05 October 2010

IP’s Three Big Lies: "Our solution is 'open' and that matters."

We’ve all heard about the classic “three big lies.”  I’m from the government and I’m here to help you.  The check’s in the mail. I won’t…umm, well, never mind.  Enterprise communications has its own set of lies that vendors feel if they repeat often enough will become true and meaningful.  But like visitors to Jonestown, smart customers should BYOB.
“Open” is a polymorphic term which, like “good pizza,” or “UC,” has no common definition.  Vendors tout their openness with revival tent fever; unfortunately with each latching on to their own interpretation of open, the message is meaningless drivel.  Some clearly believe repetition breeds truth.
Some define “open” as enabling their software to run on third-party hardware –Microsoft Windows is open by this definition, Apple is not.  Looking at the two largest global PBX-makers, both Avaya and Cisco can run their core PBX software stacks on HP, IBM or Dell servers.  Of course, given the bad blood between HP and Cisco these days, I suspect that combo exists largely on paper. 
At the other end of the spectrum we have ShoreTel, growing as fast as the US deficit, running their PBX on completely proprietary ShoreGear switches to largely unconcerned customers. We also have Cisco, who along with Cher, is turning back time with the relatively new ($200 million revenues) Unified Computing System (UCS).  Cisco has transformed their server farms into a more gentleman farmer sized farm running purpose-built blade servers.  “Been there, done that” appears to be Cisco’s open hardware marketing message.
Another definition of “open” surrounds the myriad of industry standard interfaces supported and the SDKs customers can use to build their own connection to a homegrown widget or mashup.  While there is some water being carried here, it’s small, SIPpy cup small.  SIP is supposed to save the world from icky proprietary interfaces.  The only problem is that like other sippy cup users, it is still VERY immature.  SIP’s 30-odd features are a party favor when compared to the 700+ feature sets offered by PBX vendors.  So customers buy SIP phones and then flip the switch on the bottom to Cisco’s SCCP (skinny) or Siemens (CorNet IP) proprietary signaling.  Yes, customers can buy generic cheap generic SIP phones but it’s like buying a keyboard with most of the keys missing.  The reason to buy SIP phones is not for what they do, but what we hope they can do in the future.  And no, this won’t be your last desk phone unless your business plans to banish (largely useless) conference calls (I’d never get any work done without “speaker” and “mute” buttons).
Other standards can be just as bogus. 
For Avaya, with their multi-thousand member Developer Connect program, to shout “open” leaves a taste like chewing tin foil. Heck, many of Avaya’s own applications are treated as “foreign” and have to run through the Application Enablement Services protocol converter to make them speak Avaya-ese.  Not to single Avaya out, every vendor has these types of programs to one degree or another.  In fact as they go, DevConnect is one of the more cut and dried.  Cisco’s program appears to carry the message, “Be happy we’re giving you access.” Someone more generous than I (and working in marketing) might liken partner programs to the application stores run my Apple and Android.
Industry standards versus de-facto standards
It’s a story as old as the hills; the market leaders dictate the standards. De-facto standards bearers Cisco and Avaya can largely dictate their own standards because they control so much of the market for third-party adjuncts it makes monetary sense to build the connection.  Market laggards are left with industry standards because their market opportunity is not great enough to warrant customized development (and market laggards need to connect to Verint too).
Openness doesn’t matter to customers.  Really. 
Say a 10,000-person enterprise wanted to buy a communications system with a fairly standard application set including PBX, messaging, contact center, a bit of conferencing and the traditional third-party add-ons.  Depending on your location, your top choices will be Cisco, Avaya, Alcatel-Lucent, NEC or Siemens.  You’re not going to shortlist ShoreTel, Miracall, Interactive Intelligence or Mitel (especially if you’re not English speaking) but you might if you had 300 users.
It’s like buying a house.  People who need 10 bedrooms aren’t worried about getting a single bathroom.  Likewise, the efficiency flat buyer doesn’t want or need a Baccarat chandelier.  
Any prominent vendor within the size/complexity range needed will generally have what those customers want – it’s called market segmentation. Vendors have built multi-billion dollar businesses to cater to specific market requirements.  And that has nothing to do with openness, but their success fulfilling needs. That ability comes in part from the human desire to believe the unbelievable over facts; how else can Cisco’s early rise in the communications market be explained? Ditto for Microsoft’s dreaded entry?
Wanting what you won’t give
Some customers, typically the largest and most complex, want the proverbial keys to the kingdom.  They want all code and features revealed to serve their own purposes.  I’m here to tell you, that’s not going to happen any time soon, UCIF or no UCIF.  It is counter to the revenue generation model used in business and should come as no surprise to the very businesses desiring the transparency.  They are called “trade secrets” and in the words of any 6-year-old, “I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”
To those customers I challenge, before you expect communications vendor to open their kimono, start publishing actuarial tables used to determine insurance rates or the recipe for Coke (and not New Coke) or tell us what’s really in bologna (Halloween seems appropriate).
At the end of the day, “openness” is a shared delusion between suppliers and their customers.  In every business, there is a lot of “bologna” to go around and no one knows for sure what’s in it. 
Next time:  Big Lie #2; XaaS is more feature rich and less expensive than CPE

1 comment:

  1. C'mon, sir Contrarian.
    We're craving for your next article.
    Been busy lately?