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October 28, 2006
Executive Interview: Citrix Jumps Into UC With It’s Large Installed Base of “Virtualized” Application Users
By Art Rosenberg, The Unified-View
Now that “unified communications” (UC) is upstaging “VoIP” as the “nom de jour” for business communications, a lot of new players are coming into the picture. Some are focused on handheld wireless mobility and multimodal user interfaces, and some on communication enabled business applications. As I pointed out in a recent column, the latter involves two different aspects of user interactions with business applications. One capability enables automated business process applications to proactively make a real-time contact with and deliver time sensitive information to an end user or customer, e.g., automated notifications and alerts. The other capability simplifies person-to-person contact with people within the context of online information (“click-to contact”).
The latter is something that Microsoft has been particularly promoting in its big push towards UC, since it has control over a lot of the desktop business tools and applications that can exploit UC capabilities. However another strong player has joined the fray, because it too has a large footprint in the enterprise desktop business applications market. That company is Citrix, who’s Presentation Server is used to “”virtualize” business applications to the desktops of 97% of the Fortune 1000.
Such application “virtualization” helps centralize and simplify the maintenance of application software across large groups of distributed enterprise users, but also helps maintain the security of applications by eliminating the need to have the applications and data physically resident on individual PCs.
Now Citrix is looking to exploit it’s strategic role in desktop business applications software to facilitate the integration of applications and communications, and we talked to Citrix’s Murli Thirumale, former CEO of Net6 and now Group VP and General Manager of the Citrix Advanced Solutions Group.
AR: What is Citrix’s approach to “Unified Communications?”
MT: Unified Communications means many things to many people. Since Citrix is an applications company, what it really means to us is communications-enabling business applications so enterprise end users get enhanced productivity immediately. “Click-to-call” is a classic example of embedding telephony inside an application. Citrix’s web-distributed, auto-updating agent on the desktop, or on Citrix Presentation Server, turns every phone number in any application into a clickable field. When I click on a number, the agent contacts the communications infrastructure and has that corporate communications infrastructure place a call from the extension associated with the user to the telephone number that was clicked.
But that’s just the start. We will eventually enable our customers to click to collaborate, click to chat, or click to launch a voice or video conference, simply and easily, all within the context of an online desktop business application. Once you embed communications in your applications, it simplifies and speeds up the process of initiating communications.
AR: What are the biggest drivers for this vision?
MT: Applications are a way to capture a business process in software. Many business processes require communications with others as part of the process. A great example of this is the inside sales process which requires a lot of calling. Most of the time we see people awkwardly switching from running their application to making a call. By embedding click-to-contact inside the application users can initiate communications right from the application, an interface that they already know.
With the integration of applications there is a large leap in productivity when people involved in a business process can jump seamlessly into communicating with other people without leaving the application. The Blackberry integration of Click-to-call embedded in email is a great example of this. Once you use it, you’ll never go back!
AR: How does your company’s technology fit into enterprise UC migrations and why is it different or better than your competitors?
MT: Citrix adapts the technology to the user instead of having users adapt themselves to the technology. ”Click-to” is a great example of this. Embedding “click-to-call” seamlessly into the application creates a compelling user experience and ensures it will always be used —and this, in turn, ensures that businesses will actually profit from their investment.
Contrast this to other approaches to the same basic functionality, where the user is required to install and learn a new PC client or softphone interface to “click-to-call,” and in many cases go out of the application to make the call. Because we have such a large installed base of end users who use all kinds of business applications, we make it easy to connect them all with UC capabilities consistently across all their applications. Microsoft is targeting their applications for the same kind of integration with IP telephony. We interoperate with their infrastructure products, such as Live Communication Server and eventually Office Communications Server, as well as with the thousands of non-Microsoft business applications that are already in use.
AR: What have been the biggest market barriers and issues for your vision of telephony-enabling business applications? Communication silos, proprietary TDM telephony and integrations, voice only telephones (TUIs)?
MT: This is an area of huge buzz, but a lot of failed attempts. Telephony vendors have attempted to put new clients on desktops like softphones. Application companies have tried but failed to integrate with the various back end PBXs. Citrix’s approach of actually embedding the communications enablement inside the application is unique and creates a compelling user experience. We see the Citrix “middleware” approach as overcoming the problems that neither the application vendors nor communications vendors alone could solve unilaterally.
AR: How are you exploiting presence technologies in initiating application-based contacts?
MT: We see integrating presence with “Click-to-Contact” as essential. Seeing the availability and willingness to accept the call of the person you are calling is not just good etiquette but eliminates wasted time calling unavailable people. We have started to consolidate different sources of presence and integrate them into “Click-to-Contact.”
AR: What is your value proposition (ROI) for enterprise organizations?
MT: There are two sources of operational ROI to the enterprise:
First, enabling things that were not possible before. An example of this is with a legal client billing application that we recently rolled out. Most law firms require that their attorneys dial a client a matter code before getting an outside line. This enables the law firm to track the time and the expense of the call. The issue is that there is no simple way of confirming the correct codes when the attorney is dialing and it is impossibly tedious to enter the number so it frequently is not done. This causes lost revenue. .
We developed a “Click-to-Call” solution where it accesses information from the law firm’s legal application, provides a simple directory for the attorney to look up the client by name, and then automatically dials the number of the client and automatically enters the correct client and matter code. This saves time for the attorney, but more importantly ensures that the correct client and matter code always gets to the billing backend, eliminating manual errors, and increasing faster revenue generation (What you have described as “macro-productivity.).
The second is the individual time-saving every time a user initiates a communications contact from the application (what you have labeled “micro-productivity”). When you multiply these time savings per communications initiation by the number of times per day, by number of days per year, and by the number of employees in the organization that use this job-related , the return on investment can be both rapid and significant.
AR: What market segments are you targeting and how are you marketing to them?
MT: Our initial goal will be focusing on migrating our 180,000 Citrix customers. They have been very interested in doing more with their investment in Citrix Presentation Server. Now we have the capability of communications-enabling not only any application on Citrix Presentation Server, but also even any application that is deployed on a standalone basis.
AR: UM/UC capability has been of particular importance to mobile users who have to dynamically exploit both visual and voice interfaces depending on their immediate circumstances. What will Citrix be doing to support handheld mobile devices vs. the desktop?
MT: Our initial direction in the handheld mobile device area will most likely be supporting that handheld as the initiator of the call in a “Click-to-Call” situation. As an example, a user would be able to select which phone is their primary phone at that time. When a number in an application is clicked, the user’s selected phone (whether it is a mobile phone or desk phone) will be connected to the phone number that was “clicked.”
Mobility in how it relates to enterprise telephony is still its very early stages, not only from the perspective of many different device form factors and mobile network operators, but also because of different mobile operating systems that these devices will be using. From a mobile client perspective we are in a bit of a wait and see mode to understand what added value we will deliver to our mobile customers.
What Do You Think?
Read our articles on UC for Customer Contact applications
The Math of Customer UC: blog. (http://unified-view.blogspot.com/)