Melanie Turek's Blog


Embrace BYOT for the Innovation It Can Deliver

14 Jan 2014

Employees are increasingly using their own technology—devices, services and applications—while at work. This trend, known as “BYOT” (bring-your-own-technology), represents a dramatic shift in how technology is discovered and adopted. Historically, employees were introduced to new technology at the office, and adopted it at home only when its value to their personal lives became clear, and prices went down. But today, it’s more likely that employees discover new technologies on their own, and bring them into the workplace as they see fit.

CIOs and other tech leaders should take advantage of BYOT for many reasons, but the biggest is its impact on innovation. There’s a reason so many employees are using their personal smart phones and tablets, services and applications—they enable their own productivity, making it easier to stay in touch with colleagues and customers, and up-to-date on company news and information. As employees embrace mobility, collaboration and social media in particular, they are using these tools at work to share expertise, knowledge and data—in real time, with people within and outside the organization. This leads to better processes, faster outcomes, improved customer experiences, new products and services—in a word, innovation.

But even as CIOs embrace the BYOT trend, they should also take their cue from leading-edge employees and their use of new technology and look for ways in which to formally deploy tools that will help less-forward-thinking employees see the same results as their tech-savvy colleagues. In doing so, IT leaders will ensure that the new devices and applications are controlled and secure, and that they are being used to maximum effect for the benefit of both employees and the company as a whole.

As CIOs do this, Frost & Sullivan recommends that technology investment decisions be based on a thorough understanding of end-user needs and requirements, organizational structure, processes and objectives, and major IT operational challenges. Successful technology implementation and management requires cooperation between IT and the rest of the business stakeholders.

With that in mind, we’ve developed a six-prong strategy for dealing with the consumerization of IT in your organization:

  • Define the Mobile Workers and Strong Collaborators in Your Organization
  • Identify the Consumer Technology Currently in Use
  • Assess Which Tools Have a Business Benefit
  • Determine What Technology to Upgrade or Deploy
  • Evaluate Where Benefits and Savings Lie
  • Set Policies and Procedures for the Use of Consumer Services and Devices

Ignoring the use of consumer technology in the enterprise won’t work—and it’s not a best practice, since employees are using these tools to improve business performance. IT and communications technologies are no longer just a cost item, but a key strategic asset. Businesses looking to leverage their IT infrastructure for a competitive advantage need to align their strategy with business objectives and evolving user needs. Instead of letting employees find, buy and use their own mobile communications and collaboration applications, companies should provide workers with the enterprise-grade tools they need to be as innovative as possible.

The World Is Changing Are Your Communications Ready for BYOD?

11 Jun 2013

Think about this: A recent Frost & Sullivan survey of more than 250 C-level executives revealed that in the vast majority of their organizations, employees routinely use mobile phones to conduct business—and, more importantly, for two-thirds of those users, a mobile device is their telephony end point of choice. Even when employees are working in the office, they often turn to their mobile phones for making work-related calls, texting customers, and otherwise conducting business.

Is your organization ready for this new mobile world?

Of course, companies have been dealing with mobile employees—and the need to provide access to business communications to traditional road warriors like sales and service personnel—for years. But today, not only has the idea of the traditional work environment changed, but the rapid, almost universal adoption of smart phones has changed the very definition of a “mobile” employee. Nowadays, even people who spend most if not all of their official work day in the office routinely work and communicate with colleague and customers outside of that environment—on evenings and weekends, and during the day when they leave the office for lunch or other appointments. Furthermore, even when they’re at their desks, workers are often opting to use their mobile devices tom call and text contacts, rather than the clunky desk phone sitting next to them.

And users today want to be able to choose their own mobile devices, a trend known as “bring-your-own-device,” or BYOD. Frost & Sullivan research shows that a growing number of employees are using their personal mobile devices for business purposes, with or without approval or support by IT or management. But not only has the way people work changed; customers today also have the expectation that businesses are always available and responsive, with a new generation preferring texting over email or the telephone.

