Based on a 5-month research study involving 15 Enterprise Customers/Organizations, 4 Enterprise UC Resellers, and 2 Enterprise UC MSPs (Service Providers), as well as taking a recent poll at the UC3 Summit in Phoenix this past week, I have solidified the most focused concerns for the enterprise for UC in 2012 so vendors, channel partners, MSPs, and customers please take note. I welcome your comments and feedback as well to keep this content fresh and clear. The Top 10 Enterprise UC Concerns for 2012:

  1. UC Platform (Selection, Co-existence & Integration).  Ranking in at #1 in our list, providing co-existence and integration of existing enterprise PBX services along with and while transitioning to newer UC platform upgrades was top of mind for every customer interviewed.  While many of us from a vendor or product development perspective forget that the latest and greatest products typically do not penetrate the market until 1-2 years post release, it was very evident that customers have passed the UC platform decision tipping point and customers are now making their investments in their go-forward UC strategy mostly driven by end-user adoption and demand which includes elements that are part of the entire Top 10 list.  While most customers have decided to move forward with platform solutions that encompass a full UC client, there is still major concern regarding enterprise voice and video capability driving this top of mind concern in that each organization interviewed is not ready to take the leap to let their new UC platform choice support 100% of all the modalities it may provide therefore enforcing the requirement for co-existence and integration with existing services already deployed and supported.  This top of mind concern had opened up opportunities for service providers to tie systems together to enable a UC client application at the desktop and mobile client level, but provide back-end integration of UC server to existing voice and video services with the most popular choice in the market at this time being Microsoft Lync Client integration.  While Fortune 500s and other enterprise organizations are purchasing the necessary licenses for the full Microsoft UC suite, they are not actually deploying as many voice licenses as purchased.  What is actually happening is that most Microsoft Lync customers are only deploying small pockets of users enabled with voice services managed directly within the Microsoft Lync Server either through ITSP connectivity or mediated through a gateway, while the majority of users are provided with Enterprise Voice primarily by their existing PBX with Direct SIP, gateway-provided PBX integration, or most recently popular, integration at the client level without passing any voice services through the Microsoft Lync Server.  While the battle for enterprise voice is still being fought and most likely will not prove to show a winner until leveraged with UC in the Cloud (See Cloud overview below), co-existence was the lead UC concern for all major enterprise customers that were interviewed as part of this study.  There are many pros and cons to providing integration with existing voice and video services with most pros focusing on dependability and scalability, but the need and want is still there for a complete UC server platform that offers voice, video, and data from one vendor.  In the meantime, fit-for-purpose has seemed to be the theme until such time the comfort level is high enough to warrant a full switch at such time all services will most likely be hosted.  Cisco, Avaya, and Siemens have all provided excellent care for their customers by offering integration services with Microsoft Lync by enabling the Lync client application with application, data, and video in some cases provided by Microsoft while voice services are actually provided by the existing PBX.  I have listed an overview of these services in a previous post in my 2011 review post.
  2. Cloud.  Following close behind at #2, investments in Cloud UC services and platform selection made the list with many new product announcements made in 2011 and just recently this year as well.  Microsoft hit the Cloud hard late last year with Lync and Exchange Online as part of their Office 365 hosted offering and customers followed suit.  One Fortune 500 organization I met with had actually already decided to purchase 80,000 Office 365 seats for their end-users during our discussions and were quite happy with their pilot deployment as well.  While Microsoft and all other UC Cloud providers, with the exception of BroadSoft and eZuce, does not offer voice services as part of Office 365, these enterprise customers leveraged integration capabilities at the client level by offering add-on services hosted by their existing PBX environments and integrated through UC Applications that also have both On-premise and Cloud or Collocated capabilities.  To this affect, most enterprise PBX manufacturers are enabling CEBP solutions enabling enterprise customers to migrate Enterprise Collaboration and Messaging to the Cloud while providing Enterprise Voice services at the client level.  Cisco, Avaya, and Siemens all have provided solutions to enable the Microsoft Lync Client application with Enterprise Voice services connecting to a collocated, hosted, or On-Premise PBX service while the client itself is actually enabled with all other modalities via Lync Online.  In addition to Siemens offering for Microsoft Lync and Lync Online, they have also provided integration with Google.  Through the  Siemens’ OpenScape UC platform, the vendor is offering users the ability to connect via Google Voice which turned many heads in the enterprise as part of this study.  In short, everyone agrees that Cloud is the roadmap for UC and customers are leveraging their stored savings to invest wisely in a platform that can offer not only the ability to host and manage their UC platform, but also offer users the dependability and integration capabilities to support future communication and collaboration services.
