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.”
Unify Gears Up for the Release of Ansible UC Platform
However, what the platform will be called when it’s released is still under discussion, Douglas said. Ansible has been a code name used since the company first began talking about it. Whether it remains once the product is released is still under debate. Some customers have told Unify officials that the name can be confusing and that it doesn’t express what the platform offers, he said.
“It will be interesting to see what decision we come to,” Douglas said.
Count Zeus Kerravala as one who would like to see the Ansible name remain. Kerravala, principal analyst with ZK Research, has said that Unify has done a good job of establishing the Ansible name in the marketplace.
“To change it now would be a mistake,” he told eWEEK.
Whatever they name the product, Unify officials will have an opportunity to grow the company’s presence in the UC space, Kerravala said.
“They’re doing the things they said they’d do productwise,” he said. “Now the real hard work begins.”
That work includes leveraging the marketing, sales and channel strengths that they’re building to build awareness of the company and its solutions. The analyst also said Unify could help itself by highlighting Ansible’s mobile capabilities.
Unify officials have talked about mobile over the past several months. At the CeBit show in March and later at the Enterprise Connect 2014 event later that month, Douglas and other executives talked about what the company is calling the “new way to work,” which is heavily influenced by such trends as the consumerization of IT—or bring-your-own-device (BYOD)—social media and the cloud. These trends are changing the way employees work and collaborate—they want to be able to work anywhere, and be able to collaborate at any time and on any device. Douglas introduced the company’s New Way to Work Index, a research series designed to give organizations information to help them create strategies around new ways of communicating and collaborating.
Kerravala said stressing a mobile message could help Unify differentiate itself from competitors. Cisco officials focus on the company’s capabilities around voice and video, while Microsoft builds its message for Lync around the desktop, he said.
“Many UC [solutions] have mobile in their tool kit, but I haven’t seen any UC vendor lead with mobile,” Kerravala said. “[Unify officials] come with a clean slate. They could do it. … Nobody leads with mobile, and given that mobile is the wave of the future, mobile gives [Unify] a way to break away [from competitors].”