TMC ITExpo - UC Thoughts - There`s Work to be Done

20 Sep 2011

I've been an active participant at many ITExpo events, and have seen the show evolve quite a bit. Perhaps the most noticeable change has been the ever-expanding breadth of coverage into spaces that go well beyond TMC's core focus. They've built a strong franchise with SMBs and resellers, which makes their audience of interest to us here at UCStrategies.

This broader coverage has included UC, and that's become a strong theme at recent events. The ITExpo, however, has also ventured further afield into areas such as peering, 4G, M2M, startup boot camp and cloud communications. There is a big tent element now to the show, but the quality remains high across the board. They've managed this by partnering with leaders in each niche rather than doing it all themselves. What they give up in TMC-based thought leadership they gain in the credibility that comes with having best-of-breed content in these various sub-events from organizers such as Crossfire Media, Embrase and Ingate.

There was a fair bit of direct focus on UC at last week's ITExpo West, which was being held for the first time in Austin, Texas. Next to Las Vegas, I can't think of another city with so many fun, accessible distractions, but there was one was saving grace that kept everyone onsite during show hours. With daytime temperatures hovering around 100 degrees, it was simply too hot to go outside.

Coming back to UC, there were panels solely focused on the topic, as well as a full day just on UC from Ingate's very popular SIP Trunking sessions. I didn't see much in the way of new UC offerings, but there is certainly a lot of UC turning up in other areas.

I'll start by commenting first on a session that I moderated - "UC Unleashed." As the title implies, we covered some key trends that were echoed elsewhere during the Expo. In my view, there is a lot of validation here that I'd like to highlight for UCStrategies readers.

First is the reality that UC comes in many different flavors. That's no surprise, but with all the attention that premise-based and telecom-centric solutions get, it's easy to overlook everything else. While cloud is clearly the trend du jour, we had two elements from the Open Source ecosystem on our panel - Fonality and Digium. Open Source has its virtues, and as it matures, vendors are trying to move up the value chain for enterprise-class UC deployments. I'm not sure how successful they'll be, especially if you drink enough Kloud Kool Aid and believe that premise-based systems - including Open Source - are doomed.

There sure was a lot of that on tap at the Expo, and I'm not alone in pushing back on the seemingly foregone conclusion that cloud is THE WAY. Of course, UC is but one of many applications that fall into this sphere, so we have to remember this is a much broader trend. I want to mention this only because unlike these other applications, UC seems to defy easy classification. That reality was also confirmed at the Expo, and almost every UC session I saw started off with that caveat. So, what is an IT decision maker to do? How do you put your faith in the cloud for something you can't clearly define?

I don't have the answer, but this is where UCStrategies can help. Collectively, we see the UC milieu from a broader perspective that just about anyone else, and I believe we add value by helping vendors define their offerings in a way that the market understands. That brings me to my next takeaway. When you listen to vendors talking about UC on panels or during keynotes, the value proposition, capabilities, applications, benefits, etc. are totally clear - in their minds. For us in the analyst community, it's all as clear as day.

Now, turn your attention to the audience - and my favorite part of moderating panels - and listen the dialog during Q&A. The audience is always a mixed bag at these events, but it quickly becomes clear that they think in terms of everyday business problems, not UC applications. They want to know how to reduce telecom costs, whether to keep or replace their phone system, cut down on phone tag, support remote workers, get mobile costs under control, figure out if/how to use social media, keep their network secure, etc. These needs may or may not fit neatly with how vendors define UC, and the strongest message coming from the speakers was the need to listen more carefully to what end users need. Businesses do not come to vendors asking for UC, but they will be happy to talk about how these problems can be addressed.

The cloud will continue its ascendancy, and for those of us in the UC universe, I think we have to concede this is a bigger trend that may well dictate buying decisions around communications technologies. Despite the cloud's potential shortcomings, it's tough to go against the flow, and to keep IT decision makers engaged, I believe vendors need to position their offerings in this broader context. Some do it better than others, but that's my big take away from the Expo. If you think of UC and the cloud as a Venn diagram, I'm seeing a lot of overlap, and if vendors want to take confusion out of the equation, there's work to be done in getting the story right.


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