  3. Videoconferencing.  In one of the most market-disrupting events this year, vendors such as Vidyo and Polycom took the market by storm offering viable alternatives to existing, expensive videoconferencing equipment and services while Microsoft kicked open many doors with ad-hoc videoconferencing provided through Microsoft Lync and Microsoft Lync Online.  I met with one Fortune 500 organization who traditionally used Nortel/Avaya Telepresence solutions who replaced a 55-room international conferencing service that would have at least cost $1M in hardware per room to online and federated video solutions provided ad-hoc conferencing services with UC application development for custom control.  Videoconferencing was also top of mind for future mobile capabilities via tablet and phone devices with Fortune 500s focusing heavily on video scaling/de-scaling architecture to provide the highest resolution based on dynamic mobile bandwidth which launched Vidyo to the forefront in their offerings for iOS, Android, and Windows platforms by focusing on de-scaling architecture at the server/hosted server level and not at the MCU in-room level which in turn provided a lower equipment footprint and greater flexibility to support end-user device demand as well as lowering the overall cost of an organization’s videoconferencing and Telepresence services.
  4. Mobile. Arguably equal to any of the Top 3 Enterprise UC concerns in this list, providing UC Mobile solutions was definitely top of mind for the Fortune 500.  With the increasingly mobile workforce and change in human to human communication moving away from the desktop, focus on UC client support via tablet and phone device was of extreme importance.  Beyond accessing UC capabilities such as Email, IM, Corporate Voice/Voicemail access, and Conferencing from these devices, the ability to transition to & from mobile to desktop settings and providing location-based services was also in focus for enterprise organizations.  I will discuss more about this in an up and coming post focusing on UC NextGen solutions and predictions but I decided to put an image teaser below of what I’m really envisioning so that users like myself can easily transition between modalities either through a manual or automatic process:Based upon ever-changing end-user demand for the latest and greatest devices, enterprise organizations also had to focus on UC mobile solutions that were not device specific offering similar features for users on an iOS, Windows, Android, Nokia, or BlackBerry device.  Enterprise organizations began to place additional server equipment to support Enterprise Voice services for mobile devices so that their end-users had the ability to place and receive corporate communications on their devices without leveraging their carrier network voice services.  Vendors such as Microsoft finally introduced FMC (Fixed Mobile Convergence)-like services for the Microsoft Lync Mobile client while vendors such as Avaya launched new full UC client applications such as Avaya Flare on the iTunes App Store offering customers a full range of UC modalities.  Cisco continued to provide innovative services for iOS devices as well with WebEx integration and support, and Siemens Enterprise Communications launched several mobile solutions through their OpenScape platform offering full UC access via all mobile devices and operating systems.
