As 2016 Beckons, What Should Telecoms Buyers Look for from UC Solutions?

G. Barton

G. Barton

Summary Bullets:

• Enterprises should look at vendor platforms beyond Microsoft and Cisco and demand interoperability between platforms and applications.

• Unified communications (UC) and mobility are now intrinsically linked.

2015 has been the year that UC solutions have really started to achieve market traction. Take-up is far from universal, but for most UC features CA’s own research suggests that usage amongst enterprises is above 50%. The uptick in usage is down to a number of factors–for example, falling prices and the maturity of the technology–however, it is the improvement of the business case for UC that seems to have had the biggest impact. Vodafone, for example, has reported a strong response from customers following the development of new proof of concept demonstrations and a new approach to training and educating its workforce. So the initial message for enterprise users is that a conversation with your provider concerning unified communications is likely to be more centred on achieving better business outcomes, and therefore a more worthwhile experience. Read more of this post

Unify’s Free UC Offer Is Good and True, but It May Be Better to Pay

Gary Barton

Gary Barton

Summary Bullets:

  • Unify’s free service offers a valuable taster of UC, but there are other ‘try before you buy’ options.
  • Buyers and providers should both be aware that limitations on a service (e.g., limited integration) may hide the real value of a UC solution.

Unify (newly acquired by Atos) has moved to gain market attention and traction with the offer of free UC services. The free service is limited to only 100 users and provides only 1 gigabyte of storage (for further details, see: Unify Stakes Claim to SME Market, but Might Find Only Fool’s Gold, November 20, 2015). Although it is not without risks, this is a smart move by Unify. It offers a very competitive UC solution via its Circuit platform. However, overshadowed by Cisco and Microsoft and facing the growing popularity of rivals such as BroadSoft and Google Apps, Unify has a significant challenge to gain market attention and traction. Read more of this post

Application Integration Is Key to Delivering Effective Collaboration

Gary Barton

Gary Barton

Summary Bullets:

  • Integration with a range of business applications and the ability for solutions to work outside the organisation are key features for valuable UCC solutions.
  • Enterprises should tell vendors what they want from systems integration offers.

This week, BroadSoft announced its plans for its new Project Tempo initiative to deliver integrated unified communications and collaboration (UCC) services based on the vendor’s UC-One platform. The initiative will begin in January 2016 with beta trials of ‘UC-One Hub,’ a cloud service designed to integrate real-time communication services (e.g., IP voice, IM and e-mail) with third-party hosted/cloud-based applications. BroadSoft states that UC-One Hub will also provide ‘contextual intelligence’ for users. Read more of this post

Why Should Enterprises Pay for UC?

Gary Barton

Gary Barton

Summary Bullets:

  • Enterprises should look beyond quality of service factors to the broader working practices guidance available with the new generations of unified communications and collaboration services.
  • New features such as WebRTC can only successfully be delivered as part of an advanced UC suite, but will deliver a genuine competitive advantage.

When enterprises can use Skype as an internal messaging and conference service for free, is it any surprise that they question why they should pay for Microsoft Lync or Cisco HCS-based services?Apps such as ‘What’s App’ essentially offer unified messaging, whilst almost every tablet now comes with some kind of video chat software. What’s more, consumer apps are developed and released much more quickly than business grade apps. When being cutting edge matters, why not go with the most agile source of new technology? The quality of service argument still holds strong and enterprises should bear in mind that most UC solutions are provided with a 99.9% availability guarantee as a standard. The advent of HD voice is another factor that enterprises should consider. HD voice offers a genuinely enhanced end user experience and is often not available on consumer grade solutions – especially if they are free.   Read more of this post

UC’s Advent is Welcome, But Should Not Distract Enterprises from Their Core Fixed Services

Gary Barton

Gary Barton

Summary Bullets:

  • Enterprises should be excited about the potential benefits of UC – including BYOD and mobile device management (MDM).
  • Enterprises should also remember that traditional IP telephony and networking services remain business critical.

I wrote in my last blog that unified communications (UC) services are now finally achieving critical mass, and that widespread adoption is expected in 2014. In response to this positive surge, the marketing teams at every major ICT provider will be in over drive to proclaim the most unified, most mobility-driven, and cloud-based proposition. And, as I write on Christmas Eve, there are reasons for enterprises to celebrate this advent. BYOD, as I have previously written, is both a security concern and a potential efficiency driver if handled correctly. MDM packaged with single number dialling and unified email and messaging and (probably) presence functionality is something that enterprises should now be looking to roll out to all mobile workers. MDM on its own should be applied to every worker within an organisation, and cloud/network-hosted delivery is the only way for most enterprises to achieve this.       Read more of this post

UC Take-up Is on the Verge of Critical Mass, but Pricing Models Remain Negotiable

Gary Barton

Gary Barton

Summary Bullets:

  • Uptake of unified communications solutions is growing, and enterprises that are not alert to this trend may be at a disadvantage.
  • Utility pricing looks great on the surface, but enterprises should work with providers to achieve pricing models that deliver genuine value for money.

