Meanwhile, the company is working with videoconferencing vendors to build adapters to communicate with IBM video infrastructure so, for example, IBM desktop video participants could join conferences anchored by Polycom videoconferencing gear, he said. The user case they're working on is collaboration with business partners who might not have IBM videoconferencing infrastructure, Ingram said. The list of those participating includes Cisco and Polycom but not Cisco's Tandberg gear or HP conferencing.
Even as he looks ahead to mobile collaboration, Rennie noted that businesses over the past 18 months have altered their view of UC, which blends presence and various modalities of real-time communication -- IM, phone calls, video -- with collaboration tools integrated with calendaring and corporate directories, and non-real-time communication such as texting and e-mail. Elements of IBM's UC offerings include Notes/Domino for messaging and calendaring; Lotus Connections for social collaboration; Lotus Quickr for team collaboration; SameTime for Unified Telephony; Lotus Live for on-premise or cloud collaboration. Avaya, Cisco Microsoft, Siemens and others rank among major competitors.
Whereas customers may have regarded UC as a package of tools that could be bought and installed, they now look at specific business processes, such as order fulfillment, from a desktop perspective rather than as a back-end resource, Rennie said. UC might have been deployed before for a siloed purpose such as a tool for contact-center agents, but now businesses see it with wider applications, he said.
CFOs, for instance can see the cost-saving benefits of enabling a business-analytics dashboard that pushes through work to the next stage by notifying the right person to handle it and pulling together conferences when needed. "We call it collaboration-enabled business processes," Rennie said.
Such an idea is in contrast to just promoting attractive UC features, such as finding people in a directory with appropriate skills for a task and whose presence information shows they are available in the right modality and then clicking on their name to reach them. That is the way IBM has been selling UC in the past, and that needed to change, says Don Van Doren, a principal with Unicomm Consulting.
"You can use the quick-to-communicate stuff," Van Doren says. "It's useful, but it doesn't touch the central concepts of unified communications and impact how companies can function differently. You need to get to the business guys and say there's a business-process bottleneck that costs them two days out of every business development cycle." And then show how UC can remove the bottleneck. But the task is daunting because that means pulling in top executives and line-of-business managers to help make the technology decisions with the IT staff, Van Doren says.
Even with that challenge, IBM is aligned to do well in battling its primary competitor, Microsoft, he says. Other UC vendors such as Cisco and Avaya come from the telephony end of communications, and he feels that software vendors with control of desktop software have the edge. One of IBM's strengths is that it already has desktop productivity software widely deployed in corporate networks where users are comfortable with it. And it is interoperable with Microsoft platforms, he says, making it possible to use products they have already bought. Specifically, IBM's strategy to enable putting IBM SameTime presence inside Microsoft's Outlook and SharePoint, making it attractive to businesses that have already invested in the Microsoft technologies, he says.