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In 2011, enterprise communications has blossomed to include a wide range of technologies. It is no longer encompassed solely by voice, or data, or video. It's all these things combined, with portions of each mode embedded into the others. Mobile technologies, social networking, video, and more have dominated the direction of the market and pushed upheaval and change to the forefront. Enterprise communications has had to adjust along the way to an ever-evolving, always-moving stream of new technology.
This saga will be detailed by technology companies and industry experts at Enterprise Connect 2011, taking place at the Gaylord Palms Resort & Conventions Center, Orlando, Fla., Feb. 28 - March 3. InformationWeek caught up with Fred Knight, general manager of Enterprise Connect, to see what's in store for this year's event.
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For the first time in over a decade, VoiceCon will no longer be known as VoiceCon. The event has taken a new name -- Enterprise Connect -- to reflect the changes that have occurred in enterprise communications over the past 10 years.
"Enterprise Connect is the third name change for this event," said Knight. "The reason is the same as when we made the shift to VoiceCon. The reality of it is that a shift in the marketplace and a shift in the technology have demanded it. Over the past decade, as IP-based communications took off and mobility showed up, the program has shifted incrementally to reflect what the people who design, buy, and deploy enterprise communications focus on."
With the rapidly changing IT environment in mind, VoiceCon has been reborn as Enterprise Connect. Don't let the name change fool you, however. Even though Enterprise Connect is expanding its focus to look at the larger technology trends that are shaping communications moving into the 21st century (mobility, social media, etc.), it will still have the same great focus on enterprise communications it always has.
2011 Enterprise Communication Trends
As in every industry, trends have emerged in enterprise communications that paint a picture of where things are moving. This year, Enterprise Connect offers programming on the most prominent trends.
For the past four or five years, mobility has remained one of the fastest growing elements of the communications budget for U.S. businesses. It has accelerated further in the last two years with the surging popularity of smartphones such as Apple's iPhone and Google's Android platform. This has helped to precipitate and foster the notion of "B.Y.O.P." -- bring your own phone.
"The whole area of mobile device selection, management, contracting, pricing, and security has been enormous," noted Knight. Employees are no longer willing to accept whatever IT hands out. They want to choose. "End users are demanding the freedom to use what makes the most sense for them." This entails a number of challenges for IT, some of which will be addressed at Enterprise Connect.
There is a growing need for management tools so that IT can monitor what's going on within their organizations. The ability of enterprises to get a handle on how all the disparate systems are performing, secure those systems, and scale them to significant levels is all very much still a work in progress. Making these tools practical and pragmatic is a necessity.
"An awful lot of enterprises are flying blind," Knight said. "This is a battle that has by no means been won yet."
Another trend that has swept over the industry like a tidal wave is social networking. "We're seeing it more in a content space," said Knight, "where vendors have or will have significant tools that enable contact centers to use social networking to understand what their customers are saying about them -- whether it's negative or positive -- and provide appropriate responses." Keeping a handle on what's being said about your organization on the public Internet is becoming a core area to manage.
Microsoft's November 2010 announcement of the new Lync Server will play a large role in shaping the future of enterprise communications -- at least, so hopes Microsoft. "Lync is the latest iteration of a program called upon to develop a meaningful platform for enterprise communications," said Knight. It is the successor to Microsoft’s Office Communications Server product. It handles all the chores of corporate instant messaging, audio/video conferencing, and VoIP telephony in one package. It also plays nice with Exchange Server and SharePoint Server.
With Lync, Microsoft is trying to eliminate the PBX. Certainly the interest around Lync and what it does and doesn't do will be a focal point of Enterprise Connect and the year to come.
Last, video is everywhere, not just in enterprise meeting rooms. Knight indicated that the pricing for video services -- especially mobile video -- has dropped significantly in the last 12 months. With the lower price points and wider availability of video on products such as smartphones, Knight expects that Enterprise Connect's participants will have plenty of video products to show off.
At VoiceCon 2010, Apple's iPad had yet to hit the market, so the tablet craze hadn't begun. Now that Apple and its competitors have begun to flood the market with tablets, Enterprise Connect is singling them out as an enterprise tool.
"Tablets are not on the periphery at all," noted Knight. "We have a session devoted just to tablets and what they mean for the enterprise." Aside from performing as highly mobile computers, tablets are another device that IT managers have to worry about securing and managing. In addition, managers need to ascertain exactly how they can be put to productive use in the enterprise rather than just serve as an add-on computing platform.
The role of tablets in enterprise communications -- and unified communications in particular -- can be quite prevalent as IT figures out how to fold tablets into their specific business's needs.
"Some heavy-hitters will be at Enterprise Connect to talk about tablets and what they can do for the enterprise," said Knight. "Topics covered will include managing security and policies, how to operate them, on what networks, how to do so in a cost-effective manner, how to support and provision tablets, and, most importantly, how tablets will continue to define the role of applications and the cloud."
This year, the event is being broken up into eight main tracks to address key issues facing the enterprise: The Social Enterprise; Unified Communications; Planning/Implementing IP Telephony; Mobility; SIP and SIP Trunking; Video and Collaboration; The Cloud and Virtualization; and Managing Technology, Costs, and People. These eight main topics will help attendees create the experience that is best suited to their organization's needs and interests.
In addition to these tracks, Enterprise Connect 2011 will offer keynote addresses by industry executives and thought leaders; Coffee Talks, Breakout Sessions, Workshops, Deep Dives, and general sessions for information gathering.
Knight is particularly excited about the keynotes, which feature some of the industry's biggest names.
Avaya, Cicso, Microsoft, HP and Skype are all taking the stage during Enterprise Connect 2011. HP and Skype are both new to keynoting at Enterprise Connect this year. Certainly Skype's presence represents the emergence of the cloud and its potential to change how businesses approach enterprise communications. This becomes even more interesting if one considers Skype's video capabilities and its recent purchase of Qik.
The Coffee Talks will also offer a great opportunity for attendees to learn from peers. Apart from the title, there's no presentation. Instead, the Coffee Talks are to be used for those in attendance to share their story about what they've accomplished, what they hope to accomplish, or what sort of problems they've run into. The goal is to foster discussion.
"What I'm hoping people will take away is that we are on a fundamental path toward change in enterprise communications and how it is provided," said Knight. "It will be interesting to see just how far some enterprises have come and working out all these problems. It's not something that's going to take place in the future. Many major businesses are already deep into this IP-based migration. Some enterprises are much further along than others."