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Siemens Enterprise's big UC gamble could pay off

With its new Ansible UC platform, Siemens Enterprise gives users the ease-of-use other products are lacking.

Back in the 60s, science fiction author Ursula Guin published a novel called "Rocannon’s World" in which a device, called an “Ansible,” would allow users to receive instantaneous or superluminal communications over interstellar distances. With this machine, users can send and receive any kind of message to a similar device over any distance without any delay. Seems like an Ansible would make a great unified communications device!

Well, almost 40 years later, Siemens Enterprise (SEN) announced its own Ansible at the company’s analyst conference last week in Denver. Ansible is the company’s all new, reinvented UC platform that is supposed to be significantly easier to use and leverages WebRTC to make it easy to deploy, as all that’s needed is a browser. Although any kind of public demonstration of Ansible is being kept under wraps, the company described as a new UC platform that can deliver better real-time engagement to increase employee productivity. Ansible will deliver a fully aggregated and integrated experience across social software, business applications, video, voice and analytics to deliver an exceptional user experience.

At the event, Chief Commercial Officer Chris Hummel challenged the entire UC industry. He stated that despite the fact that collaboration is at top of mind for almost every company today, the UC market remains cold. It’s not just Siemens that’s feeling the lack of UC momentum; it’s the entire industry. Why is that, you may ask? It’s because none of the UC vendors make a solution that’s easy to use. In fact, as the solution providers look to integrate cloud, video, social media, mobility and other “hot” trends, the market gets even more complicated.

I do believe that each UC tool provides value, but each one is a single communications thread. How many times have you been in a virtual meeting where there’s a web conferencing application used to share data, an audio bridge opened for voice, a chat session for one-on-one conversations and video so you can “see” other individuals. This is a highly complicated and inefficient way to deliver “unified” communications. Now, in fairness to the vendors, delivering a truly unified experience wasn’t really possible due to the different standards and platforms that were available. This is why SEN’s decision to leverage WebRTC is so important. WebRTC can bring together video, audio and web capabilities and deliver it via a standardized web browser. For mobility, SEN will build native Android and iOS-based clients, which should be sufficient to handle the majority of the market.

The vision of Ansible is certainly in line with the direction the UC industry needs to move in. The big question is can SEN actually pull this off? The company has gone through financial turmoil, was taken private by Gore group several years ago, and then merged with Enterasys Networks, a company with its own challenges. In fact, last year SEN was supposed to change its name and re-launch the company, but a soft market prompted SEN management to postpone it. It appears that the new brand and re-launch is back on and will coincide with the release of Ansible in October of 2013.

New brand, new product, and a new attitude for a company that’s been through the ringer over the past five years. Now the hard work begins, as the company will need to focus on go-to-market, branding, channel and customer adoption issues. These issues are much more difficult than building products and speaking about vision. It appears that the company is willing to do the work and drop the money required to regain the mojo that it hasn’t had in almost a decade.

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