Which Way is Up with UC and Collaboration?

3 Aug 2018

Back in the 12th century – way, way before the Internet – the great Jewish thinker, Maimonides wrote his most famous work, The Guide for the Perplexed. I’ve tried reading it, but like Joyce’s Ulysses, it’s too dense and cryptic for all but the most studious readers. That said, from my Jewish education, I at least know that what the perplexed among us need is a better understanding of the relationship between religion and philosophy. Messy stuff – then and now – and I’m kind of feeling the same way lately about the relationship between communication and collaboration.

These are different but highly related needs, and ever since UC came into vogue – and pinpointing that moment in time varies wildly depending who you talk to – it’s been pretty difficult to make a clear distinction.  The semantics are fun to dissect, but what really matters is establishing a clear value proposition that decision makers can build a business case around.

Not only do they need that to properly map out their IT needs, but also to get budget and buy-in from management. I have no doubt that decision makers are perplexed for making the right moves, but with all the changes in the market lately, it’s fair to say the vendors are perplexed too.

With everything going to the cloud, the lines keep blurring between communications (basically UC) and collaboration, and more recently with contact center. It’s getting much harder to define a winning value proposition, and with so many offerings covering largely common ground, things are catching up to the vendors in a big way. Has there ever been so much disruption in our lifetimes? And I’m only talking about the last few months. Here are just three to consider in the last week alone:


Last week, Google’s AI Contact Center seems poised to become the de facto platform for just about everybody not named Avaya or Microsoft. If you can’t beat them, co-opt everyone to use your technology, and in one fell swoop, that seems to be the case here. I’m over-simplifying, but have you ever seen so many companies announce a common partnership with a potential rival at once? This is co-opetition of the highest order, and it sure is perplexing if you still take Google’s “don’t be evil” mantra fully at face value.

How will these companies possibly differentiate? And for most of these companies, it’s hard to view this as a “partnership,” so decision makers need to be very wary when considering what each party is really bringing to the table. Fellow BC Expert Blair Pleasant has been wondering the same things, and her analysis here of the Google Cloud NEXT event is a must-read.


Even more recently, Slack announced it was acquiring Hipchat and Stride from Atlassian. It’s unusual to see a major competitor concede defeat so early in the game, especially since Slack came to market after them. There are many layers to this story, but for me, the main point is that the stakes are getting very high now, and the margin for error is about nil. If you don’t establish a winning value proposition quickly, and you struggle to make the freemium model work, your investors will get nervous, and an exit won’t be far behind.

Just as Google is positioning itself in the contact center against the majors not directly in their new AI orbit – namely Avaya, Microsoft and of course Amazon Connect – Slack is doing the same to bulk up and become the biggest competitor to Microsoft Teams. They certainly believe it’s a fair fight, and perhaps for straight up team – or workstream – collaboration, it just might be. Slack has done a fantastic job developing an unmatched developer ecosystem, along with an easy-to-use, economical platform that has scaled to mass adoption in very little time.

However, it remains to be seen just how much of the overall collaboration pie they can really capture without voice or email. Old habits die hard, and even Google recognizes the need to have voice. Messaging-centric platforms do represent a solid value proposition, but they can’t do the heavy lifting of a full-featured UC platform from the likes of Cisco, Avaya, Unify, NEC, Mitel, etc.


I’m only mentioning this in passing to provide some balance to Google’s AI “partnerships.” That term implies some degree of equality, but in this case it’s hard to see, and that is part of what makes these moves with Google perplexing. Decision makers shouldn’t have to parse things out to determine what those relationships really mean, especially when all the partners are basically using the same messaging to describe what they’re doing with Google.

Even more recently than Slack above – yes, it seems like there’s breaking news every day now – Vonage announced a very small but interesting move. They acquired TokBox for a modest $35 million. I did work for TokBox a while back when they had a different focus, so it’s nice to see them find a home and get a decent exit. In their current incarnation, the focus is on WebRTC-enabled video, and under the API-driven umbrella of Nexmo, this brings new possibilities to strengthen their CPaaS value proposition.

To me, that’s a solid rationale – and it’s very affordable for Vonage, making it another great move for them. So, for a change, the message is clear – this is an acquisition – nothing more, nothing less. It’s not a partnership, not an alliance, not a JV. Nothing perplexing here – and in my view, we need a lot more of this for IT decision makers to know which way is up.


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