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.