I’m asking this question for a good reason, and if you’ve been following UC over the past few months, you’ll know why. Having worked closely with the vendor community, I have seen UC evolve on a company-specific basis as well as overall for the broader ecosystem. This space has gone through some distinct phases, and the focus that’s shaping up right now is a very different type of value proposition.
Initially, UC was developed by legacy phone vendors, primarily as a successor to the IP PBX. They had already made the transition from legacy PBX systems to IP-based systems, but that really only served to keep them current with VoIP. At that time, communications was still telephony-centric, and businesses had little reason to question the need for a capitalized phone system. Perhaps more importantly, they had little reason to question the need for a standalone phone system; after all, telephony was still king, and the IP PBX was an important pillar for IT’s sphere of influence.
This brief time capsule is important because it goes a long way to explain the roots of UC, but also why it took the shape it did. As I’ll soon explain, if UC was being invented today, it would look a lot different. While UC vendors and IT buyers were good with the above status quo, other things were going on around it, that aside from being bigger, were moving a lot faster. Without going into detail, just think about the cloud, mobile broadband and social media. I will explore each of these in future posts, but the main point is that the initial value proposition of UC was not keeping pace with the changing needs of businesses.
Up to the cloud and out to your mobile device
UC’s more recent evolution mirrors the path all forms of technology are taking, namely a shift from hardware to software. Even though UC is still dominated by vendors that are either rooted in telecom or are major players in the telecom space, none consider themselves hardware companies any longer. They are very deliberate in explaining that they are either now a software company or cloud-based company. Furthermore, they are no longer in the business of providing UC hardware or even software. Rather, they are now in the business of providing collaboration solutions, or enabling communication experiences, or driving closer engagement between employees and customers.
Everyone is now focused on the outcomes, as that’s where they believe the value really lies now. Those outcomes, of course, are not IT’s concern, and this reflects how UC has now become a business investment, not a technology investment. Just as the phone system has become less relevant in the overall communications ecosystem, so too has IT in terms who owns UC and whose interest it is ultimately serving.
Initially, UC was completely within the realm of IT, as this was really just an extension of the IP PBX relationship – same vendors, same channel partners, same operational team to manage it, etc. Outside of IT nobody really understood the UC concept, but when the benefits were clearly articulated, the business case was pretty strong. Along the way, however, IT had its share of challenges deploying UC, as well as driving end user adoption. No matter how user-friendly vendors make UC out to be, it is still complex to deploy, especially since many businesses have multi-vendor environments with older systems that don’t integrate that easily.
As IT was struggling along this path, everything else just kept moving faster. Business couldn’t move to the cloud fast enough, and vendors have desperately been trying to follow suit. With 4G/LTE coming along, the same transition is happening in the mobile world. Younger people have had mobile broadband their entire adult life, and this is simply just the way they do everything now. I’ll continue exploring this in future posts, but basically, the work modes that UC was built for are being super-ceded now by something new and potentially very different.
Where to go from here?
At the heart of this is the speed of change, and that’s not going away any time soon. The major UC players are large companies, and they can only change so quickly. So far, only one of these companies has attempted a complete makeover with the sole purpose of serving this new world, but it’s too early to tell if they will be successful. The rest are trying to do the right things – changing as quickly as they can, and focusing on where value appears to be residing. At least that’s how it looks to me – for now.
The UC vendors we’re all familiar with are facing new waves of competition, and the space has never been more disruptive – and disrupted. There’s a lot at stake here, with many factors to consider regarding why and how these changes are happening. If you’re wondering about this as much as I am, then you’ll want to stick with me over the next few posts. As we do that, what do you think – is UC being disruptive or disrupted?