14 May 2013

Cisco the Innovator vs Microsoft the Strategist

In 2000, Cisco entered the communications marketplace by marketing the hell out of something new, VoIP.  Legacy vendors were caught wholly off guard with immature products they’d planned on strengthening and releasing at leisurely pace.  Cisco upended that strategy sending Alcatel, Avaya and Rolm scrambling. The result being that customers were shown a lot of famously bad and short-lived products in the first few years of this new century.

Yes, the first releases of CallManager were feature poor and fantastically, famously buggy, but VoIP was real innovation and Cisco capitalized on the technology’s promise. As an innovator and teacher Cisco thrived, eventually becoming #1 (although to be fair, it took years longer than Mr. Chambers expected).  

We’re in the second decade of VoIP, nearing a decade of enterprise chat and presence, and bringing up the rear, SIP and video are approaching their own half-decade marks.  But the market is inexplicably swooning over Microsoft Lync, a largely partner-driven “good enough” PBX with a huge installed base of Microsoft Office and LCS/OCS users. Where’s the innovation? Where’s the “new.”

I also attended the Microsoft “Living with Lync” session at Enterprise Connect like NoJitter’s Kevin Kieller who took Twitter umbrage at my being far less bedazzled.  To borrow from the withering Miranda Priestly in The Devil Wears Prada, PBX consolidation, least cost routing, SIP trunking:  Groundbreaking.” (In fact Microsoft’s banging on about such meat-and-potatoes features is, to me, tacit admission of deficit.)

I simply don’t get excited by reference customers who standup and shout, “it works” with the subliminal message being uniqueness.  It’s also worth noting that I’m similarly unimpressed with ovens that get hot or toddlers who walk.  As I opined, doing what it says on the label isn’t cause for celebration.

You could say Lync’s only true “innovation” has been their use of their former partners (current competitors) to implant LCS/OCS “eggs” that are now hatching to consume voice systems from the inside.  But that’s not innovation, that’s strategy.  And so far, that’s been enough.

Just so we’re clear: 
  • Will Lync voice continue to grow quickly? Yes, there’s a lot of low-hanging Microsoft fruit.
  • Are competitors, crippled by economic forces and bad management, boosting Lync?  Yes, just as a flush Cisco benefitted from the telecom meltdown in the early 2000s.
  • Will Microsoft Lync be a dominate player for the next decade?  Yes, but an unseen competitor will challenge them eventually too.
  • Has any of Lync voice’s success been the result of any real innovation?  No, not yet.

So by all means celebrate their growth and strategy. But you won’t see me excited by reference customers doing, as Stephan King wrote “SSDD.”

30 April 2013

Auto-Update = Auto-Outage

There are two kinds of clouds; multi-tenant and multi-instance.  The first has multiple partitioned businesses operating within the same application instance while the second essentially moves premises equipment offsite either in a company-owned or 3rd-party data center.  Salesforce.com and Microsoft Office 365 are multi-tenant while Cisco HCS and Interactive Intelligence are multi-instance.

One of the key messages from cloud suppliers is the speed and automation of application upgrades.  The dirge goes that customers who still have Lucent’s red coffee stain logo on their phones really, really want upgrades if only they weren’t so darn hard and costly. Enter the cloud to whisk away their problems without IT lifting a finger.

And chaos ensues.

If you use a smartphone, you have an inkling of the problem.  Does a week pass without application update notices? No. What do you do? Either lazily set yourself for auto-update or manually update when the screen notices get too annoying.  In the smartphone world this is mostly OK because individual apps don’t really interact with each other – Robot Unicorn Attack and Virtual Dentist don’t share data. The exception being when there’s an operating system update. Some apps crash because their developers didn’t build the connection in time.  When this happens, users lose functionality until it gets fixed.

Version Control is Important for Business Continuity

Communications applications already touch and share data with many applications from differing vendors; a number that grows daily.  What happens when an application update breaks the data-sharing bridge?  It stops working.  Businesses using multi-tenant cloud services have less control when it comes to updates. As the marketing spiel goes, it just happens, automatically.  If a business has a home-grown application tied into a cloud service, they’re begging for a major outage.