  5. UC Applications & CEBP. Definitely top of mind for me, but also for most enterprise organizations I met with was UC application and CEBP (Communications Enabled Business Processes) development solutions.  I am listing the two as separate as UC Apps and CEBP solutions are two separate and distinct focus areas.  With UC Platform co-existence and integration ranking at #1 on our list, UC application services that tie platforms together such as providing Enterprise Voice services provided by one vendor to a UC client application provided by another were a direct requirement.  I personally reviewed solutions offered by Siemens, Avaya, Microsoft, and Cisco which all have their own UC clients, servers, platforms, and CEBP solution capabilities but equally important offered integration between each other…well at least between themselves and Microsoft.  With Microsoft taking advantage of technology and relationships at the Microsoft Office level, enterprise end-users adopted more quickly to Lync as another desktop Microsoft Office application for collaboration forcing many of these vendors to offer voice, video, and additional services to the client to offer end-users a single user interface client regardless of where the services were actually coming from.  In other integration scenarios, Fortune 500s that leveraged UC solutions from Siemens, Avaya, Cisco, NEC, and others, but wanted to leverage Microsoft Lync only for IM & Presence, Microsoft API and SDK-based solutions took center stage offering integration and CEBP capabilities between platforms.  Focusing only on CEBP, organizations that had moved past their UC platform selection and had already deployed UC platform servers offering API and likewise client SDK-based interfaces, began to leverage these capabilities to their benefit by developing in-house CEBP solutions highlighting their unique business processes by enabling them with UC modalities and integration taking full advantage of their UC investments and showing immediate return on their investment.  Healthcare providers launched applications offering patients who are in constant hospitalization or are in and out of specialized doctor appointments the ability to unify not only their communications with the hospital and specialists, but also their medical charts.  Fortune 500s in the Financial Services industry began to adopt CEBP solutions that offered the ability to remove the need for ancillary or third-party disconnected solutions/applications and provide these services through their own UC platforms leveraging CEBP development with Live Chat and Contact Center as a prime example.  More info below in the Contact Center listing.  Government & Private Sector agencies also began leveraging CEBP application development by integrating UC capabilities within online document processing, information gathering, remote conferencing, and even monitoring services.  I also met with customers in the Media & Entertainment industry who were focusing on CEBP solutions to offer studios, producers, and set production communication packages and services where in the past such services were expensive and difficult to deploy and tear-down based on short-use timeframes.  In addition, I met with leading manufacturers in the Automotive industry who pushed UC to the edge with both Cloud based services use for their own end-users and focus on UC integration for future use within automobiles while I met with another Fortune 500 who is advancing UC communication and CEBP capabilities in the rail/train transportation industry.Equally important to offering API and SDK capabilities to a UC platform is the ability to offer intuitive access to the platform through a familiar development IDE (Integrated Development Environment).  If you thought that integrating telecom and application/data engineers was hard, try integrating developers and UC engineers.  UC engineers are definitely not cut from the same slice or loaf for that matter as developers and vice versa.  By enabling intuitive capabilities and understanding of a UC server or client application API or SDK for a developer, you can immensely increase the learning curve and solution development timeframe provided by a developer.  So, with this knowledge Microsoft, who is actually the latest UC vendor to offer UC application development capabilities, provides a very rich API and SDK platform that is quite easy for a Visual Studio developer to ascertain and begin coding the next innovative UC application.  Microsoft is not alone in this though as Avaya offers developers the same capabilities with more modality control through the Avaya ACE (Agile Communications Environment) platform of APIs and SDKs.  Additionally, Siemens offers a completely competitive solution to the Microsoft platform with access to their OpenScape Server and SOA SDK platform ,but also supports Microsoft Visual Studio and Lync SDK integration.  Lastly, both NEC and Cisco offer UC APIs and traditional CTI application capabilities and integration options as well.  Bottom line, customers are starting to catch on that UC Application and CEBP capabilities provide the ultimate ROI and truly increase efficiency and innovation within their organizations.
