I recently had a chance to speak with NEC's Charlie Langdon who took over from Tom Burger as the president of NEC Unified Solutions. Burger was an industry icon and very well-known to the TMC editorial team as someone with vision and deep understanding of the telecom market. Langdon's ascended to this post from his prior position as VP of Sales.
Langdon did a great job keynoting at ITEXPO a few weeks back, and I wanted to spend some time with him to hear his ideas fleshed out a bit more. I asked NEC's new president about his vision of enterprise communications, and I got more than I bargained for, as Langdon has a very complete vision of where things are going -- and where we've been.
He reviewed how the computer industry went from mainframes to client-server based architecture and how over time applications become less and less centralized. A good portion of our talk was devoted to how customers have become more empowered in the information technology world looking back twenty years. There was a time when a company leaving an established vendor to purchase from a start-up was considered a black-eye for the big vendor and quite often such stories ended up in places like the Wall Street Journal.
This led us to the current state of communications where Langdon proclaimed, "VoIP is an open operating system for communications applications. It is like what UNIX was to operating systems." This was when he got animated -- well, as far as I can tell anyway, as we were on the phone. The conversation went on to the concept of communications becoming a business tool, something that enhances value. This is the natural evolution of VoIP, according to Langdon.
"VoIP is an open operating system for communications applications. It is like what UNIX was to operating systems."
In his view, VoIP isn't just about saving money but increasing corporate revenues through better communications.
The conversation started to go toward applications, and I asked what he thought about the concept of VoIP 2.0; he responded that NEC aligns with this concept. A few of the areas where the company is rolling out advanced applications, in fact, are healthcare and government markets. The company is distributing specific packages for universities and other markets. Interestingly, NEC really places a great deal of value on its resellers -- they even refer to this channel as a division of the company. This is fairly unusual, in my experience.
I wondered what NEC thought of what some of the big names in VoIP, such as Google, Skype, Microsoft and others. The reply wasn’t exactly what I expected, as I learned that NEC is in NDA discussion with one of these. He also mentioned that these companies are primarily focused on the consumer market -- perhaps implying there isn't much of a need to work with or fear some of these players. He made it clear to me that NEC wants to provide services where possible and allow other companies to provide applications.
If I had to guess, I would say that Microsoft would be a natural partner fro the company and indeed is the least consumer-focused of the above companies.
With all this talk of integration, I had to learn more about how NEC's communications division works with other divisions in their company. I was told they do work with other divisions whenever possible and the display and biometrics divisions are just two of the areas that collaborate with NEC Unified to provide cohesive solutions. For example, the company is supplying a hospital with a solution that combines tablet computers with biometrics to allow doctors and nurses to have instantaneous access to potentially life-saving health information. This is coupled with communications that allow real-time dissemination of time-sensitive data. In this case, doctors reduce the risk of using the wrong chart, and eliminating paper means the wrong eyes cant snoop around in data they aren't supposed to view.
I was interested too in learning more about what the company thinks about hosting, as this is a buzzword that is very hot at VoIP shows I frequent. NEC's view is that resellers become disenfranchised when service providers supply such solutions; in selling their hosted solutions, they work closely with resellers to ensure the integration is done correctly and, of course, that the resellers share in the revenue.
I wrapped up our conversation with a question about the biggest impediment to the company's growth and was told the company comes from a shy culture and his challenge is getting the information about NEC's benefits into the market. I was pretty amazed at this final and candid response. I must admit that in my experience, companies with parents outside the U.S. have a terrible time marketing here. I really think the final marketing decision maker and person who allocates the American marketing budget needs to live and breathe in the U.S. to truly understand how to do well here. This is especially true if the company is a household name in their home-country.
With regard to their marketing efforts, NEC says they are continuing to shift their marketing in favor of a services and solutions-provider approach. They're concentrating on building their reputation based on successful deployments and delivering productivity improvements to real-world users, e.g., doctors and nurses in the healthcare industry and professors and students in the higher-education vertical.
So what do I think of Langdon? He knows his history -- and repeating mistakes is something that can kill you in life, whether running a country or running a company. With two eyes on the future and a casual glance at the past, I think NEC Unified could have smooth sailing for the foreseeable future.
Rich Tehrani is President and Editor in Chief at TMC.
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