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Confessions of a UC Product Manager

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The product is there. Partners, its fate is in your hands

I joined ShoreTel four years ago as Collaboration Product Manager, with the mission to transform the ShoreTel IP Telephony System into a “Unified Communications” system.

I am pleased to report that I fulfilled my mission. ShoreTel 12 was launched five months ago.

This release integrates a cost effective solution, simple audio conferencing, Web conferencing and Instant Messaging. The top two obstacles cited by IT managers for UC deployment are complexity and cost; ShoreTel 12 has succeeded in breaking these barriers. The adoption of the SA-100 and conferencing software has, so far, exceeded our expectations.

Back in June 2010, there was an interesting IT manager survey “Unified Communications: Big Promise, Modest Movement” conducted by InformationWeek Analytics. According to the survey, VoIP and unified messaging (UM) were cited as top drivers by a combined total of 44 percent of respondents.

While important, ShoreTel has been supporting these capabilities for years. The really new, and potentially game-changing, capabilities UC brings such as conferencing, IM and Contact Center were cited by just 29 percent of respondents combined.

Was this surprising? Not really, since in time of economic uncertainties, IT managers are very focused on ROI. Recently, we released a white paper on Integrated Collaboration, which is attempting to back the collaboration ROI with specific numbers. But these savings – although very real, are hard to track.

On the other hand, IP Telephony delivers a clear ROI, which is easy to track (maintenance bills, phone bills etc…). ShoreTel is one of the best to deliver on this promise. Collaboration also delivers cost savings but the savings are harder to measure and most IT managers don’t have time/resources to put the necessary tracking mechanism in place.

Fast-forward to today, the economy has not greatly improved, so don’t expect the IT buyer focus on any other things that hard savings. Microsoft Lync, despite its advanced UC capability fuelled by almost unlimited investment, has virtually no success in completely replacing PBXs – even when Microsoft is paying their customers to deploy pilots. IP Telephony is still king as it’s the functionality that delivers the most track-able savings.

ShoreTel has forged its reputation behind product value.

A decade ago, we were the first IP Telephony vendor to integrate a “UC” desktop application with every user license, and then we included Unified Messaging as base feature set. Brilliant Simplicity is about including more functionality in the base product and baking features into the back end – making them easy to deploy.

IT/CIOs are facing tough IT budget situation and are not vastly acknowledging the savings delivered by the advanced UC applications such as conferencing, IM or video. We know at ShoreTel that the savings are there but not easy to track. But the sales tool is here and they will be enabling you to sell the general UC savings, combining VoIP, UM and collaboration!