What MS-Polycom Match Means for SPs
The new strategic agreement between Microsoft Corp. (Nasdaq: MSFT) and Polycom Inc. (Nasdaq: PLCM) announced this morning could represent a new opportunity for telecom service providers to jump-start sales of unified communications (UC) services to businesses of all sizes -- or it could represent new competition for service providers in the UC arena. (See Microsoft, Polycom Team Up.)
Microsoft and Polycom have worked together in the past, but this new agreement intends to expand that relationship to include end-to-end hardware and software solutions that are jointly sold by the two companies, and are based largely on Microsoft's well established business software platforms. Their goal is to make it easier for businesses, including enterprises, SMBs, and government units, to adopt integrated voice-data-video communications and collaboration services, by making the services themselves easier and by demonstrating clear productivity and cost benefits for UC.
Among the sales channels the two companies plan to use are telecom service providers that have already been selling products from Microsoft and Polycom as part of their managed and hosted UC and conferencing solutions. But Microsoft and Polycom will also be more aggressive in their sales efforts and intend to make the UC message they take forward much stronger.
"Essentially we are looking at a joint commitment to move this market forward, and we know it will take additional resources on both sides of the equation," says Mark Roberts, vice president of partner marketing at Polycom.
"We are aligned [with telecom service providers] in the sense that the partnership of Microsoft and Polycom conceived products for an end-to-end solution integrating software and end-user devices," says Ashima Singhal, group product manager of UC partner marketing at Microsoft. "The service providers form the third leg of the stool, providing the delivery of the solution, managing the solution."
Microsoft also will offer UC as a hosted service, which service providers could resell, much as some today resell Microsoft's hosted Exchange service, Singhal says. And Microsoft will soon provide a multi-tenant, cloud-based UC solution that includes communications capabilities -- which it will sell directly to businesses or through service providers as resellers.
The clear intent is to get more aggressive in pushing Microsoft's approach to UC, with Polycom providing its audio and video conferencing expertise as part of the process. Both companies compete head-to-head with Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO) in this arena, together and separately.
The Microsoft-Polycom UC products are built on Microsoft's Exchange and Communications Servers, namely the latest version of the latter, CS-14, which includes "fully capable enterprise voice capabilities that can replace legacy voice equipment," Singhal says.
"We have done a lot of work on the front-end with CS-14, creating one integrated soft client that provides all capabilities -- audio, video, data sharing, and whiteboard -- so end users can use any of them within the same client and conversation. All of these capabilities are integrated with the desktop, particularly Microsoft Office applications -- Outlook, Word, Excel, Sharepoint -- but through robust APIs [applications programming interfaces] they can be part of any business process."
Ease of use and integration into existing business processes have both been major stumbling blocks for widespread use of UC capabilities, Singhal admits. A year ago, when Microsoft integrated data-sharing into its Communicator instant messaging product, adoption took off, says Singhal.
"Having [UC options] as part of the same workflow will boost adoption."
Through the strategic alliance with Polycom, Microsoft can enable a broad range of endpoints to be part of this workflow, from IP phones to room-based audio and video conferencing systems to telepresence systems.
Polycom's Roberts says the companies believe that the drive to make workers more productive will fuel renewed efforts to unite the different devices on each worker's desk and enable dispersed work forces to more easily communicate by voice, data, or video, as well as to use presence and other capabilities to know who is available when.
He admits today's announcement is light on product details but says a product roadmap will be coming in three to six months.
"We've literally just signed these contracts," Roberts says.
— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading