UC EXPO: Cloud collaboration driving digital transformation, say IT leaders

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Cloud-based unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) now form the bedrock of enterprise digital transformation, claimed IT thought leaders at UC EXPO in London.

Cisco’s Donald McLaughlin, Director, Collaboration UK & Ireland, said: “The key message for us is collaboration’s ability to underpin the wider digitisation and digital transformation we see at the moment. For us, digitisation is about bringing together people, data, and devices to drive improvements in mobility and efficiency. We feel that collaboration has a fundamental role to play in helping drive that digitisation in the world today. And it’s not just for companies, it’s for countries as well.”

McLaughlin’s comments echoed those of Steve Kokinos, CEO of UCaaS player Fuze (formerly ThinkinPhones), who said: “We find that once you get [customers]to make that jump, they change behaviour very quickly around video, analytics, and so on. User cases like this just didn’t exist before, when people had to choose between four or five different discreet applications. I think that silo approach is what led to user dissatisfaction [with UC in the past].”

Kokinos added that while a buyer/supplier conversation typically starts in a silo – changing the PBX, or replacing an outmoded videoconferencing facility with a cloud-based system – it soon broadens out into a wider dialogue about how UC&C systems can aid business flexibility, agility, and mobility.

Cisco’s Mclaughlin added: “Be a disruptor or be disrupted: do it to yourself before someone does it to you. We can all remember Kodak, Blockbuster, and other companies that sadly missed what was happening in the market, and we’ve seen a number of more recent examples with the likes of Uber and Airbnb. Who would have thought that the biggest hotel company in the world wouldn’t own any hotels? […] There is a key role for collaboration to play in driving that [sort of]transformation.”

Get out of the silo

Peter Quinlan is Tata Communications’ Vice President of Product Strategy and Management, UCaaS Services. He said: “A lot of the challenges that seem to be binding us today, as people worry about legacy infrastructure and integrating these disparate silos within the enterprise, will evaporate pretty quickly. We’re almost in a once-in-a-career moment watching all these different technologies being disrupted in the communications space.

“We view that as creating both challenge and opportunity. The challenge is how you assimilate this and help your users make that journey, but how do you get your arms around the opportunity because once you embrace that change and start moving towards UC&C capability, the faster and better things get for your users. Fortunately, there are a lot of options. Five years from now it will almost seem madness that people try to solve these challenges at an enterprise level using expertise within the organisation.”

But as the communications wing of a large conglomerate – and not always a popular one as it exits the UK steel industry – how can Tata convince customers of a core set of values beyond ‘doing everything’?

Tata’s Quinlan said: “We’re a challenger in every market outside of our home territory, India, so it is a little bit of a challenge to walk into markets where folks might not have dealt with us for their domestic requirements. But what we’re finding again is the dynamics changing with cloud becoming not just acceptable, but almost the preferred delivery model for many organisations, and our ability to execute on cloud solutions globally, is that carrier-grade reliability really stands to our advantage.”

“The cloud happened…”

Andrew Sinclair is Microsoft’s General Manager of Product Marketing, Skype for Business. He said: “We really have a key message. The cloud happened. It’s no longer a case of people taking point solutions and moving to the cloud. The wave that people will be riding over the next five years, and the wave that Microsoft will be riding and in many cases leading, will be moving the entire collaboration suite into the cloud.

“And these days there are very few reasons why anyone would install anything on premises anymore. You can get everything from your wordprocessor to your BI, your meeting and PSTN solution, even your dial tone, from the cloud today. That momentum is driving business transformation and we’re seeing the new wave of companies and those companies that are transforming themselves, attaching to that, and they’re driving their business value, their differentiation, because they’re able to focus on what their core business is, not on infrastructure.”

But is Microsoft still playing catchup after the Ballmer years, during which it allowed Apple, Google, and others, to dominate the smartphone and tablet space, even though it has built a solid, redefined presence as an enterprise cloud enabler?

Sinclair said: “I don’t believe we have to convince anybody of anything! We just show them. The idea that Microsoft is behind in mobile is a couple of years old, and you’re talking to the guy who is straddling consumer and enterprise [Skype] today.

“Across the product range, we are on every platform that our customers are on. Skype came in [to our business]riding a wave of being on 27 different platforms, including baby monitors! We’ve seen the [Skype] business deliver first-class experiences on every platform, including iOS and Android. Microsoft is very much a mobile-first company these days, which is why you’re seeing so many applications riding on mobile.”

About Author

Chris Middleton

Chris Middleton is a widely respected business and technology journalist, author, and magazine editor. In recent years he has been Editor of Computing (where he remains Consulting Editor); co-founder and Managing Editor of Professional Outsourcing – a magazine he developed from scratch and grew to be the leading magazine in its field; Editor of CBR in its most successful year; and co-founder and launch Editor of Sourcingfocus.com. Today, he is co-Director of EastwoodMiddleton Publishing, and founder, designer, and Editor in Chief of Strategist magazine (UK), the boardroom magazine that provides strategic insight for business leaders, and of its mobile-first digital edition at www.iamtheStrategist.com. He is also co-founding Editor of Child Internet Safety magazine, and a contributing Editor of Diginomica.com. Over the years Chris has also written for, among many others, The Guardian, The Times, the BBC, and Computer Weekly. He is the author of several successful books on digital media, and a commissioning editor of more than 50 books.