This content is part of the Conference Coverage: Enterprise Connect 2017 conference coverage

Team collaboration apps headline Enterprise Connect 2017

Slack, Cisco Spark, Microsoft Teams and other team collaboration apps are tweaking traditional UC systems. Plus, Amazon and Google enter the fray as potential players.

Team collaboration apps and the recent emergence of Amazon and Google in the unified communications space are expected to be big topics next week at Enterprise Connect 2017.

Slack and other team collaboration apps have emerged recently to tweak the status quo in the UC industry. These team collaboration apps are starting to flex their muscles and bulk up into full-fledged platforms.

Amazon and Google, meantime, have surfaced to challenge the Cisco versus Microsoft dynamic and offer users alternative products. The cloud versus on-premises debate should also feature prominently at Enterprise Connect, which runs from March 27 to 30 in Orlando, Fla.

In addition to team collaboration apps, the topics of artificial intelligence, communication APIs and developer-focused initiatives should be top trends at the conference. To get a handle on all these issues and more, SearchUnifiedCommunications spoke with Irwin Lazar, a UC analyst, vice president and service director at Nemertes Research in Mokena, Ill. This will be Lazar's 15th Enterprise Connect.

What are the big themes this year at Enterprise Connect?

Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes ResearchIrwin Lazar

Irwin Lazar: I think team collaboration apps are going to be the biggest talking point. For instance, where does Slack fit in? Should you be thinking about Microsoft Teams and Cisco Spark instead of Skype for Business and Cisco Jabber? The Cisco-Microsoft dynamic is always big.

Also, Amazon is making a splash, and Google has refocused and come up with new products after not aggressively positioning itself in the UC space. [Google has] almost reinvented itself in the last couple weeks with Hangouts Chat and the Next announcements they made. It's been Cisco and Microsoft for so many years. Now, is it Cisco, Microsoft, Slack, Amazon and Google? Are those companies going to gain a toehold in the enterprise? I think that's a big dynamic.

What does this activity mean for users?

Lazar: I think it's really good, because our numbers show Microsoft has such a huge, dominant position as of late and continuing to grow. We talk with organizations trying to figure out if there's an alternative. Either they had issues with Microsoft or they don't want to be completely subservient to Microsoft. They want to pit somebody against them.

On the voice and video side, you have Cisco or Avaya. But in the broader suite of document collaboration, social collaboration, email and messaging, it's really just Google and Microsoft. Google hasn't had a coherent story to tell for the last couple years, but it's recommitting itself to the space.

Amazon is starting to patch together a service that could look like Office 365 if they link all the pieces. I think it's good news for enterprises. It puts some pressure on Microsoft; it puts some pricing pressure on them. It gives enterprises the ability to look at different alternatives.

Where's WebRTC?

WebRTC emerged on the unified communications scene about six years ago. The open source technology embeds real-time voice, text and video communications into web browsers.

In recent years, Enterprise Connect featured a daylong series of sessions on WebRTC. This year, however, event organizers scrapped the idea. WebRTC panels have been cut from seven last year to just two this year.

Irwin Lazar, vice president and service director at Nemertes Research, served as co-chair of the WebRTC conference. He had this to say about the scaled-down WebRTC sessions:

We scaled it back for a couple reasons. From the enterprise perspective, it's not as exciting or hot as a technology that enterprises are specifically deploying. You don't see enterprises building their own WebRTC-based applications.

Instead, they're buying off-the-shelf services -- like CafeX, Cisco Spark and Vidyo -- that deliver WebRTC-based services. [Enterprises] are getting the value of implementing browser-based access to video conferences, click-to-call, click-to-chat services for customer-facing websites.

The technology's somewhat matured. Most organizations have some kind of WebRTC applications even if they don't know it. [WebRTC] was probably overhyped, but it's also been overtaken by APIs and communications platform as a service, which leverage WebRTC to provide integration of voice and video into web-based apps.

What does Avaya's bankruptcy tell us about the industry?

Lazar: Telephony is definitely mature and a slow-growth market, and that's where Avaya made most of its money. They didn't catch on to the cloud. Although, Zang has them positioned where they needed to be in terms of where the market is going. But they didn't adapt quickly enough to cloud and were too married to aging, on-premises approaches to delivering services.

For the industry, you're seeing companies struggle that didn't see cloud coming and didn't aggressively move to cloud. It's been hurting Cisco. Their numbers have been pretty flat in their collaboration group. You've seen it in legacy vendors. The channels are very difficult to transition to cloud.

Companies like RingCentral and 8x8 are putting up phenomenal growth numbers and not encumbered by dealing with channels that were making money off hardware.

But are customers more on premises than we think?

Lazar: They are more on premises today than you would probably think, but their direction is definitely cloud. In a study I did on larger companies, more than 40% were planning on getting onto cloud; although, only 9% were on cloud at this point. Some studies we've done on the smaller, midsize market, you see significantly higher numbers.

It's become harder to justify why you're not on cloud.
Irwin Lazaranalyst at Nemertes Research

It's become harder to justify why you're not on cloud. Agility seems to drive cloud more than anything else. People don't want their internal resources supporting phone and video systems. They don't want to be stuck in five-year upgrade cycles. They want to take advantage of new features and shift IT into doing something more productive than managing phone numbers.

Is the cloud now more secure and expensive than on-premises systems?

Lazar: Our TCO [total cost of ownership] data last year showed the cloud was slightly more expensive, especially for larger companies. If you buy a perpetual license and depreciate the equipment, it becomes almost free after a few years. With cloud, you're constantly paying every year on a per-user basis. And, often, those fees are being driven up.

[Cloud's] not significantly expensive, but if you're a larger company going to cloud because you think it's going to save a lot of money, then that probably won't work. Smaller companies definitely have the potential to save money.

Cloud security has been interesting. Earlier this year, we found 44% of participants in our study consider cloud to be more secure than on premises. Only 18% consider it to be less secure, which is a complete sea change.

We're finding IT can't keep up with the threats out there. The sense is now, 'I can't do security as well as Google, Amazon, Cisco or Microsoft. So, I'm going to put my data in their hands and hope they have a better grasp of emerging threats than I do.'     

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