Increased adoption of industry-standard SIP by vendors and service providers
  • Emergence of SIP trunking services as lower-cost means for traffic transport, and carrier and PSTN connectivity
  • Momentum of centralization and enterprise data-center deployments
  • Emergence of virtual machines to more affordably deploy applications
  • Increasing demand for always-on (e.g., mobility, IM and social software) and high-bandwidth video applications
  • Emergence of cloud-based solutions that lower the cost and complexity of deployment
  • Maturation and increased feature functionality available with hosted offerings
  • Flexibility to create hybrid solutions integrating cloud/hosted elements with CPE
  • Increasing availability of professional and managed services to support advanced capabilities

 

Social Business is About Relationships

02 Aug 2011

The concept of "social" is everywhere in consumer markets and after social networking gained immense popularity there social tools have leapt into the enterprise. 

There's a lot of confusion in the market about the difference between social media and social business, which is far from synonymous. A social business strategy can employ social media capabilities, yet integrating or incorporating consumer social media outlets (e.g., Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter) into the professional environment isn't a requirement for social business. Social business software comprises interactive communications applications, provides visibility into resources and content, and orchestrates the flow of information among users, groups and organizations. In this respect, enterprise social software strives to leverage the principles of social media for business purposes.

The shift to become a social business is part of an organization’s larger business transformation plan. It requires a shift in user habits, business culture and practices. It requires a shift from traditional, centralized, unidirectional, top-down corporate communications, reporting and organizational structures.

Whereas traditional enterprise software and business systems are typically structured for specific pre-determined data-driven use cases, enterprise social software encourages each business and user to create their own relationships between data, content and knowledge. These multi-faceted relationships help to break down the silos and flatten the hierarchy of an organization’s information flow.

Social business also requires a critical mass of employee engagement. Successful deployments require that enough relationships exist to remove latency in processes and responsiveness that characterize “traditional” information and reporting hierarchies. The fluid relationships the flexibility and agility to be proactive,  as well as more responsive to both fast and slow moving changes.

Becoming a social business should not entail reinventing the wheel. Like any business transformation plan, becoming a social business is best achieved by leveraging existing assets and resources. By introducing new tools, organizations can bring about new and improved ways of working to support and strengthen existing business processes and goals. Process enhancement is achieved through effective collaboration, streamlined workflows, organized documentation, accessible information and accelerated decision making.

Tools are important (i.e., user follows/networking, groups/communities, profiles, activity streams, wikis, presence, blogs, microblogs, etc.) but social business provides the relationships that can help organizations tackle their foremost challenges of improving access to information, collaboration, customer service, employee engagement, enhancing processes, and driving innovation.

Polycom Solidifies Microsoft Relationship with CX7000 Room Video Conferencing Purpose-built for Lync

18 Jul 2011

By Rob Arnold and Roopam Jain

Developed under codename “Rally”, the CX7000 Unified Collaboration System http://bit.ly/qf0yoK will help to round out the group collaboration offerings within Polycom’s portfolio of CX endpoints optimized for Microsoft Lync http://bit.ly/pkIhQ1, which already includes the CX5000 Unified Conference Station with 360 degree panoramic view and the CX3000 IP Conference Phone. Native support for Microsoft RTA and RTV protocols allows the CX7000 room video conferencing system to be implemented just as other CX endpoint directly connected to Microsoft’s flagship UCC platform via plug and play install without requiring additional drivers, and to be centrally managed via Lync utilities.

 

 

The CX7000 kit, which includes appliance and peripherals (microphone array, camera, keyboard and mouse) will be offered at a suggested list price of under $10,000. That should make it a very attractive option for distributed sites, executives, and remote users seeking a cost effective, easy to use video conferencing solution that truly behaves as a native Lync endpoint.

Lync users will also benefit from a familiar UI experience and the simplicity of native integration with Exchange and Active Directory. Integration with SharePoint and Accordent video-on-demand will enable a powerful collaboration suite for Microsoft and Polycom customers. In addition to support for premises-based solutions, these capabilities will also be offered as part of Office 365 cloud-based services for user environments that are looking to outsource collaboration.

CX7000 supports 720p/30fps for point-to-point calls. However, it will only support SD quality video resolution for multipoint video due to Lync MCU limitations issues. Customers wanting HD in multipoint may choose to deploy the Polycom HDX solution with RMX bridging, which provides full RTV and true HD multi-point calling with continuous presence. Yet, deploying HDX with RMX bridging to get high definition video presents a tradeoff of other features. For example, Lync features such as collaboration, IM, and application sharing will not function in an RMX call. In addition, deploying RMX will not present the same seamless management and provisioning as is supported with CX7000 deployed as a Lync end point. Since CX7000 is optimized for Microsoft’s RTA and RTV proprietary protocols, there are also some capabilities such as Lost Packet Recovery which will not be available. Finally, the suggested sub $10,000 sticker for the CX7000 kit does not include displays (one for real time video and a second for collaboration/content sharing) that would be needed to support the full scope of rich multimedia conferencing capabilities.

