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Unify's 'Project Ansible' available, but is it ready for primetime?

Unify ships the first version of Project Ansible. Now known as Circuit, the product is a WebRTC-based tool that combines UC, collaboration and, eventually, business apps.

Project Ansible, Unify's combination of UC, collaboration and social tools, is now available.

Unify -- formerly Siemens -- previewed Project Ansible in 2013. Now known as Circuit, Project Ansible promises to be a real-time, Web-based platform that aggregates UC and collaboration tools -- including voice, video, screen sharing, instant messaging and file sharing -- with the business applications and social tools that employees are already using, such as Salesforce and LinkedIn. While the first iteration of Circuit doesn't have all the connectors into third-party apps in place yet, the Web-based technology is on the right track.

"It's a great tool -- there really isn't anything on the market right now that can integrate social and UC quite as well as [Circuit] does," said Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director at Nemertes Research Group Inc., based in Mokena, Ill. "But it's definitely a 1.0 version and less fully featured than I thought it would be at this point -- the social features are really rudimentary right now, [and Unify] definitely has their work cut out for them."

Project Ansible combines social collaboration, real-time UC functionality

Circuit is a browser-based platform that combines enterprise communication tools into one interface on any device, while storing and managing interactions and content as conversations. "In terms of collaboration, communication and contextual conversations, this is a new way of working, wherever is natural for [the user], in a secure environment," said Bill Hurley, chief marketing officer for Unify. "Circuit really works the way the brain works by navigating through associations and pulling together information."

Circuit's full feature set is available to users on any device, regardless of whether they connect via a laptop, tablet or phone, he said. "On the same platform, I can be either texting or IMing, or doing voice or video with another, while sharing documents all at the same time." Every conversation between two users, regardless of the mode of communication used, is brought together and provided to the employee via search functionality, he said.

The new platform is based on WebRTC, and can be fired up on any WebRTC-compliant browser without downloading plugins. Unfiy has developed a Circuit iOS client for Apple devices, which will be followed soon by an Android-based client, Hurley said.

Circuit currently can be used as a standalone UC platform, with native voice, video, IM and content sharing via Web conferencing. Down the road, the technology will have connectors into third-party apps and tools, helping to remove the need to switch between social and communication applications and tools, said Michael Brandenburg, industry analyst at Frost and Sullivan Inc., based in Mountain View, Calif.

Communardo Software, a German provider of products and consulting services for business collaboration, is a heavy user of internal collaboration and UC products, and has been beta testing Unify's Circuit, said Dirk Roehrborn, Co-CEO of Communardo.

"I'm really impressed with the different modes of communication and how they are all patched together -- like microblogging and chat -- in combination with voice, video and screen sharing across different tools -- like mobile devices," he said.

Switching between communication tools is time-consuming for enterprise users, and something that can be avoided when using Circuit, Roehrborn said. "This is something you immediately notice when using [Circuit], he said. "You can have a conversation with a team on a project, and have a combination of voice and text messages, and then content all in one stream instead of spread across multiple tools," he said.

Roehrborn looks forward to Unify adding third-party business application integration to Circuit. "Once those integrations are there, that's where the real benefits will be," he said.

Communardo is planning to provide services around Circuit for its customers in the future, Roehrborn said.

Still a long way until Unify's vision is complete

With Project Ansible, Unify originally envisioned a platform that users could live in, but Circuit isn't quite move-in ready. "[Circuit] is a very cool, and fully-functional product right now, but there is a laundry list of things they promised. Unify is going to deliver those, but it's not all in this general release," Frost's Brandenburg said.

More integrations with third-party social tools and business applications are planned for future releases of Circuit, according to Unify. Additionally, Unify has no plans to kill OpenScape, its UC platform. Unify said it will have connectors from OpenScape into Circuit in the next version of Circuit, Brandenburg said. "Circuit and OpenScape are complementary, but there is some overlap in features," he said. "Unify recently upgraded the OpenScape interface to reflect the Circuit design, so they are bridging the gap between the two."

The first version is now available for purchase and will be sold on a per user, per month basis. However, with so many "freemium" social and UC tools on the market today, this first, basic version of Circuit could be a tough sell, Nemeretes' Lazar said.

"I think it's going to be a challenge to sell because of the cost right now," Lazar said. "Unify is also going to have to convince businesses that [Circuit's] ability to store documents and keep persistent [communication] sessions running … is better than something like Microsoft Lync," Lazar said.

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

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