Circuit: Unify’s Vision for the Future of Collaboration
Nov 03, 2014
On October 28, Unify launched a new product called Circuit. Announced a year ago as Project Ansible along with Siemens Enterprise Communications' re-branding as Unify, Circuit marks the vendor's next phase in the unified communications and collaboration (UCC) space. Developed from scratch with the human factor (e.g., the business user) in mind, Circuit is more of a social platform than a typical UC interface. Circuit is also the first product in Unify's broader initiative dubbed "The New Way to Work". This refers to the changing work and personal lifestyles of today's business users who cherish the flexibility to work anywhere, anytime, using the devices and tools of their choice.
Unify Bets on "Social" and SaaS
Circuit combines the communications and collaboration capabilities of a more "traditional" unified communication (UC) solution with the intuitive and visually more appealing interface of popular social networking applications such as Facebook, Yammer and IBM Connections. Circuit allows users to instant-message or talk to each other, using either audio or video; participate in group chat or conference calls; exchange files; and more.
Unify's new solution addresses business users' need to streamline their communications in order to be more productive and efficient. Circuit enables users to access, log, organize and search through their various communications and collaboration tools and the information exchanged with other users through "a single pane of glass"—a graphical user interface built around the concept of contextual conversations. In fact, the name "Circuit" was chosen as a metaphor for a continuum of business communications and collaborative interactions—a solution to the challenges created by the growing adoption of multiple disparate communications tools in todays' business environment.
Unlike consumer social platforms, Circuit is secure and designed to address the privacy and solution management concerns of business organizations. The solution leverages WebRTC technologies and was designed to be independent of underlying communications and collaboration platforms deployed by the business, but will eventually integrate with Unify's OpenScape Voice and other vendors' telephony platforms.
Circuit is offered as a SaaS solution at a flat monthly fee of $14.95 per user per month. It will be hosted by Unify partners and will be marketed both directly and through channel resellers. Unify plans to develop a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering based on Circuit that will allow the vendor to considerably enhance its capabilities going forward and also market it under different business models.
Is Social=Future of UCC?
Circuit may be an indicator where the unified communications market is headed. Or it may be an indicator that UC will remain separate from a trend of more socially-oriented user interfaces such as Circuit. While touted as a UC solution by Unify, Circuit is currently lacking what Frost & Sullivan considers key UC capabilities—private branch exchange (PBX) integration and PSTN connectivity. Unify also continues to market its OpenScape UC application, which provides many of the capabilities more traditionally associated with UC—IM/P, conferencing, telephony soft client, mobility, etc. Unify has provided guidance on future Circuit enhancements, which will include telephony (as well as maybe email) integration, but it is not clear if Circuit and OpenScape UC will eventually converge or continue to co-exist indefinitely.
This may be a good time to revisit the concept of UC to better understand how Circuit is being positioned and what solutions it will be competing against. Unified communications is a term that has existed for many years but was revived by Microsoft about a decade ago with the launch of Live Communications Server (LCS). LCS subsequently became Office Communications Server (OCS) and has now evolved into a much more advanced platform and Microsoft's flagship UC solution known as Lync. Given Microsoft's roots in desktop operating systems and applications, Microsoft's view of UCC has been centered around desktop application integration using the IM interface as a unified access point for other communications applications with shared presence.
Following Microsoft's suit, telephony vendors launched their own UC solutions, which were, however, much more telephony-centric. Today, all major PBX/ UC vendors, including Unify, market and promote UC platforms that integrate presence, chat, conferencing, mobility and other applications with their core telephony solutions.
While the UC market represents, to a large extent, an evolutionary phase in the development of the enterprise communications market, social networking first emerged and subsequently burgeoned in the consumer space. Today, there is a variety of enterprise-grade social networking platforms that share a lot of common characteristics with consumer social networking solutions, including status updates, communities, file sharing, messaging, etc. Some vendors have also tried to integrate these social networking platforms with their core communications solutions including PBXs and UC platforms.
So how does Circuit stack up against competitor solutions? Unlike OpenScape UC, Circuit is less of a UC and more of a social solution. Therefore, it does not compete directly with other telephony vendors' UC solutions. Also, unlike many competitive offerings, it is built from the ground-up for a SaaS delivery model. Furthermore, unlike many other providers who have assembled disparate technologies into multi-functional social UC offerings, Unify is building Circuit as a single platform providing a comprehensive set of communications and collaboration capabilities.
Circuit is, however, currently missing a few key functionalities that competitors offer and customers would appreciate, such as telephony and email integration. But is that a major concern? The UC solutions of yesteryear targeted a different user base—mostly the Gen-X-ers who still valued their desktop phones and had grown increasingly attached to their desktop PCs. But Unify's vision for Circuit is to provide a business communications and collaboration solution that appeals to the millennials who will be joining the workforce in the coming years. With a more collaborative and "social" look and smoother mobile integration through a WebRTC foundation and a SaaS delivery model, Circuit may just be the social collaboration solution of the future where telephony-centric or PC-centric UC no longer adequately addresses user requirements.
Has Unify found the key to success in the enterprise communications market of tomorrow? The jury is out until Unify executes on its vision. And for that, Unify will need to learn from the successful social networking providers and be ready to abandon some of the telephony/UC baggage of its past life.
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