This can be beneficial to the organization, but it is also a risk. Frost & Sullivan recommends that companies leverage the BYOD trend by extending corporate communications to their employees’ mobile devices, ensuring they have a single business identity as well as the advanced communications capabilities users like on their smart phones. But it’s important to remember that the need applies not just to “mobile” workers, but to the entire enterprise; as smart phones are increasingly used to conduct business anytime, anywhere (even in the office), extending mobile capabilities to all employees is critical.

Smart businesses are planning for more than basic integration; they’re thinking about how to leverage the power of smart phones to enable capabilities beyond what you can get from the average desk phone and traditional telephony providers. For many companies, the solution is a cloud-based communications system that gives employees access to a variety of communications services—including robust telephony, texting, one-click conferencing, and integration with other cloud applications—along with the ability to integrate and use smart devices, whether they belong to them or the organization.

Empowering businesses to not only leverage BYOD, but to also take advantage of the flexibility and robust capabilities of the smart phone using cloud-based services, enhances productivity, improves efficiency and improves customer service. To learn more, please register https://www.brighttalk.com/webcast/9563/75809?utm_source=Frost_Sullivan

How Telecom Vendors Can Stay Relevant in a Changing Communications World

24 Mar 2013

In what has become a fun annual event, I participated in the Locknote session at Enterprise Connect this week, and while several key topics were discussed, my favorite question was “Who are the winners and losers?” Everyone answered it a little differently, of course, but in my view, the clear winner at EC and going forward are the end users—you and me and every other employee who today has a range of options for communications and collaboration, whether they are brought in by the employee or delivered to him by his IT department.

But that sets up a couple of potential “losers.” The first is the IT/telecom department, which is fighting a battle against diminishing budgets and resources while at the same time trying to fend off the tide of BYOT (bring your own technology). If this organization can change, learning to take advantage of consumer-driven devices and apps where appropriate, and finding good enterprise-grade substitutes where necessary—and looking for ways to inject communications into business processes, working with line of business managers and end users—it will not just survive but thrive.

The second potential “losers” are the traditional telephony vendors, who need to change not just their products but also their skill sets in order to stay relevant in the new world. They face the challenge of learning about business processes and embracing change in both how they sell and how they service their products. Everyone agrees that if you want IT buyers and line-of-business managers to pay good money for a UC solution, you have to show them where the value lies—and it’s not just in enabling better communications and collaboration; it’s mostly in enabling better business processes.

And yet, Frost & Sullivan research shows that the vast majority of organizations have not implemented communications-enabled business processes (CEBP), and do not feel that UC deployments are well aligned with their business needs. Why the disconnect?

After all, it’s not like business relevancy is a new idea; analysts and vendors have been talking about the importance and value of integrating advanced communications with business processes for years. Heck, some people even define “unified communications” as CEBP. The difficulty has always been assumed to be that business processes are hard to identify, vary from company to company, and are not any telephony vendor’s core competency.

The last point is valid; most of the UC vendors’ professional services offerings are around technology implementation, not business processes or change management. But business processes themselves, while difficult to understand in the abstract, are actually very well defined in almost every mid- to large-size enterprise in the world, thanks to SAP, Oracle, Salesforce, and a host of other vertical and horizontal business applications that companies have been running for years to improve and enable how they get work done.

UC vendors looking to help their customers inject communications into their businesses for better results—streamlined decision making, improved service and support, shorter cycle and supply-chain times, and so on—should start with the leading business applications already installed on most customer sites. They don’t need to become experts on developing new business processes themselves, and they don’t need to introduce customization into the mix. They just need to look at what’s already out there—well defined and, at this point, well tested—and identify those places where adding voice, conferencing, video or social communications can improve the process.

Perhaps more importantly, however, both IT and telephony vendors face one more daunting challenge, and this one will be much harder to face: The pace of change is happening so quickly in their industry, it’s hard to understand how they will be able to keep up. We all know that large companies take a long time to make even small changes, let alone wholesale course corrections. And this was OK until recently, because change happened incrementally, and at the behest of the IT department. Vendors were often two-to-three years ahead of their customers with new products and services (consider, for instance, how long it has taken to transition from TDM to IP), but that wasn’t a bad thing: when those customers were ready to change, their vendors were ready to supply them with the necessary technology.

