In short, 2011 was a very interesting year.  With the global market still affected by economic downturn despite small surges of profitability in select, niche areas, the result we are left with is an economy comprised of more intelligent buyers and a sifting of providers like that of one panning for gold in a previously tapped basin, with those remaining in business, weathered, but still standing.  Yes, 2011 was a true test to many industries and many of us in the Unified Communications market were not shielded by this blanket of continued strain.  What is really happening here can be compared to any other systematic cycle where the system resets itself and makes way for the new, leaving lessons learned in hopes for preparation for the next cycle to occur.  I know I have learned more in this past year than in many years combined, having to make tough financial decisions and spending more time analyzing the right strategic next move as most executives have this past year.

After hardened research of technologies, solutions, and strategies affecting enterprise and small/medium businesses in the Unified Communications, Collaboration, and Cloud areas of focus this entire year, meeting with close to twenty identified global businesses and several SME (Small Medium Enterprise) organizations, and after sitting down with a handful of global providers of Telecom, Cloud, Unified Communications, and CEBP (Communications Enabled Business Process / aka UC&C Applications) products and services and even experiencing several industry-based scenarios heavily affected by these solutions within Financial Services & Banking, Media & Entertainment, Automotive & Global Transportation, and first-hand as a patient throughout 8 months in and out of the hospital myself in the Healthcare industry, 2011 brought me a wealth of information to share.

Unified Communications Platforms
Despite up and coming providers such as eZuce (http://www.ezuce.com), which I will discuss more in the Cloud Communications section below, and some shifting in strategic direction from existing telecom providers in the market today, there were not any major ground-breaking changes in the UC marketplace this year outside Cloud-based UC solutions and the enormous impact Microsoft had in their launch of the Lync platform starting in December of 2010.  This launch, in my experience, was Microsoft’s most successful since the release of Live Communications Server for Enterprise Instant Messaging which really affected the market in 2006/2007.  The key attribute to success of this launch was clearly due to strategic investments in desktop-based application development of course, but mainly due to a staged strategic positioning of the platform since the release of Office Communications Server 2007.  At that time, Microsoft had tested the waters with Enterprise Instant Messaging and knew with the success and dominance of the Office System platform and product suite, combined with the dominance of Exchange Server in the marketplace for messaging/e-mail, the addition or “elevation” that conferencing and softphone solutions would be a natural extension.  Add a strategically engaged sales process of finely tuned licensing promotions and grandfather clauses, and you have the recipe for a software platform that is destined to make money, which is why the UC incubation group was moved to an actual production Business Unit within the organization.  Bottom line, Microsoft has won the desktop and if you don’t think so, there are plenty of Microsoft sales reps out there who can point that out pretty easily and even make you feel like a Luddite if you disagree.  With this success, Microsoft moved many enterprise organizations at the very least into pilots or small pockets of deployments and forced many existing UC and telecom providers to change their strategic messaging to their customers to one of co-existence rather than competition with hopes of winning future battles with roadmap discussions and co-existence or integration was really the largest area of focus from what I researched in 2011.  The main determining factors driving integration or co-existence between UC platforms like Microsoft Lync and existing voice, voicemail, and videoconferencing solutions already acquired by enterprise and SME organizations had to do with the economy and concerns around feature loss and stability.  Economic factors and concerns of feature loss outweighed that of stability concerns due to issues with lack of resources to engage in a complete transition of existing voice services to a software-based voice platform, especially for enterprise organizations as it’s not as simple as porting a phone number over, rather that of a project encompassing many different teams now that a software solution is involved which touches security, identity, as well as server and desktop operating systems and applications, not to mention the complexity in migrating hunt groups, call distribution, and complex IVR (voice recognition) systems.  So most deployments of platforms such as Microsoft Lync encompassed that of IM & Ad-hoc conferencing / VoIP conferencing services, with a focus on integrating existing voice services from providers such as Cisco, Avaya, NEC, Siemens, Aastra, etc.  Concerns of feature loss really had to do with the simplicity of Lync really being a version 1, or 1.5 if you count OCS 2007 R2, voice platform.  Regardless of marketing claims that Microsoft and partners have made related to how many voice features an enterprise or SME really needs, the fact is, it only takes one feature that an organization depends on to say no to the platform for use of enterprise voice.  With the platform’s infancy in advanced voice capabilities that have existed in the marketplace for years as well as serious concerns around a “rip and replace” requirement to move to a Microsoft-based system mainly due to support of existing IP phones, conferencing devices, and other equipment that organizations already own or recently acquired, the platform just was not ready for a complete deployment.  I’m still completely against Microsoft’s reasoning behind forcing customers off of their existing IP Phones in favor of replacement IP Phone devices as it’s simply not a “customer-first” strategy, unless customers are leasing devices or are looking at purchasing new equipment anyway.  Otherwise, money can be spent elsewhere.  Regardless, new IP Phones were developed offering Lync-only features from Aastra, SNOM, Polycom, and HP (More info available via http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/lync/gg278172).  Additional factors related to Contact and Call Center software platform integration, mobile capabilities such as Fixed Mobile Convergence, and infancy in a CEBP platform to provide advanced or even simple to use APIs for voice and video development also attributed to these deployment decisions.  This is not to say that enterprise organizations will not move to a software-powered voice platform like Microsoft Lync, as this is happening as we speak, and Microsoft Lync Plus CALs (the voice licenses) are being purchased to ready the environment nonetheless, even if they are not being deployed or used at this time.

