Still waiting for converged computing

“Enterprise users will soon be able to tie in the Nortel Networks PBX technology running their phone systems with the Microsoft Office productivity tools on their desktops, the companies promised Wednesday,” said a <a href="http://www.itbusiness.ca/it/client/en/home/News.asp?id=41870" Jan. 17 article authored by Shane Schick, editor of ITBusiness.ca.

We at Fox Group participated in a series of interviews and reviewed multiple Web casts around the updates of the strategic alliance relationship announced last July between Nortel and Microsoft.

Mike Zafirofski of Nortel and Steve Ballmer of Nortel are calling this alliance the ‘Innovative Communications Alliance” or ICA. We also reviewed numerous ‘strategic alliances’ that happened over 2005/2006 between Microsoft and other telecommunications equipment manufacturers/software companies. (Quite a few announced in fact).

What is special about this alliance and why?

To put things in perspective for our readers, many of us within Fox Group have been in IT for decades and have converged with telecom anywhere from three to 15 years ago. We either came from being CIO, IT/Network Director or worked within the IT industry in sales, service and engineering roles or equivalent roles within telecom departments and carriers.

Our assessment of Microsoft’s primary rationale for this alliance is that Microsoft doesn’t have the voice expertise needed to work with telephony and voice applications. Nortel has decades of voice expertise, and developed data expertise through a series of acquisitions, but never really developed desktop or IT applications expertise.  So it seems a match made in heaven.

We believe that this alliance allows Microsoft the ability to leverage Nortel’s expertise, applications, voice knowledge, and probably most importantly, Nortel’s telecom channel partners to grow Microsoft’s software revenue. 

For Nortel, this alliance provides credibility and access to Microsoft’s sales channel and also the ability to reach within Microsoft’s enterprise customer base.

What were we expecting from this update?

We were expecting to hear about new co-developed products leveraging the strength, knowledge and capabilities of both parties . . . exciting new products that neither one would have been able to develop without the other. We were also, we believe now, naively, expecting to hear specifics about recent account wins as a result of the combined sales force and approach.

What did we hear about during the update? We heard about the Innovative Communications Alliance (ICA), its purpose and reason for being.  In addition, we heard another re-statement of the reasons for the relationships, and why both parties were choosing to work together.

We then heard about a three-step approach of how computing and communications would integrate and transform into a unified communications world where we would eventually (some time before 2010) be more productive and communicate via the medium of our choice.

Steve Ballmer did mention that ‘Dozens of customers and hundreds of prospects” are in their combined funnel.  He didn’t mention specifics on any of these customers or combined solutions they were committing to. 

He also mentioned that they had created twenty demo centres and would be adding eighty more in 2007, where customers could learn about ICA and the product roadmap.

They also reviewed the product roadmap and timelines where we will see some of the combined new products being released in Q3 & Q4 of 2007.

Lastly, we heard from both senior executives that both companies, throughout the organizations are excited about the combined synergies cross education and success they will be able to achieve from this relationship. From our perspective, it sounded sort of like ‘greater than the sum of the parts’. 

What has been done in the past?

For over a decade, the telecom manufacturers and IT software developers have been espousing the power of unified communications, and how it will improve business productivity, quality of life, etc. etc.  

Many of us within Fox Group have in fact tested or implemented various unified messaging/communications products within our former corporate environments or within our test lab facilities. We are currently using Nortel’s CallPilot Desktop Messaging Application to be able to understand the challenges, pitfalls, and most importantly real benefits that can be achieved through current unified communications.

What could the future hold?

We have seen futurist videos where it will be possible to ask the voice mail system to get and play an email, respond back via voice, with a copy kept in our email box, and at the same time forward a copy of both transactions to someone’s cell phone.

We have also seen videos where we are in our smart home office after working a long day at the office and been notified on our multi-media PC of an important email from our boss.  We are able to have the ‘system’ read the email to us on our multi-media PC or TV, show us the supporting information on files attached to the email.  We then use our PC or TV keyboard to modify information on the documents, and send back with voice annotations.

These demos are very effective for stimulating interest, and I wonder what would be the challenges to deploy these types of solutions with an organization and what could be the real business benefits when this was possible.

When will we see the future?  If so why, and if not, why not?

We believe that we will see the future available when four major trends come together:

 

–Ubiquitous availability and access to high speed cellular (for urban, suburban and rural locations);

–Software developers create applications that run with ‘tidy code’ and do not take massive amounts of CPU and memory;

–Traditional telephony products that are only software-based evolve to be able to run on virtually any common computing platform;

–Enterprise users have developed their use of computing and communications devices with skills such that they are comfortable using and working with multiple devices on multiple platforms across multiple medium.

 

Messages to Nortel, Microsoft and the rest of the ICT Industry that makes or sells these types of products

 

In order to convince organizations to invest in technology upgrades or replacements, and be able to develop their own future visions as presented through the ICA partnership we suggest that Nortel and Microsoft develop the following:

 

–Examples of real world client success stories by industry that show the power and benefits these technology solutions have achieved;

–Provide a technology evolution strategy and roadmap to help our IT and telecom departments understand, support and develop their own migration plans;

–Develop and deliver enterprise business user oriented education programs to help them improve their personal skills on using the various technologies that are within the ICA environment (even if just voice command driven).

 

For the industry as a whole, we suggest that you start using your own current unified communications products throughout your organizations within all job roles. 

This will not only help your own organization evolve, but more importantly from a customer perspective, you will get to understand and develop the migration plans, technology and skills evolution plans and hopefully figure out real, tangible business benefits that can be obtained through the vision you are trying to sell to us as customers.

As a technology savvy/technology dependent professional services firm, we hope the industry gets there soon.  We see and understand the vision, and want the products and services available now.  And we are willing to pay for it.

 

Roberta J. Fox is a senior partner at the Fox Group.

Comment: [email protected]

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