- ‘Consumer-grade’ is becoming a new design objective for developers of enterprise communications gear.
- Ease of use and ‘joy of use’ currently define consumer-grade solutions in business.
As an industry analyst tracking the market for business communications solutions, I’ve long tossed about the terms ‘enterprise-grade’ and ‘carrier-grade.’ Carrier-grade systems are characterized as massively scalable, extremely reliable, very expensive, fully multitenant, and potentially complicated to deploy and manage – the sorts of things that service providers use to base a hosted PBX service on or an absolutely huge enterprise deploys because it needs, for example, an IMS infrastructure of its own. Enterprise-grade systems are a notch down: highly scalable but supporting tens rather than hundreds of thousands of end users, meeting but not exceeding ‘five nines’ reliability requirements, not cheap but competitively priced. A notch below that are SMB systems which are even less scalable, low cost, and typically lack the high-availability features inherent to enterprise-grade solutions.
However, developers that once prided themselves in delivering carrier- and enterprise-grade products are beginning to aspire to a new goal: ‘consumer-grade’ products targeted at enterprise and SMB buyers. In some cases, consumer-grade is about the experience of using the product. Chris Hummel, the Chief Commercial Officer at Siemens Enterprise, peppers his presentations with the term ‘joy of use.’ Enterprise end users don’t just want an advanced set of communications features made available to them. More and more, they expect a business communications experience that is enjoyable. Just as they enjoy communicating via their iPhone or other mobile device, they expect a no less pleasant experience when interacting with their corporate video conferencing, audio conferencing, telephony, instant messaging, and other communications platforms. It is a bit unclear to me exactly how Siemens Enterprise and other developers will achieve their ‘joy of use’ goals, but it is clear the value such an approach has to IT departments. As enterprise end users are presented with new business communications apps – be they corporate instant messaging, enterprise social networking, or communications clients running on smartphones and tablets – ramping up actual end user adoption is critical. Business communications solutions that are in fact enjoyable to use will directly lead to their widespread adoption and help ensure that new and unusual communications technologies deployed in the enterprise do not lie fallow.
The other sense of ‘consumer-grade’ in business settings has more to do with simplicity. This is what Eric Kintz, General Manager of Logitech for Business, meant when he recently said to me: “We provide consumer-grade experiences that are much easier to use.” The context was the BCC950 ConfrenceCam, the first in a series of video cameras the business unit is bringing to market. The device includes features expected in a video conferencing terminal for small conference rooms and offices (e.g., 1080p30 resolution, noise cancelation algorithms, pan-zoom-tilt), but it has the same plug-and-play functionality expected of consumer products. Logitech’s ConferenceCam requires no software to be installed or upgraded, and it integrates with Microsoft Lync and Cisco Jabber, but can also be used with Skype, Google+ Hangouts, and other consumer video conferencing services that are finding their way into the enterprise. The device also costs only $250, a fraction of what high-definition video endpoints tend to cost when purchased from developers of enterprise communications solutions. So, significantly lower prices are also an aspect of consumer-grade products starting to be sold to IT buyers.