VoiceCon: Wednesday keynote afterthoughts – the invasion of the software giants


My live blogging coverage of today’s keynotes by IBM and Microsoft, and the User Forum, are here.

Honestly, this year’s VoiceCon attendance could probably be categorized into two groups: those concerned about the Avaya-Nortel roadmap, and those who are Microsoft OCS fans. Yesterday the first group got what they wanted from Avaya President and CEO Kevin Kennedy. This morning it was up to Microsoft’s Gurdeep Singh Pall to satisfy OCS fans.

And satisfy he did. Although most people already kinda-sorta knew about the next revision of OCS, dubbed Communications Server “14,” you could still feel the electricity during Pall’s presentation and official announcement. The ballroom was packed and online viewers of the VoiceCon live stream topped 250 (according to my observation — not an official statistic). I’m wondering if it ever became a trending topic on Twitter? And thanks to a smooth live demo with the help of a couple other employees, Microsoft really hit a home run this time.

Some things we learned from the Redmont Giant’s presentation:

  • Having long hair is a badge of honor at Microsoft. During a formal event (e.g. VoiceCon keynote and demo) it’s recommended that the long hair be bunched into a ponytail. An additional badge of honor if you have full facial hair.
  • Demos should be run like an infomercial with lots of yelling. By the end of the “14” demonstration I was disappointed that the screens didn’t flash a toll-free number for me to place an order (shipping and handling not included) and perhaps get in on some sort of buy one get one — no, two — no! THREE! — deal. I had an urge to purchase a Slap Chop after watching the “14” demo.
  • “14” will take into account geolocation information to enable the proper E911 communication.
  • It still does voicemail. Fancy voicemail, but still voicemail. But who really uses voicemail these days??? I thought it was a poor feature to demo.
  • Most importantly, Microsoft is positioning the Communications Server “14” as a potential PBX replacement. Yes, Pall had to be somewhat political about stating this, but have no doubt about it — Microsoft is ready to takeover all of your communications needs. Pall said that “14” plays nice in a multi-platform setting with PBXs and UC servers, but should an organization decide to abandon the PBXs there won’t be a problem with just having “14” in the house. I would’ve loved to see the faces of Avaya and Alcatel-Lucent execs when Pall mentioned this…

What about the other software giant, Big Blue?

In recent years IBM’s Lotus and Sametime applications have evolved into the buzzwordy, buzzworthy “unified communications and collaboration” (UC&C, or UC2, for short). After all, IBM marketing is well known for its effective branding and re-branding campaigns. Having worked at IBM previously and forced to use Lotus Notes (often referred to as “Lotus Bloats”) and Sametime (referred to as “Sometime” because that’s how often it worked) during the stint, I must say that these products have evolved for the better. Alistair Rennie’s major point was that Lotus and Sametime can help an organization leverage its existing IT assets instead of having to throw them away to adopt newer technologies. He even had on stage a trash bin and threw a PBX and IP phones into it to visually make the point. Only reminded me of how I felt before about Notes and Sametime, but I digress…

According to Rennie the key is middleware and the cloud-based services. Funny, just happened to be the two areas IBM is known for. The demo drove those points effectively, where a sales executive in need of a signature was able to collaborate with his boss to co-edit (via cloud services) a contract in real time and send it to the customer for digital signature (third party middleware). Voilà — real world scenario with real IBM solutions.

But what really impressed me was the Lotus Foundations appliance for SMBs. It’s a simple Linux-based (i.e. low cost) box which features the Lotus email, collaboration, and productivity goodies. It’s touted as a very resilient system for SMBs to get a taste of Lotus sweetness. Mom and pop businesses are now getting the attention of Big Blue too.

It’s apparent that in the fight for UC&C dominance battle lines are drawn but battles fronts are blurred. It’s no longer hardware vs. software, or premise vs. hosted, or standard vs. proprietary. The competition today consists of traditional telecom vendors, data networking companies, software firms, etc., each vying for a piece of the pie. Fundamentally, however, the customer is still king and the customer doesn’t care how it works — just make it work, cheaply.

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