What a week at VoiceCon Orlando!
When I joined the Office Communications Server team back in August 2007, I personally was new to the enterprise voice space and Microsoft was only just painting a vision of the world to come. Roll forward two and a half years, and we are clearly seen as a major player in the communications industry with anticipation from customers and competitors of the impact we will have. That was the reason I joined the team and it is very fulfilling to have helped lead this transformation and to have learned so much along the way. At this show, we announced the availability of Communications Server “14” (code name) in H2 2010 and showed some of the capabilities for the first time. You can find out more here: www.microsoft.com/communicationsserver.
The show lasted four days and included keynotes from leading vendors (Microsoft, Avaya, Siemens, Cisco and IBM), several general sessions to discuss key broad issues in the industry and breakout sessions focused on specific topics. I tweeted during the show with some of my favorite lines, you can check out at https://twitter.com/mozontweet. On balance, I think we came out top in the show and it seems others such as ‘The UC Guys’ also agree. Here’s why….
We Have Moved Past “Is Microsoft Able to Replace My PBX”
Three years ago, Microsoft announced its initial foray into enterprise voice. This solution was sufficient for highly-mobile workers, but not sufficient to replace the PBX for many customers. Since then we have added the features that allow us to meet the needs of information workers and the enterprise. In this release we will add capabilities for users (such as call park), for survivability (such as call admission control and branch resiliency), and phones (more options for low cost knowledge worker and common area IP handsets). By listening to customers and industry experts we were able to carefully prioritize our investments to the most important product features. Our work to meet enterprise voice requirements culminated in our submission of an RFP response for VoiceCon along with all the major telephony players. While there were a few areas where we did not fully comply, we met the core requirements of the RFP, effectively validating Microsoft as a potential PBX replacement. You can read more about it in BJ’s blog post.
Everyone is Focusing on the Broader Collaboration Experience, Not Just Voice
There was a lot of talk at the show about collaboration and social networking. Without a doubt these are critical elements of next generation communications. But while legacy telephony players are starting to talk about collaboration, Microsoft has been leading the industry with assets such as Microsoft Office, SharePoint, Exchange, and now Office Communications Server. In several customer meetings I used our internal organizational structure as an example of our commitment to comprehensive collaboration experiences. The leaders for OCS, SharePoint, and Exchange report to a common Senior Vice President for office business productivity (OBP). During product planning, we think about and invest in common scenarios. Organizationally, the OBP team sits alongside the broader Office team and we work to ensure that our collaboration experiences are accessible through the Office products that hundreds of millions use every day. Most of our competitors either don’t have such assets, only have assets from acquisitions, or have siloed organizations that impede coordinated planning and investment. So while they can meet a checkbox test in an RFP response, they can’t meet the integrated experience test needed to ensure adoption and productivity gains that were of the platform investment justification. As Gurdeep said in his keynote, “while our engineers have been busy, their M&A departments have been at work”.
A great example of this kind of integration is “Skill Search”, which searches profile information from SharePoint and returns a list of users who match the search criteria along with their presence state. With one click, you can initiate voice, IM, email, or conferences with the experts you find. This user experience integration is where we stand out. It’s great to see other players in the industry follow, but we are ready for them!
Customers Are Adopting OCS and Vowing to “Never Buy Another PBX”
I moderated a panel in which several Microsoft customers were queried by leading analysts about their experiences with OCS. One of the analysts, Brian Riggs, wrote a blog entry on this entitled “OCS is a Current, Not Future, Threat to PBX Developers”. As Brian pointed out, the customers on the panel had not fully displaced their PBX. AT Kearney, for example, had made a recent investment in Cisco’s IPT solution but realized it could not meet the needs of their mobile workforce. They deployed OCS alongside their Cisco PBX, and plan to leave the PBX in place until it depreciates. Their users are increasingly using OC for all communications and simply ignoring the deskphone. Stoneridge is deploying voice to users as it reaches end of life for a PBX. It has 700 users without a PBX phone today but never plans to buy another PBX. Some customers, such as Sprint and Infonavit, do replace their PBXes entirely with OCS, but that’s just an option. The beauty of the OCS approach is that it doesn’t require a rip and replace of your existing infrastructure.
Brian and others were also impressed with an example from Clarity, an ISV that developed a call center solution for a customer on top of OCS. Clarity’s CTO explained how OCS’s higher level programming capabilities enable his team to focus on adding business value to the customer by redesigning experiences and processes, rather than focusing on lower level integration. In fact, the user experience his team built is nothing like communicator but meets the needs of the customer well. That’s the beauty of software and a key strength for Microsoft.
You can see more customers at this link: http://www.microsoft.com/presspass/presskits/2010office/default.aspx
Partners Are Embracing the Potential to Transform the Industry
One thing we were very clear on from the beginning is one player can’t do it all. The real debate was whether the structure of the industry would be vertical or horizontal. We believe that the mainframe model—in which one vendor provides network connectivity, hardware, server software, desktop software, and devices—is ineffective at driving innovation and user experience improvements, and it keeps prices artificially high. We believe that a horizontal model in which players with expertise in each solution “layer” develop their best solution and support open interoperability between layers. You choose your network, your preferred hardware vendor, your preferred software vendor (where we play), and your preferred devices. This leads to integrated experiences for users and lower costs for organizations.
I am proud to say that I believe we have demonstrated the potential of this model. One slide that Gurdeep showed in his keynote was a “heatmap” of the show floor plan. Each square, rectangle or circle represents a vendor booth. If you count our systems integrators, hardware partners, trunking partners, and ISVs, you cover about 75% of the show floor! Even competitors such as Cisco leverage our public interoperability and development programs. This is the power of the ecosystem we have created and it bodes well as more partners come on board and continue to innovate.
We Had Some Fun While We Were At It
And we had some fun. Gurdeep’s keynote was a refreshing change from those with a lot of slideware and dry delivery—Gurdeep likes to throw a few playful punches. One of my favorites was his response to other vendors claiming leadership in collaboration, to which he replied: “It’s easy to think you’re the leader when the competition is so far in front that you can’t even see them!” That got the audience laughing, but at least it got a reaction. I think it’s important to get folks to ask questions and think a little differently at these events.
All in all a great event. Thanks to all who worked with us, including customers and partners for their passion and commitment. We haven’t disclosed even half the capabilities of Communications Server “14” and I think the full product will bring even more value to customers. Looking forward to making some waves as we roll out the next generation of communications.
Director, OCS Client and Devices Product Management