Bottom line, integration and coexistence became the major focus in 2011 and I spent a great deal of my time working in this area dealing with very complex decisions that were being made by the industries top companies as well as advising leading providers to not focus on a competitive strategy but an integrated strategy focusing on coexistence, integration, and roadmap to do what was best for the customer.  Many of my peers in the industry understood this strategy as it resonated in every speech I made and every customer visit I provided either onsite or via conference because for most, if not all existing providers, channel providers, and systems integrators, this was about survival, maintaining customer loyalty, and establishing a trusted advisor role, which would win more business than attacking the agent of change.  Not everyone was on board with this message, but you cannot please everyone as I definitely learned this year as not everyone can look at the big picture and make the right decisions.  Some organizations were slow to the market with coexistence solutions not anticipating the major impact Microsoft would have and suffered dearly for it losing many customers due to lack of vision and lack of clear, consistent, and strategic messaging to their customers as well.  Cisco made very timely investment and development decisions and released their own Cisco UC Integration solution for Microsoft Lync, dubbed “CUCI Lync”, pronounced “cookie link”, which hit the nail on the head for a coexistence strategy.

As you can see, the focus of this coexistence solution leverages stable, reliable, and existing enterprise voice and video conferencing services from Cisco, while maintaining the Microsoft Lync user experience on the desktop, for desktop-driven and Microsoft Office-driven Unified Communications.

Likewise, Avaya came to market with their ACE (Agile Communications Environment) 3.0 for Lync solution, also offering customers of Avaya a coexistence solution leveraging their investments in Avaya Enterprise Voice services while maintaining a Microsoft Lync user experience on the desktop with the major difference between Avaya and Cisco being that of not providing a solution for video conferencing which was a major drawback for many enterprise organizations, but not all.

Beyond tight desktop and user interface integration of voice and video services with Microsoft Lync, other providers such as Siemens OpenScape UC integration (whitepaper located via OpenScape with Microsoft Lync Whitepaper (PDF) and others listed on the Microsoft Unified Communications OIP (Open Interoperability Program) website via http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/lync/gg131938, provide integration from a server perspective either through a gateway or federation service or direct via Direct SIP services.  Again, the reason for these investments, some small for simply offering server-side integration, and some large by offering tighter desktop integrated solutions was to allow customers to leverage their existing investments in the services they either are not comfortable switching over to Microsoft such as Enterprise Voice or Telepresence/Videoconferencing, or not agreeing with the full “rip & replace” Microsoft requirement.

In summary, coexistence and integration was the main strategy for existing PBX manufacturers in an effort to maintain customer loyalty while positioning themselves as a trusted advisor regardless of having their own software and hardware-based UC platforms and solutions, while continuing to develop future non-desktop driven, or non-Microsoft Office focused solutions which I’ll also outline in my upcoming 2012 predictions post.

Videoconferencing & Telepresence
With 2011 offering new HD conferencing solutions either embedded into UC platforms with vendors such as Microsoft, Cisco, Avaya, Siemens, and NEC or stand-alone with integration capabilities from vendors such as Polycom, LifeSize, and Vidyo, the videoconferencing and Telepresence market was hotter than ever.  With the success of the Microsoft Lync launch, also came dual success for Polycom, Microsoft’s vendor of choice for unified videoconferencing and Telepresence solutions.  Although Microsoft offers its own Audio/Video MCU (Multipoint Control Unit), Polycom aids the void of Enterprise Videoconferencing and Telepresence from the Microsoft UC platform by offering products such as their new HDX line of equipment optimized for the Microsoft Lync platform as well as enhancements to their existing RMX platform for likewise integration in addition to offering the CX 3000 conferencing phone with a Lync-enabled user interface.

