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Q&A with IBM's Sametime executives

At VoiceCon last week, SearchUnifiedCommunications sat down with two IBM executives to discuss what the company is doing with IBM Sametime Unified Telephony, which can integrate presence, instant messaging, email, telephony, Web conferencing and video conferencing. Here is a short Q&A with E. Bruce Morse, vice president of Unified Communications Software of IBM Software Group, and Laurence Guihard-Joly, vice president of Integrated Communications Services for IBM Global Technology Services.

What is IBM's focus in the unified communications market?
There's been a lot of focus on moving from TDM to Voice over IP. We're really focusing on how you make voice services a more intuitive, easier-to-use set of capabilities. And how you extract and deliver more business value out of telephony systems. The key features of unified telephony are this notion of providing a desktop user experience for interacting with voice services and the notion about simply clicking on names or dragging and dropping names into a conversation. The system has the intelligence to know how to reach people on which devices, and you don't have to worry about phone numbers and which device to call. That's where the business value gets created. With all the other vendors on the market, many of them you're partnering with, what drives a customer you might engage with to work with you as opposed to trying to get all communications from one traditional telephony vendor like Avaya, Nortel or Cisco?
The first thing is cost. Customers in most cases already have a variety of communications systems and tools installed. It's a real rarity when we come across a customer that has an all-Avaya environment or all-Cisco environment or all-Nortel environment, etc. Most companies have purchased a video system from Tandberg, Polycom, Radvision or others. They have a collection of telephony systems that are in many cases multi-vendor as well as multi-technology. They also recognize that it's not just about integrating those into their email system or client, but it's about integrating it into their enterprise portal or their real-time collaboration client or their social software tools or their line-of-business applications. So the first thing is that the sheer cost of ripping and replacing and standardizing on a single vendor is incredibly high, and they can't afford it. Most customers tell us they don't want to tap into a single vendor because it puts them at a disadvantage when it comes to negotiating the best price. We offer them the ability to integrate what they have but give them flexibility to decide whether they want to change vendors and swap out vendors. With all the other vendors on the market, many of them you're partnering with, what drives a customer you might engage with to work with you as opposed to trying to get all communications from one traditional telephony vendor like Avaya, Nortel or Cisco?
Also the permanence. We are poised to be here a long time. It's also kind of security, if I may. No matter what happens, my application will be covered by IBM, and I don't care anymore about the platform. With all the other vendors on the market, many of them you're partnering with, what drives a customer you might engage with to work with you as opposed to trying to get all communications from one traditional telephony vendor like Avaya, Nortel or Cisco?
The second thing is that the customers that really think through their UC strategies and projects recognize that the greatest value is going to come through this integration of the business processes and the applications. And when you look at a lot of the other vendors that are in the space here, you say: Who has the knowledge and expertise to understand business processes and understand how to optimize business processes? A lot of the vendors that are down on the floor, while coming from a communications background, don't have a lot of knowledge or experience with business processes. We cover 17 industries with 43 defined business processes with consultants that understand the nuances of supply chain management or a CRM application running in a utilities company versus in a government agency versus somewhere else. Not all customer relationship management processes are the same. They vary by industry. There are regulatory issues. There are technology differences. This is where we leverage our Global Services expertise in industry solutions. With all the other vendors on the market, many of them you're partnering with, what drives a customer you might engage with to work with you as opposed to trying to get all communications from one traditional telephony vendor like Avaya, Nortel or Cisco?
With Global Services, during our assessment of what you have in place, we are going to look at all of the options [with third-party vendors such as Avaya or Cisco]. If this option with this vendor is best, we recommend it and we integrate. We take time to look at all the options and recommend what is best for this client. We are not one size fits all. We look at the client needs in the first place because we can afford to do it. You see Avaya at VoiceCon announcing Aura -- its new session manager that it promises will do a lot of what you're doing here, preventing the need to rip and replace and creating an environment for development of third party applications. What do you think of what Avaya is doing, and how does that affect your competitive position?
