Friday, December 23, 2011

My 2011 Unified Communications Takeaways

Building on our UCStrategies podcast earlier this week on the UC year in review, I've added another take in written form.

In short, disruption was the big driver, and it's hard to imagine this degree of change being the norm for 2012 - but you never know! I've had a chance to gauge the landscape both here in Canada as well as the U.S., and disruption comes in many flavors. Some is welcome and some is not, and my take on what it means for UC is the focus of my summary. It's posted now on the UCStrategies portal, and I welcome your thoughts after you've had a chance to give it a read.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Unified Communications - 2011 Year in Review Podcast

We're getting that looking back/looking ahead time of year, right? The latest UCStrategies podcast served as our 2011 review in this space, and there was lots to talk about.

This is as complete of a roundup on what happened in Unified Communications this year as you're going to find, so if this space is on your radar, you'll want to give it a listen. The podcast - and transcript - is posted now on the portal, so head on over to hear what we had to say.

We're off next week, but our next podcast is the following week, and we'll address our 2012 UC outlook/predictions then. Can't wait!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

ITExpo East in Miami - 41 days and counting...

Just a quick shout-out before people get too scattered for the holidays.

TMC's ITExpo East is just 41 days away, and before you know it, we'll be in Miami - nothing wrong with that, right? The show builds on strong momentum from the Austin expo back in September, and the upcoming program is as strong as ever. They recently announced Sir Terry Matthews as a keynoter, and you will not want to miss that. Great choice!

I'll be plenty busy as well, moderating three panels, and I'll provide more details on those as the speakers get confirmed.

1. Wed. at 11am - Building the UC business case

2. Wed. at 1:30pm - How call centers are being reshaped by smartphones, social media and fed-up consumers

3. Friday at 10am - Can UC get social?

Looking forward to all of those, and I hope you are too. Lots more to come about this and the Expo - stay tuned.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

SMBs and the channel - Canadian update - where's the innovation?

This morning I attended a breakfast session hosted by IT World Canada, and it was a good update on the state of the channel, especially for serving the SMB market. They served it up as a debate, with speakers from two channels, and facilitated by the venerable Paolo Del Nibletto from IT World Canada - with a specific focus on the publication, CDN - Canadian Dealer News. Joining Paolo was Joe Ussia of Infinite IT Solutions, and Christopher Woodill of Navantis.

For SMB, the channel is where the business really happens, and where vendors put their trust in their partners to effectively deploy their solutions. As we heard, SMBs are cautious, both in terms of adopting technology and spending. Paolo shared some data showing that 50% of Canadian SMBs will have have flat IT budgets in 2012, and 22% will actually drop. Not surprisingly, he shared data showing that the biggest concerns among channels are - the state of the economy (healthier than the U.S., but not great), margins, and sales growth. Totally makes sense, right?

Of greater concern to Paolo - and I fully agree - is how little importance the channels are placing on innovation and R&D - these scored much lower on the priority list in the research he shared. This is pretty typical for Canada, and while SMBs generally don't flock to cutting-edge technology, the channel players risk becoming commodities if they're all pushing the same stock solutions.

Note to self and Paolo - next time, show some research regarding what SMB priorities are. I wouldn't be surprised to see innovation and R&D higher up on their list - and if so, there really would be a disconnect between channels and SMBs. Paolo - I'm ready to do the research when you are!

So, with all this uncertainty out there, it's no surprise that uptake on hosted or cloud offerings is slow. As the speakers noted, SMBs still like a sense of IT ownership and control, but they do value what VARs and integrators bring to make multi-mode - and multi-vendor - solutions work. It's a tricky balance in that SMBs aren't spending a lot on Capex for premise-based systems, plus they're also cautious about the cloud.

Perhaps the strongest takeway from this was the path SMBs seem to be on with cloud. They seem happy and comfortable buying point solutions such as Salesforce or CRM that run in the cloud - but this just results in a mish-mash of applications with no integration, which of course, is where the channels earns its keep. As such, the channels concede we'll be in a hybrid market for some time - premise isn't going away that quickly, and cloud adoption will be gradual for communications applications.

Nothing ground-breaking here, but certainly a healthy reality check on what Canadian SMBs are doing, and how the channels are responding. Kudos to Paolo and his team, and I look forward to the next event.

Paolo leading the discussion with Joe Ussia and Christopher Woodill

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Rogers Wireless "One Number" Launch - Upping the Stakes

At its core, Toronto-based Rogers is a cable company, but wireless is where the action is, and that's where they're doing the most interesting things. They bet right on GSM - which begat their iPhone monopoly until recently - and through some shrewd moves, have become Canada's #1 mobile operator. They really are a one-of-a-kind entity, as no major MSO I know of has their mix of assets, all of which make money.

Along those lines, Rogers Wireless is set today to launch their beta of a new service called One Number. It's exactly what you think - one number to manage all your communications. If there's one key to success with consumer services - especially technology - it's simplicity. Skype taught us all about that and they haven't looked back since. Doesn't get much simpler that this - one number - that's all you need to worry about. It's the same mentality that goes with bundling, which they've been very successful at. If you like the bundle, you'll probably like One Number.

This is hardly a new concept, and anyone in Unified Communications circles would yawn. They shouldn't, though. UC is really for the business market, and the telecom piece is built mainly around the desk phone. The twist with One Number is that it's built around the mobile phone, which is pretty much where consumers live, breath and sleep these days. Rogers Wireless has read the tea leaves right, and to make their bundle even stickier, One Number basically integrates mobility with your desktop. So what? So this. Now you can hand off mobile calls to your PC - or vice versa - as some people do with Skype. Same for texting and messaging - what you do on your mobile phone you can now do on your PC. And of course your contacts will synch between the devices so the experience is seamless.

Pretty cool, pretty easy and pretty familiar. Sounds like Google Voice, huh? Problem is you can't get it here in Canada - something to do with how the big 3 operators like to do things. Anyhow, it's very much a Web 2.0-meets mobility-meets VoIP mashup, and I think consumers will love it. Most people under 30 have long moved on from a landline, and with One Number, their PC simply becomes an extension of their smartphone - you just don't need anything else. Clever, huh? If you can find a way to use Google Voice, there's no need now. Skype. Well, it's always there, but hey, if most of your everyday contacts are in your smartphone directory, it will just make more sense to call them from your PC that way, especially since those calls are largely free.

There are some other twists to this, but I'll leave those details to the real geeks. I just find it very telling how this is all being driven by wireless now, and One Number is a neat way to marry this with the PC. Of course, all of this will depend on the end user experience - if handoffs drop, or call quality is crappy, One Number will quickly and quietly disappear. In that regard, there's a nice Canadian angle, as the PC platform is from CounterPath, a company I have followed for some time. Their Bria soft client is quite good - I trialed it recently, and the company is doing well - their Q2 numbers were just released today. At a time when 6 of Canada's 7 hockey teams are mired in total mediocrity, it's great to see some good news coming from these companies.

As a coda, I should note that there's more to consider than just making the Rogers bundle stickier. Last night I was at a holiday party for one of the new wireless entrants, and it's very interesting to hear their take on the competitive landscape. Canada's wireless market has some challenging dynamics, and the regulators are doing everything they can to legislate competition. The new operators are pureplay mobile services, and One Number is another way for Rogers to differentiate and keep their ARPU up where investors are happy.

Not everybody needs or wants to integrate mobility with their PC, but those who do are pretty valuable customers. Rogers gets that, and One Number will help keep those customers under their tent. If this works, I have no doubt that TELUS and Bell will soon offer similar services, if only to keep their customers from going to Rogers. Until then, it's Rogers out in front again, and I'm sure CounterPath is hoping that everyone wants it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Know Your Alternatives 2012 - Program Announced

Newsflash - a Canadian telecom event! This is a rarity up here, and I'm glad to say I'll be part of it, so stay tuned for details.

The event is called Know Your Alternatives, and runs here in Toronto on February 9, 2012. Sure, it's a small event and just one day, but I'll take it. There are just so few events in this space in Canada, and hats off to Emily Nielsen and her team at Nielsen Consulting for putting this together.