With tight integration offered at a fraction of the cost of traditional Telepresence solutions, Polycom succeeded heavily challenging the likes of Cisco and Avaya who have dominated this market for decades.  To add, and strategically offered, Polycom provided consulting services providing experienced Microsoft UC architects to provide implementation services of their solutions as well as the Microsoft UC platform to further assist enterprise organizations with overall implementation costs as well as offloading a lot of these costs through sponsored pilots and proof of concept packages while offering support and developing new solutions around video federation and advanced CEBP development around video communication.

On that note, and one of if not my personal favorite provider in this space, came Vidyo (http://www.vidyo.com), with a market changing solution for Video Desktop Integration (VDI), Telepresence, integration with multiple vendor UC platforms, video federation, integration with Android and iOS devices, CEBP focus on industries such as Healthcare for Telemedicine which are near and dear to my own focus, and state-of-the-art architecture solutions that offer dramatic savings to enterprise and SME organizations.  My main interest in Vidyo is that they developed their video platform architecture and overall solution framework in preparation for Cloud and Hybrid Cloud solutions.

In my opinion, Vidyo is on mark to take a majority market share in videoconferencing and Telepresence and I have been extremely impressed with their developments, keeping a keen eye all year in 2011.  I heavily encourage you to visit their website via http://www.vidyo.com and to visit their YouTube Channel via http://www.youtube.com/user/VidyoInc?blend=3&ob=video-mustangbase to explore further.

In summary, videoconferencing and Telepresence solutions in 2011 included driving costs down while offering higher quality and more flexible video solutions for enterprise and personalized Telepresence solutions without the restrictions of complicated hardware devices such as in-room/on-site MCUs plaguing organizations in cost and configuration.

Cloud Communications
Representing the hottest trend in the Unified Communications market today, Cloud-based UC or Cloud communications in general is on fire.  The three main players that I feel that captured the market by storm this year included eZuce, BroadSoft, and Microsoft, while providers like Cisco, Avaya, and Siemens made significant investments in taking their UC platforms and solutions to the Cloud.

I’d like to start with eZuce (http://www.ezuce.com) as it is still a bit of an unknown, but like Vidyo, a company I have watched progress all year to become a challenger in the UC on-prem market as well with their choice of an on-premise, Open Source platform through SIP Foundry, a technology my startup company explored back in 2008 when we developed SmartSIP, before selling to Network Equipment Technologies in 2010.  eZuce offers the leading Open Source platform for communications and offers integration with multiple vendors including Cloud providers and on-prem providers including Microsoft as well as the ability to write Cloud-based UC applications and CEBP-based solutions within any industry vertical.

With commercial backing from large organizations and heavy investors, the company has not only blossomed in size, but has extended their solution to the Cloud offering what should be the most innovative and flexible Cloud UC platform in the market, giving customers options of services they want to leverage while still leveraging 24/7 support, as well as enabling resellers and channel partners the ability to host services as well.  So if you have not checked out eZuce today, you need to.  Their YouTube Channel is available via http://www.youtube.com/user/ezuce/featured.

BroadSoft (http://www.broadsoft.com) offers a complete UC strategy for on-premise, hybrid, and Cloud-based communications.  Dominating the SMB/SME market as well as playing heavily in the enterprise with BroadSoft’s BroadWorks suite that includes integration with vendors including Cisco & Tandberg, IBM, Microsoft, and Counterpath, BroadSoft offers a compelling Cloud offering through their BroadCloud platform (http://www.broadsoft.com/products/broadcloud).  BroadCloud enables a UC solution for business organizations of any size with a full range of integration, applications, voice, video, messaging, and mobile services. BroadSoft has also entered the Consumer UC market which I feel and have expressed this since my tenure at Microsoft Research that Consumer-based Unified Communications represents the largest, untapped frontier of communications software and solutions.  More posts to come on this subject at a later time :).

With BroadCloud, channel partners, resellers, and ITSPs (Internet Telephony Service Providers) have the ability to offer the full range of UC services including support with ITSPs offering hosted voice capabilities.  BroadSoft also offers the BroadSoft Marketplace which includes Cloud-based/Service-based applications such as Salesforce.com and others to further integrate online business solutions into their hosted platform at an affordable cost to most, if not all organizations.

Microsoft also entered the Cloud marketplace with two major offerings; the Office 365 platform and with the acquisition of Skype.  Although Microsoft has some very confusing marketing around the Office 365 platform, namely the product set containing products that are not supposed to be looped in with Microsoft Office marketing such as SharePoint, Exchange, and Lync, as well as very confusing elements around voice integration for Exchange Unified Messaging and Lync Enterprise Voice, the Office 365 suite hit the ground running with massive orders from SME/SMB, individual entrepreneurs, as well as extremely large enterprise organizations including many of the Fortune 500.

