Friday, July 30, 2010

ShoreTel - Final Recap - UC Strategies Podcast

Time sure flies when you're busy. This week's UC Strategies podcast was focused on our recap and takeaways from last week's ShoreTel analyst/partner event. A number of UC Strategies colleagues were there, so this is by far the best set of collective insights you'll find anywhere about the latest on ShoreTel.

We did the podcast on Monday, but it just posted this afternoon to their portal. I've already shared my thoughts here on the blog, but was happy to add some others to the podcast. You can download the MP3 here, or simply read the transcript that's part of the post.

Metaswitch Newsletter Relaunch/Debating the Merits of Voicemail

Regular readers will know that I've been closely following Metaswitch for a long time. As companies reach critical mass, branding and messaging becomes more important. Metaswitch has been doing a great job with this on a few fronts, and today, they have another one I'd like to share with you.

They've just relaunched their e-newsletter today - it's called "Overheard - water cooler talk from the Metaswitch office". I kinda like the title - I know it's just a free newsletter, and most vendors have one - but it does catch your attention. Wearing my MBA Marketing hat, this is a good community-building tool. Being an indie, working from home, I'm constantly struck by how many people in this market work the same way as me. We have no water cooler to go to - that's why Facebook, Linked In, and of course Twitter are so popular. I'm just glad to see someone connect the dots here and use email as a channel to extend the water cooler beyond the physical office. We may not be reading about rumors or saucy gossip, but we all want to know what other people are doing, thinking, saying, etc.

I think it's a good read, and would encourage you to get it. Content-wise, I'm happy to say they've included me in one of the features - Hang Ups. It's a point-counterpoint debate between Martin Taylor and myself about the value of voicemail in today's world. I'm on the contrary side of the argument, and it sure makes you think about the utility of tools we've been using forever. The Internet is changing the communications experience more than we realize - whether that's a good thing is best discussed another time.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Are Telcos Giving Up on Landline too Soon?

That's the subject of my latest Service Provider Views column, which is running now TMCnet. Hope you give it a read - I'm worried about the state of telecom - are you? Let's discuss.

Monday, July 26, 2010

ShoreTel Conference - Final Thoughts

Following my highlight post about ShoreTel’s partner/analyst event last week, I just wanted to share some thoughts about the event and what they’re bringing to market. There were about 15 analysts, and it’s fair to say this was a first for most of us. ShoreTel hasn’t done much outreach like this, so we don’t have much to compare this against. A few of us were spoiled by Cisco C-Scape last month, but that’s a pretty hard act for anyone to follow. Let’s just say this event was on a more human scale, and it’s great that their execs were so willing and able to spend time with us.

CEO John Combs set the stage by talking about the “perfect storm” that bodes well for the company. He cited several stats showing this to be a growing market, especially for UC and contact centers. Supporting this is their product set, strong channel network and an industry leading low TCO. Every vendor will have its own spin on TCO, and nobody wants to be the highest, so you have to take this with a grain of salt. That said, with simplicity being a core theme of the conference, it’s not surprising to see their TCO to be so attractive.

You can draw your own conclusions about TCO, but their customer satisfaction metrics are hard to argue with. With my market research background, I put a lot of stock in this factor, especially when the data consistently rates them ahead of their peers – Cisco, Microsoft, Avaya and Mitel. Equally impressive is their absolute rating over time and how they’ve stayed at such a high level. In every quarter since Q4 2005, they’ve had a 90% or better rating, so they’ve clearly found the right balance with customers.

This is reflected in their strong sales growth, and being a public company, this shouldn’t be news by now. Sales have steadily grown from $19 million in 2004 to the current level of $148 million. Supporting this is a healthy win rate, which sees them succeeding on two out of every three opportunities.

