I'm probably a little late to this particular debate, seeing that it started on November 9. The CRM Magazine Blog highlighted a debate going on, started by Nick Jones over at Gartner, asserting that unified communications is a Big Vendor Scam. What I found interesting was Mr. Jones' relating UC vendors Cisco and Microsoft as "dinosaurs in a world of fast-moving furry mammals":
“[this] ill-assorted mix of technologies that vendors want to sell in a
single bundle because it’s convenient for them,” is actually useless to
employees; Twitter, Facebook, and Skype are much more attractive to
consumers and are a lot more “fashionable.”
I have several problems with his argument:
Integration and interoperability to end-users is far from useless. Having to switch constantly between applications is rather distracting and productivity-sapping. I'm an eager technologist, so if I find the "switching costs" of going between applications an irritant, I can only imagine the psychic cost for the average worker. The ability for Sametime to integrate with the way I want to work is hugely important to me as an end-user. I can use Sametime without ever leaving my Notes environment (or, Outlook if you so choose), I can integrate with Twitter and Connections in a single dashboard (oh, yes it does - just take a look at this nifty little Status Updatr Plug-in on OpenNTF), I can use Sametime within a Portal, etc. Certainly we have a longer way to go, especially as communications tools continue to innovate, but there's always going to be a balance between bringing in what's new vs. conservatively sticking with what works.
Twitter, Facebook and Skype are attractive to consumers because they're free, not necessarily because their capabilities are better. I've been using all three for quite some time now, and while I would definitely describe them as "fashionable", their user interfaces, capabilities, changing terms of service, and quality of service leave much to be desired (just one recent example: a LifeHacker comparison of Skype with iChat and GoogleTalk shows they all have work to do).
Quality of Service matters. You get what you pay for, and free means you get less. If my PBX failed as often at voice quality and video quality as my recent Skype experiences, I'de be fighting my IT department tooth and nail. Just another example: I gladly pay extra for a Mac because I can use iChat to integrate all my various personal chat networks (including Facebook, AOL and GoogleTalk). That's real value I'm willing to pay for as a consumer, so businesses are willing to pay for similar integrative capabilities for their users.
And a pedantic quibble - a Ponzi scheme assumes you're robbing one customer to pay the previous one, which eventually comes crashing down like a house of cards. I like a competitive dig as much as my competitors do, but I would never accuse Microsoft nor Cisco of trying to do that. No serious vendor in their right mind goes that route, it's business suicide. So if you want to claim a vendor might be over-charging and under-delivering, go for it. But calling it a Ponzi scheme just comes across as needless provocation.
Perhaps it's IBM's different viewpoint on unified communications. We're not looking at it as if it were a single stack of capabilities - there are simply too many different capabilities involved and the mix of what's important is unique to each enterprise. That's why we take an open platform approach vs. a single-stack approach. So that we can learn from, and integrate with these fast-moving furry mammals. Consumer technologies do tend to be leading indicators of where enterprise technologies are going, so it's very important keep an eye on what's happening there. And an open platform approach where you can (quickly) integrate these new capabilities can only help.
As we posted about over at the Lotus Knows blog earlier today, IBM has announced the coming availability of Connections 3.0, and the IBM social collaboration platform. Why should those of us in the unified communications business care?
The inclusion of Lotus Sametime as one of the key platform components of the IBM social collaboration platform -- along with Lotus Connections and Lotus Quickr, business and technology services, and more -- was no accident. As loyal readers you know IBM has been talking about unified communications and collaboration for several years now. This is a natural extension of that conversation, and our leadership in this space. Gartner said recently that the distinction between unified communications (UC) and collaboration will disappear by 2013 (as reported by CIOL), but we know that outperforming organizations are already doing this today.
