Logitech Turns Its Business Focus to UC

By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2013-06-15

Logitech Turns Its Business Focus to UC

Logitech officials, who two years ago expanded their focus beyond consumer products when they created a unit focused on businesses, are looking to leverage what they see as a significant opportunity in the unified communications market.

Over the past few months, Logitech has begun shipping a number of products aimed at filling what Mike Langberg, senior public relations manager for the company, called "the last inch to unified communications"—the space between the endpoint and the user.

Vendors like Cisco Systems, Microsoft, ShoreTel and Avaya are rolling out a range of hardware and software products that bring unified communications (UC) capabilities to a user's desktop and laptop. Logitech's goal is to offer products—from headphones to keyboards to mice—that make those UC platforms easier to use, Langberg told eWEEK.

"To us, unified communications look like a big transition … both to our company and to the enterprise customers we're addressing," he said.

Vendors are offering solutions that bring everything from voice and presence to instant messaging and—increasingly—video under one umbrella, and offering them in a wide range of platforms, from desktop PCs to mobile devices. Where the Internet, voice and video were all housed in individual silos, those capabilities are now on a user's computing device.

"It's a very disruptive change because it's all coming through one wire," Langberg said.

Businesses see UC helping improve worker productivity, increase collaboration among employees, partners and customers, and drive down expenses, such as travel costs.

"We're really excited about this business. It's early days in the onset of UC into the big enterprise players, but it's going to be an incredibly exciting market," Logitech President and CEO Bracken Darrell told analysts during a conference call in April to talk about the company's quarterly financial numbers. "It's got very big potential for us. As I said, it's very early days and I don't know if it will take five years or 10 years to really take hold across all of the big enterprises, but we all know it is coming."

Logitech engineers are working closely with Cisco and Microsoft to develop products that can work with their respective UC platforms, Darrell said.

"We're partnering directly with Cisco and with Microsoft for … Jabber and Lync to sell into these enterprise customers," he said. "And our first sales are coming in right now. The nice thing is—you probably realize about this whole UC business—is that it … generally pulls a Webcam, a keyboard, a headset and often even a mouse."

That is where Logitech is aiming. Over the past few months, the company has announced a series of products aimed at the UC market. In March, the company began selling its USB headset H650e that offers a flexible microphone boom, a no-tangle cable and an LED indicator light to let people know when a user is on a call. This month the company will start selling its Webcam C930e, which can zoom, pan and tilt and supports H.264 SVC, which moves the video encoding from the PC and into the camera.

Logitech also is selling its UC Solution for Cisco 725-C, a combination keyboard, mouse and Webcam designed specifically for Cisco Jabber environments, Langberg said. The keyboard includes nine dedicated keys for UC for such functions as call answer and hang-up, volume, audio and video mute, audio selection for headset, handset or speaker, and voice mail messages. There also is an LCD call information display that shows such information as caller ID, date and time.

The goal was to make the functions easy to see and reach on the keyboard, rather than having to go into the software display on the screen, he said. They also light up when in use—the voice message lights up red when there are messages, and the call answer button shines green when a user is on the call, for example.


Logitech Turns Its Business Focus to UC

If the UC platform is easy to use and understand, workers will more quickly embrace it, Langberg said. Products like these will make it simpler.

"We feel this is a pretty comprehensive portfolio for the desktop," he said.

The new offerings come at a time of transition for Logitech. The company, like others in the tech industry, has been hit by the uncertain global economy and the slowdown in PC sales. Revenues for the company's fiscal 2013 were $2.1 billion, down from $2.3 billion the year before, and Logitech lost $252 million. Darrell, who became CEO Jan. 1, this year oversaw a restructuring in the company that included about 140 job cuts, and said in January that company executives were considering selling off Logitech's LifeSize Communications video conferencing business.

Logitech's $405 million purchase of LifeSize in 2009 was the company's first real step into the corporate world. Prior to that, it focused strictly on the consumer tech market. Darrell told analysts in April that he had decided to keep LifeSize, but the speculation around its future impacted its finances, with sales falling 19 percent.

As Wainhouse Research analyst Andrew Davis said in a June 10 post on the No Jitter blog site, Darrell "shot LifeSize between the eyes in January when he implied LifeSize was up for a strategic review and might actually be sold off. That sucked the air right out of the LifeSize sales force in Q1. Resuscitation efforts have just begun."

In talking with the analysts, Darrell noted that part of the 19 percent sales decline was caused by a soft video conferencing market, as well as customers and partners being reticent to buy from LifeSize after his comments in January. However, Logitech has restructured LifeSize and will keep it.

"I think we went through a quarter of some pretty hard times, really some soul searching among customers about whether they ought to buy our products that delayed some things," he said. "We probably lost a few deals. Now, we're through that. I think that part of the uncertainty really goes away."

What's left, he said, is a video conferencing opportunity among small and midsize businesses (SMBs) that represents a significant opportunity for LifeSize, Darrell said.

"We're going to continue to sell at times to larger customers, but our focus will be on the small and medium-sized business," he said. "And our product line, we're really focused on the smart video solution which is about really making video conferencing easy, almost consumer easy, for a business customer. So, as one of our LifeSize employees said the other day, it should be so easy that the CEO doesn't have to hand the remote to the IT guy next to him."


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