An Industry in Transformation

by Dave Michels

Unified Communications is a clever name for telecom in transformation. Everything is changing and everyone is confused (though not everyone will admit it). In the days of yore, telecom was pretty stable. It is far more than just the technology that is shifting. The rules, roles, and vocabulary are changing as well. That’s why I have three sets of business cards.

Ten years ago, anyone in telecom could easily define terms such as carrier, PBX, distributor, and telephone. That was then, today few can agree on the terminology. Is a service provider of hosted voice a carrier? How about Skype? How about Google Voice? The shades of gray are increasing. These terms are now much more a part of the question instead of the answer.

I started blogging in 2008 – and thanks to the web and social media I am now an independent professional thinker. Though I never know how to respond to “what do you do?” because it seems to so often depend on who is asking. The problem is the very companies that are transforming the industry are not so dynamic internally. The issue is I play three roles: Analyst, Consultant, and Media. It isn’t common, but not rare either. Historically these three roles were separate, and many vendors have three separate functions responsible for each type of external communications; media relations, analyst relations, and consultant relations (consultant liaisons). Each of these functions craft their own message which isn’t always consistent among the three (AKA spin).

To clarify my three roles:
Media: It is odd to be considered media. I don’t consider myself a journalist. That is another industry in transformation and everyone is running from the stereotypical reporter image. PinDropSoup is a blast for me. It has opened a lot of doors for me and I enjoy it. Other than my rants, I try to use my media hat to tell the story from a different perspective. A recent example is most of the coverage of the recent Skype-Avaya announcement seemed to be right off the press release, I offered up a different perspective with Meaningless Hype of the Week: Skype and Avaya.
In addition to my blog; I regularly contribute to NoJitter and occasionally post other sites such as GigaOm, CloudAve, UCStrategies, and SkypeJournal. I’m considering adding one more regular outlet.

Analyst: In telecom, an analyst means consulting for telecom and UC vendors. The fun stuff is strategy – go-to-market strategy discussions and identifying new innovation from technology. Being a part of the team is great, we get regular briefings and frequently work with the vendors on their offerings and launches. I participate in their weekly podcast as well as present at their UCSummit. I also get invited to participate with other analyst firms requiring a supplemental UC perspective.
I spend a fair amount of my awake hours reading or talking about this space. I’ve worked at the OEM, Distributor, and VAR levels so I have a unique channel perspective. The space is changing rapidly, the notion of value-add is morphing, and the channel is flattening and forking (see The Other Voice Channels).
Since the industry is in transformation, one recurring theme is vendors seeking assistance in understanding who their competitors are or might be. I attend lots of shows and meet regularly with many of the players, plus I closely follow emerging UC firms including Google, Skype, and start-ups. My public analyst writing usually ends up on UCStrategies and PinDropSoup; but I do white papers and market research as well.

Consultant: The dealers and vendors are very efficient at making their solutions fit customer requirements, but its more fulfilling to truly understand the customer’s work processes and identify how and if unified communications can directly benefit work flows and/or the bottom line.

Too many users, dealers, and vendors jump directly to product comparisons rather than understanding customer requirements. I frequently get asked the equivalent of “Mercedes vs. Lexus?”, skipping the less obvious options of walking, Fords, taxis, buses, trains, and planes. Not only are there more choices than ever before, but users seem to have more unique needs than ever before. The old saying, ‘when all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail’ perfectly describes the PBX market of yesteryear. The starting point has to be an understanding of both the current work flow and the ultimate objectives of the work flow in order to correctly enable business practices with communications.
I recently attended the Society of Telecom Consultants (STC) annual conference and it was a reminder to me of how broad this industry really is. While I tend to focus more on UC and strategy, there are others that focus on topics such as legislation and policy such as the FCC’s role and new eavesdropping mandates. Then there is the world of telecom expense management with its tools and best practices. STC members work to share their knowledge and complement each others’ skill portfolios.

If I introduce myself as “media” to a vendor’s consultant liaison, the typical response is “don’t quote me.” This is why I need three sets of cards. My blogger card says “Telecom Protagonist” (‘journalist’ is a four letter word), the general purpose card now says “Principal Consultant.” I also have one that says “Principal Analyst.” Maybe I should order a set with a blank fill-in line.
These three roles converging feels natural to me – like so many other aspects of this industry. Although, most consultants are consultants, most analysts are analysts, and most media are media; I am not unique and the converged AnalConsult (Arrested Development fans?) model is growing. Many “media” contributors work as analysts and/or consultants. Clearly the boundaries are blurring. When I do a webinar that’s jointly sponsored by a media outlet and a UC vendor which is targeted to end users – I get to wear all three hats.
I know I get a fair amount of vendors and end-user readers at PinDropSoup. That’s the new reality. End-users used to read printed media like Business Communications Review (BCR) and vendors used to read Computer Reseller News (CRN). Must of been great when people were happy to self categorize demographically.
Convergence has no mercy – even on industry roles and titles.