It’s a strong growth story, but there is still work to be done. While the win rate is good, their consideration rate is the weak link. They explain this by saying ShoreTel is only being considered for 3 out of every 20 opportunities. That’s a pretty low rate, so you can imagine how their growth metrics would spike simply by doubling this. So long as they keep a high win rate, improving this metric will yield a very strong upside. I don’t think there were any financial analysts with us, but I have no doubt they will zone in on this one for its impact on the company’s valuation.

This consideration rate is driven by a more basic issue – they simply aren’t a household name like their bigger competitors. One of the key initiatives coming out of the conference was their commitment to investing in brand building. Given their strong growth story, this should be a fixable problem, especially when they seem to have so many happy customers willing and able to vouch for them. As noted later in the conference, it’s much better to have a great product and not be well known rather than be well known with a mediocre product.

Their strengths are in the right areas, and in my view, the weaknesses are largely within their control. Investing more money in marketing is no guarantee, of course, but seeing such a good vibe from both customers and channel partners, there are a lot of people rooting for them. I can vouch for that first hand via the many conversations I had there with resellers – both new ones and long term ShoreTel partners.

Over the two days we were there ShoreTel shared quite a bit more, and overall, I came away with a better understanding of what makes them successful, and a more positive outlook on their chances. In that regard, I’m sure they felt the same way about the analysts, who are probably better connected to ShoreTel than ever before. They spent a fair bit of time explaining their architecture and why it creates more simplicity for both resellers and customers. It’s an important part of the story, but I’ll leave that assessment to the more technical analysts in attendance. I should also mention that most of Day 2 was dedicated to the strategic roadmap – it was quite good, but under NDA, so let’s move on.

Beyond all the detail, the underlying theme of the event was summed up in their tagline “Beat Complexity”. It’s a good mantra, and it’s hard to argue against this. They provided some great examples of how various competitors have lots of complexity, while theirs is the opposite. Again, there’s room for subjectivity in defining “complexity”, but if you can persuade the marketplace that you’re “brilliantly simple” – another key tagline from the conference – you’re going to win more than you lose. Skype is still my all-time favorite example of simplicity and good technology trumping everything else, and I’m sure that lesson hasn’t been lost on ShoreTel.

Finally, I can’t help but wonder if “Beat Complexity” is code for “Beat Cisco”, making this a more subtle way to motivate resellers. After all, that’s the target audience of this event, and everyone knows that Cisco is top dog. ShoreTel is aiming high - why not? – and while Cisco may be better at branding, the takeaway from the conference would be that ShoreTel has a better product. Simplicity is part of that equation, and ShoreTel believes that’s what the market really needs. I think they’re right, and the proof will come over the next couple of quarters. In the past I haven’t followed their earnings calls that closely, but you can be sure I will be now.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

ShoreTel Champion Partners Conference - Day 1

This my first ShoreTel analyst event, and it's been great so far. Lots to talk about, and that will come in a follow on post. There's a really good story, and it's great to hear about it first hand. Not sure who is more upbeat around here - ShoreTel or their channel partners. I'd say it's about even, so the overall vibe is very positive - much unlike the weather here in San Diego! Oh - and a whole lot of orange - it's not hard to know who works for ShoreTel around here.

Anyhow, I just have time to share a few photos from yesterday to give you a quick feel for what we're experiencing.

Richard Laible - this guy is funny - nice choice for the MC. And, as you can see - for better or worse - he's a great stand-in for a lean Alfred Hitchcock. Good eeeev-ening, ladies and gentlemen. Have you got that theme song going through your head now? Dah dunh, dah dunh nuh, dah dunh, dah dunh.....

Outgoing CEO John Combs. He's done a great job, and we heard about what they're looking for in a successor.

Don Girskis leadng a session with one of their newer partners, Unified Technologies - great example of how partners are succeeding with ShoreTel

IBM Foundation demo

Analyst-only session, led by Bernard Gutnick, along with key ShoreTel execs

Cisco's Hosted UC Solution - are Enterprises Ready?

My latest Service Provider Views column focuses on HUCS - Cisco's Hosted UC Solutions launch, which we were pre-briefed on at C-Scape. I've been wanting to add my take on this since then, and this column has been the right place to do that.

