Wow, thank you for all your feedback and email I received on my last post Is Google Voice a Game Changer? I do appreciate it. Here I want expand the discussion around delivering business communications as a Service, and ask what role the voice vendors will play.
Even if Google Voice is primarily consumer focused, it still has merit. What I believe Google has accomplished with its Google Voice launch (only available in the US so far) is to instill a bit of fear with carriers, network providers and even with voice equipment vendors. People go: Google did WHAT? You’re telling me that Google can liberate me from the stronghold of my service provider, circumventing roaming charges, one number, aggregated voicemail etc. Wow, that’s very cool... I want that.
It’s not that I think Google Voice represents technical innovation or feature superiority over what other service providers in the voice space can provide today. The issue is that these other providers don’t have the audience and mindshare to be fully heard yet. On the other hand, Google does have scale and mindshare with us, both as individuals and as consumers in order to bring this type of service model to forefront. Perhaps Google has illuminated what “some-what-more-intelligent” communications is to more people. If so, that is good.
But Google Voice is not business grade and is certainly not a full featured Unified Communication (UC) solution. But for a business who can’t afford an IT staff to manage a UC solution, the alternatives aren’t that obvious. Full featured UC solutions are still complicated to deploy, and the operational footprint is too large for the vast majority of small and medium businesses to seriously consider it. Various types of service providers (SIP, FMC, high-speed broadband) have recognized this and are working feverishly to put themselves in a position to deliver communications capabilities in the network, as a service. However, their biggest challenge is establishing the right sales channels.
What about the voice vendors…are they in a position to deliver UC as a service? No, not yet. Even if Cisco did acquire the voice conferencing service WebEx in 2007, it’s still just one slice of the UC spectrum. The fact is; the business model for most voice vendors is still based on selling hardware equipment and software licenses through an indirect sales channel. But in a world where software and services, embedded in the network is becoming more common, what role will they play?
Question: Which of the leading voice vendors (Cisco, Avaya, Siemens EC, Shoretel, Mitel etc.), do you think will be first in evolving their business model to include Communication as a Service, either as a complement or as an alternative to premise based equipment? Alternatively, who will be first to acquire or create a meaningful joint venture with a network/service provider or a Fixed-Mobile Convergence (FMC) provider? Such a move would open up many more sales channels and make UC more accessible for the small and medium businesses.