‘Unified Communications has now folded into overall enterprise story’

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Mary McDowell

Over the years, Unified Communications has generated a more approachable image for itself, with many customers realizing its importance. Mary T McDowell, Chief Executive Officer Polycom, shares her views on the market evolution, challenges and the company’s strategies

How has the market evolved in the past few years? It used to be a pure video conferencing industry and now, it has become more of a collaborative industry. How is Polycom jumping into the opportunity?
People used to think of video conferencing as very high end and expensive. It was a solution that you would put only in very large board rooms. However, this has completely changed over the past few years and this is largely because of tools like Facetime, Skype, etc.

Consumer expectations have changed significantly and video has become an essential collaboration tool enabling today’s workforce to communicate, collaborate, and share content in real-time; if you are a millennial addicted to your phone, you expect to have the same tools that work on your phone to be available in the boardroom.

This is putting a lot of pressure on corporations to bring in collaboration solutions across the enterprise in a way that hasn’t happened before.

As a vendor, we are working on providing the most advanced audio, video, and content-sharing technologies to create solutions that are powerful, affordable, easy to use and help customers video-enable their whole enterprise.

When you interact with customers, do you see any kind of commonality in terms of requirements they are looking for, or does it vary from vertical to vertical?
A common thread I’ve noticed is, when people start bringing in video more broadly across their organisations, they are surprised with how much video is actually being consumed. We have seen this with some of our largest consumers. They knew people wanted video but when you make it easy and make it pervasive, almost all of a sudden, all interactions happen over video. So, the number of video meetings starts to grow and many customers have been surprised by that. With respect to industry specifications, some factors may vary. For example, price might be a factor in one sector, or security maybe a huge factor for a healthcare/IT, ITeS client, so some of these requirements can be vertical specific.

Earlier, UC was perceived as costly, and we know that UC as a solution was used to cut down on travel cost, rather than invest on solutions and reap the benefits out of it. Has that thought process of customers changed?
Definitely, because today, it does not take a million dollars to set up a conference room, we can provide an immersive solution at a fraction of that cost. Recently, while interacting with one of our large customers, they spoke to me about how earlier, they used to frame it as how much flight costs they can save. However, now, they see it as how they can implement UC solutions to provide the right work-life balance to employees. Today, the younger generations do not want to spend most of their time travelling for meetings/work. Companies are understanding that by implementing UC solutions, they can enable employees to have the lifestyle they aspire to while also making sure that they retain talent.

When you interact with customers, what kind of challenges do you come across that is well addressed by the kind of solution offerings you have currently?
Earlier UC was kind of its own island and now you see that it has folded into the overall enterprise story – it is all about how people interact with each other. This is why our partnership with Microsoft has been such an important piece to us, because the first thing people ask is how is it going to work with their email, with messaging, etc. because they don’t want a standalone island, they want something that is part of their larger collaboration strategy. Success with UC is about integrating all communications into a seamless workflow that is easy to use and Polycom provides this.

Could you further elaborate on your partnership with Microsoft?
Polycom had been working with Microsoft since 2002 and as you may remember, in 2016, we went private with Siris capital. We were about to be acquired by Mitel but Siris stopped that deal and one of the parties that were very influential in making this happen was Microsoft. They did not like the prospect of Polycom falling into Mitel’s hands because Polycom was a strong partner for them and they wanted us to stay neutral and not be a company with our own PBX or back end capability.

It was crucial for Microsoft that Polycom continues to innovate and sustain the partnership, so, we did a new commercial arrangement with Microsoft where there is a joint collaboration from an engineering standpoint as well as blending of engineering projects.

You have been talking a lot about partnering with competitors. Is it a conscious decision and how do you see this integrating so that you are well geared to any market requirement that may come up?
It is a conscious decision and we are actively driving it. As we see the growth of players like Microsoft, Zoom, Blue Jeans, we are shifting our strategy to partner with cloud-based video conferencing providers to provide the best cloud experience in the conference room with our endpoints.

What are some of the key strengths of Polycom offerings that are creating a difference in the market?
The devices themselves offer best in class audio and video capability. We have world class engineers dedicated to audio and video algorithms. For example – when you buy our product, it stands alone in terms of capabilities that it can deliver. More than that, as a customer, when you buy a Polycom end-point, you’re not locked in to a particular backend solution. One of our biggest differentiators is our focus on interoperability and integration: At Polycom, we believe interoperability with other communications solutions in the market is critical. This provides investment protection for our customers and does not put them in a position of having to rip and replace like other competitors require.

We are also continuing to focus on innovations that make a big difference in how people experience meetings. Camera tracking, voice recognition and meeting analytics are things we currently offer or have in the works. We are focused on how we can make virtual meetings feel more and more in-person.

What is the idea behind collaborating with VaaS?
Most of the VaaS players are high growth, highly funded companies backed by a VC. They are attracting customers who thought that video conferencing was too complicated or pricey for them. These partnerships offer customers access to reliable and easy-to-use cloud video service with Polycom’s field-proven and powerful group video solutions. It allows us to extend those capabilities to a greater customer base and ensures our mutual customers have a great, flexible video experience.