Last week, we held a small event with some of our key Unified Communication partners. We invited Jim Burton from UC Strategies to speak to the group, who by the way this week is running his own UC Strategies conference in La Jolla. While readers of my blog know that I spend a lot of time discussing mobile communications issues and thoughts, some readers may not know that Dialogic has been a huge innovator with IP and unified communications over the years, ranging from being involved in the first VoIP gateway in 1997, to enabling many unified messaging solutions around the same time, to driving pure IP-based handsets in the early 2000’s and to working closely with enabling the various “unified communication hubs” from the large vendors. We have been at the forefront of this incredible innovation and continue to participate actively in it as it’s still a significant part of our business today.
A few key themes emerged from Jim Burton’s talk and from the group discussion.
1. The PBX will become a “feature server” as part of a UC solution. We have recognized that for some time, and in fact, we at Dialogic call the UC solution a “Unified Communications Hub” where the server has a software-based PBX, presence info, IM/chat capabilities, and voice/fax/video messaging as part of the entire server. Once you can IM someone you have the makings of a routing table, and if you add voice to it, it becomes a PBX, right? It’s not that simple of course because there are signaling, echo cancellation, and connectivity to the outside world issues to deal with, to name a few, but adding voice to IM over IP is VoIP and is a key step. And the industry is already well on its way to a move to a software-based “Unified Communications Hub” or “PBX as feature server” as Jim calls it. The days of a stand-alone PBX are numbered.
2. Vertical market solutions drive CIO / IT choices. What are you trying to do? Is it presence capability? Is it IVR capability? Is it a health care solution, a pharmacy solution or a real estate solution? These are the overriding decisions now, not simply just “I need to buy a PBX since I have to make phone calls.”
3. Endpoints are evolving. They used to drive a lot of business for the PBX vendors and the PBX vendors made a lot of money from endpoints that were physical units that they made that only connected to their PBX systems. But now the customers demand all kinds of endpoints be connected to the Unified Communications Hub, from tablets from Apple and Samsung, to smartphones from Apple to Android to Blackberry, to IP conference phones to video conferencing via laptops to softphones to IP-based physical units similar to the old PBX phone that could come from a variety of vendors. This change in paradigm regarding the “phone endpoint” is driving change in the business model of all involved.
4. The ability to offer cloud-based “PBX services.” Many corporations, even larger corporations, are deciding to outsource their PBX and not have a CPE-based PBX. The advent of IP/VoIP is enabling this to happen at rates greater than the old days of 8%-10% of PBX business from Centrex services. So we’re also looking at a business model change of pushing and buying boxes to more of a services model. But remember, even in a cloud-based “PBX service” model, there is going to be CPE-based equipment required, ranging from endpoints, to branch office appliances, to enterprise SBCs to enable security. “Gateways” that incorporate SIP Trunking and Session Border Control capability will be the norm required here.
5. Ultimately, there will be a change from Unified Communications to Social Business. That is, incorporating all the social networking capabilities that exist today such as Twitter and Facebook into the current Unified Communications paradigms. After all, if the industry calls something “unified communications” shouldn’t it unify the various forms of communication? So the group at large saw this as another potential seachange coming.
In just the past decade, there clearly has been a huge change in the PBX landscape. Nortel does not exist anymore, and we’ve seen data/computer companies like Cisco, Microsoft, HP and IBM enter the PBX arena and have large viable businesses here because of VoIP and the advent of the Unified Communications Hub. As indicated above, change will continue to be a constant in this dynamic marketplace as cloud and social networking are the looming drivers for the next big change. Make sure your partners recognize this so you are able to deal with this as an “opportunity” as opposed to “oh no, how can this be happening to me?”