As the majority shareholder in my startup company, Evangelyze Communications (EC) – http://www.evangelyze.net, I encouraged the team to sign up for the service so we placed an order for 25 accounts for the Office 365 E4 subscription which includes Office 2011 Professional Plus, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and Lync Online.  For an overview of all the plans that are available, visit http://www.microsoft.com/en-us/office365/plans.aspx or use the Office 365 plan advisor via http://g.microsoftonline.com/0BXPS00EN/1103.  After enabling the service  and making several public DNS changes, we ended up moving all of our production services to Office 365 minus Lync Online due to not supporting Enterprise Voice even with a confusing setup that would support the capability by federating with our existing Lync Server on-premise which really did not make any logical sense anyway, as well as not supporting Microsoft’s UCMA (Unified Communications Managed API) which is the platform in which Evangelyze Communications develops its leading CEBP products on such as SmartChat.  While these two missing features were an unfortunate deterrent for EC as the company would have benefited by having the service maintained and supported online, it has not been a problem for organizations that only use Microsoft Lync for IM, Presence, and ad-hoc conferencing anyway.  I spoke with one Fortune 500 that already had an order to migrate 80,000 users to Office 365 for this reason alone.

Since moving EC’s Exchange Server online, minus missing the Unified Messaging feature, the company was able to offload $500 per month in savings by removing unnecessary on-premise servers for SharePoint and Exchange as well as leverage Microsoft Dynamics CRM Online and Windows Azure to further offload customer management and further EC’s cloud and hosted development solutions for products like SmartChat and upcoming products like SmartClass and a new solution for the Healthcare industry.  $500 is $500 for any SMB and you can easily see the compounding savings an enterprise organization would have not to mention the ease of not having to support the servers yourself.  I see the UCMA hiccup being fixed very soon and with that will come a host of new UC CEBP and UC Applications that will really change the marketplace with this integration enabled.  Personally, I’d love to see EC and Vidyo working together to offer a highly innovative chat with video service with industry-based solutions, but we’ll just have to wait and see :).

The Cloud is the future for Unified Communications, we all know that, but what I really like is the ability to offer best of breed choices to organizations of any size without having to stick to an overall UC environment from one particular vendor, although eZuce, BroadSoft, and Microsoft all make compelling reasons why you would want to.  I also see a bright future with Marketplace-based applications and CEBP solutions which I touted as the future of UC back in 2010 at the Microsoft Worldwide Partner Conference in Washington, D.C. sitting on a panel with my peers in the industry at that time.  Sad that we were not able to bring a UC App Store to market yet, but I guarantee, one is coming.  Sorry VAR Guy! (http://www.thevarguy.com/2010/07/13/coming-soon-microsoft-osc-14-app-store/).

I also see a great future in Cloud-based videoconferencing & Telepresence which Vidyo is pioneering well to offer even further flexibility to end-users and dramatic cost savings to any size of organization and I really hope to see a major transition in online voice services offered by leading ITSPs in the market today to offer some innovative services including Cloud-based mobile UC solutions which will be very compelling, with providers like Avaya, Cisco, Siemens, and NEC being able to enter that market heavily and offering some very cool solutions emulating what they already have to offer via on-premise today.

Regarding Siemens, I was equally impressed with Siemens move to the Cloud for their OpenScape Cloud Contact Center solution.  As mentioned above with the EC SmartChat service, moving Call and Contact Center solutions to the Cloud will enable better, more integrated customer communication and management systems, especially regarding integration within UC platforms.  Lowering overall costs, enabling agents to work from anywhere, providing anywhere, anytime service with the ability to offload hosting of the entire service including manageability is simply awesome.  Siemens is also offering pay-as-you-go service for even better financial flexibility, without losing any features for the fully offered stack.

In summary, 2011 was the real launch of Unified Communications in the Cloud, and the Cloud has a tremendous opportunity to change everything we know about Unified Communications today, in fact really removing the buzzword altogether and creating a new series of solutions with even new acronyms and buzzwords to boot including future integration with enterprise and consumer-based Social Networking providers and a real advancement in how we contextually collaborate with new speech recognition-based services within online conferences of which we have only been able to see a glimpse of with innovative services like Apple’s Siri.

Hosted Voice Services
Hosted voice services or Cloud-based voice services has to be reiterated here separately due to the nature of the situation going on with the most bureaucratic issue in the UC market thanks to the confusion around monetizing the service by mobile carriers and telecoms alike.  As I pointed out in the first chapter of my last book, “Microsoft Voice and Unified Communications”, published by Pearson/Addison Wesley in 2009/2010, (http://www.amazon.com/Microsoft-Voice-Unified-Communications-Schurman/dp/032157995X), this is the most market shattering element in the Unified Communications modality stack.  Mobile carriers were terrified because with the prevalence of WiMax, 4G, and the future of a worldwide blanket of wireless Internet and data services, there would be no need for the carrier to provide voice.  Since this time, these carriers have heavily pushed new ITSP packages to organizations of all sizes.

