Telephony isn’t UC on its own, is it? Convergence or divergence of Voice?

While I’m predominantly a techy, I do get very actively involved in our sales cycles for products and services around the Unified Communications solutions. Exposure to this sales cycle has led me to question the whole convergence story – or rather where we are on that story.

Convergence was/is a big thing – sticking to UC/telephony the move from TDM to VoIP was a significant one, and offered many benefits to companies from leveraging existing investment in infrastructure to providing better and more usable services for users.

For a while pretty much every tender that passed through my area was UC focussed – companies just weren’t looking to replace a phone on a desk with another phone on a desk. They wanted something functionally stronger, and able to offer more flexibility in usage topologies to the service consumers.

This took the shape of telephony (of course), voice conferencing, integration to Email platforms, Instant Messaging/Presence, web conferencing etc. All the stacks that we’re all (in UC anyway) fairly conversed with.

What’s becoming apparent (or maybe I’ve only just really thought about it) is that there are distinct sets of companies out there that don’t want UC. What they want is telephony – and they see VoIP as a way of getting that cheap telephony. They’re not readily interested in all the feature rich capabilities delivered by UC&C. They want phones on desk, for their users…and they want them cheaper. They often (appear) to view telephony and VoIP as cost expenditures to be eroded, rather than as an investment platform to drive productivity.

So is UC & telephony diverging again? Did it ever truly converge in the first place? It’s an interesting concept – and one that matches some vendors more than others. Take Cisco for example. While I don’t have the figures to hand (I’m sure I could Google it) they state that they have more than 100K+ collaboration customers world-wide, and that 95% of Fortune 500 using Cisco UC. That all may well be true, however some 75-80% of that is dial-tone…and dial-tone isn’t UC is it?

I’m not particularly picking on Cisco here; it’s just the main competitor to Microsoft that came to mind.

This divergence or selection of telephony or a UC platform is a challenging space for Microsoft to compete in. For a pure telephone-on-a-desk topology that doesn’t want or need the higher functionality offered by the Lync platform then pricing becomes an issue – vendors such as Mitel, Avaya & Cisco have the opportunity to deliver a more competitive offering.

Of course trying to ‘step up’ a VoIP Telephony platform to UC is where things start to become harder, and it certainly affects that competitive offering. More product and licensing is needed, often with associated infrastructure.

I suspect 2014/15 will see some significant change the UC/Telephony arenas – Microsoft is gaining ground on the traditional vendors, and Microsoft’s competitors are also upping their game. Of course competition is good – it drives innovation doesn’t it? I suspect we’ll also see changes in the cloud delivery (I got so far without saying cloud…go me). In my experience our clients seem happier to consider cloud when contemplating functionally rich UC (or Contact Centre) type services, but less so for pure VoIP telephony.

I can envisage that pattern starting to change – VoIP as a service is quite a compelling one in its own right if its delivered, priced and modelled correctly, and the service users are fully aware of the capabilities of the platform.

Whatever happens, UC & VoIP is a fascinating area of the technology market to work in. It changes quickly, and offers a lot of innovative products and services in its overall stack. I like that, it keeps things fresh & new.

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