Interview with Jeff Kane, president of NEC Unified

Reprinted from
Interview: NEC Unified President Jeff Kane
Posted by Eric Krapf, Editor | Mar 12, 2009

Remember the press tour? Every so often, vendor execs, with their PR reps in tow (or vice versa) would sojourn across the country, visiting the offices of trade publications and analyst companies, sometimes with a product announcement, but frequently just to press the flesh and update us folks on what their companies were doing and thinking.

The press tour is a luxury for vendors in this economic climate, and probably seems increasingly anachronistic anyway at a time when more and more interactions take place over the Web every day.

Still, would it kill you to visit once in awhile? You never come see us anymore.
That’s why it was nice to see Jeff Kane, president of NEC Unified, show up in our conference room, together with Kris Kozamchak, NEC’s excellent director of corporate communications. Jeff always comes across as a pretty straight shooter, so it’s always useful just to sit around talking with him for an hour. When we did that recently (before, I should point out, the most recent news on a potential Nortel breakup), here’s some of what Jeff had to say:

* On the economy: NEC Unified’s edge in this time of turmoil is its lighter exposure to verticals like banking, in favor of strength in health care, which is a better place to be right now, relatively speaking, according to Jeff Kane. NEC also has strong positions in state governments and in federal departments including Veterans Affairs and the Department of Agriculture.

Being part of a Japanese company also lends some perspective, Jeff said. His Japanese counterparts aren’t as fazed by the prospect of a bad year or two: “They say, ‘Our last bad year was the ’90s.'” As in, the whole decade.
He does say, however, that SMB spending is all but dead for now–“On the small business side, there’s no money.”

* On Unified Communications: Jeff Kane said that 30% of NEC’s systems go out with some Unified Communications applications enabled. SMBs’ rates of UC implementation had been growing at 125% per year before the crash. More importantly, he said, “Customers are starting to ask really good questions” about UC. The 3 questions he said every customer should ask their vendor about UC are:
1. How long will this technology last?
2. What do I have to do to actually manage the technology?
3. What can I do with it?

I think that’s a really interesting order to put things in, and probably right–no matter what a vendor is promising, you as a customer need to know the most basic thing about the technology: What does it cost me? And you don’t really know what it costs you until you know how long it will last.

And there’s nothing wrong with trying to extend this lifespan rather than shorten it, according to Jeff Kane. “Customers continue to get as much as they can out of what they’ve purchased,” he said, approvingly.

Then, putting management second jibes with the suggestion we had in this recent blog by Gary Audin. Once again, this really goes to the question of what the technology costs you.

The final point, What can I do with it? is of course critical, and I like the way Jeff poses the question: Not, What does the technology do? but What can I do with it? Jeff Kane described this as “letting the business drive the technology,” and it relates directly to how he sees NEC Unified’s role in a customer’s UC future. Jeff kept coming back to the idea that service and support, adding capability and managing the pace of change are critical to implementing UC in a way that actually delivers on the promise.

So we appreciate Jeff and Kris dropping by. And the rest of you: The door’s always open.