UC3 News — 20 February 2018

I’ve been involved with TMC and their ITExpo event long before UC was athing, and having just returned from the 2018 edition, I can say with certaintythat UCaaS has a long way to go before becoming the standard for business communications.

The long-term prognosis favors some form of an integrated UC&C solution, but year after year, ITExpo persists. Someyears, the show looks behind the times, but that’s really just a matter of perspective. By my count, there were about 140 exhibitors in Fort Lauderdale, and that’s a pretty healthy show floor. It may not be Enterprise Connect, but the ecosystem here for buyers, sellers and channel partners looks strong to me.

The show certainly had exhibitors offering forms of UC or CPaaS, but I can’t say there were any pure plays that would roll off the tongue of BCStrategies followers. To be fair, that language was spoken a fair bit on several sessions, so it was definitely part of the program, but you wouldn’t get that impression walking the show floor. 

Have I got a phone for you!

On the other hand, there was no shortage of telephony or voice-centric exhibitors to speak with, selling the gamut from IP PBX, IP phones, VoIP gateways, VoIP chipsets, ATAs, cloud PBX, SIP trunking,VoIP termination, etc. Let’s just say I wasn’t surprised when an exhibitor pulled me in to demo their PBX and FoIP module – after which I was handsomely rewarded with a tchotchke-filled gift bag. I know you’re rolling your eyes saying “it’s 2018 – who uses these thingsany more?” Newsflash – telephony is alive and well here, and I’m sure many of these exhibitors will be back next year.

Beyond that, there were lots of complementary pieces, such as call recording, 911, fax, VoIP billing, and voiceAPIs, along with various IT support services. SD WAN, storage and security were also well represented, so the scope went well beyond voice. As such, it wouldn’t be fair to say the exhibit hall was all about hardware – there was lots on tap related to the cloud, but hardly anything about UCaaS or workplace productivity. It’s just not that kind of show.

In this regard, ITExpo is akin to MainStreet USA, where the needs are pretty basic, and nobody is pushing the envelope very hard. One of my panel sessions was about chatbots, and with a full room, I asked how many attendees were developers – not a single hand went up. Ugh. I turned to my speakers, and they all had that “so…what are we going to talk about now?” look on their faces. Let’s just say I’ve done this many times before, and in Bill Belichick fashion, I made adjustments, and we did just fine.

At this point, I should clarify that several sub-events were co-located with ITExpo, including ones focused on blockchain and communications applications. As such, there were some leading-edge themes, but catering to rather specific audiences. ITExpo is definitely the main event, and I take that as my barometer for where TMC’s market is at.

Based on my analysis so far, it should be clear that service providers are a big part of their audience, ranging from MSPs, ITSPs and CLECs, with no shortage of distributors, VARs and Master Agents vying for deals. This makes ITExpo more of a trade show than a thought leader conference, and it’s a telling indicator of what really drives business, at least in this ecosystem.

I say that because TMC’s sweet spot is mostly SMB and mid-market, and is quite different from the more up-market vibe I’ll see next month at Enterprise Connect. For this reason, the Tier 1s are almost always conspicuously absent at ITExpo. Avaya had a nominal presence in Fort Lauderdale, but other than a few speakers during the sessions, there was no sign of Cisco, Microsoft, IBM, Mitel, NEC, even Polycom, or OTT leaders like Vonage, RingCentral or 8×8.

Maybe slow and steady wins the race

Every industry event has a niche, and the comparison to Enterprise Connect must be taken in stride, especially since ITExpo has been running for longer than just about anyone else. That’s worth noting in its own right, considering how many shows have come and gone, and how many name changes Enterprise Connect has had to keep up with an ever-changing market. Nobody said show business was easy, so props to TMC for keeping things going. 

ITExpo may not offer anything new for our readers, but it’s a pretty clear confirmation that legacy, premise-based technology still has utility. Not every business – or channel partner – is ready for the cloud, or is sold on UC. We should never forget that most forms of new technology take a long time to diffuse into the mainstream, and just because we think the likes of UCaaS can make every business more productive now, it doesn’t mean it’s going to happen so fast. I expect to be singing a different tune next month in Orlando, but don’t try and tell me it’s a better tune – it’s just different, and that’s what keeps things interesting for analysts like me.

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