Monday, August 9, 2010

Unified Excellence: Rodman's view of the Polycom-Microsoft alliance

Microsoft has been an interesting duck for a long time.  They’re popular by many measures:  they’re big, they’re found on the majority of corporate computers, their stuff is fully featured and functional, and they make a wide variety of software tools that function with, and on, devices and platforms from just about any vendor out there.  
That last point evolves into an interesting challenge with Microsoft’s continuing move into Unified Communications, initially via OCS and now with the next step of Communications Server Wave 14.  By moving deeper into UC and the mainstream of live human communications, this extension has positioned them in a place where they’re now measured by a whole new set of metrics.  Real-time human communications are different from traditional text-based channels because there is an inherent philosophical shift:  ideas are no longer funneled through the time-insensitive construct of "text", but are swapped back and forth in real time, through our voices and our vision; we're chatterboxes, our expectations become the same as we have when we're together in person, and those expectations are high.   But further, they require different techniques, different measurements, and a lot of very specific expertise to do the job well.  
If you're a company that begins raising your presence in a new part of the market as Microsoft is doing, it's not a bad idea to identify and partner with the strongest expertise and track record in that market.
In announcing a new strategic alliance with Polycom (see Information Week,, Microsoft revealed exactly that strategy today.  Polycom and Microsoft have extended their strategic relationship, and have committed to a substantial dedication of resources and investments to make Polycom’s highly regarded video and voice solutions an integral part of the comprehensive Microsoft end-to-end UC solution set.  That’s a big deal; both Polycom and Microsoft are known for being selective about the partners they choose, and this collaboration holds high promise for transforming how people communicate.  I’ll be writing more in the next few days to describe a fuller picture of how and why this partnership is so compelling, but it's a classic synergy play: two market leaders, each in their own field; each is positioned to maximize the strengths of the other, and everybody benefits. 

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Freeing UC to grow

Jessica Scarpati's coverage of the tradeoffs between single-vendor and multiple-vendor UC strategies ( got me thinking about why "single-vendor UC" is an oxymoron.  
Something as big as UC cannot all come from one vendor.  How do I know this?   
Because nobody knows what "UC" is!  Not really, not completely.  Sure, it's "Unified Communications," but that's just words and it doesn't mean as much as we wish it did.   And yes, it's videoconferencing and video communications, integrated with calendaring and texting and voice and presence, but isn't that just more words?  
And IM, of course.  Is that it now?  No, we forgot multiscreen telepresence and real-time translation services and media archiving.  And and iPhone apps.  Android apps, SIP/H.323. And speech to text, I almost forgot that, and how it should link to calendaring and security...  
You see the point?  UC is a constantly evolving story.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson said about life:  UC is a journey, not a destination.  
Every user has a different story and takes a different journey that presents a different application, different needs, different priorities.  Every user is different; that's why users will always need vendors who can put real focus on particular applications.  In Scarpati's article, Gartner's Elliot confirms this - "you can't actually get a [full UC] solution from a single vendor, despite what they're saying."
This is why open standards are so important and why so many industry leaders are joining UCIF ( to ensure that UC stays open, effective and compatible.  UC is open-ended by definition, and that end needs to be fully and openly defined.  
UC's potential and its excitement are emerging because it's being created by a community, not a hermit.  Let's remain clear of hermits and their closed platforms.  

Monday, August 2, 2010

Everybody's Rich!

Recently I've heard some people say "oh, foo, that telepresence, it's just for the rich."  But really, what does "telepresence" mean these days?  
When the word was first invented thirty years ago, it was adapted from "teleoperation," used to describe a rather abstract, all-senses extension in which you not only saw and heard something at another place, but could do stuff and sense stuff from far away: you could feel its temperature, kick its tires, smell its roses.  It wasn't just video, not even just immersive video, but it carried all the elements of "being there."  But it was a rationed commodity - it was one-of-a-kind lab cookups with miles of cable in universities, it was driving your robot on Mars in science fiction, it was doctoral dissertations backed up with fragments of machinery and sparks.  
More recently, "telepresence" became applied to a small corner of teleconferencing, what's now known as "immersive telepresence."  This usage started gaining traction when Polycom's Destiny division (TeleSuite at the time) began shipping it with PictureTel components in 1993; that's what my company, Polycom still calls it, and it's a pretty good description.  It's the whole room:  controlled lighting, spectacular audio, flawless transport and one-button operation if you want to push a button (you can have a conference without pushing that button, too).  It's a wonderful experience.  And yes, it's expensive because it carries multiple channels of HD Video, spatial HD audio, and includes everything you need, right down to ceiling panels and chairs.  If you want a no-excuses, best-in-the-world experience for a high-end application like a board of directors, it's a good way to go.  But it's not the only "telepresence" out there.  
Telepresence has acquired many shades of gray since its early days, and there are some distinctions that some people are only now catching on to.  Not all telepresence is big, brilliant, and quiveringly expensive anymore; some is big, brilliant, and priced to make a CFO smile.  In the same way that cars come in styles and prices from Maserati to Kia, "telepresence" is now applied to anything from those higher-end immersive systems to a simple HD desktop system. If it's well done, it can even be used to describe a handheld experience!  
As quality and understanding continues to increase, more systems are becoming increasingly "telepresent," and as UC continues to mature, these different kinds of systems can talk easily to one another.  That's one of the great things about open standards: they allow handheld video to connect to a half-million dollar immersive system, which radically boosts the value proposition, the usefulness, and the quality of experience for everyone who participates.
If you find yourself pondering telepresence, give serious thought to how you plan to use it,  and what your specific needs are.  If you're thinking "video," think "telepresence."  It's almost guaranteed that there's a telepresence solution out there that fits your needs, and your budget.   
Don't listen to anyone who tells you that telepresence is just for the rich.  When it comes to "telepresence," you're rich now too!