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The Path to Unified Collaboration – A Salesperson Seeks Enlightenment

By Jenny Wisehart

As a previous and current InfoComm exhibitor, I have logged my fair share of hours on booth duty, but this year I am expanding my show experience by taking in some educational sessions.  As an AV integrations salesperson I am trying to get a handle on the unified collaboration market, as my corporate customers are blurring the lines between their AV and IT departments  ( in some cases there is no distinction), and yearning to bring the flexibility of consumer video interaction to the enterprise level. I admittedly struggle to understand the more complex technical aspects of UC (remember me salesperson, no engineer), but need to wade in nonetheless.

At first look it is hard not to view the move to UC as a big commitment for an end-user, which appears to mean a full stop infrastructure change away from traditional VTC collaboration tools. This in turn disconnects the user from partners and customers that still use a H.323 platform.  Add to that the required buy in and parallel implementation by the customer’s IT department of a chosen platform/approach, and you have a new challenge for someone (me) traditionally concerned with traditional AV solutions. With these preconceived notions I signed up for a couple of UC-related manufacturer session (Crestron/Microsoft Lync and Cisco) in hopes of getting some basic understanding of what the shift to UC is all about.


Being manufacturer based presentations I expected I would be learning about the offering, and implementation overview, and in that sense the session delivered, though at an accelerated pace. However I also had some questions, and was hoping for clarification. Specifically, what are the limitations of communication and/or use of feature sets across varying platforms and solutions?  Is there a way to help a customer make a gradual change from a H.323 standard and implement a blend between UC and VTC during transition?


The first question is based on what I know about the customer. What the customer wants is to be able to use all these different flavors of video and communication end points and integrate them into one universal collaboration system. They want  a version of a protocol droid, a real-life C3PO that can take their various standards and features sets, SIP and H.323, and have it all work together seamlessly for any end-point user who wants to join the fun of a collaborative remote activity.


The hard news is it is not that simple.  What I learned today is the communication can be made to work between H.323 and SIP standards, but some feature sets may suffer in the process. This is going to be the challenging sell to the end user that still struggles to understand why the features vary on their cross-platform VTC systems depending on which codec initiates a call. But these end-users are going to have to make a choice, and they are going to expect my ilk to help them be informed. When faced with all the various ifs, ands, and buts associated with this migration to UC, I can see the potential for a user going in a vicious circle of indecision while they try to determine whether to go down a Microsoft Lync road that will integrate with their Crestron control and switching infrastructure, or a Jabber and Webex-based UC platform that will be compatible with the new direction of Cisco. (These by no means are the only options just the ones I learned about today.) Something will need to be left behind, features will have to be sacrificed, and the answer as to what will be the best choice is a complex one.  It will likely need to take some long discussions of use case for each room and the collective needs of the users (as if that is some finite or quantifiable thing, ever), and a (ha ha) consensus reached that will make all users happy enterprise wide.


Which leads to the next questions: How do I help my customer transition in a way that doesn’t make them feel like they have spent money on a long-term infrastructure that is now being yanked out from under them?  What are the safe and easy stepping stones to transition? There is no easy answer that I can glean from today’s sessions. On the Crestron/Microsoft Lync side, there is the potential to employ a service like BlueJeans or TrueUC, a hosted conferencing service that can tie it all together, while in the background a user migrates from traditional VTC to a UC solution.  Or if the Cisco path is chosen, there are ways to put the UCM in line with the VTC use those gateways to bring in endpoints. Again, both ways can limit feature sets for certain video endpoints, and assessing what features are required, and what can be sacrificed will play into the decision of how best to implement a transition plan.


Ultimately my take away from the sessions was I still don’t fully understand the limitations of trying to pull the old together with the new, or how best to step a customer into the new world of UC. I thought I might get these answers in these session, but now understand I was asking the hard questions that don’t yet have nice neat answers. There is much more to learn, and I took a first step today.  UC is an emerging market, and what better time than now to get educated.

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Related Topics: Unified Communications

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The editors of Sound & Video Contractor post live from InfoComm as the news happens. Check back several times a day for the latest industry news, reports from press conferences, and product introductions.


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