The missing component now is tying it to a Cloud-based UC platform like BroadCloud, Office 365, or whatever Avaya, Cisco, Siemens, NEC, and others come to market with next year.  I’m sure Microsoft would love to be a voice provider but based upon what I have seen, I don’t think that it would be in Microsoft’s best interest to do so from a monopolistic or from a supportability standpoint.  BroadSoft has already implemented a solid strategy and I’m really not sure why other vendors have not emulated this strategy other than dealing with the same issues that Microsoft would face in owning or providing the voice network as well.

In the meantime, SIs (Systems Integrators) like BT Global Services brought to the UC market, hosted UC platform services including Hosted Voice Services through their Managed Microsoft Lync offering, in which BT hosts and supports an organization’s entire Microsoft UC platform, enabling users to remotely sign into their Microsoft Lync accounts and be able to communicate via VoIP and Enterprise Voice.  For more information on this solution, visit http://www.globalservices.bt.com/managed-microsoft-lync-2010.

Regardless of the outcome of Hosted Voice provider options, what 2011 proved is that customers want it and I mean desperately want it.  You can’t move UC to the cloud and expect voice to stay on-prem.  It’s confusing to the bottom line and technically as well.  Hopefully 2012 will be an execution year 🙂 and enterprise and SME/SMB organizations will have a wealth of Hosted Voice providers and services to choose from.

Mobile Communications
When looking at mobility with respect to Unified Communications, there are many point solutions available today, but I still have not seen a true mobile UC offering by anyone that really fits the needs of the demanding end-user.  There are many contributing factors to this including the multitude of mobile devices and platforms available in the market today, the deployment of Unified Communications platforms today weighing heavily on coexistence-based or integrated / hybrid deployments of many moving parts, regulations around voice services with ITSP providers and Mobile Carrier Networks.  It’s good to see that in 2011, many, if not all of the mobile carriers have announced new Cloud-based and ITSP-based voice services such as with mainstream providers like AT&T, Sprint, Vodafone/Verizon, Orange, Personal, etc., but there still is not a solution that can easily transition meetings between modalities effectively.

In the meantime, 2011 gave us a glimpse of what is possible.  Providers such as Cisco and Avaya came to market starting in 2010 with devices from Cisco such as the CIUS, offering a business-focused tablet solution for Enterprise-based communications.

Avaya also came to market with a prototype device called the ADVD (Avaya Desktop Video Device) with the purpose of running a prototype of the Avaya Flare solution offering a new configurable-concept focus for a Unified Communications client.

However innovative the solutions may have seemed at development time, both vendors, based on market feedback realized as have Samsung, HP, and others, that competing with the iPad is definitely too difficult and offer similar solutions now via iOS.  I had quite a bit of fun with my own iPad (V1) device placing and receiving PSTN and VoIP calls on the device, turning a glance even from my kids who compete for the latest technical innovation, not having this capability as of yet.  Adding features in the future such as FMC (Fixed Mobile Convergence) as well as providers that play in the both enterprise and SME/SMB space like BroadSoft, DataVox, and ShoreTel offering hybrid and Cloud-based mobile UC solutions as well, we’re getting really, really close to a truly unified device and experience from a mobile perspective.

Microsoft also recently launched their own mobile clients for Lync for Windows Phone, Android, iOS, and Nokia devices/systems, offering features such as enabling Enterprise Voice calls on the devices and more importantly, being able to easily join conference calls, which is a feature favorite of mine :).  With the next wave of Lync on the horizon and advancements being made to the Windows 8 platform, you can bet that there are even more innovative capabilities coming in 2012!

Just seeing these vendors offering solutions in the Apple AppStore is an additional leap forward to offering such solutions, but as much as an Apple fan as I am, I cannot ignore the vast number of Android devices entering the market today, representing an additional opportunity for a giant such as Google to jump onto what may be the largest UC market in existence, personal unified communications.  More to come on that later.

Regardless of the provided solution, the challenge has really been based on end-user demand which is affecting all areas of UC in that the way humans are using integrated devices such as iPhones and Android devices as well as iPad and other tablet devices within the enterprise and SMB/SME markets while these devices are still also used for personal features such as maintaining personal music, photos, movies, and other applications and media, have driven the technology development to where it is today.

