VoiceCon: Vendors Say UC Needs To Leverage, Not Rip, Legacy Tech


That was a message shared by three of UC's most visible vendors Tuesday, who despite their different go-to-market approaches offered several common threads during the opening keynote sessions at VoiceCon in Orlando.

Kevin Kennedy, president and CEO of Avaya, suggested that the future of unified communications goes hand-in-hand with the story of SIP (session initiated protocol), the signal delivery method around which Avaya's flagship UC platform, Aura, and a number of other competitive platforms are based.

Specifically, he argued that that the adoption of SIP in the enterprise is accelerating, the mechanisms of transformation of SIP are profound, and that enterprises have also become focused on realtime communications. True SIP-based architecture, Kennedy said, can enable an "ecosystem of innovation."

"Communications have the ability to minimize entropy," Kennedy argued. "SIP can be an agent for that. We hypothesize that customers will look to SIP. SIP is moving to the mainstream."

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SIP architecture can catalyze bottom line savings and top line growth, he argued. Avaya's approach centers on innovation, openness of platform and creating products that are fit-for-purpose, all of which Avaya will continue to do as it moves through two big transition phases: one being the revamp of its worldwide channel programs around Avaya Connect, and the other being the integration of Nortel's enterprise portfolio, which Avaya finished acquiring in December 2009.

The most fundamental change in networking and infrastructure, as exemplified by SIP, is that the focus is now on software, Kennedy said.

Mark Straton, senior vice president of voice and applications solutions at Siemens Enterprise Communications Group, also looked to changing paradigms in how customers want to buy communications solutions.

He argued that OpenScape Unified Communications Server, Siemens' two-year-old UC platform, had already been through several new versions since its inception, and that the push toward an open communications platform that helped users migrate from their legacy infrastructures was hardly a new idea. (Siemens introduced OpenScape UC Server 2010 at VoiceCon this week, expanding the server's virtualization capabilities through Siemens' partnership with VMware and offering OpenScape as a hosted, subcription-based solution.)

"We like to think we were early to the party," Straton said, saying that sales of OpenScape Unified Communications Server had increased 445 percent in 2009.

Straton cited a number of social networking tools that had seen integration with OpenScape, including Twitter and various instant messaging functions. However, he said, "the phone still matters," meaning that voice communications, even in the age of information overload, are still crucial to a proper UC solution.

Straton said Siemens was committed to building architecture and products around SIP and SOA (service-oriented architecture), and helping customers leverage investment they've made in data centers already.

Current and future Siemens releases, he contended, will take into account customers moving away from big cap-ex investments, as well as provide better software development tools and deliver on what Straton called the "green enterprise value proposition." OpenScape is the product best equipped to help customers migrate to UC from legacy infrastructure, Straton argued.

"It's essential to leverage the equipment in the network even if it's not our equipment," added Eve Aretakis, CEO of Siemens Communications, who joined Straton during his presentation. "It's important to leverage the embedded base. You don't have to force change onto users who are just not ready for change but are ready for adoption."

To Arektakis, the current era in IT is the "era of economics," that is, an investment era where enterprises aren't so much looking for the latest in features as they are ways to maximize what they already have.

"We tend to be an industry of 'swallow the whale' rather than do it in steps," she said. "But we have the instant gratification generation entering the workforce. It's important to role out services in ways that users get instant gratification, [and] slice the new services into areas that are fully digestible to the user and that can show value."

Tony Bates, senior vice president and general manager, enterprise, commercial and small business group at Cisco, also urged VoiceCon attendees to rethink how customers see collaboration.

He cited open, interoperable architecture, secure intercompany exchange, video communications, enterprise social software, flexible deployment models and an integrated experience as keys to the next generation of UC and collaboration sales.

Cisco's Intercompany Media Engine, a new UC server formally announced at VoiceCon, is a platform for achieving all of those ideals, he said.

"We believe in maximizing the value of an existing IT investment," he said.

UC need not be 100 percent on-premise architecture or a 100 percent off-premise, or cloud-based, solution. More often, he said, it will be a combination of the two, and like with most next-generation UC products, will work best in enterprises when it "accelerates team performance."

"The challenge today is making it [UC architecture] do not just what you want it to do but make it an integrated experience," Bates explained.

The two key transitions driving this change, he said, are a move from text to ubiquitous video, and building trust through "rich, reliable interactions."

"Contact center is very much a reactive technology: you get to the answer you want," he said. "We want to shift that paradigm -- shift from reactive to proactive. We want the answers to find you."

The widespread adoption of UC systems and the mainstream arrival of technologies like telepresence are key themes at this year's VoiceCon. (The show is produced by TechWeb, which like Everything Channel is owned by United Business Media.)

Fred Knight, publisher of NoJitter.com and general manager and co-chair of VoiceCon, announced from the stage that the VoiceCon conference will be renamed Enterprise Connect in 2011.