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Siemens’ Project Ansible: What It Means for the Channel

By now you’ve likely read or heard about the new unified communications initiative over at Siemens Enterprise Communications called Project Ansible. Sci-fi geeks will recognize "Ansible" as Ursula K. Le Guin’s word for a machine capable of instant, faster-than-the-speed-of-light communication (the rest of us will be forgiven for having to research the reference). The name seems apt, given the buzz surrounding Project Ansible’s capabilities. Indeed, analysts say Siemens appears to be taking a big step toward achieving the real promise of UC not developing a new product, per se, but bringing together all of the elements that make for easy collaboration, communications and social media interaction from one portal, on any device. Once Ansible is released next year, channel partners should find opportunity targeting organizations that have collaboration tools but lack strong user adoption.

First off, let’s be clear: Project Ansible will not replace Siemens OpenScape UC. That will come as a relief to partners and their customers because Project Ansible is not another product designed to replace an existing one. Rather, Project Ansible is an "enhancer" to OpenScape, said Michael Brandenburg, UC industry analyst within Frost & Sullivan‘s Information & Communications Technologies practice. "That means that the channel can continue to sell the same back-end systems that they are selling today without worrying that they will be obsolete when Ansible is available," Brandenburg said.

To that point, Project Ansible’s biggest draw may be its single view, which means users do not have to jump in and out of applications such as Salesforce.com, Microsoft or LinkedIn, for example. All of those programs, and more, are accessible from within Project Ansible. Further, Project Ansible turns meetings into voice and video transcripts, and will transcribe and search voice mails, emails, social media content, text messages and more. Then, users can find colleagues working on similar projects.

In terms of how to use Project Ansible, Siemens has developed the Ansible Agent for iOS and Android, and made it accessible over one of the four common browsers. Across devices, Project Ansible relies on the emerging WebRTC protocol for audio and video, so non-OpenScape users can receive an email with a URL and take part in Project Ansible-based collaboration. 

Project Ansible is designed to address core challenges faced by so many organizations today: enterprises are at the center of a complex web of interconnected systems that are hard to manage; companies are failing to drive the full value of those investments; and, while communications tools increasingly play a more central role in business, the user experience is broken,” Hamid Akhavan, CEO of Siemens Enterprise Communications, said in a press release.

That may sound like a bunch of marketing hype but analysts seem to find Project Ansible pretty revolutionary. 

"Ansible definitely has the opportunity for users and organizations to fundamentally rethink how they communicate and collaborate. Today, the notion of unified communications is in fact a loosely related set of collaboration tools telephony, video, web conferencing. Ansible obscures all of the back-end complexity of these tools and provides a single, integrated experience for the end user, whether they are on their desktop, smartphone or tablet," said Brandenburg.

Meanwhile, Current Analysis‘ Jeremiah Caron, senior vice president, analysis, said the unified communications and collaboration market "needs a rethink in terms of how advanced communications and collaboration capabilities get packaged and delivered. For the most part the business IT buyers and users just havent responded very well to the current offerings. The Siemens Ansible approach appears to be a fresh, comprehensive take, which is good."

And Wainhouse Research‘s Bill Haskins wrote in a July 16 memo that "Ansible looks compelling."

Channel partners, then, need to evaluate what this means for their business models. As Haskins noted, will Project Ansible prove compelling enough to enterprises to convince them to migrate to a Siemens Enterprise ecosystem? Even if they now run on Microsoft or Cisco, for example? That question can only be answered once Project Ansible is released in the second half of 2014, Haskins said. But part of the answer, he added, will come from Siemens channel partners.

"New and interesting services are not always the easiest to sell," he said. "Then again, being a first mover…may just grease those sales skids sufficiently."

Resellers and integrators ought to consider Project Ansible from a specific approach, Caron said.

"In my mind, Ansible is a complete collaboration platform, and so should be positioned in that way, not as a business communications tool only," he said.

And from that perspective, there’s some obvious, low-hanging fruit. Partners should "target their customers that have already made the investment in collaboration tools and infrastructure, but have not seen strong adoption of the tools within their organization," said Brandenburg.

Siemens is still working on channel issues such as support and training, but with Project Ansible at the helm, the company expects to continue shifting its sales focus toward indirect, aiming for a 75/25 split in favor of the channel, said Jan Hickisch, vice president of global portfolio management, UC, for Siemens Enterprise Communications. When it comes to Project Ansible, partners will be able to white-label the platform, rebrand it entirely or co-brand it with Siemens. Delivery models will include as-a-service, or public or private cloud. Siemens is not yet talking partner margins or revenue splits, nor has it unveiled typical end-user costs. The company will provide partner materials detailing elements such as value and differentiation, but training and collateral details are not yet fully fleshed out, Hickisch said.


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