Friday, August 31, 2012

UC state of the market review - UCS podcast

Seems to be a good time to reflect on where the UC market is going these days, and if you follow us on the UCStrategies portal, you'll know we've done that a few different ways. I wrote a piece there the other day, and on this week's podcast, we explored things a little further, mainly through the lens of recent reports produced by UCStrategies experts.

This is not an easy market for anyone to understand, and while that's good for business at our end as analysts and consultants, we don't have all the answers either. UC remains a work in progress, making it challenging both for businesses to buy, and channels to sell. My view is that the vendors continue to innovate and enhance their UC offerings, but the value proposition remains ahead of what many businesses are able to manage right now. Of course there are loads of success stories out there, but UC has a ways to go before it becomes the lingua franca of business communications.

I'll leave it at that, and hope this tweaks your interest enough to hear what all of us at UCStrategies and our reports have to say about the current market - so, time to move on, go to the portal and give it a listen. This podcast was ably moderated by Marty Parker, and there's a transcript if you'd rather just read what was said.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

New Smart Grid Report - Asian Energy Storage Market

Some of you know that I wear two hats as an analyst - primarily tech/telecom, but also in the smart grid space. I've been active with the latter for a few years as a thought leader, speaker, conference producer and market researcher. The parallels and overlap with telecom are too strong to pass up, and I'm constantly looking at ways to bring these worlds together.

One way I do that is through my association with Austin-based Zpryme Research. They produce best-in-class research on smart grid and cleantech, and I have worked with them on several studies. In May, I was added to their Advisory Board, which gives me a chance to help guide them in developing topics and strategic analysis that really helps move smart grid forward.

Zpryme has some big things planned for the Fall, and the first offering comes with their latest report, which was just published today. The report focuses on the Asian market opportunity for energy storage, and in my view, this is a major smart grid driver. As the report shows, Asia represents about 50% of the overall market for energy storage, so it's a pretty big indicator as to where things are going. As Executive Editor, I have incorporated my insights along with those of the research team and the Advisory Board, so there's a lot here behind the numbers.

If want to know why energy storage is such a big deal for smart grid and who the big players are, you'll get a lot out of this study. The report is the first in a new series just launched, and you can download it for free at Zpryme's site. All the details are here in the press release, along with some key findings and data points. If you get it, we'd love to hear your thoughts - that's a pretty good deal, right?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Is the UC market moving forward or backwards?

I don't really have the answer to this question, and I'd love to hear your thoughts. If you follow the UCStrategies portal, you'll know that we cover the ground pretty well, but the jury is still out for me. For this month's contribution, I've written about how UC remains a moving target, which must make it difficult for IT decision makers choosing a solution - and equally challenging for the channels.

Am pretty sure I'm not alone on this tangent, and if you're of the same mind, you should enjoy my post, which is running now on the portal. Even better - if you're not of the same mind, please speak up and share this with the rest of the class (can you tell it's almost Labor Day?). Healthy debate is always welcome here!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

UCS Podcast - How Are UC Vendors Doing?

This week's UCStrategies podcast was based on a series of recent earnings reports by vendors in the UC space, with the most recent being ShoreTel. We started there, and moved on to the general state of things given the current struggles many vendors are having with their numbers.

No doubt, ShoreTel continues to post solid growth metrics, and they're certainly holding their own against the competition. It's also great to see that they're adding new customers - no doubt at the expense of others - so, they're doing a lot of things right. Overall, though, they're not making money - it sure beats losing money, but the bottom line performance isn't matching the top line, and that's always tough on a public company. Of course, the M5 acquisition will take some time to bear fruit, so let's hope that's reflected in the next update.

Looking more broadly, most of the discussion on the podcast was on the overall weakness of vendor performance. We know that Cisco was hurt because public sector spending is down, but we also touched on the impact of wider trends that are slowing down adoption of UC. The cloud is probably the biggest, and while ShoreTel has a good growth story to report there, the base is still pretty small. My take is that buyers are still uncertain about putting UC in the cloud, and equally important, channels still don't have the right business model to help them drive adoption with their customers.

There is a lot of uncertainty in this market, both for vendors and buyers, and that's the gist of what we talked about on the podcast, which was moderated very nicely by Blair Pleasant. I think you'll find this a good discussion, and it's available for listening now on the UCStrategies portal.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

VoIP, Video and Collaboration - Andy Abramson's Take

Andy Abramson's VoIP Watch blog has long been one of the best out there, and we've been helping each other as long as I've been an analyst. He's got both wide and deep perspectives, and is as well connected as anyone I know in this space. You can - and should - also follow Andy on Twitter: @andyabramson.

The other day he pinged me about a news roundup post of his from the weekend which focuses on current VoIP, video and collaboration items worth following. It's a great recap, along with Andy's personal views on where things are going - and more often than not, he's right. The post may be a couple of days old, but it's still  very timely, and you really should give it a read

He's considering doing this on a more regular basis, and I think that's a great idea. After you read this, I'm sure you'll agree, and by all means, let him know - he'd love to hear from you. There's a lot going on in these rapidly converging spaces, and Andy has it covered pretty well.  If there's anything else you'd like to see covered this way, let both of us know, and maybe we can take this to another level.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Innovating with UC - Outcomes, Processes and Subscribers

I don't blog about everything I write, and my column on ADTRAN's UC blog is one example of that. I've been writing a regular series of posts there for some time, and I use it as a forum to explore various facets of UC from the IT perspective. I don't focus on the technical aspects, but there is no shortage of other factors that drive success deploying UC across an organization.