This has also been an agent of change that will heavily affect vendors such as Microsoft whose UC strategy is largely dependent on Microsoft Windows/the desktop.  For the first time, starting in 2011, we have seen UC driven by mobile devices, by tablets, and social communication applications including Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.  Text and Short Video Messaging is still dominant over Instant Messaging, a situation that I brought up in 2005 in Redmond with the Live Communications Server product team leads after traveling the world for Microsoft on a UC Speaking/Training Tour after seeing how humans communicate differently in multiple regions of the world, specifically in Asia, as being the biggest issue with providing the ultimate level of integration for end-users in offering offline IM or integrated Text Messaging / Video Messaging when in a mobile environment/situation.  This was before OCS was even named and I was laughed at and told that it was not a concern!  This all has to do with human based communication and because these communications are not desktop-driven, the flexibility of these solutions has to be immense, ever-changing, and literally open for daily update.

In summary, 2011 provided us with a detailed view of human mobility, especially with the economy affecting office space lease/rental and travel more so than ever before, forcing end-users to live and die by their mobile phones, laptops, iPads, and tablets.  2012 will surely show some immense changes in mobile UC solutions which will also heavily affect UC platform solutions as well.  This is what organizations like Cisco, Avaya, and Siemens will execute on!

UC Applications & CEBP (Communications Enabled Business Processes)
In 2011, the biggest changes we witnessed with regards to UC applications and CEBP solutions had to do with updated platform architecture releases offering new APIs (Application Programmable Interfaces) and SDKs (Software Development Kits) as well as integration with Cloud services and open marketplace applications.

Microsoft launched UCMA 3.0 and a new set of SDKs for Lync Server and Lync Client applications, Cisco launched CUCI solutions for Microsoft and IBM, extending its already vast Unified Application Environment platform, Avaya launched ACE 3.0, upgrading its advanced and flexible CEBP platform, eZuce hit the market hard with Open Source APIs for their on-premise and Cloud-based UC platforms, Vidyo forever changed the way videoconferencing and Telepresence services can be configured for vertical industry use for CEBP application in the Healthcare and other industries, and BroadSoft expanded its platform of Cloud and on-prem based platform APIs to the BroadSoft Marketplace.  These were the major noticeable advancements made in 2011 that I was able to see although there are many up and coming solutions hitting the market as I write this report.

With each UC provider offering their own APIs, SDKs, and/or marketplace of integrated applications, organizations were able to provide enhanced value to their UC platform investments by integrating business applications into their UC systems.  As mentioned in many of my previous blogs stemming back to Network World (http://www.networkworld.com/community/blog/8631) and other previous writings for vendors like Microsoft, EC, and Avaya, CEBP and UC applications in general represent a wide range of opportunity for developers to extend capabilities of communication and collaboration products and services, as well as integrate systems together for situations and scenarios we discussed previously such as with coexistence of legacy or existing voice solutions with software-based or Cloud-based UC platforms and solutions.

As you could see in this video, presented by Eddy Malik, a friend and colleague of mine, Microsoft offers an extremely rich CEBP offering through a series of APIs and SDKs enabling the extensive Microsoft Developer Network of developers to create unique applications leveraging Microsoft Lync.

As explained by Sajeel Hussein, a friend and colleague of mine as well, Avaya ACE provides a very rich foundation of APIs in addition to integrated and packaged applications and SDKs that provide developers with a rich palette of tools and services to provide integrated Unified Communications capabilities.

Each provider offers their own advantages and disadvantages though.  Based on personal experience and working with seasoned developers, there are definite pros and cons to each.  While Microsoft provides the best IDE (Integrated Development Environment) through Visual Studio, unfortunately the UCMA API, which is their open application interface, does not support Video, Voice, or Cloud/Office 365 integration or programmability, unlike the Lync SDK which does support Voice, Video, and Office 365/Lync Online, but requires that the Lync Client runs in the background for the developed Microsoft UC application.  Avaya offers the most flexible and advanced set of UC APIs and SDKs, but the development environment is not as intuitive or easy to use.  Similarly Cisco offers an extensive set of APIs through the Cisco Unified Application Environment as well as a highly engineered SOA (Service Oriented Architecture) framework for their SONA (Service Oriented Network Architecture) services which enable control, configuration, and integration of Cisco network services.  Although both Cisco and Avaya APIs can be leveraged within a Microsoft Visual Studio development environment, again, it’s not as intuitive as what Microsoft offers developers within the Lync developer platform, but again, these are all Microsoft products, so there’s a bit of an advantage there :).  Regardless, if you are a good developer, and enjoy the Visual Studio IDE or are comfortable developing in Java and other development languages, an API is an API.

