Why the lowest common denominator dictates the success or failure of UC

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UC&C technologies should be thought of as a ‘total experience’ that satisfies business needs, rather than as point solutions to technology problems. However, people’s real-world experience of using UC when working flexibly or from home – via wifi and/or the mobile networks – may colour their experience of the benefits, outside of the managed, QoS- and SLA-driven experience in the workplace.

So is there a tension between these two user cases? And what can be done about it? UCInsight put these questions to vendor thought leaders in the UC&C space. Andrew Sinclair is Microsoft’s General Manager of Skype for Business Product Marketing – a role that gives him hands-on experience of both the business and consumer ends of UC&C.

He says: “You have to build your software so that it can adapt to the consumer networks and the great unregulated internet, and this is where the experience we have on the consumer side is super-valuable. If you think about it, [Microsoft] has hundreds of millions of users, which means we have probes on every single by-road and blind alley on the internet, so we know what it takes to get from Burkina Faso to Redmond. We know what the characteristics are, we know what jitter is being injected into the network, we know where the delays are and can route appropriately. You just have to build up that intelligence to make it work.”

So to what extent is the future of UC&C going to be about raising the lowest common denominator, the lowest end of the ‘great unregulated internet’ experience of collaboration, rather than focusing on high-end enterprise excellence?

Peter Quinlan is Tata Communications’ Vice President of Product Strategy and Management, UCaaS Services. He says:

“As people put increasingly important collaboration into their applications, the standard is going to need to be raised. When you think about it, Skype calling or video calling in the consumer realm from days back was always fine as long as you could fall back on a regular telephone landline. But you can’t really do that if [mobile/the cloud] is your primary enterprise communication [channel].”

A two-tier internet?

Quinlan suggests that network, tech, and UC providers may, in the future, begin to start ‘tiering’ the internet experience and pricing accordingly. “I think you’ll find different classes of service and potentially different charge models for the level of quality that people want, whether it’s free over the top or sponsored data, or an enterprise communications network. You’ll see that start to segregate a bit and pan out. Overall, the standard is being driven by consumers, who want to bring their own device and choose the application that works best for their particular requirements.”

But arguably, tiering creates little incentive for network providers or telcos to improve baseline internet access and reliability. Indeed, BT has been criticised of late for focusing more on its high-end corporate customers than on improving the broadband experience for everyone else, because it has little financial incentive to raise the baseline when it can make more money selling premium services.

This is where there’s a tension in the UC&C space. Increasingly, people want a ‘consumer’ experience at work, in terms of an app’s or a platform’s design and usability, but they also want business levels of access, speed, and reliability at home, or wherever they are working remotely. All of this feeds into the corporate UC&C picture.

The critical user experience

Donald McLaughlin is Cisco’s Director of Collaboration for the UK and Ireland. He agrees that the overall user experience of UC&C is “absolutely critical”, and that consumer technologies are setting the pace overall. He says: “Everything we build is about recognising that if we’re going to make collaboration pervasive, and allow companies and countries to get the potential benefits that we can drive through collaboration, then it has to be an experience that people want to use.

“The consumer market has helped drive that, and that’s been a positive bit of disruption. After all, why on earth would someone want a less good [technology]experience at work than they get in their personal life? It doesn’t make sense. A lot of business applications will start to look and feel a lot more like the consumer applications that people have grown up with.

“But the point about public networks versus private networks, if you will, is that there is a good reason that businesses have made significant long-term investments in building a robust foundational infrastructure. The public internet, by its very nature, is not really as reliable or predictable as your own network might be.”

Nevertheless, while large enterprises may have access to fast, stable, QoS and SLA-driven services, many of their customers – and their home-working employees – do not. Is this holding up the emerging culture of cloud collaboration and productivity? And is there a danger that people might associate any poor experience of UC&C with the company they’re trying to communicate with, rather than their own network provider?

McLaughlin says:

“It’s a hugely important area and governments have a big responsibility to ensure that where there’s market failure, if you will, where the numbers don’t add up for the big service providers, then they have the responsibility to make the investment – really from the point of view of inclusion.

“If we are going to make UC&C pervasive and give everyone the same opportunity to benefit from it, then it needs to be available to everybody. If you live in an area that hasn’t got a good broadband service, then that puts you at an unnecessary disadvantage. Governments need to take a stake [in this debate], as it’s something that’s going to impact on GDP. It’s not something they can step back from.”

Yet while the current government has put greater pressure on BT, it does ‘step back’ from the issue in the broadest, most ideological sense, because it believes in the market’s inherent ability to provide the best service for all – something that demonstrably isn’t happening.

• Chris Middleton interviewed thought leaders at UC EXPO in London, where he chaired a keynote panel on the future of UC&C.

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.