Shift in technology forces change. Cloud computing is the result of high speed internet, superior hardware and software, and fast paced evolution of computer technology. This allows shared computing resources interconnected through the power of internet. UC offerings bring IP telephony and ‘Presence’, combined with other real-time communication services. Let us examine its commercial impact on the unified communications (UC) industry.
The market was once dominated by large players like Lucent and Nortel with many smaller niche players. The products geared towards enterprises were purchased outright and support was handled as a service. Automatic Call Distribution (ACD) and Interactive Voice Response (IVR) allowed space for the growth of the back office. The back office operations were boosted with the evolution of the call center ACD which runs as a layer on top of an underlying telephony infrastructure. The computer telephony integration (CTI), Personal Computers (PC) and the availability of computer telephony boards were the driving forces in the evolution of the call center software, that went far beyond the capabilities offered by an ACD. The internet revolution and the growth of VoIP presented opportunities for new players like Cisco. The astounding growth of Asterisk, the open source hybrid switch, revolutionized the industry and turned it upside down. Even though the need for both UC and contact center technology exploded during the last decade, the presence of Asterisk has exerted considerable downward pressure on the market leaders who offer UC and contact center technology.
Did all these changes impact the technology leaders of the day like Nortel, Lucent and Alcatel. We know that Nortel does exist and the modern day Alcatel is the combine entity of Lucent and Alcatel. Avaya is a leading UC provider that inherited some of Nortel’s technology. It is now owned by large equity groups who are known to look for opportunity to leverage growth and exit with investment gains. This has not transpired even though the media makes periodic pronouncements about Avaya, due to tepid growth and huge debt load. Shore-tel, another leading UC provider that offers enterprise IP telephony solutions, came out with an IPO in 2007. Its stock prices have been languishing much below the IPO offering. Recently, Mitel Networks has launched a hostile take-over bid at a value well below the initial IPO offering in 2007. The re-alignment and consolidation within UC technology providers may be a reflection of the downward pricing pressure caused by the growth and availability of UC and call center technology for open source platforms like Asterisk.
What is the role of open source technology like Asterisk in the growth of cloud based solutions? How much influence does cloud computing have on the on-going consolidation and re-alignment? Cloud solutions have introduced a newer paradigm where enterprises don’t make the upfront capital investment and retain the ability to switch providers. Imagine the size of today’s economy versus the year 2000. With globalization, the market has exploded and in spite of this, large players have disappeared. The impact of the continued growth of cloud computing driven by powerful open source driven solutions will continue to put immense pressure on larger established UC technology providers. It will feel like the race to the bottom for many of them.
Cloud contact center solutions based on Asterisk offer all the UC features within their call center software at considerably less cost. When offered as a service, the cloud services take away the risk of large capital expense from an enterprise, while offering flexibility. It remains to be seen how legacy players in the UC realm react to the downward financial pressures brought on by Cloud contact center solutions, especially the ones driven by Asterisk with other open source technology stack.