Category Archives: Uncategorized

BMA Go and Grow London

This is a summary of the recent BMA Go and Grow event in London, where I presented the Atos London 2012 marketing campaign. Most of the debate on the day centred around marketing automation: definitely B2B’s hottest topic at the moment!

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Xuber profile – a lesson in B2B rebranding

I found a really interesting profile by Victoria Clarke from B2B Marketing of Gareth Case, the Head of Marketing at Xchanging, covering the challenges that he experienced when rebranding Xuber, their commercial insurance business. In my view this was one of the most radical rebranding programs of 2012 and underlined the need for B2B marketeers to do something creative to differentiate their organisations when tackling this type of project. In a world in which we are all so heavily focused on content and key performance indicators, there is still a role for great creative in helping businesses to stand out in often conservative markets.

The article is here.

Is unified communications past its sell-by date?

Have social media and mobile apps left unified communications looking a bit tired?

It’s now been two months since I had a desk phone and a unified communications client. Although I would like to have a desk phone, I must admit that I have only missed these tools on three occasions:

  1. When making calls to subsidiaries abroad – using cellular networks for international calling is still outrageously expensive.
  2. When I have needed to make conference calls with members of my team. Although the iPhone has limited (but user friendly) facilities for conferencing, the audio quality just doesn’t do the job a dedicated conferencing unit can.
  3. When doing a radio interview, where I needed guaranteed call quality.

As an advocate of unified communications since its infancy, this got me wondering: has unified communications now been superseded by developments in social media and mobile devices? Is unified communications now past its use-by date?

The last outposts of classic unified communications…

I started by thinking about applications in which unified communications in its purest sense continues to deliver significant measurable business value for organizations that adopt UC solutions:

  • Communications-Enabled Business Processes in contact centers: Agents can complete tasks quicker using unified communications and presence technology, delivering a direct and measurable return on investment. Greater throughput = fewer agents = better customer satisfaction: what’s not to like in that equation for the average business?
  • Road warriors: The benefit for road warriors of unified communications is easy to see. I can ‘see’ who’s available, even when I’m not in the office. It can also help reduce costs, by routing international calls through the company network or enabling me to use a soft client, rather than roaming at expensive rates using my mobile device.
  • For global businesses: For companies with international workforces, unified communication can have a massive benefit. Connecting workforces more effectively and enabling them to collaborate directly with one another accelerates decision making and powers cost cutting measures such as off-shoring and reduced business travel for internal meetings.

Don’t believe the hype

The problem for unified communications vendors is that the benefits I have outlined mirror their own organizations. Industry consolidation resulted in geographically dispersed teams that demand business travel and international communication to keep the plates spinning. This prejudices some vendors’ view of the market: they start to believe their own marketing hype and that the market for these applications is larger than it really is. Unfortunately for them, many of their potential customers face very different and more mundane communications challenges.

These customers aren’t worried about presence and a unified portal – many of them run their business using mobile handsets, simple PBXs, social media, Skype and Google Voice. What they are worried about is cost, scalability and flexibility for the future. They don’t see the potential issues of using consumer applications such as Skype – they just flinch when they see the huge roaming bills, or need to do a video call now and again and see a simple solution to those problems. As a result, many use elements of unified communications to help them address these challenges, such as single number services, video-calling and instant messaging. They just don’t call it unified communications – and don’t recognize its value as such.

Not dead, just different

So I don’t believe that unified communications is past its sell-by date – in many ways it is more relevant than ever – but old school definitions of UC are. Unified communications is no longer about managing a desk phone, mobile, Windows PC and many other devices. The smart phone has made that view redundant for all except the power users in boardrooms and hotels. Instead, it is evolving into skinny applications for low-end users and specialist applications for power users, mixed with a dose of social media, a splash of video and a few web-based collaboration tools. The unifying element comes in binding these elements together securely and in a way that controls costs.

If vendors embrace the more holistic eco-system in which unified communications now exists, then they will deliver great value to customers and thrive once more. They’ll sell fewer devices, but those they do sell will be of higher value, such as videoconferencing units and financial trading desktops. They won’t sell many high-powered UC desktop clients, but they could sell applications for mobile devices – and the presence and call control servers that will power them. And they won’t sell as many traditional maintenance services, but they could sell plenty of integration services.

The question is whether they have the agility, resources, skills and marketing muscle to adapt quickly enough to this new world, or whether new players will fill the void.

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Skype: Ready for business (Part two…)?

Serious business: UC Expo is becoming Europe's most credible unified communications show.

In a recent post, I speculated as to whether Skype were preparing to make a serious play in the unified communications space, following their appointment of David Gurle, the former main man in Microsoft’s unified communications group, as the head of their Skype for Business team. It looks like we are going to get an answer sooner than many would have anticipated, as Mike England has now confirmed that David Gurle has agreed to be a keynote speaker at UC Expo in London on March 11th.

