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Cloud, team chat apps top trends at UC conference

UC analyst Irwin Lazar previews Enterprise Connect 2016. He highlights the latest cloud advancements, team chat collaboration applications and vendor strategies.

Editor's note: Leading up to Enterprise Connect, a major UC conference, SearchUnifiedCommunications spoke with UC analyst Irwin Lazar to gauge the industry's latest trends. In a related article, Lazar discusses the current state of WebRTC.

Cloud migrations, team chat apps and communication APIs are expected to be big topics at this year's Enterprise Connect, the industry's major UC conference.

This year, the conference, running from March 7 to 10 in Orlando, Fla., adds a wrinkle to the usual assortment of panel discussions, product launches and UC insights. Event organizers added a new conference track focused on APIs that let developers embed communications into everyday business applications.

SearchUnifiedCommunications spoke with Irwin Lazar, a UC analyst and vice president and service director at Nemertes Research, to get his thoughts about this year's conference. This will be Lazar's 14th Enterprise Connect.

Irwin LAzarIrwin Lazar

What are the major themes at Enterprise Connect 2016?

Irwin Lazar: If I were to expect one thing, it'll be focused on cloud and how companies move to the cloud. I would suspect the other big topic will be the race to catch up to Slack.

Cisco, Unify and now Microsoft purchasing Talko are validating this new way of collaborating using persistent team chat apps with people in continuous contact. For a while, Slack and about 25 startups were the only ones out there. Now, the big boys have moved in.

Google's keynote should be interesting, too. Google's still hanging out in the back of the room at Enterprise Connect.

The other area I'm watching is communication APIs, where UC becomes a widget that you embed into your applications versus having a dedicated UC client -- I think Cisco's acquisition of Tropo validates that. You're seeing a lot of interest around Twilio. Avaya's collaboration environment is giving developers and companies pretty easy tools to add presence, click to call and click to video into business applications. I think that's pretty exciting.

The cloud's a Wild West right now with so many companies living in it.
Irwin LazarNemertes Research analyst

What cloud trends are you seeing?

Lazar: Microsoft and Cisco are starting to push their user base onto the cloud. The cloud's a Wild West right now with so many companies living in it. Cloud-to-cloud federation is going to be interesting to watch. For instance, if I'm using RingCentral, can I integrate that with Salesforce or ServiceNow? So, I see that as a way some cloud vendors are trying to differentiate by building linkages to other clouds.

Cloud management is big, too. Companies have been in the mantra of, 'Move everything to the cloud.' And now they're struggling with, 'How do I deal with performance management when my PBX is in Amazon Web Services?' I expect you'll see SD-WAN vendors [at Enterprise Connect] who are targeting their solutions at companies that are moving aggressively to Microsoft.

What does the emergence of APIs tell us about the current state of UC?

Lazar: APIs give people the ability to embed communications into the applications they use.

The way most vendors focused on delivering UC for the last 15 years is they want a client on your desktop, whether it's Jabber or Skype for Business, and that's where you go to collaborate. But the majority of workers live in other applications, like Salesforce and Zendesk, and whatever business process application you use to get your job done. Now you can embed communication services directly into those apps.

I've seen the term 'the headless client' where UC fades into the background a little bit. Then you're not as concerned with, 'Am I going to put Cisco or Microsoft on everyone's desk?' Instead, you'll say, 'My sales team spends 90% of their day in Salesforce and that's where I want them to make calls.'

How are the big vendors differentiating themselves?

Lazar: Cisco and Microsoft dominate every year. Mitel's doing interesting things around mobility.

You can't compete trying to sell the best phone system in the world anymore -- we're past that.
Irwin LazarNemertes Research analyst

A year ago, vendors were offering similar capabilities and fighting over minuscule things like, 'I do this feature and you don't have it,' or 'I'm cheaper than you.' There's more of a wholesale philosophical difference now among vendors.

Microsoft has not really bought into team chat apps, and they're trying to get everybody integrated fully into Office 365. Cisco has basically banked their entire collaboration business on team chat apps with Spark and their ability to interface it with on-premises platforms.

Mitel has said, 'We're going the mobile route, and we're going to work with mobile providers to fully integrate your BYOD into a corporate communication environment.' And Unify, like Cisco, has both feet in team chat apps, but they're agnostic as to what kind of voice platform you have underneath it; so they can work just as well in a Cisco environment as they can in OpenScape.

ShoreTel is a more traditional telephony play, not really pushing video or team chat apps. They've carved out a niche for themselves. And Avaya is trying to push the developer and API side and building a cloud-based development capability and still not having much of a cloud story to tell.

They're all looking at, 'Where can we compete effectively?' Because you can't compete trying to sell the best phone system in the world anymore -- we're past that.

What other big UC trends are you seeing?

Lazar: I think contact center will be pretty important at this show; it seems there's more focus around that the last few years. And not only contact center, but customer engagement: How do you engage with customers through whatever means they like to use? So, rather than waiting for customers to call you, you engage them through social and mobile apps.

And I think you'll start to see some communication capabilities melding with IoT (Internet of Things). I've heard some examples like the smart refrigerator that sends you an instant message when it's time to change the filter. Or the heat pump that detects it's low on Freon and sends a message to your HVAC company to recharge it, which may trigger a phone call or instant message.

You're starting to see Oracle as an example [of bridging UC and IoT]. I assume they'll talk about this in their keynote: starting to meld the worlds of IoT and UC, where UC becomes more of a feature rather than an application.

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