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Here’s how it has traditionally gone with vendor interoperability announcements: Enterprises berate their vendors and demand interoperability. Vendors pay the requisite lip service; sometimes they even make joint announcements promising to work together toward interoperability. Then… well… let’s just say the vendors are Lucy, interoperability is the football, and—guess what role that leaves you, the enterprise person, to play in this scenario.

So will this time be different?

There’s been a fair amount of buzz around this week’s announcement that Cisco and Microsoft will allow their video endpoints to interoperate with one another’s systems. And it’s not just these two archrivals; according to the above-linked post by Brent Kelly of KelCor, the pair’s most feared upstart competitor, Zoom, will also be able to interoperate with Cisco and Microsoft. Brent also believes that the new interoperability announcements will mean that Studio X endpoints from Poly, a longtime Microsoft partner, will also be able to work with rival Cisco’s Webex systems.

The optimistic view, then, is that large-scale interoperability is about to break out, and eventually, your end users will be able to walk into any conference room, and with one click seamlessly connect to any other conference room inside or outside of your enterprise, regardless of what vendor’s system the call is set up on and whose endpoint hardware and software the conference room uses.

In the past, the vendors haven’t found true interoperability to be in their interest. So if the above scenario comes to pass, it’ll only be because the vendors have decided they no longer believe walled gardens are in their interest. Can that really happen?

The best argument in favor of such a fundamental shift in attitude probably relates to network effects. Competition is hot and heavy to be the platform of choice in the video-driven future. There may be a competitive advantage for a vendor to be able to claim that its platform will work with any endpoint out there.

That wasn’t the case when enterprise communications was voice-based. In the old days of the PBX, phones weren’t a commodity, they were a cash cow. Vendors wanted every phone in a customer’s deployment to be a proprietary device that was only useful with the manufacturer’s PBX. And it made a difference in dollars and cents. The old rule of thumb was that telephone desk sets would account for one-fourth to one-third the cost of a new, potentially multimillion-dollar system installation.

Nowadays, even the phone lock-in is disappearing, as cheap, standardized SIP phones gain market share. And when you get to video, the endpoint situation is even more up in the air. Not all video endpoints are commodity devices, but lower-cost hardware will be the endpoints of choice for many installations, while the collaboration software that drives the endpoint is, in some cases, free.

So maybe the vendors are betting that the best way to capture the customer at the platform level is to leave the endpoint level open. If so, it’ll represent a fundamental change in the way enterprise communications vendors view this market. It’ll mean our industry will, at least in this segment, have truly moved on from the siloed ways of the past.

I’ll believe it when I see it. And by “it,” I don’t mean an isolated proof-of-concept demo on stage at Enterprise Connect. I have no doubt the vendors will deliver on the technology of interoperability. It’s about how they sell and support their products. To learn how that goes, only time will tell.

Speaking of Enterprise Connect, now’s a great time to register; we’re offering our lowest rates on Entire Event conference passes, and we’ve got almost 50 sessions posted for the Program. Check it out and register now—and as a newsletter reader, you can save an extra $200 by entering the code ECBLOG11 at checkout. I hope to see you in Orlando.

Eric Krapf
GM & Program Co-Chair Enterprise Connect & WorkSpace Connect
Publisher, No Jitter

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