Those using multi-instance applications, whether public or private cloud, have more control as to when updates are rolled out. Their applications are essentially islands offering complete control.  Businesses need to test ecosystem interoperability before releasing updates into the wild.

Uncontrolled Mobility

Mobile communications applications further increase the risk.  If you want Cisco Jabber, WebEx or Avaya Flare, you visit the Apple or Android stores, not the vendor or IT.  If there’s an update, it comes from Apple, not corporate IT.  Cisco tried to deal with this with Cius (RIP) by allowing customers to setup their own private app store that was controlled by IT. Cisco could do that because it owned the hardware, operating system and application portal.  But with increasing numbers of users providing their own personal device for business use, that control is largely gone.

Consider this your canary in the cloud mine.

11 March 2013

Your Guide to Enterprise Connect

As we get ready for Enterprise Connect it’s important to remember you’ll see nothing revolutionary, nothing breathtaking and certainly nothing you can’t live without. You’ll see the tiny steps of evolution (or God’s infinite hand, if “evolve” is a problem).  Even the Gaylord Palms has evolved since VoiceCom began its unmoving settlement with updated pools and new sushi and sports bars all while maintaining their infamously awful internet connectivity.

Here’s a smattering of what visitors will see and dilettantes will miss.

Marketing Hyperbole
Every trade show it’s the same , hundreds of manufacturers screaming “pick me.”  Here are a few of my favourites.

Any, Any, Any
The latest evolution masquerading as revolution is the word “any.”  The slide below is from the year 2000 and mentions “any” seven times on the slide.  One wouldn’t think you could get any more “any” than that, but here we are 13 years later hailing BYOD and social media as revolutionary when they’re just another “any.”  The only surprise on this slide is recalling that Aspect was once considered the “Starting Point” of “any” thing.


Solutions, Solutions, Solutions
Consider that all manufacturers make silos and that for decades have been telling the market (and themselves) they’ve evolved into a holistic, customer-embracing “solution” fount.  It’s always been a smokescreen.  Makers care about interconnectivity as long as it cuts out competitors, generates revenue and doesn’t eat into profits. Need an antique command-line driven application connected?  Cha-ching to the professional services team.  But don’t feel used, customers use makers in much the same way.  

Microsoft Lync is a silo that connects to other Microsoft silos like Office, SharePoint and Exchange. It doesn’t connect to applications it deems competitive like salesforce.com.  Ditto for Avaya, Cisco and every other supplier an organization has. Do you really believe a unicorn makes Cisco networking gear uniquely suited for Communications Manager? No, Cisco is just less interested in your business without the pull-through of the rest of the high-margin kingdom. 

To go completely off-topic, I’m loving seeing Cisco and Microsoft go at it.  Both have spent decades building their cults of certified followers and now finally the Narnian battle is ready to begin.  Which will prevail only to be crushed by the next big thing in 10 years? If Cisco helped cripple Nortel, is Microsoft helping to cripple Avaya?

Savings, Savings, Savings
Every salesperson in every booth at every trade show shouts how much money you’ll save if you buy their solution/silo. And while salespeople selling savings are as old as time (which depending on your intelligence is either 6,000 years or a few billion) it’s usually only true under very few, and sometimes scientifically controlled, circumstances. That said, if you’re employing legions of uniformed messengers to hand-deliver written notes between your staff, chances are instant messaging will save you a few dollars on salaries and shoe leather over time.

Selling Your Soul for a Chance to win an iPad (mini)
I suspect there are more fishbowls with business cards and Hershey’s kisses in them than fish.  Exhibitors too cheap to purchase a badge scanner usually resort to the “fishbowl lottery” to win some piece of hot tech.  Attendees must decide whether the resulting unending phone solicitations are worth the chance to win.  My advice is to buy a bag of M&Ms and avoid the fishbowl.

But it is worthwhile to keep track of the prizes.  Do you really want to do business with someone who can only muster a Kindle Paperwhite versus a Kindle Fire HD or an iPod nano versus an iPad?  No, I didn’t think so. (Hard candy versus chocolate goes without saying)

And finally…

 Join a Keynote Betting Pool
Be sure to attend the keynotes.  If Enterprise Connect would just move to Las Vegas, we could legally bet on which keynoter will get fired or quit in the coming year! As it is, you’ll just have to bet among your friends.