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Will You Change Vendors?

It might have got lost in all the Avaya-Nortel reporting last week, but we had a No Jitter post that may have as much to say about the future of enterprise communications as anything the rest of us wrote about the big acquisition. Tom Nolle wrote a piece called, "How Light is the End of the Tunnel for Enterprise Spending?" in which he suggested that buying paradigms and the resulting customer-vendor relationships may be undergoing a fundamental shift as we work our way through and (hopefully) out of the recession.Specifically, when Tom surveyed his enterprise customer client base, he found that:

Almost half of enterprises think that at least one major vendor relationship will lose significance for them in the next two years, which is triple the normal level. Enterprises are seeing a whole new technology world out there, and they think their suppliers are missing that shift.

And when it comes to Unified Communications/UC & collaboration (UCC), the findings from Nolle's survey were eye-popping:

Nine of every ten said that new UC/UCC options were being presented that might change their plans," Tom wrote. "In 54% of cases, enterprises said their preferred UC/UCC vendor was likely to change. In 39% of enterprises, the UC/UCC project objectives were subject to 'significant change.' Cisco and Google were cited as 'new options being reviewed' by 43% and 35% of enterprises, respectively, even though Cisco UCS and Google Voice/Wave had only been announced shortly before the survey. Microsoft was the vendor seen as most likely to lose UC/UCC traction; 36% said they believed they might look less to Microsoft than they'd previously planned.

If those findings bear out, the future of enterprise communications could look very different than a lot of us had assumed it would. But will Tom's survey prove prophetic?

A very astute analysis came in the Comments section of Tom's posting. "I wonder if the bloom from Microsoft's rose has shifted to Google simply because it's [i.e., Google is] new and buzzy. Neither one is really ready for 'prime time' yet,"
wrote "Contrarian," who went on to say, "And I wonder if the same people who said UC/UCC is 'not mature' were the ones chasing Cisco and Google, two of the more immature product offerings available?"

I think this commenter hit the nail on the head. Microsoft, which had looked to benefit from the faster turnaround in the hype cycle - with its eye on Cisco - is in turn being victimized by that same hype cycle, courtesy of Google. As Microsoft is learning, enterprise communications buyers don't move nearly as quickly as desktop buyers. On the other hand, as Google is likely to learn, to its dismay, neither of these folks move as quickly as search engine users and aficionados of free Web-based software generally.

Tom Nolle's larger point had to do with vendor relationships, and I completely buy his finding that these relationships, and enterprise buyers' approach to them, are probably more uncertain than they've ever been. The alert enterprise communications buyer knows a few key things:

* I'm not buying much right now, so I have the opportunity to re-examine my options.

* When I'm ready to buy, my users are likely to want something, in some form, that may not be available as a purchasable solution today. Those users may not know that what they want represents a different solution on the back end, but I do.

* I probably have communications equipment from at least one vendor that won't exist at all or won't be competing in North America when that equipment needs to be replaced.

* Enterprise IT will increasingly rely on cloud-based software and virtualization in the datacenter. My communications systems will have to take this into account, regardless of where and how those communications systems actually get deployed.

The environment may be highly uncertain, but it's encouraging that the enterprise decision-makers in Tom Nolle's survey seem to recognize that and are beginning to grapple with its implications.Vendor relationships, and enterprise buyers' approach to them, are probably more uncertain than they've ever been.