Most recently I've been writing about the role of innovation, and how IT can think differently about the needs of end users to encourage and accelerate adoption. End users don't think about UC as a solution, but they do use the applications on a daily basis. My view is that there are several ways take an innovative approach and get them thinking differently, not just about the value of UC, but also about how IT can be their best friend in helping them derive that value.

So, for a change, I'm doing a shout-out here to let you know I've been on this tangent for a while. My latest post is running now on their site, and it's about why outcomes are more important than processes for UC to have value. As a teaser, there's a nod there to Apple and a throwback reference to the early days of the PC. If you like my thinking, I hope you mine my older posts, leave a comment, and track what's coming next.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Quiet, but busy

I wish I could say blogging has been light because I'm on the beach, reading novels and getting back to playing piano, but it's not the case. Dang.

Just been busy, plain and simple. Quite consumed with one large project that will keep me going through early Fall, and finishing up a couple of white papers this week. Of course, this is the slow season for conferences, so travel has been light, but that will change soon enough. I've got several conferences in my calendar for the Fall, and am sure others will add to that after Labor Day.

I probably won't be blogging much for another week or so, and just wanted to pop my head up let readers know what's keeping me busy. Until then, I hope you're following my posts on the Adtran UC blog, my regular contributions on UCStrategies, my monthly column in IP Telephony magazine, and my occasional tweets. Back to work!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Vertical Communications - East Coast Analyst Day Recap, and a New Market Opp

Don't get too many trips where I fly to the U.S. for half a day, but that's what I did on Tuesday. In theory, it's very efficient - leave early, do your business and be home the same night. Sure makes for light packing, but just like when packets get dropped with VoIP, things happen - more on that later...

I'm seeing a common theme these days among second tier or lower vendors in this space, and what I heard at Vertical's event was no different. Analysts, of course, are in a different boat than customers or channels - we're influencers, not buyers. The Vertical team gave us a pretty good overview of their portfolio, which has 3 core offerings - Wave IP, MBX IP and SBX IP. In short, Wave is their future-forward UC offering, while MBX and SBX are hybrid key systems to get laggards started on the path to VoIP.

Vertical is a classic SMB play - their sweet spot is multi-site businesses, and the more the better. Their product line certainly covers the core needs of this market - it's very telecom-centric, with some collaboration capability. We didn't hear about video or social media, but they address needs that provide plenty of value for SMBs - IM, presence, mobility, soft phone, voice mail, conferencing, call recording and even some core contact center features. It really is an all-in-one solution, and on that basis, I can see the appeal for sure.

There's a  lot of legacy in their DNA - mainly from Comdial and Vodavi - so they have a solid solution to get businesses on the path to VoIP and UC. The messages here are different than what you hear from the Tier 1s when they talk about the enterprise market. I found it a clear reminder that a lot of the business world is still very much entrenched in legacy, so you have to dial things down to a level they can relate to. That's why I don't think it matters much that Vertical isn't talking about video or business process improvement - these aren't value drivers yet for SMBs. Actually, what SMBs really value is good value and simplicity, and that's what Vertical seems to be doing well. They talked a lot about their singular licensing model being a differentiator, and I can see that having appeal for SMBs when considering how to make all these applications work together.

As you know, I'm not a technical analyst, but based on the presentations and demos, it's fair to say that their technology does the job well enough. Actually, probably better than others, especially if you consider their large customer base, growth track record and portfolio of over 200 patents. Also, as their name implies, they  have a strong focus on vertical markets - especially retail, but others, such as education, medical, financial and government.

This takes me to the common theme mentioned earlier. I have no reason to doubt that Vertical's technology works fine and that they really understand how to help SMBs move along the TDM-IP migration path. The real challenge that all vendors serving SMBs face is marketing and sales. This is what really creates separation. Vertical understands the needs of SMBs perfectly well, but the big job is getting the market to see that. We heard plenty from COO Rick Dell about how hard they're working to build up the channels and to educate them on Vertical's value proposition. It's an endless job, of course, but it's the lifeblood of their business.

The SMB market is huge, and it sounds like Vertical has a good game plan here. My post here is one example of how engaging with the analyst community is part of that plan, so I'd say that's working pretty well. For me, the bottom line is that you have to bring the technology to the market - for most SMBs, their phones work just fine, but there's not a huge impetus to change. The market needs to be educated first, and you need to show them what's possible with VoIP and UC.  Based on Tuesday's event, Vertical knows how to do that, and if they stick to plan, they should continue to do well.

Oh - one more thing you should know that could bode well for them down the road. Vertical is privately-held, and Korea's LG is a major shareholder, as well as a development and distribution partner. I found that pretty interesting, and can't think of any parallels among Vertical's competitors. Clearly, this could open some avenues for global growth, and possible tie-ins for mobility offerings. Most of the aforementioned patents are Vertical's, but you can't rule out leveraging LG's R&D at some point, or even access to capital for expansion or acquisitions. Consolidation at this end of the vendor pool will no doubt happen at some point, and I'm sure that must be in Vertical's thinking.

As a quick coda, I mentioned this was supposed to be a tidy, one-day trip. Well, best intentions aside, the weather didn't cooperate, and I spent a lovely evening trying to sleep on the floor at the airport. My 6am flight the next day went off without a hitch, but Tuesday night was pretty chaotic. All I'll say is that there were many missed opportunities where the airline could have made this mess totally manageable with some simple communication. This isn't rocket science, but as a parting message to my hosts, the airline sector sure looks like a ripe vertical for the taking.