Today, the entire game has changed. In a software-centric, user-driven world, change happens constantly. New app revs come out weekly, if not daily, depending on how many apps you run. New devices are available in cycles measured by months, not years. And consumers who are willing to pay for the new technology for their personal use because they see benefit in having the “latest and greatest” expect their companies to do the same thing.

So the biggest challenge for IT and their vendors is how to become increasingly agile, with the ability to roll out new software and hardware and even change tack completely on a dime. Will they be able to keep pace with consumer speed? Probably not, and that’s OK. But what isn’t OK is maintaining the status quo.

Truly Unified Communications and Collaboration Technologies Still Not Mainstream

05 Feb 2013

According to Frost & Sullivan’s 2012 IT Decision Makers’ View of the Enterprise Communications Evolution survey, awareness and usage of various communications and collaboration tools is increasing. The C-level executives who participated in the survey report the highest level of awareness and usage for instant messaging and conferencing (including audio, video, and web). Despite the industry spotlight on enterprise mobility, mobile extension applications rank only average among the tools listed in terms of awareness, organization use, and personal use by decision makers.

Enterprise social media tools and shared team spaces are likewise getting a lot of attention in the industry. But these applications also rank in the middle of the pack in terms of awareness and usage.

Organizations that have deployed advanced communications and collaboration tools generally expect to usage to increase or stay the same over the next year, while a large portion of non-users report no plans to adopt new tools in the next year, mainly because they have other technology investment priorities or believe the new tools have limited value.

Overall, communications and collaboration tools are meeting organizations’ expectations—with the exception of enterprise social media tools, which most users have not integrated with formal marketing, market research, and other traditional customer acquisition and retention programs.

Indeed, although most of the CXOs in the survey said that although they currently manage a complex mix of UC&C products from a variety of vendors—and although they also hope to simplify that situation in the near future—very few have actual plans for integration, either across the applications themselves or with broader business software or processes.

Among the top UC&C solutions providers, AT&T tops the list as most generally and primarily used. However, Skype earned top honors in reported customer satisfaction (although while 31 percent of survey respondents generally use Skype, only six percent list Skype as their primary provider).

The financial services sector is the leading adopter of unified messaging and visual voicemail, perhaps due to regulatory mandates. Surprisingly, penetration of unified communications clients is deepest within the hospitality vertical. Also somewhat surprisingly, enterprise social media tools have had their greatest traction within the public sector.

Adoption of video conferencing tools was highest in hospitality and the public sector—a departure from conventional wisdom, which suggests healthcare and education would rank among the greatest adopters of visual collaboration tools.

Future deployment of UC&C solutions does not vary significantly by company size, but larger organizations have plans to deploy them more actively. Smaller companies are more hesitant, likely due to budget constraints and/or lesser requirements for advanced communications tools.

New eBook Targets Shift in Collaboration

12 Jan 2013

One of the biggest shifts in business today is a steady move toward a virtual workplace, in which employees routinely work in locations that are different from those of their colleagues, managers, and direct reports—not to mention customers, partners and suppliers. Whether they are working from a remote office, home office, client site or the road, these employees are increasingly looking for ways to communicate with each other from a variety of endpoints, on a multitude of networks.

But that’s not all. Even as these virtual workers redefine the places from which business gets done, they are also changing the way that business gets done. Today’s most effective employees know it’s not enough to simply connect and communicate with colleagues on the job; more important is their ability to collaborate with one another and their business peers. Indeed, the next generation of workers brings a different approach to sharing expertise in the workplace. Social networking and other popular consumer-based collaboration sites like Facebook and Twitter encourage and reward information sharing and collaboration, making users more inclined to share what they know and work together on projects.

Leading-edge organizations recognize that this gives them a rare opportunity to leverage technology to take full advantage of a cultural shift, one that is changing how people actually work and which has positive ramifications for the bottom line. Executives also are recognizing that they can see great benefit from working with partners and clients to solve problems, create new products and services, and generate deeper business relationships—improving not just their offerings, but the customer experience, as well.