She's lined up a solid roster of sponsors - Bell, Microsoft, Cisco, Avaya, Mitel, ShoreTel, NEC, Dialogic - and the program is very strong. At this point, I'll be speaking on the SIP Trunking session, which is familiar ground for me, so this should be a fun panel.

Have a look at the website for details, and there's a bonus draw if you register before December 16. There's a newsletter you can sign up for as well, and I'll update you here and on Twitter as updates come along.

Canadian Blog Awards - don't forget to vote!

Just a quick shout-out to keep the Canadian Blog Awards on your radar. You can view the full list of nominees across several categories here. If you scroll down towards the end, you'll find the Science and Technology category, and my blog is in that group.

I'm not sure when voting closes, but hey, just head on over the site and exercise your right to vote, eh!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Avaya Night in Canada - IP Office 8.0 Update

I was invited to attend an update here in Toronto yesterday on Avaya's IP Office, which inluded a preview for Release 8.0, scheduled to launch on December 12. Lots of Avaya folks on hand, along with the sponsors, Smart IP. They're one of Avaya's top 10 Canadian reseller partners, and having started out as a Nortel shop, they know the territory pretty well.

Oh - Canadians will clue into the title of this post right away - more on that later.

This was a pitch event to prospective IP Office customers, and being the only analyst, it gave me a pretty interesting perspective on how the story is told and how the value proposition is communicated. Release 8.0 is targeted at the SME market, and serves up to 384 lines. So, there will be some small business here, but it's really mid-sized customers, meaning that they'll have some IT competence. In other words, this is strictly about premise-based systems - there was absolutely no mention here of cloud, hosted or virtual solutions.

If you didn't pay close attention, you would think the focus was 100% about telecom. In many ways it was, as most of the presentation materials covered the feature set of the phones, and how Release 8.0 has full backwards compatibility with Nortel BCM. Fair enough - that's a very important message to communicate, given the huge installed base of Nortel in Canada, and the need for Avaya to retain that business as they transition away from BCM. To that point, a key takeaway was an EOS date of March 1, 2012 (end of support)for Norstar/BCM - at that point, only Avaya products will be supported.

Getting beyond that, yes, there was talk about SIP trunking and unified communications, but not in a huge way. It was good to hear about advanced IP-based features such as built-in ACD, built-in conference bridges, and how modular and scalable the systems are. All good, but most of the talk was about how the BCM features are fully migrated to the Avaya phones. This is really important for long-time Nortel users, who don't have to think about the codes they use for routine things like call transfer, call forwarding, last number redial, DND, etc. They'll use the same codes with Avaya, which translates into faster/easier adoption, lower install costs and less need for retraining. I'd say they've done a great job here, and that speaks to the broader, more strategic message they have about investment protection for this migration.

Wearing my UC hat, this seems a bit dull, but it's a clear reminder that telephones still matter big time, and the phone system is still very much the heart and soul of most communications systems - certainly among this customer set. Most VARs still have telecom as the core offering, but we all know how things are changing.

This brings me to the fun stuff - one-X, and what 8.0 supports at the desktop and for mobility. Now we're getting closer to UC, and Smart IP has the right idea to help move their customers along with Avaya as a solution for both today and tomorrow. I'll be short here, but basically, one-X has an Outlook plug-in that brings all the web-based UC features - presence, IM, conferencing, federated contact lists, voicemail, etc. - into that interface. Avaya knows this is where end users spend most of their on-screen time, so this way they don't have to leave the Outlook page to do all these things. It's a great ease-of-use example, and speaks to the end user experience as a key value driver.

The other interesting one-X update is mobility integration. It's only available on the higher-end IP Office solutions, but it does all the things you'd expect when extending the deskphone/desktop UC feature set out to the mobile environment. This definitely plays well for a UC solution, but what really stood out for me is their choice of devices supported by one-X. They're launching with Android first, and that's what the demo was based on. Early next year, iPhone will added, but no firm plan is in place yet for RIM. Wow. I think that speak volumes, not just about mobility, but how handset trends are driving things. Two years ago, it would have been RIM and only RIM - and now, they're not even on the table. Incredible.

It was also nice to see them talk about DevConnect and their partner ecosystem who have developed a range of vertical applications - fax servers, appointment reminders, enhanced IVR, call reporting, call recording, CRM integration, etc. This isn't a leading value driver for IP Office, but it really helps prime customers to think beyond everyday telecom.

I could go on, but on the whole, I think Avaya is on the right track with 8.0, especially for the Nortel base. You also need to keep the audience in mind. You can only throw so many ideas out there, but the sale will ultimately be based on how comfortable the customer is in transitioning Nortel BCM over to Avaya IP Office. Collaboration was discussed a bit, and I don't think video was mentioned - same for Aura, social media or Flare - but that's totally fine. These things will come - and can only come once the customer buys into the IP Office story - and of course, Smart IP's competence to get them there.

Ok, now the title of this post starts to make sense. This is Joe Bowen - the voice of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was very engaging and funny - thought he was great. Joe speaks from the heart and what I enjoyed most were his feelings about how hockey and its culture are rooted in the character that makes Canada special. I've played and avidly followed the game long enough to know where he's coming from. I may not be a Leafs fan, but I found it a bit ironic to hear Joe extol the Canadian virtues that make hockey great, yet here we were listening to how Avaya is transitioning customers away from Nortel, Canada's greatest tech icon. Ouch.

Here we are - Avaya Night in Canada - cool, huh? Gondola seats - can't get up any higher than this at the ACC. Thanks Avaya and Smart IP!

Love seeing these Cup banners right in your face sitting up so high. Oh, y'know, there once was a time when this happened regularly around here (I'll keep my reigning-Cup-champs-Bruins gloating to myself), but I think the wait will go on for a while yet...

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

UCStrategies Podcasts - Now on iTunes/Welcome Kevin Kieller

Just wanted to share this item, which is good new for our growing followers at UCStrategies. UCS readers will know that we do regular podcasts (ideally every Tuesday, but we miss a few weeks here and there), and it's a great way to get a roundup of expert opinions on topical issues in the UC space.

When those are posted, we do our best to get the word out, and you can certainly get automated updates via the RSS feed, but now we have yet another way to do this.

As Apple continues to rule our digital lives, we've gotten with the program, and our podcasts can now been downloaded from the iTunes Store. It's pretty simple - free, of course - and even I could do it. Just open up your iTunes account, go to the iTunes store and find the podcasts section. We're in the Technology category, sub-head is "Tech News". If that doesn't take, just search ucstrategies (it's one word - no space in between) in the Podcast search bar, and our podcasts will be there. Got that? Now go get it!

While I have you, I'd like to pass on a welcome to our latest UCStrategies member, Kevin Kieller. He's based in Toronto with me, so I like him already! He's contributed his first post, so that's a good way to get an introduction. Welcome Kevin, and am sure we'll be speaking soon.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

ADTRAN Connect - Day 1 - Takeaways, Photos and the Bicycle That Saved the World

ADTRAN Connect 2011 has gone pretty much to plan so far. Day 1 had a balanced mix of updates from execs, deeper dives on enterprise and carrier offerings, and candid realities from customers. Being a public company, it's not hard to find evidence of success, and we heard our share of metrics to validate their growth story.

It's always good to hear about companies doing well in this space, and having been to several vendor events recently, they're not the only vendor struggling to get more brand recognition. Technology always has this delicate balance to manage between complexity and delivering benefits that people can articulate, and it's not easy to do both.

I'll keep this short and simply say that ADTRAN is doing a lot of things right, and if you follow the twitter feed (#adtranconnect), you'll get a richer sense of that. ADTRAN also has its share of challenges, and aside from becoming more of a household name, they need to keep building their channel, as this is their main route to market. Carriers are a major part of their business, not just for their own infrastructure, but as a channel to the enterprise market.

Hosted is definitely a strong storyline here, and that's good news for their platform partners - BroadSoft and Metaswitch. There's a good wireless story happening around their acquisition of Bluesocket, and ADTRAN looks to be on the right path here with wireless LAN. We also got a good update on their cloud initiatives, so they do have a longer-term plan to evolve beyond hardware.