  6. Contact Center.  Always a top of mind focus for the enterprise, Contact Center ranks in at #6 with most of the focus placed on Cloud and Hosted Contact Center solutions as well as massive price reduction based on Contact Center features already residing within UC server and client applications.  Starting with Cloud-based investments, like Cloud-based UC platform strategic roadmap planning, preparing for Cloud-support for the Contact Center is already underway with existing vendors already porting Contact Center solutions to hosted and hybrid environments.  The most disruptive movement in Contact Center strategy though has been mostly due to the realization of what is possible between UC application development and an API and SDK-enabled UC platform.  Organizations can now either contract service providers to create Contact Center features as add-on capabilities to their UC clients and this is not just for vendor solutions like Microsoft who offer a rich set of APIs and SDK capabilities for the Lync Client and Lync Server, but also existing Contact Center providers such as Avaya and Siemens who are now offering customized solutions for their own UC platforms even though they may in fact be cannibalizing their own product sales.  The driver for this kind of UC customization is not only price, but the ability to offer one client for their end-users instead of having to offer specialized Agent software just for Contact Center feature use.  Another layer of integration/customization lies at the server level where providers like Aspect Software, Avaya, Siemens, Cisco, and Microsoft are providing server-to-server integration leveraging presence and client capabilities of the UC platform client application and adding on business logic, routing, and Agent-specific features such as escalation, customer record lookup and entry to the platform from the Contact Center.  While the Call Center itself still offers detailed feature sets that customers demand, customizing a UC platform or providing integration is definitely an affordable and viable alternative.  Live Chat, otherwise known as Web Chat is also more popular than ever.  My own startup company, Evangelyze, is soon to launch a direct hit against the likes of Live Person for customer contact via the web as well as compete at the Contact Center level with Agent and Agent Admin features.  Stay tuned to future news via press release there soon.  Leveraging the same cost and feature drivers as Contact Center and UC integration, web-based chat is likewise undergoing major competition as vendors such as Live Person currently charge a hefty monthly hosted fee for Agent software use that is leveraged by 90% of the Global 1000.  If you go to any brand-named organization’s website, and if they offer chat online, it’s usually provided by Live Person.  Just take a look at the URL next time you chat with an Agent.  The goal of EC’s Live Chat or “SmartChat” product is to leverage a customer’s existing UC platform to offer web chat as well.  From my knowledge, Evangelyze is launching their new “SmartChat NextGen” product that will offer support for both Lync Server and Lync Online which should allow any organization currently using Live Person to switch as again, the service will integrate directly into the organization’s Lync client without needing a specialized Agent application like Live Person any longer.  The basis for all of this disruption in the Contact Center space is a direct result of Cloud and On-Premise UC contact capabilities offered by the platforms providing them.  Each leading vendor now offers customization and integration capabilities and organizations like Evangelyze are simply exposing these through customization and packaging them for ease of deployment with additional add-on features rendering existing Contact Center packaged software applications useless or over-priced for the majority population.
  7. Social Networking. Arguably the hottest trend in the UC market right now, Social Networking integration has become as mission critical as Email and IM for a unified client integration requirement for enterprise organizations across the board.  A warning that I have mentioned in previous blogs to UC providers to stop solely focusing on the desktop UC client and to start focusing on HTML 5 and mobile client development has not been ignored.  Organizations are now catching on that Facebook, LinkedIn, and other Enterprise Social Networking platforms provided by the likes of Jive and Telligent are here to stay and are becoming more popular contact initiation points than Email and IM.  Telligent has already started working with their largest customer, Microsoft, in integrating Lync Server into the Telligent Enterprise Community software platform offering users to communicate via Lync directly from social conversations within the site itself.  Likewise, Jive is working with multiple UC vendors offering direct UC client integration as well.  This trend is hitting hard in LinkedIn and Facebook as well but so far there have been no enterprise solutions offered to-date, but I expect to see some soon or I’m just not looking at the right info.  With Social Networking becoming the new UC conversation starter, a lot of emphasis is now being placed on contextual collaboration and SME (Subject Matter Expert) integration where web users looking at specifically tagged keywords can begin communicating directly with experts in those subject areas.  Imagining the future of organizations like Best Buy who already have a UC platform capable of offering this kind of service on their own customer-facing website so that customers like myself can actually communicate from within a review section or product page with surround sound experts, etc. instead of going through the normal customer service route or having to set foot in a store to have a question answered will be simply sweet.  Again, Evangelyze is hitting the Contact Center and Live Person hard in this area as well with their next rev of SmartChat and I am sure there are other players out there that are doing the same.  Below is an example of what Evangelyze and Telligent recently launched for Telligent’s Enterprise Community platform allowing users to contact one another using the Microsoft Lync Client using the Telligent Social Networking platform as the conversation initiator:
    Taking a look at Siemens today with their OpenScape integration with Google Voice allows for this kind of integration as well so that anyone can communicate with an internal enterprise organization from the outside using free chat and hosted voice solutions.  Welcome to the future, it’s been here for a while!
