Siemens unifies communications, unveils real-time collaboration tool

Siemens unveils Project Ansible, its real-time collaboration aggregator of business and social apps, voice, video and IM and presence tools.

Siemens Enterprise Communications has announced its new WebRTC-based, real-time aggregator of social software, business applications, video and traditional voice communication. "Project Ansible" will finally unify enterprise collaboration tools and communications modes.

Unified communications (UC) tools have not lived up to their name historically. Users still find that their voice, video, instant messaging (IM) and presence, and enterprise social tools are not well-integrated. Employees have to toggle between collaboration applications to get their work done.

"Siemens is taking a stand to actually unify enterprise communication technologies and offer a very similar experience on mobile devices, without IT having to install and constantly update tools," said Michael Brandenburg, industry analyst at San Antonio-based Frost & Sullivan Inc.

Real-time collaboration: Unifying enterprise UC

Project Ansible is a clientless platform that users will be able to launch via a Web link in any browser that supports WebRTC, like Google Chrome and Firefox. Once inside the Web-based application, Project Ansible can connect with selected mobile devices, providing a single interface and unified user experience that extends past the desktop, said Torsten Raak, head of corporate marketing for Siemens Enterprise Communications.

The Web collaboration tool will have hooks into popular software-based business platforms out of the box, like Salesforce.com, Google Apps and social media applications. Siemens will also make application programming interfaces available for enterprise IT teams and third-party developers to build in their own industry-specific business tools and communication platforms.

Project Ansible will bring email, IM, voice and even relevant social media and Salesforce.com information into the right conversations. "Everything a user says, writes and shares gets stored and indexed for searching -- including the transcription of voicemails," said Jan Hickisch, vice president of portfolio management for UC and collaboration for Siemens.

Siemens users will also be able to customize their Ansible experience by including not only business applications, but also social accounts -- like Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram -- into their news streams.

"Users won't have to leave Ansible to go to Facebook or Salesforce," he said.

Project Ansible will offer a range of deployment options for customers, including on-premises, private and public cloud deployments. Siemens will also offer business partners -- including Verizon, IBM and British Telecom -- the opportunity to deliver the technology as a service, Hickisch said.

Siemens collaboration: Experience over technology

The real-time collaboration platform uses WebRTC to enable real-time collaboration and communications to take place right in the user's browser without any software installation. Ansible will also work with PBX and UC platforms from competitors like Avaya and Cisco, Hickisch said.

More on real-time collaboration

WebRTC: Bringing real-time communications to the next level

Combating slowness in collaboration apps

Video and real-time communications

Arguably the most important feature, the Siemens collaboration platform will bring together existing UC and collaboration tools that enterprises have been already using. Project Ansible will sit on top of existing Siemens Openscape products, including voice and UC technology. While the platform will not require users to rip and replace legacy Siemens infrastructure, users won't need the OpenScape client anymore, Frost's Brandenburg said.

"Siemens is not reinventing the back end," he said. "[Project Ansible] is more of an experience, and not a new product."

Collaboration isn't just about the technology that users have access to, it's also about how easy it is for users to have everything they need in one place, said Dave Michels, CEO at TalkingPointz Research. "[Siemens'] vision [with Project Ansible] is articulate, as is its understanding of why current solutions fail," he said. "The next level of UC requires a revolutionary approach to the user experience."

Web collaboration tool caveats

Users will see Project Ansible as just another tab open on a Web browser, Frost's Brandenburg said. But users aren't going to go out of their way to use any UC or collaboration tool. A UC client or application must present itself to the user in a way that prompts people to use it. Browser-based Project Ansible requires a user to seek out the technology.

"I don't believe that you can win in the UC game without having a client that loads automatically," said Bill Haskins, senior analyst for Duxbury, Mass.-based Wainhouse Research LLC. "Requiring the user to present themselves as being ready to communicate with the client will reduce your audience – that's a killer in a UC-based [offering]."

"It's a key gap in the solution, but it's solvable," Haskins said. "I do think it's on Siemens' radar to resolve this."

Siemens will begin limited customer beta testing for Project Ansible at the end of 2013, with general availability scheduled for 2014.

Let us know what you think about the story; email: Gina Narcisi, news writer, and follow @GeeNarcisi on Twitter.

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