As I walked around the exhibit hall and the breakout sessions I kept coming back to two main thoughts: this industry is converging around a handful of opportunities and each opportunity remains largely up for grabs.
- Consumers are not the main focus of most exhibitors at IT Expo but leading players like Skype and magicJack had a presence. The main questions in this space remain unanswered: What will home phone service become over the next five years? How completely will mobile phones take it over? Will it morph, through video, into a feature of TVs?
- Cloud-based unified communications service for small to medium-sized businesses seems to be the primary opportunity focus of exhibitors and attendees. As a general strategy this seems to make sense: SMBs are numerous, fragmented, and always looking for a competitive edge. But, again, some of the main questions remain unanswered: Who is going to cut through the clutter and develop a credible SMB solution-provider brand? Who is going to make it easiest for SMBs to gain real value from a new communications solution? Is anyone going to innovate a killer app/feature that will capture the imagination of SMBs?
- Enterprise and government markets are a focus of a number of exhibitors and attendees but, at least to this observer, with a couple exceptions there wasn’t much innovation or energy around this opportunity. Perhaps the infrastructure and scale expectations of enterprises and governments – and their typically-long sales cycles – scare off innovators looking to prove marketability in months instead of years.
I think that the door is now wide open for someone to do what Vonage and magicJack did for consumer VoIP – make it simple, accessible, and omnipresent – for SMB cloud-based unified communications. My guess (hope) is that the company that does it will, like Vonage and magicJack, be a new player rather than a well-known brand. They will approach businesses in their language – meaning the messaging will be about growing your business, retaining your customers, and making your team more productive rather than about the technology itself. They will offer a solution that is fully assembled and ready-to-use rather than something that requires upfront customization and plug-ins. And they will offer a mobile user experience that is as powerful, if not more, than what is available in the office. And if they can add a “secret sauce”, something their solution does which is different and cool, then they could break out from a dense pack of aspiring service providers.
I have an idea of who just might do it . . .