  8. Speech Recognition. It’s hard to argue with the fact that even though speech recognition has been around for a while and constantly evolving, only Apple with Apple-esque style, evangelized speech recognition and command capability at the highest and broadest level with their launch of Siri in the iPhone 4s release.  Undeniably the 4s would not have much selling power without Siri as the only Apple commercials we are watching today have to do with nuances of Siri use cases.  Using the word nuance in that sentence was definitely a play on words as Nuance, the leading speech recognition and command-based ISV (Independent Software Vendor) has dominated the market for the past decade with loaned technology to leading manufacturers in the UC space who are now adopting and refining their own solutions.  UC vendors are taking immensely large investments in this space, not just as a result of Siri’s popularity, but to offer simplified communication services for UC client users for features such as IVR (Interactive Voice Response) and now speech-integrated contextual collaboration.  As many witnessed over the past year, Avaya acquired Aurix, a leading provider of speech services and plans to incorporate those services in future releases of their UC software, possibly even with their upcoming Aura release, but I am not 100% certain of that.  Personally, I see speech services playing the largest part in videoconferencing.  It is my vision that parties will be speaking to one another within a video conference and as specific nouns and acronyms are spoken, these words are then presented in a side or ancillary panel for other parties to see quick definitions as to not disrupt the speaker in asking for a direct definition of the used term.  I will be publishing this as one of my UC NextGen topics in my next blog, but am placing a teaser image below:
    Rest assured, we are only now scratching the surface of speech capabilities within UC applications and platforms and I cannot wait to see the future innovation by vendors like eZuce, Siemens, Microsoft, Avaya, Cisco, Vidyo, and others who are tapping into this unlimited potential.
  9. Healthcare. An area of personal interest of mine due to a majority of the past year spent in the hospital, specialist, or primary care physician’s office, UC in Healthcare is insanely trending.  Finally moving past the skiddish behavior caused by HIPAA regulations over a decade ago, healthcare providers are now opening up services to offer patients the ability to communicate with hospitals and specialists via hosted portal-based applications and direct email.  Over the past year, I have seen 15 different GI specialists now and have had 5 Endoscopies, 3 Colonoscopies, 1 FlexSig, 2 Gastric Emptying Studies, 1 Small Bowel Study, 4 Upper GIs, 1 Capsulary Endoscopy, 6 Cat Scans, 1 Hida Scan resulting in Gallbladder removal, enough blood, urine, and stool samples to drain a horse and am about to go through additional studies and scans including an advanced Push Enteroscopy and Bravo procedures with additional hospitalization to finally determine what has been causing me a year’s worth of physical struggle rendering my ability to work and provide for my own family extremely difficult (hence the writing as travel has been quite difficult/next to impossible).  As a person who finds comfort in believing that everything happens for a reason and hoping that this experience has been one of those, I have intently studied the way physicians, nurses, schedulers, patient care specialists, hospitalists, lab technicians, waiting area receptionists and other surrounding parties inter-operate and the systems that support them.  Moving throughout Houston’s world-famous medical facilities with hospitals including Memorial Hermann, Methodist, and St. Luke’s and various centers of care and clinics such as Baylor Medical Center of which I’m now in the care of, I have mostly witnessed many archaic processes mainly due to HIPAA regulations and inability to share patient records even between physicians in the same center, the same floor and office for that matter.  I have painstakingly had to repeat myself, the medications I’m taking, and the procedures I have completed so many times, I ended up just writing a document and provided a USB thumb drive with scanned copies of my results provided to me from each facility to every new physician I meet who all used the same industry-dominating medical software platform, EPIC (http://www.epic.com), to enter EMR’s (Electronic Medical Records), but do not have the ability to securely collaborate upon these records or offer secure services that would allow physicians to not require in-person visits for every visit, or at least information sharing visits only, especially when the patient lives an hour away from the facility.  Regardless of my own issues with these systems after actually playing with the software myself, I was quite impressed with one of the services offered by EPIC that has finally been adopted by many of the HIMSS (Healthcare Information and Management Systems Society) hospitals which is the EPIC MyChart application.  This application registered directly with me and offered me the ability to communicate back and forth with Baylor Medical Center to the several GI specialists I was dealing with.

