Unified communications (UC) remains a fuzzy and complex topic. On one level, the big prize that UC promises to provide – collaboration and all the good things that come with it – is organically springing up from the tablets and smartphones that are being released on a daily basis. The new reality is that a certain level of UC-like or UC-lite activities can be put in place simply by using the functions that come with smartphones, tablets and IP PBXes.
It hasn’t always been that way. Until the mobile explosion, UC was necessary for anything but the most rudimentary collaboration. Today, a decent level of collaboration is available to almost everyone. UC can extend, manage and put into a corporate context the considerable tools that people or companies can cobble together on their own.
So the nature of the vendor food fight has shifted a bit during the past half-decade or so. That doesn’t mean that the vendors aren’t still vying for market share. eWeek reports that Cisco and Microsoft are going at it. Cisco released a survey and followed up with blogs reinforcing what it holds are its advantages over Microsoft.
It’s no accident that the study – which was done on Cisco’s behalf by Redshift Research -- was released as Microsoft convened its Lync Conference 2013 in San Diego. The eWeek story links to a Cisco blog discussing the results. Of course, the whole thing – the survey and the resulting comments from Cisco -- obviously are preemptive strikes on the eve of the competitor’s conference. While the study no doubt is legitimate in terms of the results – Cisco is too big and reputable to actually fudge results -- the questions asked and the analysis should be taken with a grain of salt.
Studies, surveys and corporate one-upmanship aside, companies should spend a lot of time researching UC. In terms of Microsoft Lync and Cisco, the highest-level view is that the two are true to their roots: Microsoft is an endpoint-based company and Cisco’s DNA is in the networking and plumbing used to reach those devices.
enableUC partner Kevin Kieller offers a commentary on the survey and its timing at UC Strategies. He doesn’t take sides; rather, he paraphrases two of the Cisco blogs. The heart of Kieller’s post is a list of four elements that end users want: support for multiple devices (with a focus on mobility), cloud enablement, good quality and reliability, and good support.
Whether the winner is Microsoft, Cisco or a combination of other players working with one of those two or not, the demand for UC seems to remain strong. Earlier this month, SIP vendor Sonus Networks released a survey that found significant support for UC. Among other findings, the research revealed that 78 percent of the responding companies had partially or fully deployed UC and 65 percent of those are premised-based – though that number is expected to decline to 31 percent.
The world of UC is changing very rapidly. Indeed, it is possible to say that the change is as significant as the transition in end-point devices: Whenever a tablet or smartphone adds a communications feature, it changes the role of the UC platform a bit. That is a challenge – but not necessarily a bad thing -- for vendors and their ecosystem. The management and related tools they offer are vital to drawing out as much value as possible from the communications devices.