What 2012 will prove is which platform will be flexible enough to offer integration and CEBP solutions for on-premise, hybrid, and Cloud-based environments in addition to offering a compelling series of packaged applications that can be installed or hosted that integrate with an organizations UC platform.  Regardless, CEBP and UC applications are the catalyst for a UC environment’s true ROI (Return On Investment) as the more business applications you can integrate or leverage from your UC platform, the more cost savings will be experienced due to the removal of unnecessary, non-integrated third-party applications.  As an example of this, my startup firm, EC, has developed a solution called SmartChat which is in its third version coming in January 2012.  The solution offers a live chat and contact center type application that integrates directly to the Microsoft UC platform and will integrate with Office 365 in a hosted/Cloud-based environment.  Live Chat is available today, predominantly provided by Live Person, but Live Person does not offer integration with any UC platform.  So if SmartChat can offer all of the features Live Person offers plus extended CEBP/UC Application integration capabilities, companies that have invested or acquired a UC platform like Microsoft’s will be able to turn off or discontinue the use of Live Person which is generally a $300 per agent per month charge. That’s significant savings.  Apply that to CRM systems, ERP systems, online portal applications, vertical industry use of conferencing as within Financial Services, Travel/Transportation, and Healthcare industries, and you have a multi-billion dollar market of savings available to all organizations.

All I can say in summation is to watch for even more advancements to CEBP and UC Applications in 2012 and if you are not familiar with these solutions today and are implementing or deciding to purchase on-premise or Cloud-based communications systems, get familiar quickly as extensibility is a differentiating factor between choosing UC platforms between vendors, and a major one at that!

Call Center & Contact Center
While Call Center and Contact Center software solutions offered by the likes of Cisco, Siemens, Avaya, Zeacom, Aspect Software, Clarity, Altigen, and others have gone through major upgrades in 2011, the focus for these providers was integration with Unified Communications platforms and Cloud or Hosted Call/Contact Center solutions.

Avaya, Cisco, and Siemens, being the dominating Call Center and Contact Center providers to the enterprise marketplace, have already started focusing on this transition as well as offering integrated solutions to their own UC platform suites.  As mentioned above, Siemens made tremendous investments into their OpenScape Cloud Contact Center platform and Avaya continues to announce up and coming features for their Aura Contact Center platform due this year.

Aspect Software launched and entirely new Unified Communications Contact Center with the Aspect Unified IP (http://www.aspect.com/Pages/Products/Unified-Contact-Center-Aspect-Unified-IP.aspx) release offering direct integration with Microsoft Lync and Microsoft SharePoint.

Through this capability, Aspect, like Evangelyze Communications, focuses on the integration between the Contact Center and a Unified Communications platform.  Agents now have the ability to leverage their Microsoft Lync client applications to not only communicate on normal, daily basis, but also provide further ROI for customer requests, support, and management.

Altigen, Clarity and Zeacom also offered similar Contact Center solutions also offering integration with the Microsoft UC platform.  The main focus for all of these vendors is to contend with the bigger players in the Call Center and Contact Center enterprise marketplace which Cisco and Avaya have always dominated knowing that both providers are strategically planning for Cloud services and are already offering UC-integrated solutions, in an effort to offer customers massive savings by switching providers, representing the largest threat to the Contact/Call Center titans.

Honestly, I feel that something as simple as the UC platform itself with customization provided by CEBP/UC application development customization is all that is necessary to offer the features provided by these solutions, but definitely not as detailed.  This was the premise again behind SmartChat in offering Live, Presence-enabled Chat, but also offering  agent-based capabilities, but extending/integrating them into the UC client itself as EC has done with Microsoft Lync.  With EC’s SmartChat Version 3 release coming in January 2012, all of the above players have something to worry about, not just the likes of Live Person.

Enterprise Social Networking & Unified Communications
In 2011, the Social Networking market exploded.  With the compounding success of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, SMB/SME and enterprise organizations literally had to change their marketing strategies and IT departments had to find a way to integrate similar, yet secure features for end-users to take advantage of this preferred method of communication and collaboration. In a future post, I will propose several ideas I have around Enterprise Social Networking and how speech recognition, content aggregation, as well as contextual collaboration may forever change how we intelligently communicate.

The two main providers in the Enterprise Social Networking marketplace from my research are Telligent Systems (http://www.telligent.com) and Jive Software (http://www.jivesoftware.com), both offering UC&C integrated services into their platforms with Microsoft in 2011.  Beyond simple Click-to-Call integration, both providers offer advanced capabilities offering integration with Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social platforms and services with desktop, mobile, and Cloud-based accessibility.  In addition, both providers offer social aggregation services and contextual collaboration capabilities, representing the future of advanced UC solutions.

