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Long-anticipated Unify UCC service Circuit seen as incomplete

Industry experts say Unify UCC service Circuit has yet to deliver the promised groundbreaking features.

Unify failed to deliver the groundbreaking features it had promised in its new unified communications and collaboration (UCC) platform, leaving industry experts wondering how the product will evolve in time.

The company, formerly Siemens Enterprise Communications, released Circuit Tuesday, bringing to market a cloud-based UCC service that in its first iteration is heavy on collaboration features, but light on unified communications, analysts say.

Siemens unveiled Unify in 2013 under the code name Project Ansible, promising it would aggregate social media, collaboration tools, business applications, video conferencing and voice communications in a single user interface. Such integration remains a pipe dream in UCC.

"Circuit really has to deliver on the promise of being groundbreaking and being more than just collaboration," Blair Pleasant, principal analyst for COMMfusion, said. "This is just release one; they got it out there and congratulations to them, but it's not living up to the initial hype."

Circuit does provide some integration for UCC tools, particularly among audio, video and Web conferencing for team collaboration, Frost & Sullivan analyst Michael Brandenburg said.

"It doesn't feel like any one of those individual products," he said. "It does feel a little more unique."

Circuit today is a standalone product that is delivered as a Unify-hosted cloud service, Diane Salvatora, vice president of North America Portfolio Management at Unify, said. The company plans to eventually make the platform available to third-party service providers and to large enterprises that prefer having the platform in their own data centers.

Circuit really has to deliver on the promise of being groundbreaking and being more than just collaboration.
Blair Pleasantanalyst for COMMfusion

Moving closer to having all tools working seamlessly within a single browser-based interface, as envisioned by Unify, will require connectors to the company's own UCC applications, as well as those from third parties.

In delivering true unified communications, the company will also have to provide a connector to a customer's Session Initiation Protocol trunk, which is a key infrastructure component of UCC. The technology replaces a conventional telephone trunk and combines data, voice and video in a single line.

Circuit works only in browsers that support WebRTC, an open source project aimed at embedding voice, text and video communications capabilities in browsers. Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox support WebRTC, but Microsoft Internet Explorer, the most widely used in business, does not. However, Microsoft announced this week plans to add WebRTC to IE, but has not said when.

Unify plans to release upgrades regularly, based on "customer demand," Salvatora said. "We're using an agile development process," she said. "We'll be releasing in sprints, not in large releases every six to 12 months."

Can Unify's UCC service live up to its initial integration promise?

How close Unify gets in having all UCC applications interoperating well within a single browser window remains to be seen. While not impossible, the goal is ambitious.

"Unifying UC is hard," Brandenburg said. "It was a pretty big stake in the ground to deliver that [on the first release]."

Pleasant agreed, describing the product as a "big wait and see."

"We just have to see if it's going to live up to what they had promised," she said. "If it does, than it can be groundbreaking."

In the meantime, Unify is offering a generous 60-day trial of the product at no charge for up to 100 users, according to Brandenburg. Companies that decide to subscribe to the service will be charged $14.95 per user per month.

For that price, companies will get a collaboration product that they will have to decide whether it is better than the many products currently available from companies like IBM, Microsoft and Jive.

"Whether enterprises will buy it at $15 per seat as an adjunct to other offers, I think that is very dependent on other platforms in use, their need for the specifics that it offers, as well as the organization itself," consultant Phil Edholm at PKE Consulting, said in an email. "As Office 365 is $12, paying $15 for what is in Ansible today will be a challenge in many markets."

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Do you think it makes sense to pay $15 per user for collaboration tools integration?
If it's collaboration for collaboration's sake, no. I think it only makes sense if an organization knows how the tool will fit with its other systems and help meet long-term business goals. I'm not sure that describes a lot of organizations at this point. 
Agreed. It needs to be more than "standalone" for businesses to spend that money, especially when there are so many free services they can take advantage of for collaboration. 
To play Devil's advocate here (and to offer a slightly biased vision of this, since I work for a company that provides enterprise collaboration tools) you pay for the ability to keep the advertising out and to not "be the product" for others. Even with all that, if the product offered isn't compelling, people will not use it, or they will gravitate towards the free tools that are readily available.
The bottom line with Unify Circuit, as it exists today, is a company is paying $15 per user for a standalone collaboration product while they can get Yammer with Office 365 for $12 a month. I think Unify needs to rethink pricing and features.