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Be careful what you wish for, IT directors, because the unified communications interoperability that you've longed for is finally formulating. Vendors have long deflected interoperability requests because it didn't make much business sense.
Now, with help from APIs and the cloud, UC services from different vendors are more integrated. But IT directors now face a broad array of interoperability challenges.
In this Q&A, Nemertes Research analyst Irwin Lazar discusses UC cloud interoperability challenges and how vendors are addressing business demand. This Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.
How have UC as a service (UCaaS) vendors changed their outlook on interoperability?
Irwin Lazar: For years, we talked about instant messaging interoperability. Microsoft and IBM would say, 'We're all going to interoperate.' But it never really happened. There's not a lot of incentive for providers; they want to keep their customers on one platform.
If I'm Microsoft, Cisco or Slack, I'm focused on delivering more value and features to customers. I'm not going to spend development cycles trying to play nice. Mio and 8x8's Sameroom -- they've been able to step in and offer interoperability.
What's changed is the messaging providers provide enough APIs to make [interoperability] possible. Microsoft, Cisco and Slack have enough APIs to build tunnels or connection points between Slack, Skype for Business, Webex Teams and Microsoft Teams. The vendors are not necessarily investing in trying to build their own interoperability but will make their APIs open for third parties to do it.
What are the main UC cloud interoperability challenges for organizations?
Lazar: The challenge of interoperability -- UCaaS calling interoperability, messaging interoperability, video interoperability -- is they're all different kinds of solutions that folks need to investigate. Think about an environment where you're implementing Microsoft Teams and have to get Mio to communicate with a group that's using Zinc or Slack and have to get Pexip to connect video rooms. It creates management complexity and adds potential cost in terms of trying to troubleshoot issues.
If something breaks or someone posts a message in Slack and it doesn't show up in Teams, how do you troubleshoot? Management vendors like IR, Nectar, Martello, Unimax and Unify Square have the opportunity to build partnerships with interoperability engines and give a single pane of glass to manage those connection points.
What does the demand for UC cloud interoperability look like for organizations today?
Lazar: The scenario we're starting to hear more about is an environment where [an organization has] a Cisco or Avaya calling system, on premises or hosted, and wants to set up offices in remote locations. It doesn't have an IT presence or maybe the office is overseas, so the thought process is it would make sense to connect branch offices to a cloud provider.
Irwin LazarAnalyst, Nemertes Research
'I need to connect the cloud provider to my own environment. I need to route calls to the contact center or back to the office and provide calling capabilities to anyone in the company as if they were on the same system.'
I haven't seen a ton of solutions for that; it's a really good opportunity for cloud providers to deliver a hybrid approach.
Organizations that don't want to manage remote sites could connect to their cloud service, and they'll federate with on-premises environments and provide extension dialing, call transfer between systems, handoff calls and so on.
Where else have organizations struggled with interoperability?
Lazar: If you think where the last bastion of interoperability lives, it's in meetings. If my company is using Skype for Business and you're using Zoom, there's no way for us to connect. You have to pick one. There's never been a true interoperable video service.
Think about a phone call. It could be on a Cisco phone or an Avaya phone, and we could talk all day long. We've never had that level of interoperability around video. I don't see that changing. There's no PSTN [public switched telephone network] for video, and no one's ever found a business case for building one.
Microsoft and Google are going to Pexip, which is really the last man standing in the video interoperability space because Cisco bought Acano to build interoperability. In that case, I can join from a Microsoft client or join from a Cisco client and connect through Pexip.
The biggest use case for those services is bringing legacy conference rooms into emerging meeting apps. Cisco video rooms are all over enterprises, but they're using Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts as their video app. Using Pexip allows organizations to bring rooms into [Microsoft and Google] conferences.