Enterprise Connect 2015 Update Day 1

Get seven big vendors on the stage, and the talk is always going to get around to interoperability pretty quickly. That’s generally been the case with the Monday Unified Communications Summit at Enterprise Connect, and this year was no exception-though the conversation took a markedly new shape.

With a standing-room-only crowd, this UC Summit was the first general session of a show that started out with jam-packed breakout sessions on Contact Centers, UC user adoption, WebRTC, and desk phones among others. The diversity of popular sessions suggests the breadth of challenges facing enterprise decision-makers-from that chunk of plastic on the desk to the standard that puts everything in a Web browser that the old workhorse deskphone used to provide.

When it comes to the topic that dominated the UC Summit, interoperability used to be about make Vendor A’s stuff talk to Vendor C’s stuff and then Vendor M’s stuff. But people are increasingly consuming communications applications in new ways, and some panelists suggested that this may make the solution to the interoperability challenge different-or maybe eliminate the challenge altogether.

Rowan Trollope, GM of Cisco’s Collaboration business unit, quoted his CTO, Jonathan Rosenberg, who said: “Virality is the new interoperability.” By which he means that if you need to collaborate with someone and you don’t use compatible tools, you just agree to both get onto the same tool-presumably one that’s gone viral and acquired some level of credibility as a result. What this leaves you with is a situation like Rowan Trollope said he has-179 apps on his smartphone, 15 of which are messaging apps, some of those having only 1 or 2 people he regularly communicates with. And that’s just how things are in the new world.

Adam Swidler, Technology Evangelist at Google for Work, echoed this point, describing the “disintermediation of services” that’s happening, driven by mobile usage patterns. He pointed out that Facebook responded to user demand by splitting out its Messenger app, and said Google was following the same pattern in splitting Hangouts from Google Plus.

“The users have spoken, and what they want is very simple, very purpose-built apps,” said Swidler, whose appearance marks Google’s debut on the Enterprise Connect main stage-itself a statement of how things are changing.

Josh Haslett, VP of Systems Engineering at Mitel, said the game is changing for traditional vendors who have wanted to control the endpoint since the days of proprietary telephone signaling protocols. “I don’t think taking desktop real estate and branding it is going to be the answer,” Haslett said. “It’s not about branding, it’s about enabling.”

Gary Barnett, Senior VP and GM, Engagement Solutions at Avaya, agreed that, “The user interface is not what to us will be relevant. Instead, Barnett stressed that the role of platforms like Avaya’s will be to tie together various elements on the back end-a critical aspect that won’t just go away in a viral-app world of the future, for one key reason: Investment protection, aka the installed base.

A case in point came from Zig Serafin, Corporate VP, Skype Business Services at Microsoft, who pointed out that he and Cisco’s Rowan Trollope were meeting this week and had already reached agreements between the two companies to allow video from Cisco Telepresence endpoints to be dropped into Skype for Business (formerly Lync) video conferences. So if Cisco and Microsoft are talking interoperability-at all-it could be a sign that things are changing.

So whether you need interoperability among different vendors or different generations of products from the same vendor-and let’s face it, enterprises today still do-the UC vendors you’ve been used to dealing with are prepared to at least make some of the right promises and recognize that these challenges haven’t gone away even in the new world.

But Google’s Adam Swidler offered a harsh assessment of the pursuit of interoperability.  “The more you invest in interoperability today,” Swidler said,” the longer you’re going to be stuck with that legacy platform.”

This content first appeared on http://www.nojitter.com/enterprise-connect