I have been fortunate to be included in a number of educational events and trade shows over the past six months. It was a modest investment of time and energy on my part, but one that keeps me informed so I can maintain my “expert” status. Each of these events had a specific focus, but also shared many common themes within the Unified Communications (UC) ecosystems.
Now, after six months of listening and learning, I’m back home, and I’ve been thinking about what I learned. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the many ways that vendors are adapting their products and services — and insights that can help each of us offer sound advice to our clients who are investing and migrating to UC.
When I think about all the products currently on sale in the “UC aisle,” I’m reminded of my late father, who cherished regional uniqueness and mom-and-pop establishments. He detested what he referred to as French Fry Row, a phrase he would use to describe anywhere that had a cluster of essentially interchangeable fast food restaurants.
As I see it, the UC and collaboration tools currently being offered are nearly as ubiquitous, and homogenous, as fast food restaurants. However, I think we may be moving into a new cycle and, as the artificial intelligence (AI) discipline gets increasingly entwined with UC and collaboration, I expect we will see greater product differentiation.
The events I attended were sponsored by Avaya, Cisco, Genesys, Enabling Technologies (MS-TEAMS), and Sprint. The industry events were Society of Communications Technology Consultants (SCTC) Eastern Regional Conference, Enterprise Connect in Orlando and UC EXPO in London. Lastly, The Fast Approaching 5G Revolution, a seminar cosponsored by Venable and the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies (PIPS), was fascinating.
Let’s start with industry events. Enterprise Connect is the premier business communications trade show in North America. If you plan to replace or purchase a UC system next year, this is a great place to learn it all: products, services, case studies, best practices and lessons learned. UC EXPO, in London, focused on the UK and EU audiences, and was much smaller. While attending this event, it hit home to me how “vanilla” the global UC marketplace is becoming. There were fewer exhibition booths and sessions at UC EXPO, and most of the “players” were the same that had exhibited at the U.S. show. The only big difference besides size was that UC EXPO had a lot of buzz around the new EU General Data Privacy Regulations (GDPR) which went into effect May 25, 2018.
The SCTC Regional Conference, held in May 2018 in Alexandria, VA, was organized by SCTC, a professional association of independent technology consultants. We are mostly client-facing, and the conference helps us share trends and case studies of our projects. We heard presentations on such topics as BlockChain, AI, and 5G.
At The Fast Approaching 5G Revolution seminar cohosted by PIPS and Venable, a panel of government and industry experts discussed topics including policy questions and recommended actions for the rapid adoption of a national 5G network. While 5G technology is advancing quickly, the infrastructure is not. For 5G to be ubiquitous, 300,000 to 500,000 new antenna sites will be needed across the U.S. The big discussions centered around public and corporate policy for 5G, as well the antiquated regulatory framework that governs 5G. There were many interesting discussions, including whether the U.S. should create a NASA-type organization to work with industry to focus investments needed to advance 5G, and the need to integrate 5G antennas sites into the building code for new projects.
Meanwhile, among vendor events there were also many similarities, so I’ll just focus on what made each one unique.
Avaya – This was the first event of the year for me, and it was exciting for several reasons: seeing the customer enthusiasm, learning about the company’s acquisition of Spoken, and, in general, hearing Avaya management’s messages that “we are back in force” and “let’s make a deal.” This was the first big event since Avaya sorted out their finances and went public again. You could feel the energy from the customers, partners and management. While actual technical announcements (other than the details of the Spoken acquisition) were light, it was nice to see Avaya back in action.
Cisco Collaboration Summit – While at Enterprise Connect, I was surprised that Cisco was unusually quiet, especially given its own recent acquisition of BroadSoft. But one could also detect a quieter, behind-the-scenes message: “Just wait for the Summit.” Sure enough, Cisco’s Summit was the first reveal of Spark’s rebranding to Webex. I felt like this was a positive move but was disappointed they were not ready to provide new details about how BroadSoft will fit into the collaboration and cloud offerings. One new product, Cisco Webex Share, is a small, seemingly simple device that plugs into any TV or monitor to turn it into a wireless presentation screen, so you don’t have to have a Spark/Webex Board.
Genesys CX 2019 – I believe that for Genesys, 2018 will turn out to be a tipping point now that they have finally completed the integration of products and staff following the acquisition of Interactive Intelligence in 2016. I found it refreshing to hear the executive management team addressing pointed, hard questions throughout the event. Genesys still dominates much of the complex contact space with many competitors fast approaching, and the event focused on their continued integration of “Kate” and AI into their products, and some interesting case studies highlighting their work with clients to find how to use AI to improve customer experiences. Genesys also demonstrated examples of how they have incorporated AI into the backend to simplify regulatory compliance applications for organizations in banking and healthcare.
Sprint Business Analyst & Consultant Summit – Sprint has been busy restructuring and leveraging its new ownership by SoftBank Group. The Group’s financial capital has helped Sprint make urgently needed investments so that it can continue to be a force in consumer and commercial markets. Unfortunately, new ownership structure forced Sprint to exit the Federal Marketplace which, for any U.S. firm, would be a major hit to revenue and profits. One of the big announcements at the event was the introduction of the new Sprint Federal Solutions VP Christopher Felix. That being said, the “elephant in the room” was the proposed acquisition of T-Mobile. If they are able to gain regulatory approval, their 5G migration will be very strong.
While it feels like things in the UC world are pretty homogenous so far much of what I saw and learned at these events suggest we are entering a new area where the players are starting to truly differentiate themselves. Can’t wait to see what new updates are in store for the rest of 2018.