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Recapping the 2013 Recaps

January 31, 2014

In case you missed the December flurry of 2013 UC tech recaps and 2014 UC predictions, here’s our take on some of the key drivers and trends that shaped the UC market in 2013 and what’s ahead for the 2014 market.

The 2013 Buzz – Most of the dialogue last year was around Unified Communications as a Service (UCaaS), B2B UC Collaboration, social networking software for the enterprise, WebRTC and the as yet, fully realized promises of these technologies.

The Rise of UC as a Service (UCaaS)

Between 2012 and 2013, NextPlane conducted an internal study tracking the key trends in the Fortune 1000 (F1000) UC market. The study examined the externally published XMPP and SIP records for known F1000 domain names which showed:

  • Federation-readiness
  • The UC platform vendor
  • Hosted vs. on-premises UC platforms

The study revealed that there was a 188% growth rate in the number of F1000 companies moving from on premises UC platforms to hosted or UC-as-a-Service (UCaaS) deployments. Additionally, the study showed a 59% growth rate in organizations that are deploying both SIP and XMPP-based platforms.

These statistics show that the 2013 market space was fluid and that there was a lot of migration activity. There were a number of new hosted platforms along with more customers switching from on-premises platforms to hosted and cloud-based platforms. A large percentage of customers also switched from one vendor to another in the hopes of finding a more holistic unification of communication modes.

Collaborative Communities Take the Center Stage

Most analysts viewed 2013 as a lackluster year for UC and some analysts like Dave Michels were outright pessimistic about the events of 2013. Michel’s states in his January 7, 2014, Unified Communications Strategies article titled 2013 was a Reboot Year,  “Unfortunately, the promise of rich UC federation between organizations largely remains a fantasy. Inter-organizational HD audio is still the exception. Presence took a step backwards when Google dropped support of XMPP. Oddly, most federation examples are for like-to-like systems. This is progress? Even worse, not all UC vendors even support that.”

However, even if 2013 was not a blockbuster year for UC technologies, I do believe that there was progress on many fronts as enterprises continued to recognize the benefits of UC technologies and in particular, the rich possibilities of B2B UC collaboration.

It’s clear that collaborative communities are becoming mainstream as evidenced by the growth of NextPlane’s UC Exchange. In February of 2013, 85 companies had joined UC Exchange. As of January of 2014, 166 companies around the world belong to UC Exchange. This represents a 100 % growth rate!

Our usage statistics also point to increased enterprise adoption of UC. In 2012, UC Exchange had 218 provisioned domains with over 190,000 users. As of December 2013 we had 626 total provisioned domains, 423 federations, and close to 230,000 unique users who exchanged quarter of billion messages per month. These numbers clearly point to increased growth and rapid adoption trends that will continue as UC B2B collaboration becomes a key component of daily enterprise business processes.

In October, NextPlane announced that The NextPlane UC Exchange Collaboration and Federation Service is being used by the global financial institutions under the name Markit Collaboration Services (MCS). Members include Thomson Reuters, Markit, Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Barclays, Citi, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, GFI Group, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley.

The global financial services collaborative community will enable people in all parts of the world-wide capital markets industry to communicate and share information seamlessly and securely. The service, which was developed in close coordination with financial institutions, is intended to offer a better alternative to Bloomberg terminals, allowing market participants on disparate UC platforms to collaborate.

The service has been well received by the financial services industry, and adoption of the service is gaining momentum.  Evidence of this is a recent Wall Street Journal article reporting that Goldman Sachs plans to ban traders from using computer messaging services from Bloomberg, Yahoo! AOL and several other third party providers “in a bid to protect proprietary information at the heart of its sales-and-trading operations.” (Goldman Looks to Ban Some Chat Services Used by Traders, WSJ, January 23, 2014)  The article goes on to indicate that the firm has backed the Markit Collaboration Service – which provides an alternative to Bloomberg and 3rd party messaging solutions.

The End of Public IM Connectivity

Two events critically influenced the social media landscape last year. Microsoft Lync Public IM Connectivity User Subscription Licenses (“PIC USL”) were effectively discontinued and Google dropped support for the XMPP protocol.

As of September 1st, 2012, PIC USL was no longer available as part of new or renewing agreements. Customers with active licenses will be able to continue to federate with Yahoo! Messenger until the service shut down date (sometime in 2014).

