UC Expo 2017 — Unified Communication. Will it be the UC&C Expo Next Year?

Based this year at Excel in London, the UC Expo has been an annual pilgrimage of mine for several years. It is (and always as been) a good mix of networking and learning in an industry that is constantly evolving and adapting.

This year was no exception, and I spent productive time with several key partners of ours in the industry, including Gamma, Yealink, Snom and Cisco. As per last year, there was also a big showing from Microsoft again, where they sponsored their own ‘theatre’ of learning to promote and teach about Skype for Business (S4B). This being despite S4B not having a great hosted voice offering in the UK/EU at the moment, but it did not stop them making a real push of their product as the answer to your UC requirements, which got me thinking . . .

UC has recently found itself with an additional C added on — UC&C. This isn’t just a buzzword though; it is a real factor in choosing an offering at the moment, especially when thinking about products such as S4B. Indeed there was so much talk about UC&C that you could forgive the organisers of the UC Expo for thinking that they should have given the event the UC&C title it possibly deserved.

The ultimate UC&C product is what all the vendors present seemed to be racing forwards to achieve, with voice stalwarts such as Mitel, Avaya and Cisco all showcasing their collaboration products, both software and hardware, to impress the channel and buyers present. What I did find interesting is that they have all reached the UC&C destination via the same route of voice first, then graduating to UC by adding chat messaging, voicemail to email e.t.c. As mentioned they are now adding the collaboration element, with varying success and levels of integration, into their core products. However, the new boys (and girls) on the block are approaching things differently. They arrived on the scene with a full package already, albeit with slightly different levels of fusion and integration. Ring Central, 8x8 and Fuze all had strong presences and excellent products at the Expo, with their full suite of hosted products on show. Which is where our first buzz phrase does come in, I heard it first at a Cisco seminar early on Day 1, but by Day 2 it had heard it many times in many places:

“Cloud First, Mobile First”

This term implies that all the manufacturers and suppliers are ensuring that their products can exist in the cloud, and work well on the mobile. Which is not something that can confidently be said of the stalwarts of the industry, who have long favoured their on-premise and dedicated hardware approach. Although as I mention, they are moving forwards. Cisco especially put a very strong presentation forward of their Cisco Spark platform, with the associated hardware on display of course. I did also enjoy two of their specific messages at the Expo:

“Create, Communicate, Collaborate”

UCC&C? Never mind.

Also their slightly scary mantra:

“The best meetings never end.”

I would argue that the best meetings for me never started in the first place, but on closer analysis, I understand where Cisco are coming from. Quite often a meeting is centred around a particular challenge, project or requirement, which needs preparation and work performing both before and after the meeting itself. This is where Cisco Spark are pushing their product, by creating an online space where you can chat and collaborate before a meeting, then conduct the meeting itself within that space using their simple one-click voice and video options. Afterwards, that space is still available for you to continue the UC&C experience. Hence the term “the best meetings never end”, which is a term that still scares me even though I understand it.

Cisco Spark

A term I also enjoyed using and thinking about was the one of Shadow UC, which is slight deviance of the long-standing problem of Shadow IT. Shadow IT was a term devised to represent the problem that companies have where employees introduce their individually sourced tools and services into their workflow to fill the gaps in what their company has supplied them. Examples of this that I have witnessed are tools such as Basecamp for project management, Trello as a task manager or Prezi as a presentation tool. These are all excellent tools but should be used with the knowledge of the IT team or other management as appropriate.

Shadow UC, therefore, is a simple enough term to both understand and appreciate, with Skype, Whatsapp and Google Hangouts all available for free very easily.

The problem that then occurs is that if your PBX or UC solution doesn’t have all the tools, then employees (especially Millenials) will quite happily find their own very quickly, which is then very hard to move them away from. We have often come across IT teams that are desperately trying to prevent uncontrollable Skype usage in exchange for the corporate tools they are trying to promote. The message here from ourselves is simple:

“Change before you have to” (Jack Welch)

Make sure you are giving your teams the tools they need before they go out and seek them for themselves. As trying to change people’s habits once established is very hard indeed. I confess, the one problem we have still in our team is that of Whatsapp, which is still used across our team for mobile messaging collaboration. This despite us having an excellent alternative in the 3CX platform.

Communication is an essential element of business success, with the tools needed for this being equally as important if that success is going to be realised. Now that collaboration is part of this equation; I advise all companies to take stock of what tools they are providing to their staff to enable this. How are utilised? How can they be united? How can they be simplified?

Don’t try and do this by yourself, of course, get a team together and collaborate on it!

This article originally appeared on the MOD Tech blog.

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