Research released jointly by Cisco, SFR and Telindus to coincide with SFR’s recent launch of its hosted Cisco HCS proposition has suggested that 39% of French large enterprises are currently involved in ITC projects that involve the deployment of hosted unified communications (UC) services for their employees, whilst 15% of French large enterprises already have deployed a hosted UC solution of some sort.  Research also shows that the numbers are similar or slightly lower in other Northern European countries. Read more of this post

Microsoft Isn’t Just Connecting Lync with Skype, it’s Re-humanizing Communications

Brad Shimmin

Brad Shimmin

Summary Bullets:

• Microsoft has begun to pull together its consumer and enterprise communications platforms with direct points of integration for presence, chat and audio.

• Such interactivity, however, requires the use of Microsoft’s historically consumer-oriented ID system (formerly branded Windows Live ID), blurring the lines between corporate and consumer personas.

Rome was not built in a day (or so I’ve been told). So too, Microsoft’s planned work to fully unify Lync and Skype will take some time before it reaches fruition – sometime in 2014 to be a tad more specific. That’s when these two products will at last allow users from both sides to share video conferencing services. Microsoft’s first step along this path began a few weeks ago with address book integration. Skype users can now add Lync users (via invitation, mind you) to their address books and vice-versa. This allows both parties to share presence and initiate audio and chat sessions with one another. Certainly, there’s a long way to go from this to a fully unified experience for both users and administrators alike. But as with so many things, including most Microsoft engineering efforts, if you wait at the bus stop long enough, soon enough your bus will arrive. Read more of this post

Microsoft May Not Have Lync Appliances, But Microsoft Partners Do

Brian Riggs

B. Riggs

Summary Bullets:

  • Microsoft Lync appliances for SMBs are available from small, regional solution developers
  • There may be a certain degree of risk associated with purchasing from smaller, regional solution developers <br><br>

My recent post about the lack of a  Microsoft-delivered Lync appliance generated some messages about Microsoft UC offerings for small businesses. The first was from Maarten Swemmer:

“I completely agree with your analyses. And although Microsoft offers Lync Online for SMBs, it does not offer the telephony functionality one would desire in a Unified Communications solution. You’re still stuck with your old PBX. However, implementing voice isn’t easy and often requires customization on a hardware level. That’s an area Microsoft explicitly does not like to involve itself in. This might be one of the reasons why Microsoft has not implemented Lync as an appliance itself.”

It’s a good point – that Microsoft steers clear of products that require customized hardware, and in the world of business telephony solutions, customized hardware platforms have traditionally been quite common. That being said, in many cases these days, business telephony (aka PBX) software runs on industry-standard servers (just like Microsoft Lync), is SIP-based (just like Microsoft Lync), and includes a messaging, conferencing and collaboration feature set beyond basic telephony (just like Microsoft Lync). In fact, many PBXs ran as software on a plain old server long before Lync was a gleam in Microsoft’s eye. So it’s not really the IT buyer that has this problem with PBXs, since PBXs can offer many of the same features and benefits of Microsoft Lync. It’s the Microsoft reseller that has the problem, because more often than not Lync is the only arrow in his quiver when it comes to telephony.

Another comment that came in was anonymous:

 “There are several attractive options for SMBs at the moment…As a Microsoft Partner and SMB ourselves, we are grateful that Microsoft left the door open for us to fill a niche in the product portfolio.”

This was from someone at CyberUC, a provider of hosted Lync services. Swemmer, incidentally, is associated Active Communications, a Microsoft business partner based in the Netherlands. Both make a very valid point: That while Microsoft may not be delivering a Lync appliance of its own, several of its partners have stepped in to do so. These include boxedUC from Italy-based FrabbicaDigitale, Netherlands-based StartReady, SynSIP in Belgium (a developer of Asterisk-based PBX that added a Lync appliance to its portfolio), and Iluminari Tech in Canada.

What’s striking about this list is, first, a number of the vendors on it are based in Europe. I don’t really associate Lync strongly with Europe, in part because it lacks support for emergency services outside the US. And second, they are all very small companies. I’m surprised larger developers are not getting into the game. HP, given its close partnership with Microsoft, would be a prime candidate for pairing its servers with Microsoft’s UC software for a combined offering. The company offers (or offered, as it’s not on the HP Web site anymore) a “survivable branch appliance” that runs Lync on a gateway deployed at an enterprise’s remote offices. But HP has been actively backing away from UC, discontinuing sales of the 3Com line of VCX products and divesting itself of its Halo telepresence solution. Meanwhile Dell has a Lync-centric UC practice. This pairs Microsoft UC software with Dell storage and server hardware, but stops short of a pre-packed Lync appliance.

For IT buyers in SMBs considering Lync as an alternative to more traditional business communications systems, the appliances noted above are clearly worth considering. But bear in mind that these are from small developers whose staying power, telephony expertise, and ability to support customers not near their center of operation may still need to be proven.