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

Unified communications users weigh vendor consolidation

Unified communications users shared their successes and setbacks, with vendor consolidation as a key theme in a panel discussion at Enterprise Connect 2017.

ORLANDO, FLA. -- AIG has some communication challenges, but the insurance giant also sees opportunity. The company has been recovering from the financial crisis of 2008, and as a result, AIG has not invested in its technology infrastructure for many years.   

Half of AIG's remote clients join meetings by manually dialing a phone and punching in a 10-digit code, said Mirril McMullen, AIG's collaboration product manager. McMullen said he would like to implement newer calling technologies, such as users clicking on a URL to video chat. Basically, he said, he wants users to stop dialing phones. But changing end-user habits can be hard.

McMullen sees these obstacles as opportunities. Conferencing and collaboration, in particular, need extra attention at AIG.

"We're at a beginner stage of learning how to collaborate at AIG," he said. "We're still dialing the phones." 

Many companies just starting collaboration efforts

Most likely, AIG isn't alone, said Robin Gareiss, president of Nemertes Research, an advisory firm based in Mokena, Ill.

"I think there are more companies out there than most people realize that are in that position," she said. "I don't think what [AIG is] experiencing is uncommon."

Often, while assessing unified communications, industry observers can get wrapped up in innovative visions and where communications might be headed, Gareiss said. This futuristic vision can be especially true at conferences like Enterprise Connect, taking place this week in Orlando, Fla.

"We come to a conference like this and think everyone is on the verge of doing team chat or other applications. Or are there more companies that are doing what AIG is doing?"

Gareiss and McMullen were on an Enterprise Connect panel yesterday exploring UC users' successes and setbacks, particularly around cloud, team collaboration security and vendor consolidation.

Enterprise Connect 2017 user panel
Enterprise Connect 2017 user panel included IT pros from various industries, including government, health care and food services.

Vendor consolidation streamlines choices

To get people to stop dialing phone numbers, McMullen said he has a two-pronged opportunity. On the front end, he needs to improve the user interface or experience. On the back end, he needs to consolidate suppliers, including multiple web conferencing suppliers, he said.

"We have a 2018 goal to get to a single solution," he said. "We're bringing it together, slowly." Vendor consolidation was a common thread weaving its way through the user panel.

Cigna, a 40,000-user health care company, has spent the last five years centralizing and modernizing its infrastructure, including network, voice and contact center, said Ben Schunk, Cigna's director of enterprise voice and video engineering. Now, Cigna is looking to solve a collaboration problem, as the company has services from Cisco, Microsoft and others.

"We created a lot of choices for our users," Schunk said, "and the choices became part of the problem." Cigna's now looking to figure out how to "make the collaboration experience something that the user doesn't have to think about," like starting a meeting seamlessly.

Vendor consolidation could ease hiring

Yum! Brands Inc., which operates Taco Bell and KFC, has a mix of multiple platforms, including Cisco, Microsoft and other vendors' tools. The company spent the last year trying to figure out how to simplify and consolidate down to one system, said Christopher Abrams, director of corporate systems. The Yum! IT group has been working with different departments to determine their business needs.

For the most part, Yum! plans to be a one-vendor user, while potentially using another vendor for video.

"We're going to pick one vendor and stick with that because it's a lot easier to hire talent that's focused on that [rather] than spreading it around. Will we get there? I don't know," Abrams said. "We're going to stick with one vendor where we can."

For AIG, McMullen said he is focused on video services and contact center. He hopes to provide both clients and users with some innovative communications with maybe even a smidge of artificial intelligence

"I have a great opportunity to turn AIG around from a conferencing and collaboration space," he said. "It's a lot of work, but there's so much opportunity today that we just can't wait to get started."

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