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When Cisco revealed plans to acquire Tandberg in 2009 and soon after vaulted to the No. 1 spot in worldwide market share for enterprise videoconferencing, it was easy to think that the proverbial bell had tolled for Polycom.
With consolidation in the space redrawing the battle lines around enterprise-grade video spending -- smaller competitor LifeSize was acquired by Logitech not two months later -- it seemed only a matter of time for Polycom, as the remaining videoconferencing provider of a certain scale, to find a buyer if it had any hope of competing with a Cisco sales and marketing machine more than 40 times its size, revenue to revenue.
But a funny thing happened en route to Polycom's supposed fade-away: it changed management, expanded its purview, mapped out its future, threw its arms around the channel and decided to start marketing its strengths and value proposition -- including how partners could better profit -- against Cisco.
"You don't get a lot of 'atta boys' in this market. We feel like we were in a boxing ring these last two years," Andy Miller, who became Polycom's CEO in May 2010, told CRN in an October interview. "So that's incredible perseverance on our part against a competitor like Cisco. We're outnumbered 10 to 1 from a sales force perspective, and their leader is the best salesperson they have for video. It's a credit to our company for the market share we've gained."
The Polycom entering 2013 looks very different than the Polycom of 10, five, even two years ago. Miller's ascent brought across-the-board changes to the executive team, as well as a significant shift in Polycom's overall purview, to where supplying telephony and videoconferencing equipment is less important than the higher-margin returns of software integration and a solution-selling approach staked to customer appetite for video.
Miller is a veteran of the space and as familiar with the various nuances of selling video as anyone; he joined Polycom in 2009 as executive vice president of global field operations, and was chief executive of Tandberg from 2002 to 2006. His tenure as CEO thus far has brought some of the most dramatic changes to the San Jose, Calif.-based company since its 1990 founding -- something longtime Polycom observers say was long overdue.
In 2011, for example, Polycom rebranded the software infrastructure many of its products rely on, formerly known as the UC Intelligent Core, as the RealPresence platform, and continued to build out that platform with well-received launches such as RealPresence Mobile, for video use on smartphones and tablets.
Around the same time, Polycom began a series of targeted acquisitions: Accordent Technologies for its video content management platform in March 2011; the high-end video and related managed services assets of strategic ally Hewlett-Packard in June 2011; and the web-based video collaboration tools of ViVu in October 2011. It also began to shift away from less profitable, "old Polycom" businesses like the wireless handset business it had acquired with SpectraLink in 2007 -- sold, as of December 2012, to Sun Capital Management.
"This was a company of point products," Miller said, describing Polycom's state when he joined the organization three years ago. "When I came in, there was not a strong road map in place in terms of where we were going to go. We didn't have a three- to five-year road map that anticipated where the puck would be going."
In May 2012, Polycom mounted a global rebranding, complete with a new logo, intended to align the company with how software was changing the overall unified communications landscape and playing up Polycom's approach. And in October 2012 came the biggest move of all: the launch of new software offerings that included cross-platform bridging, a multiprotocol MCU that runs on industry-standard servers, and cloud-based services sold through partners.
At the time, Polycom described the launch -- its centerpiece is called RealPresence Cloud Axis -- as the largest in its history. Its implications -- how it cements Polycom's ability to compete with Cisco, partner with other stakeholders in video and UC, and also fend off smaller spot players, such as Blue Jeans Network and Vidtel, that offer services such as multiprotocol bridging in the cloud -- are significant, as was the news that Polycom fully supports Scalable Video Coding technology, supplied as a software update to RealPresence products.
"We made it really clear that these cloud-based technologies, we would not sell them direct," Miller said. "Our goal is to make sure we augment and expand the partners' opportunity to make money."
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