Developing a strategic relationship with Microsoft to offer integrated voice and visual communications for the OCS/Lync environments has been a key focus area for Polycom. The multi-year partnership with Microsoft has been very beneficial to Polycom which has been outpacing competition in sales and customer growth in recent quarters. Polycom has remained in step with key initiatives to evolve Microsoft’s UC portfolio. CX7000 gives Polycom a unique opportunity to push deeper into Lync environments and a stronger opportunity to leverage Microsoft’s channels in selling its videoconferencing solutions.

               

Factors Encouraging Growth in the Enterprise UC Markets

29 Apr 2011

We just wrapped up our 2010 premises-based enterprise UC solutions market engineering report. In it we take a look at development and adoption trends for comprehensive or partial UC solutions that incorporate multiple foundational elements of the UC applications stack. We expect the report to be published soon. In the meantime, here is a very brief overview for some of our findings.

The unified communications solutions market is highly correlated with trends in IP telephony equipment shipments which suffered substantial declines in 2008 and 2009 due to the economic downturn but began to recover in 2010. Traction for unified communications solutions deployments has followed a similar ebb and flow.

In 2010 global shipments of advanced UC soft clients are estimated to have declined by approximately 12 percent year-over-year from 2009. In addition to conservative spending on new enterprise technologies, this decline is also due in part to the end of aggressive promotional efforts by leading IP telephony vendors. The decline was somewhat offset by growth from other competitors, technology advancements and licensing efforts that reduce cost, and the promises of evolving UC value propositions.

The economy began to stabilize in 2010 and is the UC market expected to resume more normal growth pattern in 2011 and beyond. The impact of the general economic turnaround will be felt in 2011 as pent-up demand is unleashed to spur technology spending such as replacing TDM communications infrastructure with IP. This refresh will be aided by technologies such as UC which are designed to help reduce cost and create operational efficiencies. 

We expect the World Unified Communications Market to continue to grow in the near- and mid- term as vendors leverage their installed enterprise telephony and business email accounts to deliver new value to existing customer technology investments.

Value propositions are changing as enterprise communications solutions evolve from hardware-based to software-centric designs. Advancements in server processing power, software virtualization and networking capabilities are driving down cost and expanding implementation flexibility for UC solutions. The result is an increasing audience of addressable customers which will sustain UC market growth in coming years.

Developers are moving toward more flexible consumption models that enable customers to implement UC solutions with greater speed and flexibility, and with reduced risk. Hosted and cloud UC services are gaining much greater visibility as top tier vendors and service providers more fully commit to the emerging opportunity. The flexibility, speed and cost benefits of hosted/cloud-based UC, as well as hardware consolidation offered by virtualization will significantly enlarge the demographic of addressable businesses and users, thereby accelerating adoption.

The need for UC-related professional services skills will expand as the breadth of possible solutions expands. Assessment, consultation, integration and post deployment support will create sticky relationships that encourage more customized and value-added UC solutions that will deliver on promised benefits, thereby encouraging more widespread deployments within organizations. 

Historically UC has been marketed as an end-to-end solution comprised of point products which are later integrated together. Often this approach required selling separate point products which lengthened the sales cycle, and combined with the professional services requirements, made UC prohibitively complex and expensive. This approach also necessitated that licenses be purchased in large volumes to help decrease cost. Ultimately licenses were purchased for users that did not need or rarely utilized certain capabilities. In reality few users actually require access to the full range of capabilities in the UC stack. Thus, the perception can be that UC benefits a small percentage of users.  

Growth over the next 5 to 6 years growth will be aided by vendor trends toward bundling applications components which help to reduce complexity of the sales process and make UC solutions easier and less expansive for customers to deploy. 

Further, vendors are likely to promote UC clients over basic softphones and bundle licenses with other applications, seeding the market for future application integration opportunities. Application bundling strategies with compelling price discounts will further facilitate the adoption of advanced applications such as mobility, multimedia conferencing and collaboration.

Increased emphasis on the business value of UC and its ability to address specific business issues is resonating with customers that require clear ROI from their technology investments.

Enterprise decision makers will increasingly view communications technologies as business tools that can create business efficiencies and competitive advantage. The resulting customer demand for communications and business applications integration will have a more profound impact on product openness for interoperability and will reduce the cost and complexity related to applications integration and UC implementation.

Unified communications solutions are no longer marketed with broad horizontal value propositions. Instead, developers are presenting solutions designed for specific user roles and tasks, lines of business and vertical industries. Licensing schemes now also allow businesses to implement UC more cost effectively and more selectively with the appropriate features for specific users.