We're hearing some messaging around UC, but for ADTRAN, it's more about the infrastructure than the applications. However, it's an important part of their value proposition, and there is good momentum building around both hosted and premise-based solutions. Conversely, we're not hearing much about video or social media, but that's ok. They know their market pretty well, and clearly these pieces are not must-haves for everybody right this minute. As those needs evolve, I have no doubt that ADTRAN will find a way to keep pace.

Gary Bolton along with Rick Schansman and Jay Wilson

CEO Tom Stanton

Kevin Morgan and two rural carrier customers - Valley Telecom and Consolidated Companies

They have their share of patents, so innovation definitely lives here.

It's not hard to see why people hardly ever leave here.

Before our sessions, we had a tour on Tuesday night at the famed U.S. Space and Rocket Center. If you like rockets and space travel, this place is for you - and you have no idea why Huntsville is one of the top tech hubs in America, this is a good place to start.

So, did this bicycle save the world? Well, maybe. All I'm going to say is that without it, there may not have been the Saturn rocket, Apollo missions, the Space Shuttle, the Russians would probably have won the space race, and the Berlin Wall just might still be standing. If that doesn't pique your interest, I don't know what will. There's definitely a Hollywood movie to be made here, and I'm up for writing the screenplay. Until then, let your imagination roam and do your own research. Then give me a call!

They sure don't build rockets like they used to. You really have to be there to get a sense of scale and mass for what a full-sized Saturn V rocket looks like. I posted more photos during our first visit there in 2009, so here's the link if you want my first impressions.

Service Levels - Still Thinking in Terms of Telecom?

As my coverage of the contact center space continues via Exony, I'm addressing new themes that have a fundamental impact on this market. What I find interesting is how so much of this parallels what I see in telecom, and how IP is changing the way we do things.

My latest focus is on service levels, particularly around how conventional approaches really only address half of what goes into delivering a quality experience with customers. Lots to explore here, and Exony provides a great forum for me to explore these topics. My latest post is now running on their - new and improved - website, so please hop on over and let me know what you think.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cisco Summit - Final Thoughts: "What's UC?"

I promise this will be my last post about Cisco's Collaboration Summit! As part of the UCStrategies team, I contribute a monthly writeup to their portal, and aside from everything I wrote around the event, I had some specific thoughts on where UC fits into Cisco's plans.

Well, based on my takeaways, it's not much, and I think that's an important message for the UCStrategies audience. It's not that UC isn't important to Cisco; rather, they have their own language around what most of us would consider UC. More importantly, Cisco's frame of reference for what UC delivers is network-centric, and different from most other vendors.

For my thinking, this raises a few issues and implications for anyone in this space - except, of course Cisco - and if that's on your radar, I think you'll enjoy my latest UCS post. I wrote this last week, and with all the holiday weekend backlog, it's just been posted now - enjoy.

5,216 failures = 1 great success - James Dyson and thoughts on innovation

I don't often write about tech based on what I come across via mass media, but this one caught my attention and has triggered a whole bunch of thoughts around innovation. I'll just speak to the kernal idea here, but this sure could spawn a blog of its own - hmmm....

During my usual Sunday workout, I caught a segment of Fareed Zakaria's CNN show, GPS (Global Public Square). He's always great, and he had back-to-back interviews about innovation that I really enjoyed. The first segment was about Steve Jobs - lots of good insights there about how he broke all the rules and approached innovation completely on his own terms.

You don't need to me comment on what made Apple tick, but his next guest brought the inspiration for innovation down to a more accessible level. James Dyson is not quite a household word, but he's getting pretty close, especially for anyone house proud enough to do their own vacuuming. Anyone in that camp will know how he's completely re-invented a pretty mundane product, so much so that his namesake is now synonymous with vacuum cleaners - just like Kleenex is to tissue.

It's a great success story, and of course he's parlayed that into other areas such as hand dryers. I'm not a fan of the Dyson hand dryer, but their vacuum cleaner is great. When these products are perfected, they sure look simple, and it reminds me of Cisco's Collaboration Summit a couple of weeks back. I've commented enough about that, but the connection here is that their demos looked very easy - almost too easy. Well, you know all this collaboration technology is complex and still a work in progress, so you can appreciate how much work must have gone in to making it work so well.

Innovation is never easy, and this ties back a bit to the Steve Jobs reference. The big takeaway from that interview was his genius for translating complex technology into elegant design that makes an emotional connection with us. When you see an iPad, the immediate response is almost visceral - "I want that". Right? Dyson has done the same thing with their vacuum cleaners - the moment you see it, you know it's different, it's cool, and cleaning house will no longer be a chore.

I think Cisco has a long way to go with collaboration to get this effect, but in time, they should get there. Of course, their vision of collaboration is far more complex that sucking up dust from your floors, but ultimately, they need to make a similar emotional connection. I didn't get that feeling in Miami, but that doesn't mean it can't be done.

Coming back to James Dyson - and the title of this post - the light bulb moment from that interview was the virtue of perseverance. He didn't perfect his vacuum cleaner until the 5,217th try. He needed 5,216 failures to get 1 success, but it's fair to say the effort was worth it. I don't know if Apple had a comparable learning curve, but I suspect it's not much different.

Both of Fareed's interviews also picked up on the idea that the best products are designed by people who have a passion for them. You can't fake an emotional connection with a product, and at some primal, organic level, good design comes from those who really like the product.

Lots of food for thought here, and I'm just citing Cisco as a recent example of how hard this is to do, especially with services and applications. They're so intangible compared to physical products, and I think this could be the biggest challenge of them all as we move to hosted or virtualized environments. Endpoints like tablets, desk phones and video systems can create an emotional connection, but ultimately companies are buying the applications running over them.

Will Cisco and everyone in this space need 5,216 failures to get all this just right? Somehow I don't think they'll have that luxury, and I can't speak for the passion of their engineers. However, it's clear to me this won't be easy, and there's no getting around the lessons learned from Steve Jobs and James Dyson. Innovation represents the timeless challenge of mixing art and science, and I'd say you do whatever it takes to get both working for you.

I haven't seen a link yet for these interviews, but if you want a bit more on James Dyson, here's an essay he wrote for CNN about the need to take risks in innovation to make the U.S. a more competitive economy. Ditto!

Cisco Collaboration Summit Revisited - UCStrategies Podcast

I've done my share of blogging, tweeting and writing about Cisco's Collaboration Summit (actually, one more analysis yet to come!), but there's more good commentary out there worth following. Given our focus at UCStrategies, we have our own take on things, and the podcast we did a few days ago has just been posted on the portal. Several UCStrategies consultants and analysts were at the summit, so there's a lot of first hand commentary, especially around where UC figures into Cisco's thinking.

Without further ado, you can listen to the podcast here, or simply read the transcript if you can't spare the time. As always, comments are most welcome!

Next Stop - Huntsville, AL and ADTRAN

One more trip for November, and if all goes to plan, that will it for my travels in 2011 - sounds good to me.

So, tomorrow, I'm off to Huntsville, Alabama. If you follow me, you'll know that's home to ADTRAN - Digium and Asterisk as well - just across the street. This is my third visit there, and every year their analyst and press event keeps getting better. ADTRAN, like Huntsville, may not be a household name in tech/telecom, but once you've been there, you'll understand why it may be the best kept secret in this space. To prime you for that, just search my blog for previous posts about my visits to Huntsville - I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

As you may know, I've been a regular contributor to ADTRAN's blog for some time, so I have good reason to follow them. Stick with me here, as well as on Twitter (@arnoldjon), and I'll keep you posted on what ADTRAN has in store for 2012.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Canadian Blog Awards - will ya vote for me? :-)

Bet you didn't know there was such a thing, but voting is underway now for the 2011 Canadian Blog Awards. Whoo hoo!

My blog in on the finalist list for the Science & Technology category, and if you think I'm worthy, here's the ballot page, and I'll leave the rest to you. In the borderless world of the Web, it doesn't matter where you live, so vote wherever you are, and by all means, pass it along - thanks!

