On a pretty quiet week for unified communications, Siemens Enterprise Communications and Polycom announced the formation of a global Unified Communications Partnership. In the tech world this kind of union is often accompanied by grandiose statements about sharing a common vision, joint product development and other marketing hyperbole. But reading the releases and the accompanying interviews on this announcement, you didn’t really get that feeling. There was a good reason for this: both sides of this marriage know that this is a common sense commercial relationship in the face of a rapidly changing videoconferencing landscape. The partnership is not Earth-shattering, but it gives both sides some much needed stability in their partner eco-systems.
Polycom benefit from a formal commitment from Siemens, who took them to the prom for years, before flirting with an attractive young OEM called Lifesize and pursuing a serious relationship with Tandberg. No one will say it our loud for fear of upsetting other partners and existing pipeline, but they’ll probably be SEN Group’s video partner of choice going forward. As a result, they get a new alliance partner with a loyal customer base to sell to, at a time when they’ve lost two partners to market consolidation: Nortel has been absorbed into Avaya and Cisco will obviously now focus their love on Tandberg, leaving Polycom to fend for themselves.
Siemens also now have a clear way forward after a few telepresence misfires. Despite talk of an open approach to video strategy, the reality is that Polycom is now by far the most attractive strategic option in Siemens’ video portfolio and a salesforce favourite. Even after the Lifesize OEM deal, Siemens sales reps continued to have a soft spot for Polycom solutions, because their customers trusted the technology. I doubt we will see many customers falling over themselves to buy Tandberg from SEN Group now either, or Siemens going the extra mile to sell it.
There isn’t too much to get excited about at this stage, but there are two interesting points. Firstly, there is mention of full integration of video into OpenScape unified communications. There was talk of this when the Lifesize partnership was announced a few years ago, but it never really got off the ground – the low margins meant that selling rebadged video kit wasn’t a particularly attractive option, so neither did the integration. I hope that this is now delivered: lack of high quality desktop video integration into unified communications clients has been a disappointment and I believe that there is a market for customers that need video, but neither want the complexity of a full telepresence suite nor the challenges of managing Skype securely in the enterprise. Following recent interoperability announcements from Polycom Tandberg and LifeSize, this may result in some movement on ease-of-use in UC video. Building on efforts to make OpenScape more channel-friendly will be key to this, as channel-driven volume will be needed to ensure payback for the integration work.
The other area of interest is in Siemens creating OpenScale services for managed video. Siemens has a fantastic global managed services customer base in telephony and has been busy rolling out OpenScape Voice to many of those clients. Extending this with some easy-to-use video and commercially attractive services could add value to customers, Polycom and Siemens alike.
This agreement isn’t without risks for both sides, but these are the same risks that have been attached to every video partnership in recent years: that mergers and acquisitions activity takes on or the other partner off the table. This risk is probably greater to Siemens, who would be left with few remaining options on video, other than to work with a key competitor. But it’s hard to plan a strategy on the ifs, buts and maybes of the current M&A climate, so right now this partnership looks like a smart move for both parties.