Feeding into this growing trend are five key business and technology trends, all of which are discussed in detail in a new eBook I collaborated on with PGi:

  • Crowd-sourcing leverages the power of the people to create and vet ideas by enabling interested parties to come together, virtually, to share what they know and weigh in on everything from new products and services to marketing plans and brand identity.
  • Mobility is the way business gets done, with everyone from senior executives to sales and support personnel to “office-locked” knowledge workers relying on smart phones, tablets and other mobile devices to connect.
  • Consumerization of IT marks a clear shift in how technology develops and spreads: Today, employees identify and use new products and services in their personal lives and then look for ways to leverage that same technology in the workplace.
  • Social Media enables deeper relationships among far-flung employees, but it also allows remote workers to find information and expertise when they need it—regardless of where they or their colleagues are located.
  • Globalization is impacting every organization by extending not just reach (into new customer bases and employee pools) but also rolls (by redefining what it means to be a business in this increasingly multi-cultural environment).

Businesses can prepare themselves for these new ways of working—and gain a competitive advantage—if they give all employees access to technology that supports and encourages not just communication, but true collaboration; by changing their culture to drive and reward teamwork over individual success; and by recognizing the value of flat operations in an increasingly virtual, global workplace.

To download your free copy of this eBook, please go here: http://bit.ly/UKKaWC

Cisco Collaboration Summit: The Highlights

26 Oct 2012

I recently attended Cisco’s annual Collaboration Summit for analysts, consultants and partners. A lot of the content was heavy on marketing-speak, and light on new information. The truth is, the UC&C story hasn’t changed much over the past few years; the goal of unifying a quiver of communications capabilities and then delivering them to end users on a variety of devices is still in play, and for most companies, out of reach. Cisco’s emphasis on “mobility,” “cloud” and “video,” on “new ways of working” or “business process improvement,” was what we heard two years ago, and will probably still be top of mind in two years as well.

Obviously, we’ve seen—and will continue to see—technology shifts. Mobile devices are driving the need for cloud services, and for different apps and pricing models. The increased use of video (as a content stream, not a communications medium) is a real phenomenon and has ramifications for the enterprise. But the bigger and more important trends are cultural: the steady increase in the number of virtual workers; the ways in which social media has changed personal interactions and expectations; the willingness of employees to blur the lines between home and work. And, like most cultural changes, those take time to shape the new world, and the technology we use to support it.

So let’s accept that we are at the maturation point for UC&C (and S? we must include social), and that technology changes will be more incremental until the next big disrupter hits. Today, the hard parts are getting a handle on the necessary cultural and management shifts—the stuff that ensures people will use all this new technology in the most effective, and cost-effective possible way.

Of course, Cisco did have news to share, much of it technology related. Here are some thoughts on some of the conference content itself:

  • Cisco is clearly hoping that Jabber will win the desktop, but with only 1.4 million current user licenses out there, that seems unlikely. (Consider, as a point of comparison, that Cisco also claims to have 1 million telepresence users—on systems that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars; and that Microsoft and IBM combined have close to 350 million IM/presence users.) Of course, Cisco says it’s “OK” if customers want to use Lync—and it better be, or no one will be able to use Cisco’s voice, meeting, social and collaboration products the way they really want to going forward.
  • Meanwhile, the company has re-branded its end-user-oriented tools—at least around collaboration and social, delivered in the cloud—around the WebEx name, rather than the Cisco brand. That’s a reasonable decision, given WebEx’s success and consistent market leadership, but that doesn’t make it any less interesting—will Cisco Unified Communications be next? Do users/buyers really understand the distinction?
  • One thing I asked a product manager in the WebEx Social team was when the enterprise vendors are going to start leading the charge when it comes to new technology, rather than following the trends in consumer apps, services and devices. He didn’t really have an answer—he can’t read the future—but I think it’s a good question: we seem to have grown accustomed to the new normal (consumerization of IT), but there’s no reason innovation can’t come from the business vendors, right? What’s stopping that? Cisco was very proud of its “Watch List” within WebEx Social, which calls up status posts, comments and so on that are particularly important to the user—based on specific rules and policies. How, exactly, is that different from Facebook’s email notifications and (extremely unpopular) News Feed? It’s not, really.
  • Analytics is front-and-center these days, especially when it comes to social media. First, IBM Connections boasted about that component of its latest release. Now, Cisco is touting its software’s ability to push the right content to the right users, all based on analytics. That’s all well and good—in theory. In practice, Facebook still sends me ads for political candidates I hate, medical procedures I don’t need, and clothes I just bought. Analytics is hard; add the vast amount of real-time information and strange, unstructured data delivered by and within social media, and the problem becomes almost impossible.
  • Perhaps the most compelling session was delivered by Hans Hwang, who talked about the critical importance of adoption of collaboration tools. There is a high cost to low adoption, he says-suboptimal ROI, lost collaboration benefits, and stalled strategic initiatives. And this is true, especially now. Early adopters—both on a company level, and within a company—have already had their say; they’ve deployed and are using the technology. Now, as we start to see the mainstreaming of the technology, the new users are less apt to use the new technology; they weren’t looking for it, they aren’t inherently excited about it, and they aren’t particularly inclined to use it. That requires a change in how you deploy the technology—you need to treat is as you would any other kind of new technology, rather than as a user-driven, intuitive tool that people will clamor to use.
  • It strikes me as bizarre that we are still talking about why federation and interoperability are important. Companies and their employees must be able to communicate and collaborate with their customers and partners. End of story. Make it happen.