Rather than focus on the details of the solution, I'm more interested in the value proposition for enterprises, as well as the potential impact on the other players in this space. The article is running now on TMCnet, and you can read it here.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Will the Shoe Phone Make a Comeback?

My answer is definitely no, but now that I have you, I wanted to share a guest article that was posted today on The Mark. This is a Toronto-based online news/culture portal that I contribute to occasionally, and aside from my article, I'm happy to bring it to your attention. You don't have to be Canadian to enjoy it. Their content is far ranging, but always interesting, balanced and challenging. That's the kind of read I like, and I bet you do too.

I'm glad to be one of the voices here, and they asked me to write about a technology trend as part of a broader series titled Twelve Things That Will Be Obsolete in 10 Years. I've been writing about where telecom is going a fair bit lately, so this was a great chance for me to put on my predictor hat. I don't see my beloved Maxwell Smart's shoe phone in this world, but I don't think there will many telephones around by then either. If this gets you thinking, please give it a read, and let me know what you think!

Friday, July 16, 2010

Next Stop - San Diego - ShoreTel

I haven't been traveling much this year, but I have/had 3 trips out West during June and July. That's a lot for me, but after that, I'm done til the fall.

So, next week I'll be attending ShoreTel's analyst conference, which is part of their bigger partner event. This is my first ShoreTel analyst event, and I'm really looking forward to it, esp being out in San Diego. I've had opportunities to attend their events in the past, but the timing just never worked out.

ShoreTel's space has consolidated quite a bit, and while the big players keep getting bigger, they're hanging in there. Aside from the fact they are one of the few independents left, the company is performing quite well. Don't forget, they're public, and the markets haven't treated companies in this space very well lately. Last year around this time, the stock was touching $9, and it was recently about half of that. However, it's been steadily climbing back, and is now pushing up towards $6. I'm sure this upward trend reflects their continued strong performance, and by this time next week, I should be able to confirm that based on what we learn at their conference.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Why the Desk Phone will Disappear

That should get your attention, right? For some, this is inevitable - and for others, this may seem unthinkable. Well, read on, and make up your mind. Is the desk phone on the way out, or not going anywhere?

This is my latest Brief on, and I hope you give it a read - then give us your thoughts. Thanks!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Cisco C-Scape/Cius Roundup - UCS Podcast

I've written about Cisco C-Scape and Cius a few times already, and have one more go-round for you.

As regular readers know, I participate on the UC Strategies weekly podcasts as time allows, and yesterday we had a group recap of C-Scape. So, for the Cisco and Cius followers out there, this is a deeper dive on our takeaways, and a broader set of views beyond my personal take.

The podcast has been posted now to their portal, and if that's too much bother, there's a full transcript of the discussion on the posting. Enjoy!

Monday, July 12, 2010

Cisco Cius - Another Look

Time sure flies when you're busy. Apologies - been so busy with project work, I just realized that I didn't post last week. Not sure if that's ever happened before.

As you may know, my industry analysis is being posted regularly in a few places these days, and most of it is a good proxy for what might have otherwise been written about here. Such are the economic realities of being an indie.

I'll resume that trend with my July contribution to the UC Strategies portal. This really is the go-to source for all things UC, and I'm glad to be associated with this group of industry experts. A few of them were with me at Cisco C-Scape at the end of June, and we all witnessed the surprise launch of Cius, Cisco's entry into the overheated tablet market.

I actually quite like the Cius, and while most of the buzz has long since passed, this was my time to post on the UCS portal. As usual, I'm weighing in with some thoughts that are more reflective than reactive, so there's nothing time sensitive here. However, I think I have a few ideas to add that I haven't seen yet, so if Cius is of interest, you may find this worth reading. Same goes for UC, since I'm trying to see where/how Cius fits into that conversation - which is why it's running on UC Strategies. It's posted there now, so give it a read when you can - thanks!