The current pervading, more granular approach to UC software licensing encourages customers to migrate to UC at their own pace, addressing needs according to their individual priorities. Thus, the UC discussion today focuses on value over volume.

Enterprise Connect 2011 Focuses on the Connected User

04 Mar 2011

This week I attended Enterprise Connect in Orlando, Florida, USA. Formerly known as VoiceCon, Enterprise Connect is North America’s most important tradeshow for the enterprise communications market. The event’s name change is meant to reflect the evolving enterprise communications solutions market – from voice-centric, to converged voice and data, to increasingly unified and multimodal communications capabilities. Technologies that pervaded this year’s aptly named show, such as unified communications, social business, enterprise mobility and new architectures (i.e., virtualization and cloud) all intend to connect users to information and to people when, where and by whatever device or modality they want to connect.  

Per annual tradition, my agenda was booked solid. After arriving Monday morning it was not long before the overarching “connected user” theme pervaded all aspects of my briefings, demos and various conference sessions.

Arranged alphabetically by provider name, here are some of the things I saw, discussed and did that re-enforced the connected user positioning in my mind.

Aastra introduced BluStar 8000i, an innovative multimedia device with a 13 inch touch screen HD display and integrated full feature IP desktop phone. A differentiator for the company, BluStar demonstrates Aastra’s R&D innovation and its resourcefulness in leveraging existing technology assets to create new, unique solutions. BluStar is positioned as a business dashboard that connects users to a full range of the company’s SIP voice, video, multimedia conferencing, collaboration, contact center and productivity applications. I watched as video, voice and collaboration sessions were seamlessly created and as directories and apps menus were scrolled with the swipe of a finger. BluStar is a connected client for the connected user.

ADTRAN continues to break into adjacencies of its access equipment market to move up the software value chain. The company’s NetVanta Unified Communications solutions can now be deployed in VMware virtual environments. The development greatly expands deployment options, with customers able to benefit from low cost hosted UC services from ADTRAN partners, reduced hardware in CPE deployments, and new distribution and redundancy options with hybrid CPE/cloud configurations. With these new options as well as other initiatives centered on business process integration and multivendor interoperability, the company has stealthily become quite competitive in the SMB unified communications sector in which ADTRAN takes a straightforward approach with its value propositions and delivery of solutions that keep users connected. 

Alcatel-Lucent formally announced OpenTouch. This SIP-based multimedia architecture is born of recent organizational shifts that brought ALU’s carrier applications, Genesys and enterprise solutions divisions into closer alignment. OpenTouch leverages technologies and resources from all three divisions to facilitate flexible deployment options (cloud, CPE, hybrid), web services integration, PBX federation and to enable a wider range of user device choices. ALU also demonstrated its new Visual Communications Solutions on the expo floor. My favorite demo was the Interactive Whiteboard. With co-editing capabilities and touch-screen device support, it was easily one of the most fun demos I saw at the show. All of ALU’s efforts are designed for the connected user. The company has clearly made strides in expanding when, where and how users can communicate using its solutions.

Avaya had its Flare Experience in full display. The Flare Experience provides users with a rich experience as they access Avaya’s advanced unified communications and collaboration applications. These capabilities are most impressive when accessed from the Avaya Desktop Video Device, an Android-based touch screen tablet which supports a full array of the company’s UCC tools including desktop video, social media, multimedia conferencing, multiple directories, presence, instant messaging, and contextual history. This was the second time I’ve had my hands on an Avaya Desktop Video Device and I can clearly see how it can eliminate the need for different interfaces and different directories to communicate across various types of tools.

Cisco once again had a busy show in terms of new introductions. The company announced Cisco Jabber, its next generation client that supports a common set of rich applications (voice, video, IM and presence) across numerous types of end points (PC, Mac, smart phones and tablets) and operating systems in CPE or cloud environments. Jabber is intended to offer a consistent user experience regardless of how and where they need to access their applications.Additionally, I had another hands-on experience with the forthcomingCius tablet device. Critics continue to contend that Cisco is out of its element in the tablet market. But after multiple demos I can see why Cius may deliver a superior experience over third-party tablets (i.e., iPad) since it is built from the ground up to support Cisco multimedia applications. 

IBM has increased its presence at this particular enterprise communications event in recent years. The company’s current emphasis in UCC markets is anchored by the concept of social business. Several Frost & Sullivan analysts participated in a private roundtable with spokespeople from IBM’s Lotus and Services divisions to discuss the drivers and restraints for social business, UC and video adoption in the enterprise. It is clear that there are some solid drivers for bringing these technologies into the enterprise. However, many benefits are often soft or not well recognized. Still, with customer references (including its own deployments) and some hardened ROI results, IBM is building a strong case for the value of social business as manes to connect users and information in a contextual way.