Social media may generate a lot of buzz, but if you look more deeply at that conversation, invariably there is a communications element. All that socializing may be great, but eventually you just want to talk to someone (or IM them, or video chat with them, or meet with them, or...). For all the power of these new social collaboration capabilities, we are at heart a social species which means we still crave live verbal and visual contact with others, not just their words or photos or (pre-recorded) videos. That's why the phone isn't going away anytime soon as a collaboration device (maybe as a wired desktop phone, but that's just replacing one form factor with another, the underlying capability is still the same).
Unified communications and collaboration, then, is about making sure that we include that verbal, visual contact as an integral component of the overall collaboration mix, because that's how people WANT to collaborate. That's why we continue to invest in Sametime - with three releases in the past 2 years alone (Sametime Unified Telephony, Sametime 8.5 and Sametime 8.5.1). And why we continue to push the integration of Sametime with not only the rest of our Lotus portfolio, but the broader IBM portfolio (like WebSphere Portal, or Cognos), business partner offerings (just read any of our recent Business Partner Tuesday posts that highlight just a small sliver of the over 400 partners we work with), and even competitors (because we live in a heterogenous world, despite the rip-and-replace strategies other vendors ask of you).
So when you see the words Social Business, or social collaboration, from IBM, know that Sametime, and Unified Communications, are absolutely critical and key to that strategy:
trust is the new competitive advantage - what better way to build trust than through real-time conversations (whether IM, voice, video or e-meetings?)
brands are experienced through their people - and unified communications is critical for not just call centers, but for enabling all your employees to be real-time brand ambassadors to your customers
outperforming organizations are doing this today by making people, not devices or documents, central to the collaboration strategy. And we have plenty of real examples where unified communications have resulted in profitable transformations
We're excited about this announcement. Hopefully this explains why we think you should be too. But what do you think? How well integrated today are social collaboration and unified communications in your enterprise? What will it take to get there? Why aren't we there yet?
With the social business launch and all, we've been pretty busy around here. So time to kick back at the end of a long couple of weeks with the latest installment of Friday Funnies. I saw this from a tweet stream, hope you like (from C-Section Comics).
"We are proud to recognize winning companies for the sixth annual
INTERNET TELEPHONY Excellence Awards. All the companies recognized have
created IP communications products that have proven to be exceptional
and in the end delivered winning solutions that benefited their
customer," stated TMC's CEO, Rich Tehrani.
The 2010 INTERNET TELEPHONY Excellent Award winners are published in the October 2010 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine, www.itmag.com.
It's always an honor to be given these awards (and we've won many). But it's even more of an honor when you choose us as your UC vendor. For that we thank you even more.
For yesterday's Business Partner Tuesday I was struggling to find a topic when I read a review by Mike Nolan on FierceVoIP on the Microsoft Lync release. It struck me that many of the announcements that were being touted were similar to announcements IBM and Sametime have made with our Business Partners 12-18 months ago. There's plenty of room in this growing market, but I couldn't help myself; I just had to point out in a comment that what may be touted as new is already successfully in market with IBM and IBM Business Partners:
Thank you for the update on new UC developments. I wanted to bring to your reporters' attention that many of these developments are not new. In fact, IBM has already worked with many of these partners to develop Unified Communications solutions built on IBM Sametime. Here's just three examples of the over 400 business partners we have around unified communications:
Before Twisted Pair announced WAVE Lync Communicator, IBM business partner KITS developed Radio Connect for similar radio-frequency integration with unified communications back in November 2008 (press release), with several government customers already using the joint IBM / Radio Connect solution.
Similar to ProtoSphere's announcement of their 3-D virtual immersive environment, IBM announced back in June 2009 a Virtual Collaboration Services for Lotus Sametime. Several large customers are already using 3D immersive collaboration experience for brainstorming today.
And we've been doing cloud for some time already: IBM Business Partner Meetrix has already announced cloud and hybrid deployments of Sametime unified communications.
Two IBM business partners I wanted to highlight on this week's Business Partner Tuesdays post.
