What People Want in Collaboration
In the 2000 comedy “What Women Want,” the character played by Mel Gibson is involved in a freak pseudo-electrocution and as a result develops the ability to hear women’s thoughts and as such gains insight into what women really want.
Today, competitively timed to coincide with the start of the sold-out Lync Conference, Cisco has released survey results that are intended to help leaders better understand what people want in collaboration tools and from the vendors that make these tools, all without needing to risk electrocution.
The survey, commissioned by Cisco, involved 3,200 IT leaders in nine countries. The survey asked broad questions related to mobility, cloud, support and quality of communications.
Based on the survey results, Rowan Trollope, SVP/GM, Collaboration Technology Group at Cisco, in his blog post invites us to begin the debate (between Cisco and Microsoft solutions) and recognizes some of Cisco’s interpretations of the survey results “will generate controversy but that’s OK -- it’s a conversation worth having in our opinion.”
Another blog post by Carl Wiese, SVP, Global Collaboration Sales at Cisco, more directly attacks Microsoft Lync. Wiese takes issue with Microsoft’s support for BYOD, points out that the Microsoft-hosted version of Lync does not offer feature parity with the on-premises version, comments that half of companies using Lync do not yet use it to provide business-critical external communications, and illustrates how a multi-vendor UC solution can pose support challenges.
Whether or not you agree with Cisco’s interpretation of the survey results, it does bring attention to some key areas to consider when you are determining your UC and collaboration approach. I continue to support the “use case” driven approach championed by my UCStrategies colleagues Marty Parker and Don Van Doren (see “Fixing Backward Planning”) and detailed in my article “The Goldilocks Approach: 7 Steps to Get to ‘Just Right.’” As I write in my article “features are not requirements,” just because a vendor offers a function does not mean this function will provide any value to your organization. With that mindset, let’s take a look at some of the survey results.
1. Support for multiple devices, especially mobile devices
The survey suggests that customers would like all modalities on all devices. This is not a surprising finding. While Cisco interprets this result as being at odds with Microsoft’s “desktop PC” roots, the truth is that both Microsoft and Cisco continue to try and meet this customer desire and both organizations have work to do.
The Lync Mobile client is already available on Android, iPhone and iPad devices and of course on the Windows Phone. The Lync client also runs on Macintosh computers and Windows 8 tablets, including the Microsoft Surface. Lync is not only a desktop PC solution. That being said, the current Lync 2010 mobile client primarily provides instant messaging and presence services. The Lync 2013 mobile client, which will likely be discussed in detail at the Lync Conference, adds support for voice and video over both cellular and Wi-Fi networks.
The Jabber client(s), they differ in capabilities depending on the device, at present arguably provide more functionality, when combined with other Cisco software such as WebEx. For instance, the Jabber client for BlackBerry only currently provides IM and presence. The Jabber client for iPad requires the WebEx Messenger Service to provide peer-to-peer voice or video and launches the Cisco WebEx iPad to provide conferencing (requiring a Cisco WebEx host account and Cisco WebEx Messenger service).
Neither Cisco nor Microsoft nor any other UC vendor offers all communication modalities on all leading mobile devices; Cisco, Microsoft and others are racing to do so.
According to the survey results, 80 percent of respondents expect enterprise-grade voice and video from the cloud. I see the concept of “cloud” as wonderful but also often “fluffy” and “foggy” (See “A Cloud for One is Just Smoke”). When people say they want to move applications to the cloud, I contend that what IT leaders really want is cost savings and operational and support simplification.
Cisco’s current cloud solution (Hosted Collaboration Solution or HCS) offers a broad range of hosted voice and UC services including hosted contact center capabilities. HCS is delivered through a number of partners including large telecom services providers.
Cisco correctly notes that the current Microsoft Office 365 offering including hosted Lync does not provide enterprise-grade voice services. Hosted Lync from Microsoft provides peer-to-peer voice and video for users within your organization or with other organizations you are federated with (i.e. other organizations that are also using Lync – see the Lync Federation Directory Project for a list of who this might include). Hosted Lync from Microsoft does not, directly, include any connections to the PSTN to support calls to or from “regular” phone numbers. (In select geographies this capability may be provided through third parties).