Telligent offers Telligent Enterprise which also offers Telligent Connect (http://telligent.com/products/p/connect.aspx) that enables integration between the platform and Microsoft Lync which Telligent and the development team at my startup, EC, created, while Jive Software offers a more collaborative approach by integrating directly with Microsoft SharePoint and Outlook (http://www.jivesoftware.com/products/engage-employees/capabilities/microsoft) but rumored to have plans to integrate .

Actiance (http://www.actiance.com), formerly known as FaceTime Communications before Apple purchased the rights to the name, made the largest splash in both Enterprise Social Networking as well as Unified Communications security, by offering integration with platforms including Jive Software, but also integrating and providing secure enterprise access to public social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn as well.

Resellers & Systems Integrators
2011 marked the step over the “tipping point” for the channel and SIs (Systems Integrators) alike.  Trying to monetize Unified Communications services has been difficult due to vendors providing free pilots and POCs (proof of concept) deployments that mainly deploy into an organizations production systems rather than a sandbox environment.  This was especially difficult within the Microsoft UC partner network where Microsoft and partners such as Polycom, Jabra, Plantronics, and others offered free POC kits and pilot box kits to help organizations hit the ground running leaving non-provider, pure SIs / resellers, with little to offer or gain for that matter.  Thankfully, Microsoft included a major change in its Microsoft Partner Program offerings for UC competency providers in that the software giant offered resale percentages for partners who were SIs, not just resellers providing additional income opportunities as well as the ability to resell services and support packages in addition to their own professional services.

Meanwhile in the traditional telecom channel, all resellers who had not adopted a solution-based selling acumen were at the cliff’s edge, struggling to understand how to survive and change their business processes to become relevant in this new solutions-driven, not product-driven market.  I actually spent a better part of the year providing speeches and training to global telecom resellers helping them understand how to transform their organizations in order to focus on UC solutions strategies with CompTIA as the elected SME for the Unified Communications global community.

I continued to provide these services across the US to Systems Integrators, Telecom channel/reseller organizations, as well as to UC and Cloud providers in the marketplace.  In addition, my focus was to provide advice to enterprise customers as well as listen to their requests and pain points with a focus to bring everyone together.  I will continue to provide these services independently as an executive consultant and strategist as well as work with key providers in the UC market to ensure that customers are seeing positive change in quality of services as well as products coming to market in 2012 and beyond.

Along the way, I had the pleasure of working with several key providers in the UC marketplace that I wanted to highlight, whose success reached high level market visibility with Alteva, NACR, and Via Group.

I met representatives from Alteva who attended my speech in Washington DC this year at Accelerate just before their announced acquisition by WVT Communications in August of 2011.

Alteva is a prime example of traditional telecom reseller who transformed their business in order to provide customers with both solution and product-focused services.

NACR is an organization who I met through my work with Avaya that offers multiple services for enterprise organizations across several UC platforms.  With a long-standing relationship to Avaya, it was very interesting to see as with most existing Avaya and Cisco partners, newly developed relationships with Microsoft.

Having this deep background in traditional telecom as well as having extensive experience in CEBP development with Avaya before Microsoft came to market with their own CEBP capabilities, gave NACR an edge in the market among their peers in providing a wide range of UC services.

I wanted to save Via Group for the end here because I was incredibly impressed with Via’s executive and leadership team.  An organization, like NACR, who traditionally worked with Avaya as well as other manufacturers, offering a well-rounded host of UC services as well as CEBP solutions, was definitely a very strategic partner who I had met previously to working with Avaya while focusing on Microsoft-based CEBP solutions.

Through many strategic meetings, Via Group, really understood and had similar vision as to the future of UC services in the marketplace with the rapid change occurring not only in products, but also the ability to advice and support enterprise organizations through convergence, coexistence, and future communications and collaboration roadmap-based decisions.

In summary, there is still a lot of work to do with respect to aligning the right strategy within the Unified Communications Reseller and SI network as very large organizations in this community have already realized having made significant announcements to focus on UC professional services, yet failing to deliver an organized business that can yield enough margin to become successful as well as repeatedly successful in the market.  A key factor that the likes of organizations such as The Via Group have seen as an agent of success is to diversify, adopt application development practices to help build integrated and value-added services, as well as focusing on what is right for the customer, putting the customer first at all times.  These winning strategies, in addition to adopting solution-based selling acumen, can transform a traditional telecom into a leading UC solutions provider.

Well, that’s all I have time to spend on this post and I realize that there are plenty of other solutions, devices, and highlights that occurred in the UC market in 2011, but I thought I would post some that were near and dear to me over this past year.

4 Comments on “Unified Communications in 2011 Review

  1. Hey, thanks for your effort putting together about enterprise communications. Its succeed or fail for heaps of struggling businesses out there.

    Like

  2. Pingback: Top 10 Enterprise UC Concerns for 2012 « joe.schurman

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