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.”