Microsoft, which has also increased its presence at this show in recent years, was on hand with a keynote presentation which included demos of UC&C capabilities supported by Lync 2010 as well as demos at is expo booth. While we analysts have been privy to many of the enhancements introduced with Lync and Office 365, it was very interesting to hear from the Lync customer panel that Microsoft arranged for us. The customers were diverse, and it was notable how each met varying communications requirements (voice, video, multimedia conferencing, mobility; distributed and centralized environments) from the same Microsoft UC technologies. With the enhancements over its predecessor, OCS, Lync appears to be offering enough capabilities to satisfy the connectivity requirements of an increasingly wide variety of users.  

NEC announced and demonstrated its new UC&C Rich Internet Applications client framework. It fits into existing secure Web architectures, and utilizes Java and RIA Flash-based technology for lightweight clients that can be deployed in a consistent manner across PCs, mobile devices or tablets. NEC proved it to me with demonstrations on PC and Mac which had a nearly identical look and feel, as well as rich clients on an iPhone and a tablet. The RIA client framework is a big leap forward in NEC’s ability to provide ubiquitous access to rich communications services for connected users.  

Polycom and ShoreTel announced an expansion of their partnership that is intended to help ShoreTel gain visibility in larger accounts and Polycom to better penetrate the SMB segment. There are many synergies between these partners. They will leverage a common distributor partner, ScanSource, for joint sales and marketing. While ShoreTel reports growth in the large enterprise sector, its core customer demographic overall is still within multi-site businesses. With technology interoperability achieved some time ago, I view the ShoreTel-Polycom sales and marketing arrangement as being capable of making it easier for customers to acquire, deploy and support user connections across sites that are enriched through integrated voice and video.   

RADVISION unveiled the Scopia Gateway for Microsoft Lync. This infrastructure component connects third-party (SD or HD) video conferencing products (desktop, room or telepresence) with the proprietary video technology utilized by Microsoft’s flagship UC platform. At reportedly less cost than alternative Lync video integration solutions, the Scopia Gateway enables customers to connect and scale disparate parts of their networks, and therefore to connect more users together via video, rich presence and collaboration applications.

Skype was prominently featured at this year’s event where the company announced a new partnership with Citrix during a keynote address. In an exclusive Frost & Sullivan analyst roundtable discussion with Skype’s David Gurle’, we learned of the depth of the relationship and the envisioned plans for Skype technology integration with Citrix audio and web conferencing. In summary, Skype intends to deliver rich multimedia collaboration solutions in conjunction with Citrix, and intends to compete very heavily on price. The resulting cost effective deliverables achieved by this relationship could certainly open new opportunities for a greater number of users to get connected in ways they have previously been unable or otherwise unwilling to afford. 

Siemens Enterprise Communications has been very busy of late. The big news from the company this week was about its cloud services initiatives. I was able to demo the OpenScape OS UC Web client interface and new swipe app for Android devices. Available in conjunction with cloud services the OpenScape UC suite promises make powerful communications tools available to a broader base of users that need to improve productivity through improved reach-ability and access to information and people. For its part, the Android swipe is an intuitive and innovative way for users to easily, dynamically and seamlessly transfer multimedia communications session from one device to another. In the context of Enterprise Connect’s overarching theme, I viewed both demos as strong validation of Siemens ability to empower the connected user with device choice and ubiquitous access to rich communications services. 

Vidyo announced the availability of its VidyoReplay appliance, which enables easy-to-use webcasting and recording for Vidyo visual communications solutions. I had opportunity to demo this application that features an intuitive interface, includes a content management system and supports multiple storage options. As an add-on, VidyoReplay makes its simple for users to increase the value of their video conferencing investments. Sessions can be recorded, with the captured information tagged and stored as a resource for repeatable future references. Vidyo has now truly evolved from not only connecting people, but to also connecting people with information as well.   

With all of the talk about client innovations, it may have been easy to overlook the developers that are often called upon to make the connected user experience possible. Vendors such as Acme Packet, AudioCodes, InGate and NET provide the necessary hardware and software connectivity in both single and multivendor environments, and also in today’s heavily touted virtual and cloud-based environments. While we tend to focus on the bells and whistles available at the user level, we cannot take for granted the importance of connectivity solutions from these developers. 

Separate spotlights may have been shining on cloud, video, virtualization and mobility  solutions, however, the connected user was truly the primary focus at Enterprise Connect.

In addition to the suppliers mentioned above, I’d also like to thank the engaging and patient representatives from AVST, Digium, Dimension Data, Fonality, Global Crossing, Grandstream, HP, Interactive Intelligence, Matrix, PathSolutions, Plantronics, snom, Zeacom and other providers that I peppered with questions at every turn. Thanks also to the myriad of end users that so politely entertained my inquiries.