Best quote, Laurent Philomenko: “BYOD, otherwise known as ‘Spend Your Own Money.’”

One last point: Cisco is among the better conferencing hosts when it comes to providing power outlets, table surfaces, and high-speed, reliable Internet access within its conference sessions. The goal is to enable tweeting and communication for participants, allowing them to “continue the conversation” online, especially with the thousands of virtual participants who attended the conference remotely. But a quick glance at the laptops, tablets and smart phones all around me showed that almost everyone was also answering email, working on documents, and reading up on the most recent presidential debate. Which once again begs the question: is giving employees (or, in this case, conference attendees) constant access to UC&C making them more productive, or just more connected? And, in today’s world, does the distinction even matter?

A Look at Google in the Enterprise

06 Aug 2010

This week, Google discontinued Google Wave, its much-heralded collaboration platform. Which came as no surprise, really: Collaboration tools are best used among work groups, and work groups are generally formed for, well, work. Most consumers don’t have much use for a product like Wave, and enterprises that do need a vendor or service provider that knows how to cater to their needs—which Google, at least today, does not.

Recently, my colleagues in Europe and the UK published a market insight on the growing role Google is playing in the enterprise. Google’s culture of innovation, willingness for acquisitions, and openness to 3rd-party developers has resulted in a number of product launches in the unified communications and collaboration space in recent years. Besides Google Apps—an integrated stack of communications and collaboration applications delivered from a cloud—and the now-dead Wave, Google introduced a VoIP service (Google Voice), social media tool (Google Buzz) and mobile services (Android).

Indeed, judging by the number of UC&C-related acquisitions and products being developed and launched, the market seems to be one of Google’s strategic directions.

Google is promoting UCC-as-a-service business model, and delivering communications as a service is gaining prominence in the market. But with this model, the brand name is crucial for success of local service providers and trust is one of the key issues in the hosted services space—and Google has a great advantage of a strong brand – one of the world’s most valuable global brands, if not the most valuable one, as measured by the dollar value.

When asked to identify the vendors they most associate with, 76 percent of respondents chose Google out of a list—more than any other vendor by nearly 30 points. Still, Google is still best known in the small-business space: When asked to name the SaaS vendor they were most familiar with or using, 76 percent of small businesses named Google Apps, compared to 24 percent for IBM Lotus Live and 18 percent for Microsoft Hosted Exchange. Among large enterprises, only 45 percent were familiar with Google Apps; 34 percent knew Lotus Live, and 47 percent were familiar with Microsoft Hosted Exchange.

Clearly, Google has extremely strong consumer footprint, but that’s both a strength and a weakness. Enterprise employees are familiar with Google and would adopt it willingly at the workplace. But among IT professionals, this creates a perception of consumer-grade tools, regardless of the company efforts to adjust the suite to meet the enterprise needs.

But when customers ask me whether Google is likely to be an enterprise threat (or opportunity, depending on your perspective), I usually come back to the same answer: Not until they develop a workable enterprise channel. Because at the end of the day, that’s what counts—a way to market, sell and support their products to the people who will actually buy them on behalf of corporate clients. And today, there’s nothing to indicate Google has any such reach in place.

