There were a few themes from my last post that warrant further exploration, and this is one of them. When considering Unified Communications, your current telecom vendor may well be your first choice, and failing that, the circle probably extends to their peer group of comparable competitors. Surely, there should be enough to choose from here to make a good choice – one that works for your network, IT’s needs and management’s needs.
Sometimes the path of least resistance is best, and there are good reasons to stick with the status quo. This may come at the expense of getting the best price possible, but there is value in having a smooth deployment with minimal disruption. The market is competitive and there is a lot at stake for vendors to protect their installed base, so you’ll likely get their full attention when talking about UC. This will be especially true if you bring up the topic first, signaling that new business is in play.
So, given the vagaries around UC, why would you look elsewhere? The value proposition is soft, the technology is new, the applications are a moving target, interoperability can be messy, etc. These are all good reasons to not stray from the tried-and-true, yet the allure is there. Why add even more unknowns to these “known unknowns”? I’m going to address this by analyzing three reasons – one here, and the other two in my next post.
Reason #1 – they all look alike to me
This is not a message the telecom vendors want to hear, but there is some truth here. Consider the roots of their business. Legacy telecom has been static for over 30 years, with zero innovation, little competition and a captive market. Telephony was a utility service that all businesses used in exactly the same manner. VoIP may have been very disruptive at first, but the end result has been largely the same, but at a lower cost for both vendors and businesses. There is nothing strategic about VoIP, and IP telephony has merely served to ensure its commoditization.
UC started out in much the same way, but adoption has lagged expectations. One reason is that each vendor came to market on a distinct path, and while this helps with competitive differentiation, it could be argued this created confusion in the minds of IT decision makers. Normally this is a good thing, but given the amorphous nature of UC, vendor comparisons become difficult, and when trying to build traction with a new type of solution, the opposite occurs. In a sense, the non-standard variety of first generation UC solutions had parallels to proprietary legacy telephony, which is exactly what businesses were trying to get away from.
To address this, UC solutions have become more streamlined, and along the way there is a sameness now, especially among the telecom vendors. On one hand, this makes it easier for IT to compare offerings, as they all address a common set of needs with a similar set of applications. Conversely, UC seems to be following VoIP, where the base solution is simply table stakes to keep up with everyone else. Not surprisingly, since all UC platforms are based on the same technology, they generally have the same capabilities, making this new “category” more generic than strategic. For businesses that think this way, it’s understandable why they would want to steer clear of telecom vendors if their objective is to deploy UC to gain competitive advantage.
If you think there are implications here for telecom vendors, you’re right. Since UC doesn’t usually address a clearly defined problem, vendors have tried to make its appeal as broad as possible. This has resulted in the Swiss Army Knife approach where UC seeks to cure many ills, but isn’t best-in-class for anything in particular.
There’s nothing wrong with this, and it’s probably necessary to drive mainstream adoption. However, UC can add more value when deployed strategically, where a specific set of applications address a specific problem and/or opportunity the business believes can create competitive advantage. As such, telecom vendors risk diluting the value proposition and taking UC down the same path as VoIP.
This may be a necessary condition to grow the UC market, but it’s taking the safe route. Vendors will be well served by reaching a broader customer base this way, but businesses could end up with me-too solutions that neutralize the playing field rather than transforming businesses with breakthrough technologies.
For businesses that share this view, they will proactively seek out alternatives from the telecom vendors. They understand that achieving a break-through often requires them to break-with the status quo. The majority of businesses may not think this way, but some will, and they will be at the greatest risk for incumbents to keep with UC.
That’s a good ending point for now, and I’ll continue with two more reasons to consider non-traditional vendors for UC in my next post.