Friday, November 18, 2011

Cisco Collaboration Summit - Day 2 Takeaways, Photos and the Wizard of Oz

Picking up where I left off yesterday, here's my wrapup from Day 2 of Cisco's Collaboration Summit here in Miami Beach.

The content and speakers were equally good yesterday, and the big picture themes continued along the lines of collaboration being "the investment of the decade". It may be a bit early to make that claim, but I think it holds up pretty well for both parties - Cisco and IT managers. We saw lots of validation that Cisco is betting heavily on collaboration, and considering how nicely they've bounced back from earlier this year, the sharpened focus seems to be working.

Early in the day, we heard a lot about their architectural approach to collaboration and how this allows IT to deliver scalable tools, which in turn provides an easy to use end user experience that helps them work smarter. The messaging and demos were very effective for two audiences - IT and end users. I found this to be a pretty complete vision, as they make the case for a network-centric approach along with a people-centric approach to collaboration.

Delivering on both ends should put - and keep - Cisco at the forefront of the ever-expanding collaboration space. A lot of what they're doing - especially around Quad and Social Miner - is still ahead of the business market, but I don't see any other vendors with such a strong focus on both aspects of collaboration. Their traditional competitors are more telecom-centric than network-centric, and don't have the range of endpoints that enable collaboration across such a wide range of scenarios.

I'll expand on these ideas in future posts, but for now I just wanted to say that Cisco's collaboration story is getting stronger with each iteration, and they pretty much have things right now for making it the gold standard for others to follow.

Unified Conferencing demo showing solid interop across many endpoints - PC, Mac, Cius, TelePresence - on a hosted basis. Makes a strong case for virtualization that's scalable, flexible and more economical than premise-based solutions.

Executive Q&A session

For most of us, this was probably the highlight of the summit. In the afternoon, we had a site visit to the JW Marriott Marquis in downtown Miami. As we learned, this is a very upscale brand within the Marriott hotel family, and is totally built out with end-to-end Cisco everywhere. It's a fantastic showcase for Cisco in the hospitality sector, but more importantly for all the cool things that make the guest experience really special. We got a walk through the property and saw lots of examples, and here are just a few.

How's this for fun? TV screen embedded in the bathroom mirror. Even better were the mobile phones in the rooms. The idea is for you to use them anywhere in the hotel, plus they double as walkie-talkies. Again, another convenience element that speaks to how people like to relax - remember, collaboration is social too!

This is a full size venue for events - see that huge multi-panel video screen - guess you can figure where that came from. Aside from concerts here, this is a full size hardwood court which NBA teams can use as a practice facility. The Heat play very close by, so it's great hook to get NBA teams to stay at the hotel where they practice in private and then just walk over to the arena.

Here's my favorite - the virtual concierge. They're still experimenting with it, but the idea is you can start a TelePresence session - see the Cisco IP phone in the lower left corner? - and speak with someone just as you would with a concierge face-to-face. Pretty handy when the lineup at the desk is too long, and if you're comfortable using video. Of course, when it's not in use, it makes for a fabulous HD billboard to tell you just how fabulous this place really is.

So, you just might be wondering, who is that agent you'd be speaking with for some virtual assistance on getting directions for your night out? Glad you asked.

Well, if you turn around, you see this lovely wall in the lobby. Well, he/she is behind that wall in their contact center. How Wizard of Oz is that? Am sure a bunch of things come to mind here, and they're probably all true. Look, it's early days for high-touch consumer collaboration, but you have to give both the Marquis and Cisco kudos for aiming high here. In time, they'll make it more consumer-friendly, and from there, things should start getting really interesting. It really is a cool experience, and once people get a taste of that, you'll believe more in Cisco's mantra of using technology and networks to transform our lives, both at work and at play.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Cisco Collaboration Summit - Day 1 - What Would Studs Terkel Think?

Great start to Cisco's Collaboration Summit today here in Miami Beach. Having been to a few of these, it's really interesting to see how the overall messaging has evolved, along with all the new offerings that keep coming. I don't say that last point lightly, as Cisco is working very hard to address as many touch points as possible around how people get things done in the workplace. Sure, it all drives network usage, and that's good business for Cisco. There's a higher motive at play though, and there's little doubt that Cisco is trying to be a lead author in the next great American novel, Work 2.0.

On that note, I'll make a literary digression that seems appropos here. Studs Terkel is definitely my kind of guy, and he literally wrote the book about work in a post-war society. If you're not familiar with his work, get started here. His books are great, and not much has really changed over the years. Bottom line - people work because they have to, and while we all take pride in work's intrinsic value, we generally take the path of least resistance.

Back to Cisco, and how they're trying to address this timeless quirk of human nature. The summit is a great roadmap update, but it's also a worthwhile opportunity to hear about how technology is being developed and deployed to make work a better experience. We're hearing nicely from both sides - what Cisco is bringing to market, and how customers are using it. The last part is of more interest to me, and it's fascinating to hear how companies both embrace and struggle with all these great tools.

There's a lot to digest here, and I'm just going to pass on my key takeaways from today. Otherwise, you should follow my tweets - @arnoldjon - as well as the Cisco feed from the summit - #csummit.

- Barry O'Sullivan set the stage nicely with big picture stats about global population trends along with the scale of technology adoption. Bottom line - half of the world's 7 billion people are under 25, and their collaboration tools are very different from their predecessors. Translation - a huge market opportunity for Cisco to address. Point taken.

- Cisco is clearly in the software and cloud businesses now. I don't think I heard "unified communications" all day - it's all about moving applications into the cloud and giving us real time tools that work seamlessly anywhere and on any device. The end result sure looks like UC, but here, it's all about having the right network architecture to deliver these capabilities. We saw some very slick video and live demos that make this look like a slam dunk. Yes, it sure looks easy and makes for happy endings, but we all know how complex this really is to do. Cisco isn't the only game in town, of course, but based on what I see industry-wide, nobody is covering more bases. There's a lot of Kool Aid here, but for enterprises willing and able to go down this road, there clearly is a promising upside. Collaboration takes many forms, and I think Cisco is doing a good job of defining the high end of the spectrum.

- Social media is high on the buzz charts, but it's still a wild west environment. We heard a lot about Quad and Social Miner; yes, there's interest, and yes, companies are buying it. How they're using it is another question, and it's clear that everyone is learning on the fly. Usage policies are lacking, IT is trying to accommodate BYOD desires, and while everyone quickly learns how to be social with these tools, it's not clear how much quality content generation is going on. These things will certainly evolve, but right now you get the feeling it's mostly a vendor-driven trend. Enterprises simply can't ignore how employee expectations are changing, and coming back to Studs Terkel, you have to let them define their state of happiness. For me, that's the real secret sauce of collaboration Cisco-style. There wasn't much talk today about ROI or TCO, so there's a leap of faith where IT has to concede more control to employees with the hope that measurable productivity gains and network efficiencies will come back in return - hopefully before management loses patience.

Enough said for now, and I'll pick up the thread again tomorrow. Until then, here are a few photos from Day 1.

Barry O'Sullivan giving us the big picture. No pun intended, but he sure looks tiny against this giant visual. :-)

Live collaboration demo - nicely done

Murali Sitaram, talking about collaboration in the "post-PC era" - he makes a strong case for why the cloud is the way to go. To support this, he announced a free trial for a limited version of WebEx for 14 days. That should stir things up.

I'd be lying if I said it wasn't very nice here...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Next Stop - Miami Beach and Cisco's Collaboration Summit

Trip #2 for this month comes up tomorrow, and this week it's Miami Beach. Am always happy to go, even if the weather is still pretty mild here in Toronto. I will be back there again, though in February for the TMC ITExpo, and no doubt the heat will come in more handy then.

Back to Cisco, which is holding their annual Collaboration Summit there. It looks like Cisco is getting their mojo back - that didn't take long, huh? - so I'm really looking forward to hearing what their ever-expanding portfolio of collaboration solutions has to do with this. I'll keep you posted here and on Twitter (@arnoldjon), so check back here throughout the week.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Building Around UC - New Podcast with ETM Magazine

Got another podcast to share with you - it just went live today.

