Three UC Summit Takeaways and a Search for UC’s Center
Last week’s UC Summit was good as always, but nothing stands still any more. That’s a given with tech, and it’s particularly applicable for UC&C, where the center is not holding – presuming you can find it. Our conference tries to help decision-makers find that center, but it’s not clear if even we know where it is. To illustrate, here are three basic takeaways.
UCS Becomes BCS
We see lots of acronyms in this space, and BCS is the latest, as the UC Summit is now the Business Communications Summit. Even we struggle with the UC moniker, and while we might not be sure where the center is for “business communications,” it’s even less clear with UC. While the technology is sound, as a solution, UC has not gained mass-market traction. The term may resonate well with vendors and IT decision-makers, but not so with end users, and their adoption is critical for sustained success.
At UCStrategies, we recognize that the ultimate value lies in driving business outcomes, and that has led to the name change. Jim Burton is the driving force behind UCStrategies, and he presented the rationale for all these changes. We have a new name, a new logo and a new focus on helping businesses make good decisions along their entire journey. Whether you call it BC or UC, the customer journey is complex, and we see the need for education early in the buying process. The journey is much more than investing in technology, and in that regard, our center has shifted from the solution – UC – to the problem – improving business communication.
Technology-wise, this was the strongest trend during the summit. Every sponsor has a cloud story, and everyone knows how important this will be for engaging Millennials. We certainly heard from the established UC players – Cisco, Microsoft, Unify, NEC, ShoreTel and Mitel – but they weren’t alone. Google has their own take on collaboration, and they’re taking square aim at Microsoft’s market now, so you’ll be hearing more about them in this space.
Add to that the new breed of purpose-built, cloud-based collaboration solutions, making the space even more crowded. Dave Michels gave a good overview of who these companies are and the need they’re addressing – and it’s quite different from what the conventional UC vendors are offering. He’s even given us another acronym to follow – WCC – workplace communication collaboration.
Within this new WCC realm, Slack is the best known, with the common element being that they’re based on messaging rather than legacy applications like telephony and email. Another is Redbooth, and being the first such vendor to sponsor at the Summit, got some nice first mover advantage with an audience that had little prior knowledge of WCC. These vendors represent a different way to work, and are poised to be quite disruptive in 2016. Several have been acquired already – such as Fuze, Glip and Biba – and others will surely follow.
As if that wasn’t enough, we heard from Vonage, perhaps the biggest surprise of the Summit. They normally wouldn’t be associated with UC or BC, but after seeing their presentation, it should be clear why they’re in the UCaaS space. They’ve done a great job transitioning from the consumer market over to business, and rightly noted how fragmented it is still. There’s plenty of room for them, and they cited Frost & Sullivan data showing Vonage Business already as the #2 player with a 6.6% market share.
All told, the cloud is crowded with UCaaS, and with low barriers to entry, it’s hard to see where the true differentiation will come from. With so many types of cloud-based offerings, there isn’t a true center that decision-makers can build around for meaningful comparisons.
Phone or no Phone
This is another theme showing how there is no one center for UC. Now that Skype for Business has added PSTN connectivity, Microsoft is being more aggressive promoting cloud PBX as part of Office 365. They can now go to market with a complete UC solution, including fixed line telephony – but without the need for a premises-based phone system. Similarly, Google has a cloud-based collaboration suite that does not require a PBX. Their Apps for Business platform has limited telephony with Google Voice, but it lacks PSTN connectivity, making it clearly in the “no phone” camp.
All of the collaboration platforms fall into this camp as well, and anecdotally, it wasn’t hard to find conversations at the Summit where someone has moved on from desk phones altogether. This is a very different world from what Summit attendees are used to, and while some of that activity has migrated to mobile devices, there is a growing end user population that simply favors short-term text modes over voice.
Conversely, we heard about and saw the latest IP phones, and it’s clear that the traditional center where phone systems are part of the UC value proposition is very much in place. To illustrate, Cisco said they have never shipped more IP phones than the last quarter, and contrary to what many believe, “phones aren’t going away.” As such, there is a center where phones remain part of the UC story, and another one where they don’t have a future at all.
All told, there were more questions than answers at the Summit, and it’s clear that the Unified Communications space is far from unified. There is more disruption and innovation to come, and the Summit was a great showcase for this point in time, along with providing a good hint for what the future holds. This is one way the Summit provides great value, as this was a group of speakers you’d be hard pressed to find anywhere else – and in such an accessible setting. As we evolve from UCS to BCS, you can expect to see more of that in 2016, and as the centers keep shifting, we’ll be right there to keep you informed.