Planning for the “Post-PC” Era
One of the Summit sessions at the recent Enterprise Connect dealt with the question, “Has the Post-PBX Era Begun?” The program raised the provocative question, “is the last PBX you bought, the last PBX you’ll ever buy?” and talked about the other trends sweeping through the telecommunications industry including virtualization, mobility, software architectures and unified communications. The discussion included “all of the usual suspects” as well as our own Jim Burton of UCStrategies, and not surprisingly, Warren Barkley, General Manager, Lync Customer & Partner Management at Microsoft.
While the evolution of the traditional PBX to new forms is of key interest to telephony-oriented SI’s, it is important to note that this type of cataclysmic change is happening in the over-arching markets of PCs and consumer electronics. In his announcement for the new iPad, Apple CEO Tim Cook pointed to the “post-PC” era, a clear reference to the fact that users today are shifting more of their digital media consumption from desktops and laptops to smartphones and tablets.
It is understandable that Mr. Cook would make this pitch as his company’s meteoric rise has been linked to those very devices (iPods, iPhones, and iPads) that are making PCs look like so much rusty scrap metal. Apple sold 172 million of those "post-PC" devices last year, representing 76% of the company's revenues. Indeed, no other hardware vendor is equipped with a more “appropriate” product mix to benefit from this transition than Apple.
Even dug-in Apple-haters would have to concede that the Cupertino crew is really in the catbird seat as the industry transitions to this new phase. True Apple fan-boys would go further and say, “They deserve it! They invented all the products that have brought the post-PC era about!”
So SI’s are coping with two tsunami-generating earthquakes simultaneously: the upheaval of the traditional (though now IP-driven) PBX market occasioned by the entrance of software companies like Microsoft and IBM, and the reorganization of the entire information industry, consumer and enterprise (though it’s getting harder to tell those apart) with the move to new mobile devices and social networking tools.
For SI’s, this cataclysmic shift might call for a new orientation in thinking. We are past the time when virtually all enterprises depended on the telephone as their primary mode of communication and telephone communications were so essential that “5-9’s” reliability was barely cutting it. Sure some of those environments still exist and will likely continue in some areas like contact centers (though more and more of those agents will be “somewhere else”). However, the user’s focus on “communications,” by which I mean voice, text, email, video, and collaboration, has already shifted to the mobile.
Of course, in a highly redundant cloud-based voice solution we can hit that 5-9’s a lot easier by delivering calls to the user’s mobile when the wired infrastructure takes a nosedive. However, since these enabling post-PC devices are sold through other channels, the challenge for SIs will be to come up with profit-making solutions and services that bring them into an enterprise appropriate network.
Rather than looking at these new post-PC devices as “the enemy,” maybe we should start the conversation with the customer with what we can do for their smartphones and tablets rather than with our beloved PBX. If that’s where the user wants to be, that’s where the SI should want to be as well.