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The Connected Enterprise: Poised For Takeoff?

At this year's Enterprise Connect conference, vendors showed plenty of enthusiasm and promise toward real enterprise interoperability. Here are a few standouts.

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I just spent a couple of days at Enterprise Connect (the event formerly known as VoiceCon), and I've been impressed with the enthusiasm vendors and their customers are exhibiting for creating a new "connected enterprise" model. But all the VoIP, unified communications, collaboration software, and other pieces aren't tied together yet. Fred Knight, the event's general manager, noted that despite the enthusiasm around IP PBXs starting in 1997, only about 35% of enterprises have actually completed such a rollout, and 60% are still in the evaluation phase of unified communications.

But I'm betting things will start to change, and fast.

For one thing, even "stodgy" industries like bedding are looking to bust up their old business models with new technology, says Donna Zett, CIO of AOT Bedding Super Holdings, whose brands include Simmons. In the meantime, employees entering the workforce are demanding the same social and Web 2.0 tools they use in their personal lives, and companies are starting to see measurable productivity gains when far-flung groups are given modern tools to work toward common goals.

On a walk around the Enterprise Connect show floor, vendor after vendor pledged fidelity to interoperability and systems that push information to employees and customers regardless of which device they prefer. The interoperability pledge is usually wrapped in the flag of standards, but in reality, one vendor's open platform is another's locked-down, proprietary system.

[ Cisco will be offering its Jabber IM client for the iPad and Windows. Read more at Cisco Unified Communications Play Includes iPad . ]

The snarkiest take on interoperability came in a Gartner post following a panel on the State of Unified Communications Interoperability. The best comment I heard was in passing from an attendee, who said that it should be on the vendor to show interoperable systems if it wants a customer's business, rather than on the customer to try to discern interoperability claims from reality.

The mandate for a connected enterprise is based on the premise of bringing all the pertinent documents, social contacts, and project status records together at the same time a fully synchronized videoconference is taking place. It's a profound change for enterprises, one I outlined a few months ago in a column that argued (somewhat tongue-in-cheek) that it's time to rethink the conventional word/spreadsheet/presentation office suite and in its place think about collaboration over distance. The products and services introduced at Enterprise Connect (which is owned by my employer) buttressed that controversial column.

Here are some of the vendors that caught my attention at Enterprise Connect:

Avaya. Honestly, Avaya didn't come first to mind when I thought of new enterprise collaborative applications and app stores. Read my colleague David Carr's article to learn why my thinking was wrong.

Cisco. Connectivity and collaboration should be Cisco's sweet spot. CEO John Chambers has been talking up this idea since the company sold its first switch. Here's the twist: Cisco now has to prove it can play in a standards and software world.

Cisco's champion for connectivity, OJ Winge, who came to the company from the Tandberg acquisition, has done a decent job of explaining why Cisco wants to partner with the connected crowd--but right now Microsoft doesn't get a party invite. Read Winge's blog, which elaborates on his keynote speech and the role Cisco needs to play.

Verizon. The telecom carriers really, really don't want to be seen as simply pipe providers for all those cool apps. In his first keynote address at Enterprise Connect, Farooq Muzaffar, VP of product development and network integration for Verizon Enterprise Solutions, outlined the business services the carrier is building. One role for the carriers may be to provide services to tie together now-incompatible videoconferencing systems.

Vidyo. Vidyo is the champion of virtualized, software-based videoconferencing. Its booth had the best example of not just how simple the systems should be to install and use, but also their many benefits in healthcare, government, and other industries. My InformationWeek colleague Art Wittmann talks about Vidyo's approach to videoconferencing here.

Sococo. Startup Sococo has rethought the metaphors for collaboration (think virtual team rooms that mimic a company) and the social nature of getting work done and managing projects in the digital world. The result is software-as- a-service provided on a per-user subscription basis that puts systems based on red, yellow, and green "availability" buttons to shame.

The Enterprise 2.0 Conference brings together industry thought leaders to explore the latest innovations in enterprise social software, analytics, and big data tools and technologies. Learn how your business can harness these tools to improve internal business processes and create operational efficiencies. It happens in Boston, June 18-21. Register today!

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