This one is titled "Building your environment around Unified Communications" - pretty self-explanatory, so it's worth a listen if you want to get a global perspective from across the UC ecosystem.

The podcast is produced by U.K.-based ETM Magazine, and I'm the moderator/host of the session. Aside from my commentary, I'm joined by three true market leaders - AudioCodes, Siemens Enterprise Communications and Level 3.

You can access the podcast here, and while you're at it, their quarterly magazine is a great read too!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

GENBAND Takeaways - In Charlie We Trust

Had a chance to reflect on GENBAND's Perspective 2011 event during the flight home last night. I posted some thoughts yesterday, and tweeted a bit, but wanted to share a bigger picture perspective with you here.

For me, it's all about this man - In Charlie We Trust. Stick with me - the "we" may not be who you're thinking of.

Charlie Vogt - President and CEO - the most important telecom exec in America? Maybe.

I've actually never met him, and he wouldn't know me from anybody. Had chances to chat with him yesterday, but didn't - I kinda like it that way - the time will come, though. I don't know him personally, but I know the backstory and the territory. The two cornerstones of their business - at least hardware-wise - are media gateways and session border controllers. I produced my share of quarterly MGW reports when I was at Frost & Sullivan, and am pretty sure I was the first industry analyst to produce a report on the SBC market (remember Aravox, Netrake, Newport Networks, Nextone, Kagoor...?). As we know, Acme is the last man standing from those days, and now everyone is gunning for them, including GENBAND. I could go on, but you get the idea.

It's been a bumpy ride with GENBAND, and you can argue they're stuck in a sunset business, and have tried to patch several orphans together to create a nextgen IP frontrunner. Somehow, he's kept their investors onside and hung on long enough to pick up some very strong assets, especially Nortel. Well, now things are getting really interesting. You don't often see industry analysts and financial analysts in the same room, and we're all keen to hear how GENBAND is going to take things to the next level.

So, what does this have to do with this guy?

Am sure some GENBANDers and their fellow Texans will know this spot in Austin (my new fave city), where I was for the last ITExpo. Just like patrons of the Thirsty Nickel put their trust in beer, telcos should put their trust in Charlie. I'm saying this for two reasons.

First, GENBAND is betting the farm on one thing - network transformation. As Charlie said, if telcos fail in the transition to IP, so will GENBAND. Of course, the opposite is true, and that's what the pre-IPO crowd wants to hear. I just like his honesty - you don't often hear execs talk about what could sink their company. For many of us, TDM is so 2004 and all we can think about is the iPhone 5. Well, as we heard a few times yesterday, TDM will be around in big telcos for a long time still, so there must still be gold in those hills. GENBAND knew what they were getting with Nortel, and now have an incredible opportunity to be THE vendor to take this customer base into the promised land of IP.

Charlie also pointed out that it's pretty much impossible for one vendor to totally dominate their space over time, and that Acme is now facing stronger competition. No argument there, and he feels they have nowhere to go but up with SBCs. Time will tell, and let's save that topic for another time.

Both Acme and BroadSoft have done well by going public, and even though Tekelec is now going the other direction, you can only conclude the time is right for GENBAND. They're now at critical mass with customers, revenues, headcount and global footprint, and whether Charlie truly has a grand plan, or things just fell into place over time, I like their chances.

The main question for me is can they migrate their customers fast enough? Veraz met a similar fate when they went public, and simply had too much legacy and a declining revenue base to keep investors interested. We heard a lot about how GENBAND is moving more towards software and supporting third party developers, and they seem on the right track there. If the wireline telcos can hang on, GENBAND should be ok. Of course, that's easier said than done, as OTTs, cablecos and wireless operators keep eroding their customer base.

There's another reason to trust in Charlie - and I don't need new reasons to trust in beer. He made a passing comment yesterday that I thought was very telling - "I'm sure Huawei would love to buy us". Yup.

I read a couple of things into that. GENBAND is now getting big enough to be a nice target for Tier 1 global vendors, so that must feel good for builders like Charlie. More importantly, Huawei has long coveted an in for the U.S. market, and acquistion efforts (3Com?) have been their route of choice, but no luck so far. The U.S. and European telecom vendors cannot compete against China's cost advantages, so there's a self-preservation motive at work here. Sure, Huawei would be a lucrative exit for GENBAND at some point, but would it be the right thing to do?

Money and principle don't always mix, but I'm rooting for GENBAND to stay put. They've outlasted a lot of MGW players, especially in the U.S., and if they go, who's left here for the telcos to buy from? Of course there are many other MGW vendors out there, but GENBAND has managed to make themselves #1, and big telcos generally like to buy from market leaders. Am not a trade protectionist, but my New England roots are showing, and I like GENBAND better as a domestic company that's trying to become the global player that Nortel once was.

I'm also saying that because Canada has just gone through this losing its shining star in Nortel, and it sure looks like RIM is on the same path. If they go, it's scary to think who would be our top tech company - it gets pretty thin after RIM, and that's kinda worrisome. Anyhow, GENBAND doesn't have RIM or Nortel's legacy of innovation and R&D, but they're working on that, and I think that will eventually be their saving grace.

In that regard, there's a lot riding on Charlie and the trust we're putting in his hands. Wireline telcos need GENBAND, but in return GENBAND needs to deliver a clear vision and solution to get those telcos on terra firma to secure their future. I think they have the products - not so sure yet about the apps - but, of two things I am certain in terms of takeaways from yesterday. One - they understand the telco business and are earning their trust for the IP roadmap. Two - they understand their place in the vendor ecosystem and what they need to do to compete successfully.

There's lots more to say about all of this, as well as the event itself, but I'll stop now. It's too early for a beer, so I'll have my morning tea. In the meantime, what's your take on GENBAND? Are you with me?

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

General Bandwidth, Perspective 2011

Remember these?

Just couldn't resist when I saw this walking about near Times Square yesterday. I think that sets the stage pretty well for why I'm here - GENBAND Perspective 2011. It's a short event, but a helpful gathering for industry analysts, financial analysts and the telecom media to get the latest on where this company is going.

Telecom is in flux, to put it mildly. Chaos, disruption, freefall may also come to mind for some. Just like nobody uses payphones anymore, tons of people are hanging up on their telcos altogether, having succumbed to the lure of cable TV bundles and of course mobile broadband. Walking around town here, it seems like everybody is talking on their phones all the time. It doesn't take much to figure out that conventional telecom is in big trouble, and GENBAND's mission is to help them transition to this new world before they lose their subscribers and go the way of the payphone.

I'll leave that with you to consider for now, and will have more to say as the sessions unfold here with GENBAND.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Next Stop - NYC and GENBAND

Thankfully, October was a stay-at-home month, and it's been great. Different story for November, with 3 vendor event trips in the U.S., plus a possible family visit to Boston for Thanksgiving. Ok, let's get going.

The travel starts with a short trip next Monday and Tuesday to NYC. It's for GENBAND's analyst event, called Perspective 2011. I don't get to NYC very often, but I sure love it there, and have lots of friends/family nearby, but will have practically nil time to see them. Next time.

Anyhow, am looking forward to catching up with GENBAND. They're pretty unique among the nextgen carrier vendors, and I'll have more to say about that during and after the event. During the event, you'll have to follow my tweets - @arnoldjon - and after, just c'mon back here.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

M&A roundup in the UC space

Very timely topic here for this week's UCStrategies podcast. We had a great roundup session reviewing the recent M&A activity and what it means for the UC space. The big one was ALU/Genesys, but I was more at home talking about Avaya buying SBC vendor Sipera, along with Warwick Valley Telecom's pickup of Alteva. WVT's deal was a few months ago, but I wanted to cover it now as they just received an M&A deal of the year award for this acquisition, which I tweeted about the other day.

All told, the M&A landscape is a sign of the times, and to me, this means that UC is reaching a new level of maturity. That's a good thing, as vendors - and bankers - are starting to attach some valuations around companies that enable UC. Alteva didn't cost WVT very much, and sure buys them a lot of future-proofing against continued declines in their legacy business. This is a universal theme among CLECs, and I have no doubt that WVT's peers are out there looking for their Alteva as we speak.

