Chris Kranky

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Who will be the winner in the UC battle?

Chris KoehnckeChris Koehncke

Microsoft-Office-logo-Android-710x307Atlassian has wasted no time with Slack as a bandit on their tail with two quick acquisitions of Jitsi, to provide multi party video and Hall, a seeming admission that their popular Hipchat chat application isn’t so hip. The battle to be the “mother of all Unified Communications” is getting interesting (if you’re sipping tea on the porch) or ugly (if you’re in the clouds as the lightning bolts flash).

Everyone and I mean everyone, is paddling towards this UC island. The indigenous to this island are the original UC dwellers, otherwise known as telephone PBX types. Armed with handset receivers and curly cords they stand on the shores pounding their war drum. Microsoft appeared here a few years ago with Lync, but they simply walled off part of the island with a resort. You occasionally hear a guest splashing down the water slide. It looks different this time around though, not as friendly. Bigger boats, more troops and with strange weapons are approaching, their war chests laden with money as well. This may not end so well for the locals.

The storage folks like and dropbox have all your content and are trying to go up market into broader collaboration and communications. The web collaboration (read screen sharing) folks aren’t happy we only endure 2 hours a week of their stuff, are morphing their offerings into more persistent applications with wider value. Traditional IM, email management and call center vendors recognize they will have to go big or go home in this battle (I’d suggest SELL now). Not satisfied with their island resort, even Microsoft is rethinking this space (or at least thickening the fortress walls). Others, like Atlassian, recognize that what they’ve been doing serving a specialized market could actually serve a much larger one with a few simple tweaks.

They have vendors roaming the beach selling EVERYTHING - including bikinis.Finally, with tiki huts set up on the beach a slew of specialized UC weapon start-ups are ready to sell their wares to the war mongers, praying to be bought before the big ugly battle begins.

BUT make no mistake, there is going to be a big ugly battle.

The stakes are huge, we are talking the Microsoft Office of Communications in play.

Office today isn’t nearly as powerful as in previous years, but recognize it’s been a 30+ year franchise which has netted Microsoft billions in profit. It was a good run!

The winner is whomever can pull together the initially disparate but on closer examination common communications functions into the right formula, mix with a look n’ feel that you and I “want” to use is the opportunity.

Slack, for the moment, may well be the bookies favourite but the fight is just now getting underway and a broader market will decide the ultimate winner. Here in San Francisco, Slack is beckoning the smartest employees to their door with the allure of riches and their significant cash powder ensures Slack won’t disappear without a fight.

For those entering this battle, I suggest you pause and re-read the history of Microsoft Office, there are lessons to be learned. The genesis of Office was the single module, Multiplan, which later became known as Excel. Multiplan, initially, was quite a dog of a spreadsheet product. Lotus 1-2-3, the market leader, was widely expected to achieve world domination, however Lotus stumbled with their introduction of their MS-DOS version and this provided a small window for Microsoft to take share.

Microsoft quickly added PowerPoint (acquired for a mere $30m in today’s $$$) and changed the game on Lotus 1-2-3, who was stuck talking about spreadsheets and not office tools. Microsoft quickened the pace and introduced Mail and Word functions. Microsoft rarely stumbled from here and would be competitors failed to get a toe hold and simply withered off.

Interesting, for the most part, Microsoft Office was mostly built by themselves, Microsoft didn’t acquire a bunch of companies and attempt to cobble it together.

Here are some Kranky tips if you’re entering this war field:

1) It’s not apparent to me that anyone has a lead dog position. Slack may be the darling, but the radius on that love beam may be limited to the City of San Francisco. Their next move will be quite important. Everyone is the enemy for the moment.

2) Keep focused on what you think the winning solution will be. You can’t ignore details.  Fit n’ finish will count. Best to do 1 or 2 things well than 10 things poorly. This isn’t a feature war, it’s a functionality one. Microsoft Office was built on the value of Excel initially.

3) If the leader emerges and it ain’t you, keep a hawk eye out, they will likely stumble drunk on their own ego. It’s at this very moment that you need to unleash your inner wild banshee. Wound, mane, kill – whatever it takes, pull out the stops. Take the enemy down at all costs. Because failing this, you likely will as to.

4) Think about earlier versions of Office, why did people like it? Because it was easy to change modes, carry your data (cut n’ paste amongst the modules) and the UI was forthright and friendly (past tense). You didn’t feel like an idiot using Office (past tense).

5) Pace yourself. The insurance broker in Nebraska has no idea who TechCrunch is and doesn’t care either. The early inklings of Microsoft Office started in 1982, but didn’t come together as a package until 1989. Seven long years. Times have changed for sure, but getting this right is going to take time, dig in for the long haul.