Category Archives: Avaya

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.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , ,

Unified Communications: Why they’re all ‘Open’ now…

Polycom, Cisco, Avaya… It seems that everywhere you turn these days, unified communications vendors are declaring their love for all things open and standards based. This should be a moment for celebration. At this point, unified communications customers are supposed to be filled with a warm happy feeling that vendors all over the world are joining hands and working together in our best interests.  Yet in virtually all cases, it seems to me that the sudden conversion to the road to openness doesn’t always necessarily translate into an easier life for customers implementing unified communications: the devil is very much in the detail.

I know a thing or two about being ‘open’. I was one of the core team that decided on ‘Open Communications’ as Siemens Enterprise Communications’ positioning back in 2006. Our reasons for choosing that positioning were transparent. We saw a changing market, with new entrants from the software sector, service providers and the data market. We believed that everyone had some area of expertise, but nobody did everything brilliantly – including us. Microsoft owned the desktop in many companies, Cisco the data. PBX vendors understood voice and sometimes mobility, but were still learning about software. The unified communications market was also becoming increasingly entwined with the the applications space.

There seemed to be space in the market for an open neutral player that would work with a range of partners to bring together the best solutions for customers to get them to a unified communications environment built around their business needs, rather than what we wanted to sell them. We also believed strongly that we would need to focus on open standards, such as SIP (it helped that we had HiPath 8000, which was the only carrier grade SIP softswitch on the market at the time) in order to foster this culture of openness and interoperability.

This path was fraught with difficulty: Siemens had its fair share of proprietary platforms, not least the HiPath 4000 (which was the strongest product line at the time and remains Siemens’ biggest seller) and a proprietary culture. But we stuck with it and, over the course of three years we made some progress. We launched the OpenScape UC Server in 2007 and saw a genuine commitment and cultural change in the organization to build on standards-based platforms and work on partnerships across the industry. You can still see the impact that this change had on Siemens today, when they launch Beta Programs and social media integration for OpenScape – the philosophy really penetrated the company, even if it took a few years…

If I look around today, it seems that Siemens won the intellectual battle – at least at face value. Avaya launched Aura and declared themselves the champions of that open standards favourite, the SIP protocol. Polycom launched the Open Collaboration Network. Even Cisco have now decided that “that competition and industry expansion is best fostered through open standards and interoperability”, which is a long way from their position a few years ago. But I would argue that many of those decisions have been based on the need to integrate new acquisitions or being unable to offer a complete suite of unified communications solutions, rather than a ground-up commitment to open standards in the interest of customers.

Of course there is an argument in favour of being closed. Look at Apple. Working their own standards and building a walled garden enabled them to build the most successful music retailer on the planet. Their closed eco-system also allowed them to innovate in ways that Nokia, Microsoft and Co could only have dreamed of. There is a solid basis for the view that standards bodies stifle innovation and reduce inter-working to the lowest common denominator. But, like telephony before it, unified communications needs guaranteed interoperability if businesses are to derive maximum benefit and return on investment from the technology. It needs standards to enable companies to work together regardless of which vendor they bought their equipment from. I can see three key areas in which vendors could work together to deliver more value to customers than seems possible today:

  1. HD video interoperability. I know that progress has been made in this area (not least the Polycom-Cisco-Lifesize announcement last year), but wouldn’t it be fantastic if you could at least guarantee that you could make an inter-organization HD videoconferencing call out-of-the-box, without lengthy integration processes or long testing periods? The kit certainly costs enough and this kind of functionality should be a given today – and not just in a vendor-controlled demo environment.
  2. Presence engines. Again, the ability to integrate presence from all of the leading engines into unified communications clients should just be a fact. I’d also like to see the Holy Grail of presence: to offer secure federated presence, whereby I can choose which partners I trust and wish to share my status with, regardless of which organisation they belong to.
  3. Desktop clients and soft clients. It seems ridiculous that in 2010 any use of desktop phones on PBXs from third-party vendors is limited to the most basic of SIP call control functions. Maybe this area will never change now, given the expected decline in sales of desktop phone and the growth of mobile devices as alternative PBX extensions and WiFi clients.

I’m sure you can think of other areas – this is just my starter for ten. The industry seems to be taking steps in the right direction, albeit slowly. Yet all vendors have to make commercial decisions based on defending their own self interest, so I have to wonder whether vendors will really commit to giving customers what they want: the interoperability that would make unified communications truly unified and truly easy to adopt…

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

One for the meat and potatoes lovers… Avaya announces combined Avaya-Nortel Roadmap

Avaya customers (of which my company is one, just to declare my interests up front) and Nortel customers got to see Avaya’s much-heralded combined Avaya-Nortel roadmap for the first time on a webinar yesterday. I won’t do the full rundown of which products are for the chop and which will live a full and healthy life, as Allen Sulkin and Sheila McGee Smith have done a very nice job of summarising the key points over at Nojitter.com.

What did strike me when reading through the detail, was how little the marketing messaging has moved on over the past two years. In 2008 I led the communications campaign to launch OpenScape UC Server at Siemens. As I watched the tweets come in today from Elka Popova, Steff Watson and Sheila, I would not have blinked if you had told me that they were tweeting at the 2008 Siemens’ analyst roadshow presentation – the key messages were that similar:

  • Nortel customer can upgrade at their own pace using Aura: that’s like the Siemens OpenPath migration message.
  • Avaya Aura: still very similar to the OpenScape UC Server message from 2008.
  • Contact centers will be SOA-based: At Siemens we said this almost two years ago.

Before I’m accused of pro-Siemens bias (for the record: I know longer have any connection to them), I can understand why Avaya took a cautious approach. They probably saw this as a meat and potatoes announcement for a crowd that likes meat and potatoes – and who were primarily concerned with how long they would have their current solutions before they were chopped from a streamlined Avaya portfolio. Nonetheless, it did strike me that this was a missed marketing opportunity.

This man was not seen at Avaya's roadmap launch...

As I read the coverage though, I wondered what a sprinkle of Steve Jobs style magic could have achieved. This was a large and fairly friendly audience – people who have a vested interest in seeing Avaya succeed. They could have set out an exciting vision and made some new announcements. Maybe they could have announced full integration of Skype into Aura? Or some new mobile clients? Perhaps a snazzy new interface for businesses to integrate social media and UC with corporate security controls? Instead of that, there were calming statements on how aligned the technical vision of the Avaya and Nortel sides had been (unsurprising – most PBX vendors have a similar view of the market) and some end-of-life announcements – nothing to really blow your mind.

It’s hard not to focus on handling existing customers’ sensitivities in the middle of such a major merger. But the market will not wait – and the competition in the UC market is relentless, as Cisco, Siemens and others are showing. I hope that Avaya now go on to prove to customers that they remain leading UC innovators, who will still be relevant to both Nortel and Avaya customers for the next ten years.

What do you think? Am I being too critical? Or do you like a bit of Apple-style bling served up with your unified communications?

Tagged , , , , , , , ,