Unify Gears Up for the Release of Ansible UC Platform

After a year of change and upheaval, CEO Dean Douglas prepares the company for the launch of the UC solution this month.

For Unify CEO Dean Douglas, the last 10 months have been busy, and October looks to be more of the same.

The former head of technology distributor Westcon Group was named Unify CEO in December 2013, replacing Hamid Akhavan only two months after the company changed its name from Siemens Enterprise Communications in a high-profile effort that included simultaneous events in New York City and Munich, Germany, and an aggressive marketing campaign to quickly raise awareness of the new brand.

Since taking the helm Jan. 16, Douglas has overseen a transformation effort at Unify as the unified communications (UC) company shifts from being a device maker to focusing on software and services—reflecting the trend in the UC industry toward software- and cloud-based solutions—and one that relies less on direct sales and more broadly leverages the channel to get its offerings into customers' hands.

The restructuring includes significant job cuts, with Unify officials announcing in June that they will reduce the workforce by half, from about 7,700 employees to about 3,800, with half of those cuts occurring in Europe. With the shift to software, the cloud and the channel, the company's workforce levels have to adapt, Douglas told eWEEK in a recent interview.

Douglas said he understands it's the employees who have to bear the brunt of the job cuts, and he tries to balance that against what is best for the company.

"It's tough to be the CEO of a company that has to do that," Douglas said. "It's not a situation where we have a lot of choice if we're going to be a sustainable business."

Despite the ongoing restructuring efforts, layoffs and product announcements—including the latest generation of OpenScape Enterprise, the OpenScape X1 appliance for SMBs and a partnership with BT—a significant step forward will come later this month with the much-anticipated release of the company's Project Ansible solution. First introduced in June 2013, Ansible is a UC solution designed to aggregate a broad array of communications streams—from voice and video to social software, analytics, text, search and business applications—from Unify and other third-party vendors and all of which can be centrally managed though a single common user interface.

Ansible is a big swing by the company to gain more traction in a UC market that is undergoing a lot of change and includes such top-tier players as Cisco Systems and Microsoft with its Lync solution. Ansible has been undergoing beta testing since May, and the company has received "remarkable feedback," Douglas said. Customers that have tested it are embracing it, and finding ways to use it that even Unify officials hadn't thought of, he said.

The reaction from customers that have yet to test it "ranges from skepticism … about whether this product will really work in their environment to awe that a company that developed a product like this is not a Silicon Valley startup."

Unify will first release Ansible as a cloud-based product and will follow soon after with a version that customers can run on-premises, the CEO said. In addition, the company will be building APIs that will enable customers to integrate UC solutions from Unify or third-party vendors, such as Cisco, Mitel and Avaya, into the Ansible platform, and allow developers and system integrators to create interfaces for it.

"As a stand-alone product, it works beautifully," Douglas said. "If you want to integrate it with Unify solutions [like OpenScape], no problem."