Enough yammering - head over now to the UCS portal and give our podcast a listen - it's all good.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Workforce Management - Missing Pieces

One of my writing platforms is the Exony website, where I have been posting regularly about trends in the contact center. The company is doing good things in that space, and have just launched a re-vamped website. It's pretty nice, and this will serve as a quick shout-out to check it out.

Aside from that, my latest analysis has been posted there now - it's about workforce management - WFM - an interesting process that helps contact centers optimize planning and performance. It can be a great tool if all goes to plan, but as I explore in my post, it's a bit more complicated. I invite you to read my thoughts, and would definitely welcome your comments - and I'm sure Exony would feel the same way!

Monday, October 31, 2011

Caber tossing, Brian Monty's blues benefit, and a missed exit - my Maxville, Ontario adventure

Sounds like a great title for a wacky movie, huh? Maybe someday, but it hints at the kind of weekend I just had. I know what you're thinking - here goes Jon again with another string of random words that he somehow stiches together. That's right. There's more to life than VoIP, telepresence, SIP trunking and fixed mobile convergence, and now you're going to hear about it. If this isn't your cup of tea, then move on, and go back to your Twitter feeds. I'm a big believer in serendipity, and sometimes, it's just more fun - and interesting - to let things unfold instead of trying to get things right all time. Life's just like that, and that's fine by me.

So where are we going this time? Ottawa - I drove there to visit a good friend this weekend. That actually went to plan - it's all the other unplanned stuff that brings me to this post. I'll begin by simply saying that everything happens for a reason, even when things go wrong. This adventure could only have happened to me, and when I connect the dots here, those of you who like surprises and the unexpected (c'mon, it's Halloween!), will totally understand.

I'll start with what is normally a very uneventful trip - driving from Toronto to Ottawa. Despite there being nobody on the road and perfect driving conditions, I inexplicably missed the exit for Ottawa and drove way further until reaching Quebec, at which point I realized I'm WAY off target. No big deal - just double back and I'll get there just fine. Well, I never take the easy route, and decided to follow some sideroads and discover parts of Ontario I'd never seen.

This plan worked just fine, and I made my way through towns and hamlets I'd never heard of. There really was no grand plan to my route, and along the way I come by a town called Maxville. First time I'd come across this town, and it made me smile; some of you would know that my oldest son - the real tech guru in our family - is Max. Neat, huh? I took that as a good sign and that all was not lost.

I kept driving merrily along, and Ottawa was still a good hour away. That would normally be the end of the story, and how was I to know that I would be back very nearby for my evening's entertainment? Not in a million years. The unlikely connections were only just beginning.

So, I get to Ottawa, where my old friend Roger is happy to see me, and we laugh about how I ended up getting there via Quebec. We talk about plans to go out that night, and then one of his friends calls to see if we want to join her. She asked if I like blues? Well, duh. Unlikely connection #2. If you know my life outside of telecom, you'll know that blues is #1. Music is my passion, and blues is what I enjoy playing, listening to and supporting. On that "note", as a sidebar, if you like Canadian blues, you should support the Toronto Blues Society, which I have served as a board member for about 20 years.

Back to the story. Roger and I say we're in, and then she explains the deal. It's a benefit event for a local and renowned guitar maker (luthier, to be more appropro) - Brian Monty - but it's a bit of a drive. Ok, so where is it?, we ask. Guess you figured that out by now - near Maxville. Aha! I told them how I JUST came from there via my misadventure on the road. Quirky huh? Now I get to go to the town with my son's namesake in the middle of nowhere - not once, but twice in the same frickin' day.

I dunno what the odds of that happening are, but for me, they're on par with the biblical events that unfolded for my Red Sox on the last day of the regular season a few weeks ago. I know people talk about Game 6 of this year's World Series being unprecedented for unlikely events, but c'mon, that's a minor footnote compared to the way things climaxed around midnight for the Rays to knock the Sox out of the wildcard. Time to move on - there's no joy in dwelling on that anymore...

Anyhow, I really like when stuff like this happens - it's all for a reason, and the fun would be spoiled if we ever found out why. If you live your life according to a fixed schedule, these things will drive you nuts. Relax. It's ok - take the wrong road every now and then - you never know where it will go, and how much fun you might actually have.

Coming back to tech/telecom briefly - some of the best innovation comes from happy accidents. You may think you know where you're going writing that cool iPhone app, but it's more likely that someone will use it in an entirely new way that's way more cool and makes way more money. Serendipity - have faith - it will provide.

I need a bit of coda here, as I'm sure you're looking to see how the story ends. So, what's the deal with caber tossing? Ok, it's a stretch - I'll admit it, but it just sounds so good in the title. I thrive on the obscure, and I'll bet at least one of you out there knows what Maxville is famous for. You can pipe in on this one any time, but for everyone else, I have learned it's been home to the Glengarry Highland Games since 1948, including the North American Pipe Band Championships. Who knew? I love the bagpipes, but I guess when you have this many blowing away, you'd better be out in the fields. And yeah, caber tossing too. Cool.

While I'm at it, there's another stretch in the story (you have a problem with that?). I may have been near/by Maxville twice in the same day, but I never actually went there. Is that so wrong? I drove through on my way to Ottawa, and the Brian Monty benefit wasn't in Maxville - that was just the biggest town nearby to give people an idea where it was. The benefit actually took place in neighboring Vankleek Hill - how's that for a name? There's actually a good story as to why Brian lives there, but I'll leave that aside for now. Being a blues guy, I know this would be a lot of fun, and it was one of the best blues outings I've had in years. Brian is battling throat cancer, and the event was hugely successful in raising much needed money to help him do that.

It was a very unlikely setting for a show, but people came from all over Ontario and Quebec - totally packed, and totally fun. The bands were great, including Toronto-based Blues Angels. Also performing as The Lincolns, they include the father-son tandem of Prakash and Jordan John. We were in top company as Prakash is the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame - it's worth the trip to Cleveland, btw. There were actually two father/son tandems on the bill that night - another reason to smile, as my youngest son is a budding guitar god. I got him started playing blues on guitar together, but he's way beyond me technically now, and is on a pretty good path to being in the music business.

I've gone on long enough, and think I've tied everything up now. It's all about Maxville - one way or another - and now you know a whole lot about what makes me tick. Anybody want to go on a driving trip with me with no maps or GPS?

Last thing - for the blues fans out there - here's a photo taken by my friend Roger on his iPhone - it's the Stephen Barry Band, mainstays of the Montreal blues scene:

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cisco TelePresence Turns Five

I put up a short tweet about this yesterday (and if you're not following me there, well, you don't know what you're missing - sign up... @arnoldjon)- but amidst all the other things keeping me busy right now, I realized it needs more attention. Just wanted to add a few thoughts here.

So, the first question to ask now that Cisco has reached the five year milestone with telepresence is the same one I would have asked back in 2006. Aside from the fact that back then nobody really knew what to call it, I'll simply ask - is it telepresence or TelePresence? I'm still 50/50 on this one, and as a rule of thumb, when I'm talking about Cisco, it's "T", but for the category as a whole, it's "t".

Branding is just as important in tech as any other business, and if you toe the Cisco line, you will believe they invented everything around this space and by rights, then, it's TelePresence, period. Of course, they're not the only game in town, and weren't even first to market, but nobody does tech branding for business better than Cisco. The consumer market is another story, but let's not go there for now.

Whether or not Cisco is the Kleenex of telepresence - much like I used to say that Vonage was the Kleenex of VoIP - you really need to give some props here. I think they've earned it, and when John Chambers talks about making big bets and capitalizing on market transitions, I think he got it right with Telepresence. There, I said it - with a capital T.

I don't really think it matters that Cisco's lead offering is hugely expensive - they've been the frontrunners in immersive TP from Day 1, and now that Tandberg is in the fold, I think they'll stay there. It's a bit like complaining that the biggest stars in pro sports are overpaid. In absolute terms, that's absolutely true. Only whiny sportswriters care about that - it's the relative basis that really matters. So long as those athletes live up to expectations (and that's a big IF - hello John Lackey and Carl Crawford - I digress...), and big market teams like my Red Sox are willing to pay the freight, all is in balance. There are buyers and sellers at all price levels, and the market ultimately defines value. Cisco Telepresence may be out of reach for SMBs, but their book of business with the enterprise crowd is doing just fine, thank you.