It's confirmation of our strategy which we've been out there talking about. I would argue that there are several proof points that the strategy that we laid out almost three years ago is resonating with not only customers but competitors. We saw Cisco change their story from UC to "it's all about collaboration and Web 2.0." We've been doing it for a long time. You've seen both Nortel and now Avaya come up with a multi-platform, heterogeneous middleware layer to integrate all these different telephony systems. I think it's a confirmation of the strategy we've laid out. Avaya has been talking about CEBP [Communications-Enabled Business Processes] for a long time, but they haven't been gaining any traction with it. It's not because they aren't smart people; it's because they don't call on the people who worry about the business processes in the applications. We're partners with Avaya. At some level, we'll interoperate with Aura. And we've already had discussions with them about levels of interoperability. And because we're based on a set of open APIs, that integration is not hard to do. We will compete at some level, too. You say companies like Avaya don't call on the people who think about business processes. But obviously the people who think about business processes need to start thinking about voice services. So when you're engaging an enterprise, do you try to reach into telecommunications and business process management within an enterprise to talk about Sametime?
It varies. We see deals driven from all different angles. We see the collaboration desktop part of the IT organization that worries about managing the email system and the real-time collaboration tools, etc. Increasingly, they want to add more services into that environment. In other cases, we see the telephony people who are increasingly looking to do things like not just move over to a VoIP infrastructure but [ask what they can do] to better utilize soft phones and eliminate costly hard-phone deployments. When they start doing that, they start touching the desktop. They start touching the environment that's managed by someone else. We see other line-of-business organizations, and they don't think about technology and unified communications. They have business problems they are trying to solve, and in those cases they're bringing in our consultancy organization and industry folks, and they are not really talking technology. They're talking about how you can take the human latency out of the business process by making it easier to locate people and connect with people. It's no single formula. You say companies like Avaya don't call on the people who think about business processes. But obviously the people who think about business processes need to start thinking about voice services. So when you're engaging an enterprise, do you try to reach into telecommunications and business process management within an enterprise to talk about Sametime?
The companies that call our business services organization -- they can call out for a CRM or supply chain or specific PLM application. And we say, "Where is your major problem today? Where do you think we can do something?" They can call on specific capabilities which can solve all parts of the challenge. We get the call from them: "We need you for software and infrastructure and integration to make that work." Sometimes we have a workshop in the industry for clients to show them what's happening in their industry, and here's where they can help their organization by bringing in new technologies. But we're not done educating the business line about thinking about what this type of solution could bring to them. It's about letting them know what their teenagers are doing at home [with consumer versions of collaboration and communications technology]. But it's available and secure and it's in business. You say companies like Avaya don't call on the people who think about business processes. But obviously the people who think about business processes need to start thinking about voice services. So when you're engaging an enterprise, do you try to reach into telecommunications and business process management within an enterprise to talk about Sametime?
A customer was looking to replace Web conferencing. They were using a Web conferencing service, and they wanted to bring it in house. It was a large multinational bank, and for a lot of compliance reasons they concluded that they just couldn't continue to put stuff up in the cloud. In another part of their organization, they were looking to upgrade their persistent chat capabilities. And they were doing persistent chat for their risk management organization. When I met with them, I made the point: Here you are pursuing two-point solutions to an immediate problem, but have you thought about how you're going to integrate your telephony and what you're going to do with your video conferencing end to end? And I went through the whole discussion about the platform. Then they brought their telephony guy in and said: How do you integrate all your multi-vendor telephony environments into this? Then we talked about video. And pretty soon what started out as a discussion around two specific point tools suddenly turned into a discussion around a unified communications play, being able to make a platform decision. At the table, what started out as a conversation with the person who owns Web conferencing, soon it was the line-of-business owner, the telephony owner, as well as the collaboration and IM owner. You say companies like Avaya don't call on the people who think about business processes. But obviously the people who think about business processes need to start thinking about voice services. So when you're engaging an enterprise, do you try to reach into telecommunications and business process management within an enterprise to talk about Sametime?
Sometimes, you have the IT and telecom infrastructure guys coming together because of this type of engagement. You say companies like Avaya don't call on the people who think about business processes. But obviously the people who think about business processes need to start thinking about voice services. So when you're engaging an enterprise, do you try to reach into telecommunications and business process management within an enterprise to talk about Sametime?
Sometimes, you are introducing them to each other.

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