It is Still Early Days for CEBP but We're Getting There

30 Dec 2010

Although the concept of communications-enabled business processes (CEBP) has been around for a while, it is still a hot area of marketing for UC and other ICT companies. Given the persistent buzz, my colleague Melanie Turek and I thought the time was right for a reality check this market. We wanted to get behind the hype to gage the state of actual provider initiatives and enterprise adoption.

As part of our study we interviewed numerous vendors, service providers and VARs.

Our most immediate discovery was that CEBP continues to be ill-defined. In a sense the concept and terminology has become like UC, a catch-all marketing term that has been overly used and in many cases abused. It has become watered down to the extent that it now describes a very loose and broad array of solutions and capabilities.

The lack of a widely agreed upon definition throughout the industry has lead to a lot of confusion. Some providers inappropriately (either opportunistically or unknowingly) label more simplistic solutions, such as click to call from a CRM app, as CEBP. The confusion appears to be pervasive, as evidenced by the customer case studies that we received which simply don’t qualify as CEBP under our definition. The mislabeling causes some customers to think they have implemented CEBP when they actually have not. Other customers may have in fact deployed a CEBP solution but may be referring to it by another name, such as BPO, BPA or UC. The confusion makes it very difficult to measure enterprise adoption.

We have a more in-depth definition in our report, but in essence, CEBP puts communications into context within a business processes, connecting people with the right information at the appropriate time. By making contextual communications part of business processes CEBP increases control and reduces latency in workflows.

Per our definition, communications applications that can be part of CEBP solutions may be real-time or asynchronous. UC, SOA and web services integration enhance CEBP solutions but these elements are not required. Integration with reporting, monitoring and analytics software is key to identifying inefficiencies in business processes. Furthermore, CEBP solutions can be based upon CPE, hosted or cloud components or consist of a blend of these elements.

CEPB solutions often address complex business issues. As a result, consulting, assessment, integration and customization services are pivotal to creating and implementing CEBP. And because each business has unique requirements and a unique mix of assets (budgets, people, applications and infrastructure) there are no true plug and play CEBP solutions. More packaged applications are being made available, but even these require upfront professional services and individual tailoring to be effective.

The solutions are enabled through professional services but are founded upon products. Line of business applications and communications software are building blocks from which CEBP solutions are constructed. Because of this most providers in the market today target their existing customers to sell CEBP solutions. These customers often have the foundational products in place and the provider has the existing business relationship to know the customers’ pain points.

Businesses of all types can benefit from implementing CEBP. That said, it is widely recognized that business processes must be well defined for CEBP solutions to be effective.

CEBP can be applied horizontally across different lines of business and different industries. Therefore, many solutions today are line of business and industry-specific.

CEBP solutions are well-suited to organizations within regulated industries, such as healthcare, finance, utilities and education, where compliance mandates are a priority.  

More broadly, CEBP solutions are optimized for businesses:

  • with people- and paper-intensive processes
  • needing to comply with service level agreements
  • with requirements for real-time reporting in parts of the organization outside of the contact center
  • with repetitive tasks and processes
  • with processes involving staff distributed across sites
  • that have identified specific pain points within existing processes.

The confusion over what qualifies as a CEBP solution continues to make adoption extremely difficult to measure. However, we believe that CEBP solutions can be valuable investments that can create competitive advantages for customers. We believe that increased use of open standards by vendors and service providers as well as introduction of a broader array of packaged applications will continue to make CEBP solutions easier for customers to understand and less expensive to deploy.

Enterprise Communications in 2011: Buyers Reveal Their Top Priorities

21 Dec 2010

Frost & Sullivan recently conducted a survey of 200 North American businesses and enterprises to get a look at some trends in their deployment and usage of UC technologies as well as future spending priorities.

Participants in our survey included various types of C-level execs and IT/telecom managers. 79% were from companies with 500 or fewer employees, with the remainder from larger enterprises. We had equal representation across the healthcare, financial services, hospitality, retail, IT/telecom and public sectors.

When asked about their level of focus on developing and implementing a UC strategy accounts in hospitality and healthcare claimed the lead. 

About 30% of our total survey sample reported to have already deployed UC. A near-equal number were in process. About 20% had no plans.

Interestingly, we also found that a broad range of UC applications had between 38%-52% penetration within our survey base. These apps included:

  • IP PBX, PC softphones, audio, web and video conferencing, telepresence, team spaces, social media, mobile extension, IM and UC

In terms of usage we also found that most apps were used extensively throughout the organization. This is somewhat surprising since we expected some apps, such as mobile extension, telepresence and team spaces, to be utilized by specific types of users or groups within a given company.    

With regard to future spending and budgets, the vast majority of our survey participants expect their budgets to either increase or remain flat in the next two years. Accordingly, they expect to increase or maintain their current levels of spending on UC technologies. Less than 5% of respondents expected their budgets and spending to decline.

