I’ve been so focused on apps and trends outside of the office space that I thought I’d have a difficult time grokking the keynote speeches at Voicecon 2010. VoiceCon (now renamed to Enterprise Connect) is the place where business communication vendors announce their visions and initiatives for the coming year.
I’m happy to be misinformed in this case. Consumer-grade social media, open software, and smartphone-like apps—areas I’ve been immersed in the last few weeks—are pretty much pre-requisites to enterprise communications coursework. To varying degrees, Siemens, Avaya, Cisco, and Microsoft acknowledge, promote, and support micro-blogging, location information, transcription services, SIP, cloud-based software, and slicker interaces in their wares.
I took a quick tour through the recorded videos of the presentations given by Avaya, Cisco, Siemens, and Microsoft. A few impressions after the jump.
With one notable exception, all the vendors paid tribute to the open-software gods. That’s progress. Siemens and Avaya are the true believers, the remaining two less so.
Social media was a significant part of Mark Stratton’s presentation on Siemens’ OpenScape. I’m pretty sure they were the only one to demo an actual product (for contact center agents) in which Twitter and Linkedin streams played a crucial business role in providing context about a customer. Cisco also said the SM words and based on Tony Bates’ remarks, it sounds like the router folks have something similar.
Social media in the business world is still problematic. Companies recognize that customers are using blogs, Twitter, and Facebook, but all sorts of corporate governance and compliance rules make it more difficult to deploy SM for employees.
What you end up seeing is business-class collaboration software, which has better record keeping, repurposed as a social media platform. In Microsoft’s case, they have tweaked the Communicator Server to search through SharePoint, pulling out relevant information and displaying on the front-end interface. It appears that Cisco has taken a parallel tack with its own business-to-business collaboration product.
I was impressed with the voice transcription prowess of Microsoft and Cisco. Both were brave enough to go public with an automated speech-to-text tool that’s accessible from their UC apps.
The bigger theme we’re witnessing is that communications can now be rendered into the appropriate modality—that’s the formal word that’s used. Overall, vendors were keen on the idea of context: lots of information about the person you were talking to (his location, his last email, voicemail,etc.) but with sensitivity towards device capabilities.
If these two can achieve the quality level of Google Voice, I suppose that’s a good thing. The Microsoft presenter, Jamie Stark, was quick to point out that this was not “medical transcription quality”.
And then the clouds rolled in. Last year at this event, Siemens sketched out a cloud proof-of-concept for OpenScape. This year Stratton reported on continuing progress: Siemens recently launched an Amazon EC2 environment for OpenScape developers.
Microsoft talked clouds as well, and Avaya has already virtualized their comm servers, making it cloud ready.
Longer term, when these former PBX vendors evolve their cloud offering and achieve openness nirvana, how do they differentiate themselves? Endpoint software was demoed on some smallish laptop/notebook computers, which is the only way to get the true unified communications experience. Even more promising is that the traditionally staid business interface were looking better to these jaded eyes.
Yeah, I think cozy user apps would be one way to bond with customers.
The catch here is that with the release of iPad on Saturday, and bunch of other iPad alternatives, the business communications gang will have to come up with a better user experience than is possible from just another business phone (warning to Avaya, Siemens) or ordinary PC app (warning to Microsoft).