That leads me to yesterday's announcement, which talks about some updates to their offering and how Cisco TelePresence can now reach a broader market. I'll save the details for another time, but the main thing is that Cisco is evolving the product as market conditions require. Again, this brings me back to why this five year milestone is worth reflecting on. We didn't have tablets or Android then, and the smartphone market was basically RIM and Nokia. You don't need me to tell you what's come along since, and that video has now become pretty mainstream for everybody.

As a result, Cisco needs to evolve its TP portfolio to cater to these new - and emerging opportunities, some of which didn't exist 2-3 years ago. Of course, Cisco would love to own every segment of the TP and collaboration market, but that's not going to happen, esp with all the free/OTT offerings out there that I've been writing about here and elsewhere recently.

Regardless, Cisco has done a lot of things right with TelePresence, and these new twists are just ensuring they'll have a place across all market tiers. More than that, Cisco wants be to remain at the innovation forefront with this technology, because if they don't, those fearsome interlopers - Apple and Google - will take their spot. I'm not saying that Cisco has all the great innovations here, but when it comes to delivering a value proposition that businesses are willing to pay for, they know what they're doing. This ground is going to be harder to defend as these other players continue to make inroads, but if anyone can to do it, it's Cisco.

Finally, for those of you sticking with me here to the end, you get a prize. If you want to step in the wayback machine to see what TP looked like at the beginning, here's a video clip I took of my first live demo at Cisco's Canadian HQ here in Toronto, back in December 2006. This clip is on my YouTube channel, which you're welcome to explore. I'm not posting video there these days - I don't know why - but wanted to share this as a sidebar to Cisco's fifth anniversary for TP. I was there at the beginning, and to show you how much interest there is out there around TP, this clip has by far received more views - over 100,000 - than anything else I've ever posted, and - as you'll see on the site, to this day, I'm STILL getting comments about that clip. How's that for the long tail of the Internet? If I could just find a way to make this pay...

Monday, October 17, 2011

Quick Spin - a nice twist from Interactive Intelligence

Back in my MBA days, where Marketing was my major, we got our share of the building blocks, like the 4P's, and if you like this stuff, it sort of sticks with you. I've always been Marketing-focused, so it made sense to me, and quite frankly, I don't think much has changed - the fundamentals are pretty universal. Sort of like when your Dad teaches you the mechanics of hitting or pitching - it just gets hardwired, and serves you well for a lifetime.

I did my MBA pre-PC, and back then, the frame of reference for most business teaching was about products and bricks-and-mortar businesses. The Web didn't exist, and software wasn't a business category. That's all changed big-time, but the fundamentals have not. One of the core mantras of marketing is ATU - Awareness, Trial and Usage. Pretty simple and pretty universal. All the front-end advertising in the world is useless if it just generates awareness. Once you have that, there is often a big chasm between awareness and usage, especially for expensive or complex products.

That leads me into a subtle segue from the 20th century to the 21st. In marketing circles, the biggest change in the new century is the rise of software, and the broader notion that we now live in a service and knowledge-based economy. Economies of scale is a major driver of competitive advantage when you're building physical products, but not so for things like software. These offerings can provide a great ROI, but take some investment in human capital to gain acceptance.

Today, Interactive Intelligence has some news that speaks very well to that. I follow them pretty closely, and last week they gave me an in-person pre-launch briefing on Quick Spin. The details were just announced this morning, and the program is set to roll out before year-end.

So, where is all this going? Well, Quick Spin is basically a free trial of their CaaS platform - communications as a service. Interactive has gone down the hosted/cloud path faster and further than just about anybody in the contact center space. They're definitely a visionary type of company, but it's not easy being ahead of the curve. The cloud has not yet rendered all that came before it obsolete, even though it may seem this way if you believe everything you read.

Again, coming back to Marketing 101, the Early Adopters get it with CaaS. They are always a minority, but see the future, and are prepared to take some early risk to gain an edge on the competition. If it works, they look like geniuses, and if not, it may ruin the business. Most companies are more conservative and would rather learn from the mistakes of others. They may lose a bit of market edge, but figure it's worth it if the 2.0 product works better and is probably cheaper.

This is where Interactive is showing its marketing smarts. They know CaaS works well - lots of customers are using it, and it's ready for broader adoption. They also know that mainstream contact centers still have reservations about the cloud, so Quick Spin helps them cross the chasm between awareness and usage. Basically, Quick Spin is a slimmed down version of CaaS, making it easy for those apprehensive customers to trial the product. Not only does it give contact center a no-cost, no-risk way to experience what CaaS can provide, but it showcases how flexible Interactive can be in delivering solutions for all types of scenarios.

While this sounds very Marketing 101, you don't see it happening very much in our space. We all know how weak the economy is, and ATU is as valid today as it was in my school days. To me, this is another example of how having the best technology is no guarantee of success. If you have it, and do all the other things right, you have a pretty good chance of leading your market. But if technology is all you have, your odds of success are pretty long, unless you're very lucky. Interactive has figured all this out, and it's another reason why they're making money. If you can't get people to buy, get them to try - and if it's as good as advertised, you'll be fine.

Metaswitch Forum revisited - a different take on UC

I tend to think differently than most about communications technologies, and hopefully that's a good thing. I'd like to believe that's what my clients think, right?

As you may know, I participated earlier this month at Metaswitch Forum, and in an earlier post shared my overall takeaways. Today, though, I'm honing in on UC.

This is the focus of my October contribution to the UCStrategies portal, and I came away from Metaswitch with some concerns that mobility's wake may push UC off course. For vendors who can readily ride this wave, they should be fine - but others may have a harder time going with the flow. I think there are some important trends emerging here, and for my take on what it could mean for UC, I welcome you to read my analysis, which is posted now on the UCStrategies portal.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Where are things going with SBCs?

That's a big question in the IP comms space these days, with the most recent news being Avaya's acquisition of Sipera. I would argue that Metaswitch's recent launch of their own SBC - Perimeta - is just as important, and both signal some new shifts in this market.

As my regular readers know, I've been following the session border controller space from Day 1, and while it's a very misunderstood market, the mainstream is finally catching up to why SBCs are important.

The SBC buzz is getting pretty loud now, and I'm glad that UCStrategies decided to do a podcast about it. I'm a bit of an outlier with this group, and boy, do they have different views on SBCs than me. Some are very technical and enterprise-centric, but have very little to do with the world I see. As a result, we had a very mixed bag about the value SBCs bring as well as the outlook for the category.

My thoughts on SBCs have been public for years, but I'm just one voice of many in this group. For that reason, if you're wondering what all the fuss is about, and why Avaya moved to take out Sipera, please give our podcast a listen. It's posted now on the UCStrategies portal, along with a full transcript.

Bell Fundraiser for CAMH - One Night Under a Blue Sky

I had a pretty interesting evening on Tuesday thanks to General Bandwidth. They're a major Bell Canada partner, and they invited me to join them here in Toronto at a special event called "One Night Under a Blue Sky". This event has nothing to do with telecom, but was definitely worthwhile.

It's a big time corporate fundraiser run by Bell for CAMH - the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health - and aside from the financial support, this goes a long way to raising awareness and understanding of mental health issues. We've become so enamored with our always-on, hyperconnected lifestyles, it's sometimes easy to forget that we're humans and not machines. If you don't think this takes a toll on mental health, I'd say you need a reality check. Anyhow, I don't normally attend black tie events, and this sure beat whatever else I had going that night.

Being a fancy gala, the entertainment was a cut or two above Medievel Times. They had two world class troupes, along with several performers covering a variety of expressive modes. Let's just say it was a heady mix of highbrow cabaret, precision dance, performance art, world music and Cirque du Soleil; along with lots of haute coutere, fire, fog and water. Not sure how else to describe the entertainment, and it took some getting used to, but it worked for me, and the performers were spectacular.