According to end user feedback, the use of virtualization technologies and utilization of cloud/hosted UC services are also expected to increase in the next 12-24 months.  

Our survey also looked into the commonly debated argument of single source vs. best of breed solutions. We all know the benefits and challenges of both but we asked end users about their future expectations compared to what they have today:

Survey Question: How would you describe your communications infrastructure today (from a communications software point of view)?

                                                          Large Accounts   Small/Mid

 Multi-vendor & not integrated                   48%                   50%

Tightly integrated multi-vendor                 45%                   25%

 End-to-end single-vendor                         7%                   26%

Survey Question: How would you describe your communications infrastructure in 24 months (from a communications software point of view)?

                                                          Large Accounts   Small/Mid

Multi-vendor & not integrated                   29%                   42%

Tightly integrated multi-vendor                 60%                   30%

End-to-end single-vendor                        12%                   28%

From this feedback it is apparent that more tightly integrated solutions are increasingly important to end users. End users are expecting, and will demand, that their multivendor solutions integrate more tightly. End users will also look to single source solutions as a way to achieve this tighter integration.

There were many other intriguing findings in our end user survey. For more detail please check out our December 14, 2010 Analyst Briefing: Enterprise Communications in 2011: Buyers Reveal Their Top Priorities.

 

Enterprise Media Gateways Bridge Past, Present and Future

23 Nov 2010

 

As we prepare to publish the latest World Enterprise Media Gateways Market engineering report, known internally as N89A-64, I thought it was an opportune time to highlight some of the key issues that impacted the 2009 market.

This is a mature market with a clear, perennial leader in terms of market share and revenues. Yet there are many competitors and other forces in play that keep the market in constant transition.

Media gateways facilitate the stages of enterprise migration from TDM, to IP, to SIP and next generation communications networks and applications. The roles of media gateways continue to expand and evolve to facilitate these migrations.       

We all know that 2008 and 2009 were difficult years for the tech sectors and many other industries. Media gateway deployments are highly correlated with the enterprise PBX market and we saw a similar decline in both markets in 2009. We do however, expect the enterprise media gateway market to begin a rebound in 2010 as pent up demand for enterprise technology refreshes and migrations to VoIP and UC begin to become unleashed.

The growth of the enterprise media gateway market continues to be driven and restrained by the two sides of several central issues.

  • The economy has severely reduced enterprise spending on technology investments. However, gateways allow TDM to IP deployments, and UC implementations to move forward at a cost effective and measured pace –by project, departmentally or site.  
  • Although improving, limited interoperability products from different vendors (and even from the same vendor) persists and drive up the cost and complexity of deploying IP telephony and UC solutions. At the same time core transcoding and mediation capabilities offered by gateways vastly improve customer choice to avoid vendor lock-in and to facilitate best of breed solutions.  
  • As interoperability issues become resolved among various vendors and service providers it is expected that increasing availability of VoIP access and SIP trunking services will drive demand for gateways required to connect to both TDM and IP telephony CPE. The strived for but still far away possibility of ubiquitous SIP interoperability will result in traditional gateway functions for transcoding and mediation being less frequently required as enterprise priorities shift more heavily toward security, QoS, and other services more commonly associated with SBCs.

The study details a wealth of development, pricing and marketing trends as well as forecast data that I do not have time enough to expand upon here.

Overall, it is clear that flexibility has carried gateways safely through the boom of this millennium’s first decade and through the recent difficult times while promising to do the same as enterprises’ communications requirements continue to evolve.

The New Avaya Debuts for Channel Partners

27 Oct 2010

Last week I spent several days in Las Vegas attending the Avaya Partner Conference, an event the company utilized as a forum to introduce itself as the “New Avaya”.

A first class event in every respect – from logistics, to accommodations, to conference venue, and the packed and smoothly run agenda – it was an impressive debut for the transformed company.

Much of the content focused on how far the company has come and how much it has changed over last two years to become the new Avaya. This general timeline stretches back to the introduction of the Avaya Aura architecture and Aura branding, the acquisition of Nortel Enterprise Solutions (NES), a refresh and expansion of the newly acquired data networking portfolio, unveiling of Avaya Aura 6.0 which introduces next-gen platforms that begin to consolidate and merge Avaya and NES portfolios, launch of and subsequent improvements to the combined Avaya Connect partner program, and most recently introduction of the new video portfolio and the Avaya Flare Experience.

References to the progress made within this timeline was an important reminder for me of just how much Avaya has evolved in such a short time. The company is now 40% larger than it was prior to the NES acquisition. It now draws a substantial majority of its revenue through its partner channel rather than direct. And the company is much more of an end-to-end UC&C solutions provider with much stronger UC product portfolio, with its own data networking and video offerings, and a strengthened services organization – all achieved via internal R&D and leveraging NES assets.

