Not The Ansible You Are Looking For


In case you’ve been in a coma, Unify launched Circuit last month. Circuit is the manifestation of Ansible, announced by Siemens Enterprise Communications in the summer of 2013.

Confused? Let me try again: The CEO and CCO/CMO of Siemens Enterprise Communications (Hamid Akhavan and Chris Hummel) announced Project Ansible as the game-changing future of workflow and communications. It was to be a revolutionary solution; all they had to do was build it.

Project Ansible was only a code name – the real name would be announced later.

In the meantime, a few things changed at Siemens Enterprise Communications. First, the company shed its networking division Enterasys, by selling it to Extreme Networks. Then, being focused exclusively on UC, it rebranded to Unify. Soon after that, the CEO changed with the appointment of Dean Douglass, and with leadership changes came priority changes. The first priority was to rebuild the leadership team, which Douglass did almost entirely with prior colleagues from Westcon and IBM. The company’s stated priorities turned to cost-cutting, which meant a 50 percent RIF (mostly in Europe) and a prioritization of indirect channels.

Regarding Project Ansible, Unify formally promoted codename Ansible to product Ansible. It remained visible as a strategic part of the vision and road map.

Last month, a new company with a new name and new management, launched a new product, with a new name.

Unify re-determined the name Ansible wasn’t ideal, and instead gave its “new way to work” the name Circuit. Personally, I think Circuit is fine, but not all agree. It seems the Bellheads consider it a step backward, but many others find it kind of retro and cool. Of course, Circuit has definitions beyond TDM telephony. Names are hard – neither Circuit nor Ansible was available in the Appstore, nor as a domain.

So what is Circuit? That’s not easy to describe. But I can say unequivocally that it is not Ansible. Ansible was originally described by Siemens this way:

“What project Ansible brings to the table is a new experience that actually allows people to bring new tools to the way they work, aggregates the contents that they get involved in, the contacts that they have, all the different applications, and then maps into the business process in the way they work … an Ansible space is basically a sharing environment where you can put the documents that you use, and all the materials you use, and it leverages, whatever you are using, Google Docs or SharePoint or whatever else as the system. But by automatically creating that, you now have a record of the conversation of what you have been doing.”

Even better, take a look at this video footage of the original Ansible preview in June of 2013. (first 10 seconds have some rough camera work).

Evidently, Unify’s cut backs also included Ansible’s scope —  at least in its first release. It is focused on persistent chat with built-in real-time capabilities for voice, video, and screen-sharing applications. Unify is quick to state that more is coming, including SDKs for integrations. If Unify had delivered what’s in the video, I’d be more confident in its success. But there are some big discrepancies:

  • Ansible was to have transcription capabilities of both video calls and voicemail.
  • Ansible was to have an integration with Maps.
  • The search function delivered in Circuit is similar, but different than in the video.
  • The video shows how analytics can be used to find Spaces (rooms) and Experts.
  • The video shows SDK integrations that include Google, LinkedIn, and SAP. (Unify will soon be announcing its SDK program.)
  • The video promises Ansible to be available as both a service and software.
  • The video shows integrated hardware – “Desk phone re-imagined.”
  • The video implies Ansible will be a UC replacement – with integrated voicemail transcription, IM, desk phones, and video

The biggest disappointment with Circuit is that it neither replaces a UC system nor integrates with one (a multivendor SIP integration is planned.) Unify never really addressed any of these changes. It’s not as if no one noticed, either. Brian Riggs wrote on NoJitter, “Circuit, nee Project Ansible, has changed a bit in the year and a half since Unify (formerly Siemens Enterprise Communications) announced the initiative.”

I really do like the concept of Circuit. It took me a while to get it. Luckily, I did a recent report on some similar WebRTC startups, and now I am sold. The term “social” is a trap because people associate it more with status updates than conversations. This new form of social is more like email conversations, except they are inclusive.

The problem with email is it’s exclusive. We address our messages to certain people. If we exclude someone by mistake, we get in trouble. It’s the same with replies, so we tend to do reply-all. This behavior creates cc noise for those that don’t care, but more importantly excludes participants that may care.

A social conversation is inclusive. Sure there are permissions about who can see what, but they tend to be more generous because it’s less disruptive. People can check-in on the conversation as they please, replies are not (as) annoying. History is accessible for new comers, and even preserved for search. Combine this text-based conversation with real-time capabilities and it becomes multi modal conversations that can also be central to workflow. The next inbox.

However, I am not so confident that Unify nailed it with Circuit. For starters the product/service itself is too limited. However, that’s forgivable as it is in its first release and will likely get better. The bigger problem is the pricing and general go-to-market approach.

There’s a long list of issues here that include channel enablement, value proposition, browser-based applications, pricing, and more. I hope Unify can be successful with it. Like I said, it’s a powerful concept and Unify has done a lot of very hard (and impressive) work. They need to fix these things urgently because there’s several established and emerging companies that already have similar concepts that are less expensive and easier to trial.

To be fair, the current management inherited Ansible. It was not their vision. The project was likely too visible to cancel without embarrassment. Presumably, the new management has different objectives and goals than their predecessors. Scaling it back may have realistically been their only option.

The good news is go-to-market strategies are a lot easier to change than products.

Dave Michels