For as long as I’ve been doing sessions at Enterprise Connect, one of the best cheap applause lines for a moderator on the main stage has been to chide the various vendor panelists for their products’ lack of interoperability. It always hits a nerve with the enterprise attendees, and the vendors’ responses are generally unconvincing, which tends to fit with the audience’s expectations.
Some vendors are thinking about interoperability, however. At Enterprise Connect Orlando 2018, Jonathan Rosenberg, then CTO of Cisco’s Collaboration Group (and now with Five9), demoed the ability to join a Webex meeting from Microsoft Skype for Business. “As much as we compete, we can’t imagine a world without Microsoft,” Rosenberg told the audience.
Now Highfive has taken it a step farther with a newly-launched product it calls Meeting Connector. As my colleague Ryan Daily reported in No Jitter last week, Meeting Connector can accept any client that dials into it with a SIP link; so far Highfive has successfully tested the feature with Zoom, BlueJeans, and Webex clients.
These are all promising developments, but meaningful interoperability is tough to scale. If not every vendor is willing to play, then the gaps in interoperability are likely to frustrate users, who won’t want to spend a lot of time figuring out which client can call into which system. For now, the meeting system providers all have Web clients that at least offer some promise of a PSTN-like lowest common denominator.
But even if true interoperability continues to be a struggle, that doesn’t mean there aren’t times when the vendors—even the fiercest of competitors—won’t work together. The era of IP, communications APIs, and team collaboration does seem to be fostering integration at a level that removes some of the friction for users.
Oracle this week announced that its Oracle Digital Assistant would integrate with Microsoft Teams, providing Teams users with access to Oracle Cloud Applications. Oracle framed this move in the context of the major announcement this summer that its Oracle Cloud would interconnect with Microsoft Azure, letting enterprises run parts of a workload in each cloud.
The most recent integration will improve the end user’s experience, reducing “context change,” as Bhrighu Sareen, GM of Microsoft Teams Platform, said in a press release statement. Like other integrations of this sort, it eliminates the need for users to switch between applications. In Oracle’s case, this new integration provides users the ability “to complete tasks like viewing a sales pipeline in Oracle CX without leaving Teams,” Sareen said.
While being able to stay within Teams makes things easier for users, it’s also a key goal for Microsoft itself as it fights the next generation of communications platform wars with Slack and Cisco. The belief is that whichever vendor owns the end user will be the winner.
Slack really pioneered and pushed hardest on this model, where the value of the collaboration client depends heavily on how many integrations it supports. That Microsoft seems to be taking a significant step in that same direction may suggest that we’ll see widespread integrations as the default model for team collaboration applications.
The biggest vendors will always have the least to gain from direct interoperability, but they may be the ones with the most to gain from integrations. These big vendors, after all, tend to have diverse product lines, with many applications and services outside the boundaries of the communications industry. That may mean the companies’ overall business imperatives could dictate that growing the power and importance of these broader offerings is a more important goal than controlling user behavior too tightly within a given application.
To paraphrase the old song: That may not be interoperability, but it will have to do… until the real thing comes along.