By: Madelyn Welch and Leah McCann
For today’s UCC Day “Tech Talk,” we were joined by industry veteran Dr. S. Ann Earon to compare unified communication collaborations options and discover where the battle lines are today. With more than 38 years in the industry, Dr. Earon has dubbed herself the “fairy godmother of the industry.”
Dr. Earon was briefly joined by Carol Zelkin to introduce us to the Interactive Multimedia and Collaborative Communications Alliance (IMCCA), which was founded more than 20 years ago by Dr. Earon, Zelkin and a group of vendors. The IMCCA is a non-profit trade association for the conferencing industry. Dr. Earon put it like this: The IMCCA is like Switzerland; they don’t care which platform you use. They are “resolved to strengthen and grow the overall unified communications and collaboration industry by providing thought leadership, impartial information and education.” In short, to help the UCC industry and provide resources and education to make it better.
A thorough and insightful Tech Talk today was certainly evidence of that.
Multi-Platform Environments and “The Battle for Mindshare”
In proper form with what Zelkin said about the IMCCA representing all platforms fairly (no special treatment), Dr. Earon gave us a look at the state of the UCC market and the competition within it. This look at all the UC (unified communications) vendors and their new competitors was striking — though Dr. Earon adds that some of these players are very active, while others are less so. But this is a great birds-eye view at the landscape right now:
“Twenty-three years later and we’re anything but unified,” said Dr. Earon.
“Firms want to be seen as unified, but in reality, would rather see each other go up in flames,” Dr. Earon argued.
Despite this, she thinks the market is at a turning point, offering these reasons:
- Traditional vendors will face a crisis of prioritization: invest in a declining, premises-based portfolio, or invest in new cloud-based platforms.
- Vendors that don’t significantly invest in cloud will fail to attract new prospects and, over time, lose their installed base through competitive churn.
- Software subscriptions offer a flexible pricing model and carry little upfront expense; business risk is reduced as switching costs are minimized.
- Vendors will need to replace end-of-life underperforming legacy platforms or risk being outpaced by cloud-based rivals.
In addition to the factors above, the COVID-19 pandemic is also shifting the market of UCC tremendously.
The New Normal in UCC
The health crisis has caused thousands of organizations and hundreds of thousands of knowledge workers to adopt remote work using collaboration tools. Dr. Earon said this shift has allowed individuals to learn what those in the industry have been saying all along:
- Remote working works.
- Video conferencing and collaboration tools are easy and reliable.
- Omitting unnecessary commuting saves time, energy and the environment.
These insights have led Dr. Earon to believe that many people won’t go back into the office on a regular basis. Businesses will realize that the cost of real estate is unnecessarily high. In addition to changes brought on by the pandemic, Dr. Earon believes that customers leapfrogging technology, legacy vendors facing a crisis of prioritization, and the fact that the long-term winners are those who are cloud-based vendors with all-in-one suites, will also contribute to the “new normal” as it relates to UCC.
Who Is Telling the Truth?
We got a look at the pros and cons of the most popular platforms. These included Webex (not WebEx, mind you) by Cisco, Teams (by Microsoft), Zoom, the Intel Unite solution, Pexip and others. But this breakdown begs the question: who, of those, is telling the truth?
The answer is all of them and none of them. All vendors are going to optimize their own stories, right? As users, Dr. Earon says, we need to ask the right questions for how these apply to the environments we work in. From a user perspective, ask yourselves what works best. What’s easiest for my employees to adopt and work with?
“You need to step back and talk to your users. You can’t say as an AV/IT person, I’m gonna select X hardware. Start talking to the people who are going to use that hardware to see what they’re going to accomplish,” said Dr. Earon.
The UCC market has changed from hardware locked-in to a single platform to a multi-platform environment. The long-term winners are going to be cloud-based.
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