In the first, Bob Preston over at DiscussUC had an excellent post about Innovation - the Heart of the Matter in Unified Communications. In it, he discusses some of his thoughts coming out of a CIO virtual event hosted by Polycom. John Del Pizzo, our Program Director for Unified Communications Software, was one of attendees joining 60 CIOs from around the globe. Bob's key finding:
...my top take-away from today's event is that innovation is at the heart of the matter. Corporate leaders are beginning to radically rethink how to guide their companies into a new era of economic growth to maximize performance and stay ahead of the competition. Forward leaning executives with the passion to lead have a new opportunity to kick-start patterns of innovation within their organization to stimulate organizational transformation. Tapping the energy, enthusiasm, and power of human interaction to enable a culture of innovation is now THE business imperative for ALL organizations.
This very closely matches IBM's own findings in the 2010 CEO Study, where we found that CEOs of leading organizations are slowly but surely re-orienting their organizations towards growth, and that innovation driven by collaboration and closer customer relationships is core to many of their transformation efforts. As Bob quotes John from the event:
“Collaboration is what we do on daily basis, it’s just what we do, and it needs to be seamless," commented John Del Pizzo of IBM. "Integrating desktop and mobile devices, UC enabled collaboration becomes ubiquitous and will drive transformative and innovative work flow environments.”
Secondly, my fellow blogger Marlon Machado has just published a joint whitepaper with Brad Herrington, Product Marketing Manager at Interactive Intelligence, Building Customer Centricity through Expertise-Based Interactions (free registration required). This paper discusses the emergence of customer centricity, driven by growing customer sophistication and empowerment across geographies and market segments. It also discusses the need for large and small businesses to embrace customer centricity and to take steps to internalize it as the driving force behind business processes and policies. Not surprisingly, it ties into the same innovation and customer-centric themes talked about at the CIO virtual event.
It's not that it's been a quiet week (or three) since the last news roundup - it's that we've been busy around here. You know, getting ready for Hallowe'en and all. But our press corps has been very hard at work as always, with some new press coverage we wanted to share with you.
"IBM is still a massive player in the desktop space," [Polycom Vice President of Partner Marketing Mark] Roberts said. “The reality is IBM still owns 50 percent of the desktop, and we see it as an opportunity to extend our position in the marketplace and help our channel partners extend their reach as well". – Phone Plus: Polycom, IBM Collaborate on UC Solution for Lotus Sametime
In Chile, Channel News published two articles on Lotus Notes 8.5.2 and Lotus Sametime following a local Lotus Knows event.
IBM Lotus Notes, in its latest version 8.5.2, can be the platform for converging technologies and mail, office tools, secure corporate instant messaging and encrypted audio and video conferencing and others. These tools converge in a work environment forming a "single collaborative desktop."
In Italy, Office Automation published an article on the benefits of enterprises adopting UC solutions (Italy, Office Automation, 09.10, UC Solutions, why should companies adopt them?)
And there's been a lot of news for the rest of our portfolio. Look for some additional recaps on our Lotus Knows blog coming soon.
In addition to all the continuing coverage we received from our social collaboration platform launch, there was some UC-specific news as well. The Discuss UC blog posted a piece on a recent Polycom telepresence event that showcased why UC is becoming a "must have" strategy for enterprises today. Quoting our UC Program Director:
"Collaboration is what we do on daily basis, it’s just what we do, and it needs to be seamless," commented John Del Pizzo of IBM. "Integrating desktop and mobile devices, UC enabled collaboration becomes ubiquitous and will drive transformative and innovative work flow environments."
...seamless and unified methods of communication will help drive the innovation engine through employee empowerment, satisfaction, and motivation.
In Norway, IDG also reported on Polycom's Unified Collaboration Solution for IBM Lotus Sametime that will help organizations reduce cost while improving productivity. IDC's Cindy Borovick is quoted as stating:
"Integrating voice and video communications within the IBM UC environment will help customers drive a more collaborative culture by enhancing the interaction between locations while also reducing travel costs. Customers will benefit by Polycom and IBM working together because it will provide a more seamless experience for end-users and IT managers, along with better investment protection."