A Snapshot of UC in the Enterprise, from the SP's Point of View

03 Jun 2010

I recently spoke with the CTO at a service provider that offers a wide array of unified communications applications and services, and he shared some interesting insights into trends in user uptake of UC. Here are a few highlights:

Among mid-size organizations, mature companies are more likely to go with a single vendor for their UC needs. Companies that expect to see significant growth in the near future are aggressively persuing best-of-breed applications from a variety of vendors. As he put it, "These guys are looking at where the puck is going, not where it is right now."

At least 75% of the UC projects today are for dial tone replacement. But with the improvement in the economy, companies are starting to consider limited integration with other communications applications, especially videoconferencing.

He’s amazed by the apparent lack of interest in IM and presence, given how much it can save a company, and how it boosts productivity.

Video conferencing has been a tough sell historically because there is no one person within any given organization who is likely to buy it--that is, videoconferencing vendors don’t have a consistent job title to speak to in any given company. Once video went to SIP, it became the domain of the network guys, and the videoconferencing vendors really haven't had a channel for that. This is, in his mind, an opportunity for Cisco, since it can presumable drive adoption of Tandberg products with that acquisition.

This CTO says when it comes to UC, the cultural barriers are huge. Everything is changing, across the organizations: who buys this stuff, who manages it, who supports it. Then, he says, you also have to get the line-of-business managers on board for the business changes.

Compliance and Social Media: Time to Pay Attention

21 May 2010

I’m currently doing a series of road shows for Siemens, in which we’re speaking with people around the country about the value of unified communications. When I ask customers about the biggest challenges they face when it comes to deploying UC, one of the top answers is “compliance.” This is especially true, obviously, in regulated industries, but it also applies to any organization that may someday face e-discovery as part of a lawsuit—which is pretty much everyone.

Well, as social media enters the enterprise, it, too, becomes a compliance headache. With more than 50 percent of companies using social media for marketing, sales, branding and collaboration, more data and intellectual property is at risk.

But there are ways for companies to get a handle on the issue. FaceTime Communications has just released new controls for managing Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn for compliance and e-discovery purposes as part of its Unified Security Gateway technology. The technology allows posts to be pre-approved, logged and archived, or blocked if they don’t meet company policies. As a user posts a message to Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter, the software intercepts the message and notifies the user that his content will be posted only upon approval by the moderator. All traffic, both inbound and outbound, can also be scanned for confidential or restricted content ensuring that the use of social media in the workplace is not creating a backdoor for confidential and business-critical data to leak out.

Meanwhile, if you need more proof that social media is changing the way we communicate, and do business, check out this YouTube video. It might just change the way you think.

Will Cell Phones Replace Landlines? Yes. The Real Question is, Will They Replace PCs?

14 May 2010

Many in the telecom industry wonder whether (or, increasingly, when) cell phones will replace desktop phones in the enterprise. Just as consumers are cutting their landline services, going it alone with cell phones for voice communications, we can expect businesses to do the same. Once FMC, SIP trunking and other cost-cutting technologies become defacto in the enterprise, it just makes sense to give employees a single hardware device for all calling needs, and a soft client (preferably UC-enabled) for management (and use when someone is actually sitting at a PC).

But the bigger question is whether cell phones will replace computers for the majority of employees. A recent article in the Times says that cell phones are used more for data than for calls. Indeed, people appear to rarely use their phones to actually talk; rather, they use them to text and email, as well as to post status updates and tweets, manage their calendars, and surf the Net.

For employees whose jobs require interaction with relatively well-defined applications (CRM, SCM and ERP systems, for instance), and communication with other employees, partners and customers, a smart phone with access to enterprise applications and a UC client may be all they need. (Those of us who spend a lot of time in Word or PowerPoint will still need a PC--have you ever tried to type more than 100 words on an iPhone? It isn't fun.)

This has implications for IT--if necessarily affects the types of applications IT deploys, as well as the devices it supports--but also for the business in general, as employees are enabled and expected to work from anywhere, anytime. Most important, companies that want to get out ahead of this curve should start paying attention to the types of mobile devices its employees use. For instance, for maximum protection (of intellectual property, business contacts and proprietary information), companies should own the mobile phones its employees use for business.