However, beyond the Microsoft Office 365 version of hosted Lync, other Microsoft partners, including some global telecom service providers, offer a complete hosted Lync solution that does include voice services. These solutions are most often based on the Lync Multi-tenant Hosting Pack that was released in July of 2012.
3. Quality and reliability
The Cisco survey results note that nearly half of the respondents do not use Lync for business-critical external communications. I see this as a double-edged sword for Cisco. The results show that many organizations maintain two important communication infrastructures, email (and IM) plus voice. Microsoft is working to convince organizations who have Lync but who are not using Lync for voice that they are wasting resources. Cisco is trying to convince organizations that Lync cannot deliver reliable, mission-critical, voice.
In my experience both Cisco and Microsoft can provide rock-solid voice and video; however, to achieve this with either solution organizations must design and invest in the required supporting infrastructure, most critically a properly-sized, robust wired or wireless network that supports end-to-end prioritization of real-time traffic. It is not easy and there is no shortcut to delivering quality voice and video.
Further, delivering real-time voice and video requires the appropriate engineering skills. Cisco voice engineers sometimes “stumble” when integrating into more traditional IT applications such as Active Directory and Exchange. Microsoft application engineers often “fall down” completely when adding real-time voice and video services to a previous IM-only Lync deployment. This is not a fault of the Lync software but rather of the implementation team.
Beyond properly architecting and implementing your selected UC solution, you also need to set user expectations correctly. For instance, because mobile workers may connect from home offices, hotels, airports or their favorite coffee shops, proper training needs to help users understand that external networks, especially wireless networks, can introduce call quality issues. Just like when using a mobile cellphone, remote and nomadic UC workers may experience dropped or degraded communication sessions.
Designing and deploying a collaboration solution is important but arguably more important is ensuring it continues to operate reliably. As noted above, one reason IT leaders look to the Cloud is to make supporting a complex UC environment someone else’s problem.
In my experience Cisco provides excellent support (including hardware replacement options) through its SMARTnet program. Microsoft is still working to develop its UC support model and relies heavily on the channel to provide support. The Microsoft “Premier Support for Lync Partners” program is one way Microsoft is working to certify specific Lync Partners as being able to provide the “single support number for UC” that 87 percent of the survey respondents desired. Some of the Lync Conference sessions are slated to explore options for ongoing end user and technical support.
As I explored in my article “Voice is Not the Path to UC,” UC or collaboration solutions are complex and will inevitably involve multiple vendors. Even when implementing a Cisco UC solution, the system still needs to connect to the PSTN, runs on a variety of operating systems and connects to other applications, at a minimum the business critical email system. This inevitably means dealing with telcos, with the OS provider(s), which almost always includes Microsoft, and in dealing with the email provider, which almost always is Microsoft. Unlike more straightforward voice solutions , even when sourced from Cisco, UC solutions involve multiple vendors.
Microsoft’s pitch around simplifying support is to get all your applications from one vendor: Windows, Office including Lync, Exchange, SharePoint. Hardware comes from multiple vendors.
Cisco’s pitch to simplify support is to get the hardware and (most of) the applications from one vendor: phones, servers, switches and routers, Cisco Unified Communications Manager. Operating system, productivity suite and email software comes from multiple vendors.
With either a Cisco or Microsoft solution, choosing a skilled implementation and support partner is critical to achieving the benefits and ROI either solution can deliver.
In conclusion, I believe what 3,200 global IT professionals want, what your business users need and what the CFO is willing to pay for can be very different.
I appreciate Cisco commissioning and sharing the results of this survey; I welcome Cisco’s opinion on what the results say about Cisco versus Microsoft solutions; and, I encourage you to continue the discussion with the UCStrategies experts here on this site.
What I want is for you to share your opinions below and for you to follow me on twitter @kkieller.