Showing off Avaya’s R&D prowess, the demo pavilion was a full exhibit hall of its own. Partners had access to all types of new wares coming from Avaya. I did not have time to visit as many as I would have liked, but my demos were highlighted by the Avaya Desktop Video Device (the tablet) which truly does bring Avaya’s entire applications portfolio together, the Avaya Echoes enterprise collaboration tool for recording, archiving, and searching conversations (voice, video or text-based), as well as the latest and upcoming advancements for IP Office that demonstrate the vendor’s stated commitment to protect its installed base while blending the best of the IP Office and BCM platforms.

There was a definite energy throughout the event. Avaya executives were enthusiastic about their company’s present positioning and future opportunities. Joel Hackney, SVP Global Sales and Marketing, emphasized that Avaya is not in retreat or defense mode but is on the attack to ahcieve growth. Steve Bandrowczak, VP & GM, Data Solutions gave a passionate presentation stressing the differentiators and importance of the data networking portfolio for Avaya as an end-to-end UC&C solutions provider, and as one of Avaya's fastest growing busines units.

For their part Avaya channel partners were looking forward as well. Whether heritage Avaya or heritage Nortel the majority of partners I spoke to have accepted the necessary consolidation and rationalization of the combined product portfolio. Most have since moved on to learn about and to help shape the new Avaya Connect partner programs being built out for them. In this regard Avaya made it clear that the Connect program emphasis is on value over volume and that concerted efforts are being made to improve satisfaction for both partners and customers alike.

While there are still challenges ahead, both internal to the company and with respect to the competitive market, it was a convincing and timely show of force for the “New Avaya”. 

Interactive Intelligence Looks to its Contact Center Strengths for Growth, Not So Much UC Markets

14 Oct 2010

At the Interactive Intelligence Global Partner Conference 2010 in San Antonio, TX, spokespersons for the company provided updates on products and services direction, as well as branding, marketing and other corporate efforts. Interactive Intelligence remains very much focused on its core strength as a contact center solutions developer and the vast majority of its growth initiatives are founded upon this strength.

The most heavily covered topics included Interaction Process Automation (IPA), Communications-as-a-Service (CaaS) and the forthcoming latest release of the company’s flagship Customer Interaction Center (CIC) software suite.

The Communications-as-a-Service (CaaS) offering, essentially CIC hosted by Interactive Intelligence, was launched in North America several years ago and has since been introduced to Europe. The company reports that in North America in 2010, 25 percent of new customer orders were attributable to CaaS – compared to just five percent in 2009. There are plans to open additional Interactive Intelligence data centers to support the CaaS offering in additional international markets. The CaaS offering gives Interactive Intelligence partners new options to meet a variety of enterprise deployment needs and budgets. Customers can implement hosted CIC services with greater speed and at reduced upfront capital expense than CPE-based solutions. Customers can deploy CIC as a hosted solution then migrate to CPE, or vice versa. (Note that the vendor reports the vast majority of customers who migrate go from CaaS to premise-based).Customers can purchase the systems and have them managed as dedicated hosted solutions. CaaS margins may be lower, but sales cycles are shorter and revenues are recurring. While there have been some complaints by partners about the lack of feature parity between the CPE and hosted versions, Interactive Intelligence has articulated some development initiatives aimed to help alleviate the issues, such as by improving the richness of auto attendant for use in both environments. With its CaaS initiative, Interactive Intelligence has kept to its core expertise to create a differentiator from most of its competitors.

Built on top of CIC, Interaction Process Automation (IPA) is a business process automation and management application. IPA creates control and visibility into work flow processes by intelligently routing, tracking and reporting on work (i.e., a help ticket or insurance claim) as it progresses through the phases of completion and people responsible for it. IPA can be integrated with a range of data sources (CRM, SQL, sales force tools, web services, email, etc) to initiate processes or processes can be initiated by users manually. Users access IPA process work fromwithin their Interaction Client interface. Made available in 1H 2009, Partners are encouraged to market and resell IPA solutions, but at this early stage in IPA maturity Interactive Intelligence plays a lead role in customer qualification, consultation and integration services, which over time will increasingly be handed off to qualified partners. The company is targeting CIC accounts in regulated industries (i.e., financial services, healthcare, utilities, etc.) needing to ensure compliance as well as those looking to reduce human latency, reduce paper, and improve accountability within work processes. Some examples of work processes include insurance claims, contract management, collections, lead generation, loss mitigation, patient scheduling and financial aid renewal. IPA will require Interactive Intelligence resellers to take more of a business consulting approach when selling the solution, but the majority of them are already experienced in work flow coordination within the contact center. In general IPA can be a nice fit within many Interactive Intelligence partner portfolios which again leverage the company’s known strengths in contact center solutions.