Virtualization a Key Enabler of Unified Communications - with Caveats

03 Mar 2010

Aside from “unified communications,” one of the biggest buzz words in the tech world today is “virtualization.” Simply put, virtualization refers to technologies that provide a layer of abstraction between computer hardware systems and the software running on them, the separation of the physical from the logical. By providing a logical view of computing resources, rather than a physical one, virtualization allows IT managers to trick the operating system into thinking that a group of servers is a single pool of computing resources. And they can allow you to run multiple operating systems simultaneously on a single machine.

Vendors like Citrix Systems are already offering virtual desktop (VDI) solutions that can deliver significant operational benefits, environmental efficiencies, and cost savings. Now, UC vendors are looking for ways to leverage virtualization to deliver unified communications more effectively to more users, especially as those users grow increasingly virtual themselves (that is, they work in locations separate from those of their colleagues, managers and direct reports).

Virtualization makes sense, but the idea remains in its infancy in regards to communications. When used in conjunction with videoconferencing and other advanced communications applications, VDI environments put a heavy burden on a company’s infrastructure and network, creating limited scalability. Add a growing demand for desktop communications and videoconferencing, and end users are often left with lackluster performance, while IT managers wrestle with compromised scalability and cost-benefit ratios.

As a result, communications vendors will need to pay close attention to how and when they support virtualization at the UC level, and some may want to partner with more experienced virtualization vendors (such as Citrix and VMware) to get the technology support they need to ensure a top-quality UC experience for all users.

For instance, the relatively new Avistar C3 Integrator—Citrix Edition is designed to run on the Citrix ICA platform, launched directly from a Wyse terminal or Citrix Xen solution (it runs by the operator on Citrix XenApp and XenDesktop). The Avistar technology optimizes media processing at the terminal, while allowing application control and functionality to continue to run in the virtualized environment or data center. This ensures the terminal doesn’t transmit uncompressed audio or video, minimizing transmission delays and ensuring the network is not overburdened.

Similarly, Mitel and VMWare have teamed up to enable virtualized voice communications, with the Mitel Communications Director (MCD), which is now officially “VMWare Ready.” We can expect to see more such products, especially from the leading UC and infrastructure vendors, in the months to come. Without them, it is tough to pull off virtualization in the demanding environment of real-time communications.

UC Revenues Won't Change the World

24 Feb 2010

We just released Frost & Sullivan’s latest research on the unified communications market, and one thing stands out to me above all others: UC is not a new market; it’s a way for vendors in existing markets to continue making money. The biggest impetus for the players in this space to keep playing isn’t to deliver new business revenue; it’s to stop existing, or past, revenues from disappearing—not to another vendor (although that’s always a risk), but from the market altogether.

In the case of Microsoft and IBM, the goal is simply to give customers a reason to upgrade. Unless those vendors can deliver a compelling reason for companies to move to the next version of their communications and collaboration software, companies aren’t going to—sometimes for many years. Before OCS and Sametime (in its robust iteration), fewer companies were upgrading their Outlook/Exchange or Notes/Domino deployments on a routine—or even occasional—basis.

And the telephony vendors have it even worse: Hard phones and network gear should be built to last—sometimes decades or more. And except in certain specific use cases, like the contact center, businesses don’t need or want to add more features to their employees’ handsets. As a result, there are fewer opportunities for those vendors to upsell their existing customer base.

Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a market for UC, or that UC revenues aren’t worth tracking. OCS and Sametime are not simply “upgrades” of Outlook and Notes, after all—they are entirely new applications. But the revenues they promise to generate may not be a profit bonanza to the vendors that sell them; they may, instead, simply serve to keep those vendors in business. They may even act as loss leaders; we are seeing certain companies in the market giving away UC clients, to encourage the purchase (or upgrade) of other applications and servers, for instance.

This has an impact on the size of the UC market. Obviously if you’re giving away the software for free, you’re not making any money off it. But even more important, when we look at the overall size of the UC market, we need to continually remind ourselves that most, if not all, of the money spent on UC clients and servers would probably have been spent on other communications applications (IM, conferencing, voice, etc.).

The question for vendors, then, is how to grab a bigger piece of the already-existing pie.

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