Tag Archives: Apple

VoiceCon Orlando: Is anyone going to knock our socks off?

VoiceCon's coming - again! (Image by Alex Dunne, used under Creative Commons licence)

I can hardly believe that I’m writing this, but VoiceCon Orlando is just around the corner – again! From March 22nd to 25th, the great and the good of unified communications will gather in the Gaylord Palms hotel (still love that name – it sounds like it should be a line in a Barry Manilow track!) to discuss the latest developments in unified communications and (hopefully) be wowed by the incredible keynotes. VoiceCon Orlando has developed into an interesting show over the past few years – it’s probably the closest thing the UC market has to a flagship show. The presentations often give a clear view of where the market is heading, even if some of the demonstrations are not quite ready for primetime yet.

VoiceCon Orlando in 2009 was dominated by the situation at Nortel and their customers’ concerns about the long-term viability of solutions that had served them well for years, Avaya announcing Aura and Microsoft finally (doing what we’d all been waiting for: taking the gloves off towards the PBX vendors and throwing down the gauntlet to the rest of the UC market. Having looked at this year’s keynotes, all the usual suspects are there: Avaya’s Kevin Kennedy, Cisco’s Tony Bates, IBM Software Group’s Alistair Rennie, Microsoft’s Gurdeep Singh Pall and Siemens’ Mark Straton (who last year did arguably the most original keynote of 2009, when he demonstrated Twitter integration into OpenScape at VoiceCon San Francisco). The question is: will any of them present anything that will really excite us and, if so, who?

Here are some of the things that I will be hoping to see in this year’s keynotes:

  • How far Microsoft have progressed in really providing a scalable unified communications solution and how they will deal with the mobility issue, given that Windows Mobile seems to be going nowhere, fast?
  • How are vendors going to deal with the consumerisation of IT? The Apple iPhone is now booming as a business device (as I observed again today on my way into London), Skype’s international minutes are exploding and Twitter use continues to climate in the business environment. I want to see vendors recognise this and deliver applications that will take unified communications into a mainstream business context. This means focusing on ease of use to drive adoption! A recent announcement by Cisco shows that they are getting it – let’s hope others follow at VoiceCon.
  • Solutions to integrate social media response and monitoring into the contact center. Siemens (and in particular Paul Maddison) have some interesting thoughts in this area – it would be great to see them build on their innovative integration of Twitter into OpenScape by providing some applications for customer service that would have a real return on investment for many organizations.

Above all else though, I will be following this year’s VoiceCon coverage and hoping to be wowed: it’s time for unified communications vendors to move on the debate from the Aura’s, incremental upgrades and Nortel survival debates of the past few years. What I’d love to see is innovation, real-life implementation and compelling reasons to invest in unified communications for CIOs around the World.

Update: Since I wrote this post, Dave Michels sent a nice tweet as his VoiceCon wish: that all of the executives demo their ‘intuitive’ unified communications applications themselves, rather than getting junior staff members to do it for them. I can only second this – when did you ever see Steve Jobs sub-contract his demonstrations?

This brought me on to another VoiceCon wish of my own: if executives are going to spend their entire keynote talking up the value of social media integration and its business value within a unified communications context (and let’s face it: at least one keynote is bound to be full of this), then they should at least use the technology that they are talking about – and only tweeting two test tweets six months ago definitely does not count! Anyway, enough from me: what’s your VoiceCon wish?

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Unified Communications: The Case for Simplicity. Part One…

James preferred this to his grimy old deskphone. Can't think why...

I noticed a tweet earlier this week from an old colleague of mine, Rudi Hamann from Siemens Enterprise Communications. The tweet went like this:

Why do you think SMBs do not recognise the immediate value of unified communication and presence?

Having now worked in a rapidly expanding medium-sized business for a month, I think that I can answer his question.

My company should be a perfect customer for unified communications: we are a multi-site business with complex operations. We are expanding rapidly internationally. Yet – although we have all of the component parts – we don’t use a unified communications solution right now. Why? Because the benefits of unified communications are not being clearly and simply articulated to customers like us – and certainly not clearly enough to displace the other IT challenges that we are tackling in our list of priorities. I have been thinking about this and believe that there are three main areas, where vendors are missing a trick:

  1. Firstly, in fast-growing companies like ours, line-of-business managers have a significant influence on the IT strategy. Yet there are very few vendors out there that invest the resources to articulate the real value of unified communications in a coherent, jargon-free way. Ironically, Rudi actually was part of a good attempt at doing this when Siemens launched HiPath OpenOffice (now OpenScape Office) in 2007. That solution covered many of the needs of growing businesses: unified messaging, presence, mobility and Outlook integration. If more line-of-business managers understood the value of unified communications, then this would almost certainly raise it up their priority list.
  2. The consumerization of IT has a massive influence. We know that we need to communicate but tools such as IM, Skype, the Apple iPhone and various other smartphones help us meet that need. They’re not perfect, but they are simple, consumer-focused tools that are easy to understand. So these are the tools that many businesses use to fill needs that could be covered by UC solutions. I am not arguing that this is right: there are security issues, management challenges and significant costs – but end users don’t consider such issues. Gartner recently said that the consumerization of  IT will be a key trend over the next decade. If they are right, then unified communications vendors need good arguments as to why their solutions offer real value to business that business can’t get elsewhere.
  3. Last, but definitely not least, ease-of-use, installation and management are all important factors in growing businesses. We expect unified communications applications to be easy to install, reliable and for them to work seamlessly with the applications and devices that we already use. Not the complicated proprietary stuff, but at least the standards that we use every day, such as Microsoft Office, Outlook, Blackberry and iPhone. And when I say integration, I mean simple out-of-the-box integration – not integration requiring consultancy or professional services.

At the heart of all of these issues is one recurring theme: simplicity. I believe that there is a real craving for simplicity in business IT right now. As consumers, we are all spoilt by companies such as Apple, Sky and Google articulating their propositions very clearly and making their solutions so easy and intuitive that we don’t need manuals to work out how to use them – we just instinctively know. Unified communications has a massive dependency on user adoption in order to ensure the return on investment of solutions. Yet many vendors have still to realise that communicating their propositions in a straightforward manner and making them unbelievably easy to use is key to users desiring and adopting them. Until that happens, the value of unified communications will bypass many of the influencers in the IT decision making process…

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