Although many of the specific CIC 4.0 details are under non-disclosure, the information that was confidentially provided evidences that Interactive Intelligence is listening to the wants and needs of its customers and partners. New deployment options, and new integrations and enhancements to applications will generally improve CIC competitiveness. However the company is also working hard to address the long intervals between major product releases. For example, CIC 3.0 was released in 2H 2008 and 4.0 is scheduled for Q1 2011 release. The company is now targeting one major release per year. This will mean fewer intermediate bug fixes and maintenance releases for partners and customers to contend with, and will also allow them to remain competitive and to innovate.

As a UC Analyst, I have one major knock against the company. That is the lack of emphasis given to its strategy as a UC solutions vendor and its development efforts in UC markets adjacent to the contact center. It is quite notable that Interactive Intelligence spokespersons abstained from using the term “unified communications or UC” while spokespeople from partners AudioCodes and IBM used the term liberally in presentations. The company does have a UC play, including home-grown IP telephony, unified messaging, presence, instant messaging, mobility, multimedia soft clients and more, as well as integrations with third-party UC (Microsoft now and IBM planned for 1H2011), telephony, messaging, video, conferencing, mobility, CRM, end points and social media solutions. However, Interactive Intelligence’s unwillingness to position itself as a UC solutions provider, coupled with its reluctance to compete for SMB and basic IP telephony accounts leaves the company with more narrow addressable markets than its foremost rivals. The company clearly has the technology foundation to be more competitive in the enterprise UC space, yet with the limited emphasis on non-contact center capabilities Interactive Intelligence is selling itself short.

Avaya Connects with Skype for Low Cost Calling and Federated UC

29 Sep 2010

 Avaya and Skype announced a strategic partnership to integrate Avaya communications platforms with Skype Connect.

Known as Skype for SIP during its beta testing period, the rebranded Skype Connect offering was launched August 30.

The Avaya-Skype integration will take place in two phases.

 Phase 1

This phase involves integration that enables calls to be routed by an Avaya PBX through the Skype network. Businesses can: establish Skype Click & Call buttons for inbound calling from Web sites; establish Skype Online Numbers for inbound calling from landline and mobile phones; and Route inbound calls from a Skype user to an enterprise extension. Skype Connect calls can also be made from a PBX extension to Skype users. Avaya BCM, IP Office, and CS 1000 systems will support the capability, while Avaya Aura Session Manager and SES will be required for Avaya Aura Communication Manager customers. Customers will be required to have a Skype Connect account. Avaya PBX integration with Skype Connect will be available in October.

 Phase 2

In this development phase the two vendors plan to federate their respective instant messaging and video applications, allowing Avaya users and Skype users to communicate with one another via instant messaging and video calling. Just as with the voice integration, security and policy enforcement for IM and video federation can be managed and controlled by the enterprise IT department. The capability is due to be available in the second half of 2011.

Avaya will be first to market with its Skype Connect integrations should the promised October release date be met. The capability will surely be appreciated by Avaya customers as a low cost means to add value to their communications systems. By making it easier and more cost effective for Skype users to contact them, there is no doubt that Skype Connect integration will be of great benefit to contact centers and sales organizations that rely on Avaya PBXs. There will be new OPEX opportunities as well, such as reducing cost by transitioning toll free numbers to the Skype network or directing remote workers and telecommuters to communicate primarily via Skype. With regard to Phase 2, Avaya customers, particulalry SMBs, will find the Skype integration an affordable opportunity to bring video, IM and presence into their organizations. Concerns that some customers may have over Skype reliability and security should be eased by Avaya's sanctioned certification of interoperability, as well as by the tools available for policy enforcement and control. Further, Avaya has been working toward federated IM and presence for some time via Presence Service. The company stressed openness and interoperability when it introduced its new video portfolio two weeks ago and 18 months ago when it introduced the Avaya Aura architecture to foster multi-vendor interoperability. Avaya's planned developments with Skype are solid demonstration of its continued commitment.

However, the availability of the Avaya-Skype Connect integrations will be limited to the US in the near term. And there are some hesitations to characterize this alliance and its forthcoming solutions as lasting differentiators because the relationship is non-exclusive. Well underway are developments for Skype Connect interoperability certification with a number of other communications systems suppliers, including BroadSoft, Cisco, Grandstream, LG-Ericsson, ShoreTel, Siemens Enterprise, Digium, 3CX and SIPfoundry. We should expect to see more announcements from Skype and PBX developers before long. Concerns about the Avaya-Skype alliance also stem from the present lack of a fully baked go-to-market strategy. Still to be finalized are plans for fulfillment and delivery of the solution, what the licensing model/pricing should be, and customer support. Admittedly it is still early days, but there are important issues to be hashed out and not much time to do it with other PBX vendors close behind on the same development trail.

 

 

 

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