This puts organizations in tough spot if they already offered, as part of Microsoft Lync or OCS, Yahoo! Messenger federation for their end-users. If they open firewalls and modify security rules to allow Yahoo! Messenger traffic on their corporate networks they could potentially expose their company to a myriad of security, regulatory, reputational, and other risks. This is especially true in highly regulated companies, such as banks and energy companies, where Yahoo! Messenger is a fairly common tool among energy traders.

On May 15, 2013, Google announced a unified messaging system called Hangouts, which ties its disparate communication services together. The new service replaces Google Talk, Google+ Messenger, and the original Google+ Hangouts video chat service. Hangouts will eventually replace all of Google’s communication properties and will be available for Android, iOS, and the web using Google’s Chrome extension.

Unfortunately, the announcement indicates that Google Hangouts does not support the XMPP protocol for federated communications. The impact of Google’s decision is that users of any XMPP-based UC platform (or any SIP based platform using an XMPP gateway) will not be able to communicate with any users who adopt Google Hangouts. Our May 29, 2013 blog Google Dropping XMPP Imprisons Millions of GApps Users Behind the Iron Wall of Hangouts – the Ultimate Irony of UC Interoperability describes the details of Google’s decision and the ramifications for the UC market.

Social Software for Enterprise – Work in Progress

All of the key UC players now have a social enterprise offering – Microsoft (Yammer), IBM (Connections), Cisco (WebEx Social), and Google (Google Hangouts) and there’s a host of other solution providers such as Salesforce.com (Chatter), and VMware (Socialcast).

Our take on the 2013 developments in this area is that despite the availability of new social media tools, none of the UC vendors have been able to successfully integrate their social enterprise with their UC platforms. Moreover, some vendors’ social enterprise software competes with their sister UC offerings by offering presence and chat. And, at the same time, none of the social enterprise solution providers have been able to add UC&C (Unified Communications and Collaboration) capabilities into their solutions. Most rely on 3rd party developers.

We believe that there are two barriers to successfully integrating UC and social enterprise. The first is figuring out the right balance between asynchronous and synchronous modes of communications. The second is understanding how today’s workers perceive the use of social media in the workplace and their inherent discomfort with using the technology for day-to-day business communication.

As Blair Pleasant states in her SearchUnifiedCommunications article, Social Software and UC create Collaborative Communications, “As an asynchronous means of communication, social software has its limitations. While it’s great for providing textual and visual information, making connections, and finding the resources and expertise needed, it needs to go one step further by enabling real-time voice interactions. Here’s a typical scenario: I’m reading my Twitter stream and see that someone responded to one of my tweets. I can send a reply or a direct message to the person, and we can send tweets and messages back and forth to each other discussing the topic. This is fine in many situations, but sometimes a real-time voice interaction is needed. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to “click-to-call” from within Twitter (or Facebook, Jive, Yammer or any other social software solution) and have a voice or video interaction, rather than sending text messages back and forth?

That’s where unified communications comes into play. Social software helps to build communities and engage in discussions about a variety of topics. Enterprise social software makes it possible to find the people you need, based on expertise, projects they’re working on, communities of interest, etc. Add UC to the mix, and you can view the presence and availability of people you want to interact with, then communicate directly from the social software client via voice or even a Web or video conference.” This is the synchronous communication point that is critical to the social media user experience.

We would also like to point out that this generation of enterprise workers is not particularly comfortable with the idea of using social media in the workplace. We are still far more comfortable with the idea of attaching a file to an email, calling, or actually having a face-to-face conversation with a co-worker about a business issue. It’s safe to assume that by the time our children enter the workplace, they will be entirely comfortable using social media for business purposes and the UC vendors will have successfully integrated the various disparate tools that we are currently struggling with in the UC social media space.

WebRTC – Full of Potential and Promise

While WebRTC was hailed as the “next big thing” in 2013, we tend to agree with  Dave Michels  on this one too. Again quoting from his article 2013 Was a Reboot Year, “The good news for the WebRTC advocates is they can reuse posts that proclaim “WebRTC will be big next year.” The giant disruption got held up in committee, when the IETF took a page from the Congressional Handbook on compromise and shut down its progress. WebRTC applications continue to increase in quantity and scope, and there’s a sound argument to go ahead and engage, but the magic really happens after broad support. Two of the largest web browser providers have yet to show any interest in WebRTC. Without broad support, it’s really not much different than existing plugins.”

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