I'm sure glad I went, and hats off to Bell for getting so much support around such an important issue. Oh - if you're looking to take your next big party to the next level, you should probably get in touch with the Blue Sky House Troupe, La Salamandre, or Freedom Ballet. Just make sure you give them lots of space and don't leave anything around that easily catches fire. Anyhow, just for a taste, here's a bit of what they had going on - are you thinking Peter Gabriel?

Here's how the other half lives...

Thanks, Genband

Monday, October 10, 2011

Home - for now, and that's a good thing

Being home sure has its virtues, and that's where I'm going to be over the next while. I'm not a heavy traveller, but over the past month, my travels by plane or car have taken me to or through the most number of states I've ever been to.

During that time, the Red Sox tore out the hearts of the Nation again, and it was strange not needing to keep checking on baseball scores at this time of the year. I'm over it - the purge is underway, but it's time to move on and focus on defending the Stanley Cup, and seeing if the Patriots can get back to the Super Bowl.

Starting with last month's IT Expo in Austin, I've been to Texas, New York, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, California and ending last Thursday, Nevada. Am definitely feeling like a displaced person, but the pace will slow down over the next few weeks. It's quiet today, and I'm looking forward to getting back to a more normal rhythm.

Without any baseball to obsess over, that should leave lots of time for more blogging - at least until new projects come along - and it looks like that just happened this morning. That's probably the best part about being home - getting new business and starting on with new clients. Back to work...

Friday, October 7, 2011

Metaswitch Forum - Wrapup and Takeaways

Just some closing thoughts about this year's Metaswitch Forum. Since my last post, we've seen a few more executive keynotes, heard from a customer, attended some breakout sessions, and saw a fantastic headliner keynote from Richard Noble of the Bloodhound Project (more on that in a moment).

If you've been following the Twitter feed (#mforum11), then very little of this will be news, and even if it is, I'm just going to pass on a few things here.

Metaswitch is a very customer-focused company. I thought they did a great job positioning their technology in terms of what matters for carriers and their customers. Thrutu is a good example of this, and their demo showed how the applications that run on this enrich phone calls in powerful ways. While the demo was about a mundane consumer/social experience (two people trying to find each other in real time to meet up for a coffee), it wouldn't take much to show Thrutu adding similar value for an SMB scenario (maybe at the next Forum?). The demo had lots of LBS and GPS horsepower, and in my mind, if it can do this much to make trivial problems easy to solve, imagine what it could do if real business was on the line! Regardless, this is just one way Metaswitch demonstrated how their technology translates into everyday needs. Carriers need to see this for two reasons; first to understand how it works on their network, and second, how it's going to be of value to their customers.

Metaswitch really understands the landscape. Martin Taylor has now taken on the CTO role, and he did a great job explaining the broader context of how OTT - over the top - technologies are disrupting everything - the carrier space, the vendor space, and end user expectations. During the Forum, we got a good sense of the opportunities Metaswitch sees in all this, but at the same time, only the smartest companies will survive. I've always admired the intelligence that comes from their whole management team, and Martin nicely outlined both the threats that come with OTT, as well as where/how the telcos still have leverage to defend their markets. I'll have more to say about that in future posts here and elsewhere.

The customer is always right. Yesterday we heard from Windstream, and it was a great example of what customers see in Metaswitch, and why they stick with them. They're a pretty big customer, and I think it was important to show smaller customers that Metaswitch scales so well, and can handle their future needs. More importantly, their SVP of Network Services - Bill Bellando - provided a holistic picture. He emphasized the underlying architecture as a key strength, which plays well for all the engineers in the room. Just as much, though, he talked about the quality of people at Metaswitch at all levels - management, support and operations.

There's more to driving fast than speed. The best is saved for last for a good reason. At face value, Richard Noble provided enough shock and awe video of supersonic cars - rockets on wheels, really - to satisfy any hardcore F1 or NASCAR fan. Engineers love to solve problems and get excited about testing the limits of performance, and what could be cooler than finding a way for man to drive at 1,000 MPH? Not only break the sound barrier, but outrace a fighter jet - you just have to see the video to believe it (that's why I added the Bloodhound link earlier).

So, what does any of this have to do with telecom, VoIP, UC, mobility, SBCs, etc.? Well, in the immortal words of Steve Gleave at last year's Forum when he talked about the goodie we all got - the USB-enabled pet rock - it does "nothing... absolutely nothing". Hell, why can't that be enough, right? Can't we just enjoy the simple things in life any more? Well, simple is the last word that comes to mind in Richard Noble's world. His talk worked on a few levels, and he had some encouraging messages about how technology can help us learn better, faster and smarter.

However, for the Metaswitch audience, the big takeaway for me was having faith in the human spirit and letting our intellectual curiousity takes us to places we never thought possible. He did a great job showing how the bar for speed racing has been raised many times over the years, and I especially loved hearing the nationalistic jibes to see who could be the fastest - the French, the Brits, the Scots, etc. In my mind, the pursuit of driving 1,000 MPH has everything to do with Metaswitch's raison d'etre, and I think the audience made that connection as well. Just like Richard Noble, Metaswitch likes to solve complex problems and challenge everyday thinking, and when they succeed, so do their customers. Even Ricky Bobby would understand that - there really is more to life to driving fast. Can't wait to see how they top this next year!

That's all for now - back to work. Will just leave you with one photo - it was from the SMB business case session that I moderated on Wednesday. As you can see, it was a full room, and all the other sessions I popped into were full as well. When the sessions are a better draw than the casinos, then you know Metaswitch's customers really wanted to be there. What more can you ask, right?

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Metaswitch Forum - do you Believe in Magic?

Great song, huh? John Sebastian at his best - bet you can't get it out of your head now. That's the idea. Now, close your eyes, hum along and then say, "damn, I wish I was at Metaswitch in Vegas this week".

Well, if you can't be here, then keep reading my posts, and pick up the Twitter feed (#mforum11) - it's been pretty active. I just wanted to share some thoughts from Day 1. This is my fifth Metaswitch Forum, and it keeps getting bigger and better every year. Attendance is close to 1,000, and it's a great testament to their loyal customer base. They really have a great balance between sharing their roadmap and providing quality content with Vegas-style showmanship. The production quality and visuals are first rate, and a special kudo goes out to uber-host Steve Gleave. I think he's got another career waiting in this town - the man knows how to work a room!

Actually, Steve set the table by talking about the 7 M's, which define their vision for this market. In short, they are: Moments, Multimedia, Mobility, Management of sessions, Migration, Mosaic and Metaswitch.

Each of these are laden with meaning, but I'll leave that to your imagination. I couldn't make a living if I spelled it all out for you here, but suffice to say, I like where they're going, and think they are very much in synch with what the market needs. With a bit of effort, mind you, you'll get another layer of understanding by sifting through the tweets.

Otherwise, Day 1 had a good mix of public and NDA discussions, and it all reinforces my sense that they know what they're doing. The business continues to perform well, they keep adding customers, and they are proactively fine tuning their value proposition to reflect what's happening today. As smart as they are, even they concede it's a very daunting task, and frankly nobody has got all this figured out - well, maybe Apple or Google on a good day.

Regardless, among the telecom vendors, Metaswitch is as well positioned as anybody, and being private, they have more freedom to innovate without the time-sensitive pressures of meeting quarterly targets. Their market won't keep growing at current levels - even they know that - but as long as they keep innovating and responding to today's disruptive technologies, they'll hold their own just fine.

I could go on a lot about the details and memorable observations, but will save that for another post - pretty busy here now. In short, when you hear about the future they're envisioning, you really wonder if it's all magic, esp being here in Las Vegas. Well, to an outsider, it may look like magic, but when you see the quality of people and thinking that Metaswitch has, it looks pretty real to me.

Just a few photos to share here. Unfortunately, the analysts and media had special seating out in the bleachers during the morning sessions, so the best photo opps were off the video screen instead of stage - it's a big room!

Steve Gleave - funny, clever, but delivering a strong vision about the Power of M

Execs Kevin DeNuccio and Graeme MacArthur - very different styles, but more strong messaging about their growth story and roadmap

The chocolate lover in me couldn't resist making this connection - coincidence? I think not....