IT Services

Unify's 'iPhone for Conferencing' Ansible Due Next Month

Dean Douglas, CEO of conferencing giant Unify, is full of apologies for being two or three minutes late for our scheduled UK-US transatlantic conference call, for which, he says, he briefly couldn’t find the bridge details. That’s OK, it happens all the time, I say, as I apologise in advance for any noises going off in the restaurant where I’m sitting. And it’s just these sorts of endemic communication failures he’s trying to fix.

Douglas took over in January, just a few months after Unify emerged as the new brand for what was Siemens Enterprise Communications. A services and channel veteran, his experience has been the impetus for him to set up a partnering model at Unify and to recast it as a software and services organisation. 

“We’re much more channel-friendly and if we are successful we will be a lot more mainstream,” he says. “We’ve operated in a silo for far too long and we need to modernise our practices.”

The change in tack was occasioned by personal experience as a distie.

“We approached Siemens Enterprise Communications and were willing to invest significant money. But as we were negotiating that agreement we realised that the antibodies and blockers were too strong.”

The new channel-friendly approach reverses a situation that saw the company focused on direct sales and, as Douglas sees it, an unwieldy country/region dominated sales model.

“That was very much a legacy of the Siemens days,” Douglas says, but now the company has a global path to channels, contracts and sales.

The transition has also seen Unify lay out plans to shed up to half its staff: a radical step even in the perspective of a broader industry that has downsized in a tacit admission that digital conferencing has so far failed to realise its decades-long potential.

“An extraordinary amount of technology has been introduced, some of which is only just being discussed,” Douglas says. “I’m amazed at how long it has taken for enterprises to embrace this technology. It boggles my mind.”

Unify’s ace in the hole is Project Ansible, a potentially transformative and boundary-busting line that has created a rare buzz and sense of anticipation in the sector. A set of technologies intended to provide a far more intuitive approach to conferencing than has previously been available and working across devices and platforms with a single UI, Ansible has sometimes been depicted by watchers as a sort of iPhone for the conferencing sector.

“We used a lot of the firms like Apple have used so that while we have the German rigour and engineering, it’s a lot more intuitive than you might expect,” Douglas says. “That’s got to be there. If it requires a manual it’s not going to be successful.”

Ansible will have a first formal release and roadmap in October this year. It has a lot riding on it and holds the keys to Unify competing on a closer footing with the likes of Cisco.

“I think its market-leading and of course you’d expect me as the CEO of the company to say that, but others are saying it too,” says Douglas. He adds that the ability to audit communications to keep track of projects, meetings and more, regardless of conferencing mode, will be key for both efficiency and, secondarily, for governance purposes.

Of course, tying together the various strands of the communications hairball won’t be easy and industry politics getting in the way of progress are possible. But Douglas is bullish that Unify can build a workable ecosystem for Ansible.

“We’re trying our damnedest to learn lessons from those [efforts] that failed. I don’t see a single product out there like it.”


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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