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Suggested Priorities for Polycom CEO Kevin Parker
The short term issues are not the challenge, it is the looming industry transition that makes the long term so threatening--and exciting.
Kevin Parker, the chairman and now CEO of Polycom, came to the board in 2005 from PeopleSoft, where he served as CFO. That may prove to be highly relevant experience; during his term at PeopleSoft, the company improved margins, increased cash flow, reduced expenses, and got acquired by Oracle.
Polycom is a leader in video, and video usage is growing faster than ever before. The problem is that the increased usage isn't equating to increased sales. Polycom needs to make some changes to become relevant again in an industry it helped create.
Since Parker is new in the job, I thought I would take the liberty to offer some suggestions to help him shape his executive agenda. What follows are my suggestions for what Polycom needs to do to reclaim its place in an industry undergoing significant transition:
Focus on UC:�Video is out, at least in terms of spend--yet video usage is skyrocketing. Polycom is perceived as a provider of video equipment, so it needs to broaden this perception. UC--not video--is driving collaboration, productivity, and distributed communications. Former CEO Andrew Miller seemed to understand this with Microsoft, yet Polycom and its channel remain focused on video. Polycom needs to leverage its deep knowledge of video standards, codecs, and frame rates into a broader UC conversation.
The good news is Polycom has a full line of audio endpoints; the bad news is the telephony and video solutions target different customers. Polycom's SIP IP phones are mostly associated with softswitch makers (such as Digium, Genband, and BroadSoft) and service providers. Polycom's video-enabled solutions are enterprise plays independent of telephony. Meanwhile, Cisco, Avaya, and Mitel (as well as Microsoft) offer integrated voice- and video-enabled UC solutions.
Seamless Integration:�Market leaders have little incentive to interoperate, but Polycom needs to reconsider its position. Yes, all the vendors support basic interoperability, but the market wants a seamless rich experience, not a compromise. Look at the success of Vidtel and Blue Jeans, and now newborns Pexip and Acano--all committed to resolving interoperability headaches. Neither the standards bodies nor Polycom's non-standards attempts (UCI Forum and OVCC) have made meaningful contributions to seamless multi-vendor experiences. Why leave the opportunity to startups?
The situation is likely to get worse with Microsoft simultaneously integrating and closing-up Skype (the world's dominant video solution). So far, Polycom's "cloud solution," RealPresence, is aimed at enterprises. That's the path of least resistance. Yet products are rapidly becoming services, so Polycom needs to determine if it's selling equipment to service providers or selling services to enterprises.
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