This is a real coup for Mike and the UC Expo team, who are really beginning to craft what was previously a fairly SME-focused VoIP show into the most serious and credible unified communications event in Europe. More importantly though, the mere fact that David Gurle is taking time out of his busy schedule to address a show explicitly and exclusively dedicated to unified communications appears to be a statement of intent. There is no good reason for him to do that (I believe that he is based in Singapore, so it’s hardly his own back yard…), other than to use the opportunity to lay out Skype’s approach to the unified communications market.

Given the many niche efforts that Skype have made to enter the business market over the past few years, it will be interesting to hear David lay out Skype’s new strategy. In particular, I guess that potential customers, partners and competitors will be interested in three main areas:

  • Whether Skype are really committed to the business market? David obviously isn’t going to say that Skype aren’t up for the fight, but how far does their commitment extend? Buyers will be looking for proof that Skype understand the extent to which business users need developments that differ from the standard consumer offering. API definition has been mentioned as one of the areas where Skype could do more, but business users have far wider (and often more basic) requirements. Are Skype prepared to make that commitment?
  • Will they partner with other vendors or go it alone? Skype has a ready-made possible partner in its corporate cousin Avaya. My view is that Skype probably can’t go it alone at this stage for anything beyond the simplest requirements and smaller customers, but it will be interesting to see to what extent the major vendors are prepared to embrace them, given past experiences in partnerships with Microsoft – who eventually went from partner to rival for many of them… Maybe the answer will involve more Skype-driven cooperations with smaller partners.
  • Will they change their go-to-market approach? Will Skype seek to be a market disruptor and follow a Salesforce.com type model of direct sales (via the web, obviously), or will they look to attract more partners and channels to provide more complex solutions that require integration of Skype into other platforms? How Skype go to market will also significantly influence the kind of service that customers could expect (and whether they are viewed as a friend or foe for the traditional UC channel).

Whether or not David will address these issues is questionable: he has only been in the job a few months. But whatever happens on March 11th, it will be fascinating to follow the movements of yet another high profile potential entrant into the unified communications space.

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Are Skype about to embark on a unified communications love affair?

Are Skype about to embark on a love affair with UC?

Last month Skype made an announcement that seemed to attract relatively little comment in the unified communications community, but which I thought was really interesting. They hired David Gurle as the new General Manager and Vice President of the Skype for Business unit. No big deal on the surface, but David Gurle has quite the reputation. Gurle spent more than three years running Microsoft’s Real Time Communications business. At Microsoft, he oversaw the development of collaboration products including NetMeeting, Windows Messenger and Office Communications Server. Roll forward a few weeks and Avaya’s Dr Alan Baratz made a slip during their partner conference that some interpreted as an indication of an imminent announcement of an alliance with Skype. All of this prompted me to think about the use of Skype in business and whether they are preparing to make a serious assault on the unified communications market.

Skype certainly have an interesting starting point for any attempt to build a unified communications presence. Although videoconferencing use is expanding rapidly, 79% of respondents to a recent survey by Global IP Solutions said that they currently use a consumer application such as Skype as their primary videoconferencing application. The use of Skype is also rapidly expanding for international traffic and many businesses are becoming more open to using hosted solutions for business applications, rather than insisting on premise-based equipment. Skype also carries many of the features that users would typically expect from a unified communications solution in a user-friendly interface that makes it easy for first time users to pick up straight away.

Having said all of that, Skype attempts to grow in the business market to date have been somewhat patchy. Skype for Asterisk, which was launched in 2008 is probably their most serious effort so far, allowing users of Asterisk-based PBX systems to place, receive and transfer Skype calls from PBX deskphones. Users can make Skype-to-Skype calls and the Skype client software is integrated with the PBX, which enables users to use Skype IM, presence and video conferencing. The main benefits for business are to reduce trunking costs and to give users in small businesses the opportunity to use a simple interface for UC type features. Yet because the market for Asterisk remains fairly small, the growth of Skype use in business from this avenue is likely to be limited.

Skype for SIP was a further attempt to make in-roads into the business market. Launched last year, its main purpose is to provide interoperability between PBXs and the Skype network. At launch, the software supported PBXs from Nortel, Cisco and SIP-based Asterisk switches, but reviews were somewhat mixed – it didn’t support some Skype features and SIP to Skype calling features were also somewhat limited. There have also been many other third-party attempts to build Skype gateways and even a custom built Asterisk platform (FREETALK Connect), which offers great functionality, but limited scalability. So most of the moves so far to take Skype into the business mainstream have actually been quite niche in their approach. Skype penetration in the enterprise has remained the domain of enterprising employees who sidestep conventional IT to install the software, in order to meet a specific need.

This need not be the end of the story though – and it probably isn’t if the Gurle hire is a statement of intent. Skype has much to gain in the business market, not least an even greater share of the estimated 406 billion international minutes of calls made annually. But I suspect that its future is probably not in partnerships with PBX companies and niche open source players – at least not if it wishes to move into the business mainstream. Instead, I would anticipate Skype becoming an even more disruptive technology and following a similar model to Salesforce.com. They could offer business users a combination of the features that many like, with the control that any self-respecting CIO needs, such as the ability to switch users on (and off), control usage and even connect domains for inter-company presence between trusted partners. Now that could be a powerful combination – and an interesting story to follow in the future.

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