When it comes to unified communications, the biggest challenge to date has been getting products from one company to work with those of another, even if they used similar (or the same) underlying technologies. Whether it was Polycom, Logitech’s LifeSize, Hewlett-Packard or Microsoft — they were all islands of their own. Now, along with Juniper Networks, these companies have created a Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF), an alliance aimed at removing all the annoyances around unified communications. In plain English — they all want their products to work with each other. The group has already attracted members including VoIP companies such as Acme Packet and BroadSoft.
With the unified communications market expected to grow to $14.5 billion by 2015, it makes perfect sense for all these companies to interoperate. The changing nature of work is forcing people to use video and audio conferencing more frequently, along with newer forms of collaboration tools. It becomes tough for companies to work together if their communications gear doesn’t talk to each other. From that perspective, UCIF is a great first step.
I think that if UCIF wants to be successful over the long term, it needs to work with Skype, which in my view is becoming the de facto leader in low-latency, low-cost and easy-to-use collaboration tools. Small and new web companies in particular are shunning expensive gear and using Skype for all their communication needs.
One company that is conspicuous by its absence in this alliance? Cisco Systems. The San Jose, Calif.-based networking giant is the big gorilla in this market, thanks to it lavish spending to promote its Telepresence solutions and its recent acquisition of Tandberg. Cisco does and will continue to work as an island because as a company it stands to benefit handsomely by selling its own hardware. So it’s safe to say that the UCIF is a broadside against Cisco.