    The application also showed all of the procedures performed and results from each on the same application portal as well saving a lot of time.  What I’m really hoping for is someone to throw a little funding my way to finish this out with EPIC and integrate MyChart with Siemens, Microsoft, Avaya, Cisco, eZuce, or simply Vidyo or Polycom so I can add flexible video and audio conferencing in a likewise secure manner completing a vision of mine started three, geez now 4 years ago called SmartCare so that not only patients and physicians can collaborate and communicate, but also cross-collaboration between physicians to increase efficiency and finally end this nonsense of digital barriers of information sharing.  This vision will also be part of my upcoming UC NextGen predictions blog to offer services like this with a short turnaround timeframe in production delivery.  Below is an overview of what I feel is possible in a three step process of offering either the hospital or physician’s office the ability to host these services for physicians and patients to finally communicate:Outside of providing UC integrated communications for patients and physicians, Live Chat has also become heavily used by leading physicians across the globe.  Live Person is already offering services that enable anyone to pay a per-minute charge to chat with physicians online using their web browser via Live Person’s hosted chat service based upon SME (Subject Matter Expertise) availability.For this service, I am extremely respectful of Live Person, even though my startup will compete with them at the enterprise level :). Regardless of communication modality, there are many UC platform, integration, and CEBP capabilities that can and will be added to the healthcare industry which has marked this marketplace one of the hottest UC interest groups in the industry.
  10. Open Source. With the entrance of eZuce into the Unified Communications marketplace, the issue of UC standards has re-established itself as a leading “top of mind” focus for enterprise organizations.  Even if eZuce is not the platform answer for most enterprise organizations, the open source UC platform provider is making waves in an ocean of dominating UC providers simply by providing compelling reasons for an open source UC platform based on protocol and communication standards.  While executives like Avaya’s Kevin Kennedy have preached the importance of the SIP standard for years until audiences seemed disenchanted or seemingly bored with the conversation, eZuce has placed emphasis through innovative new releases of an open source UC environment that offers a Linux vs Windows-esque feel enabling massive customization and CEBP innovation throughout the environment warranting its use for an enterprise organization even if an existing UC platform exists.
    The main driver for open source in UC is beyond simple SIP to SIP communication and the federated capability of being able to communicate freely between multi-vendor environments and applications and touches on API integration for UC application extensibility and innovation in CEBP solutions for multiple industry uses.  Today we live in a world where you must deploy a federation service to enable the brokering of UC client communication in most cases limiting that communication to IM/text only which is not so innovative!  Even looking at the way my son plays XBox and Playstation, the future will someday hold, I hope, the ability for user groups/player groups from both gaming networks to play against each other in games such as Call of Duty, Madden, etc.  Likewise, enterprise organizations are seeking better proxy and federation services to offer remote and integrated communication services across multiple clients and devices beyond IM and into corporate voice and video communication despite the UC or client application used by any party in the conversation.  Microsoft has done a great job by enabling Lync audio/video conversation capabilities between the Lync Client, Windows Live, and Windows Live via XBox / Kinect.
    Siemens has likewise innovated by offering external users the ability to communicate between Google Voice with Siemens OpenScape as shown below in an example of what is presented in the browser when clicking on a link to connect to someone running the OpenScape client:
    and Avaya has enabled a plethora of integration capabilities through Avaya ACE to communicate directly within applications like Avaya Flare and Avaya One-X with Apple, Google, and Microsoft.  We’re getting close to the open capability of communication, but each one of these vendors still has a corner of proprietary protocol uses limiting full federation capabilities, namely Microsoft who leverages its own blend of SIP/SIMPLE for VoIP communication.  However, the understanding of why Microsoft developed along this route is simply due to its focus on offering a unique set of Microsoft-focused integrated communication capabilities not only throughout its UC platform, but also through additional Microsoft platforms such as Office, Office 365, Dynamics, and now the XBox.  Regardless, eZuce, in my opinion, is pushing the importance and the envelope in future UC platform development and true CEBP extensibility through its hosted, hybrid, and on-premise UC platform offerings.  For direct technical architecture guidance visit http://www.ezuce.com/architecture-and-deployment.  For more general information, visit http://www.ezuce.com.

Summary

As I tend to write way too much for most of my posts, I won’t spend any time writing out a long-winded summary to this one so, I hope this sparked some interest and providing some good information to all who read it based on my experience meeting with some of the largest and most innovative enterprise organizations, vendors, and service providers in the industry this past year.  If you’re interested in more info or want a more personalized conference, I’m available for consulting.

Click on the Hire Joe link in the above menu to contact or arrange an appointment.

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