Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Canadian Blog Directory - Great New Resource

I know I'm getting older and the world is getting younger, but blogs still have value. Hopefully you feel that way - otherwise you wouldn't be reading this, right?

I've been blogging since 2005, and ever since Twitter came along, behaviors shifted towards shorter, more in-the-moment modes. Twitter is fantastic for that, but that's not how analysts are wired. We still feel the need to describe and explain, and you can't do that very well in under 140 characters. So, I continue to blog and share my ongoing thoughts and research in this space, and am grateful for those of you who continue to follow me.

I like to Tweet just like everybody else, but primarily as a conduit to my writing elsewhere, or to posts about current developments. You'll never see me tweeting that I just left Starbucks or that it's stopped raining, but it has its place for random fun - nothin' wrong with that.

That brings me to something new - the Canadian Blog Directory. Not only is it a resource to showcase bloggers, but Canadian ones at that. I had always assumed something like this existed, but I guess not. It launched a few weeks ago, and I just came across it yesterday - how's this for a segue? - via a tweet from Mark Evans. I've known Mark a long time, and he's done lots of great things in the Canadian tech space, with this directory being his latest venture.

So, hats off to Mark for putting this together, and I'm happy to say that my blog has now been added to their roster. I should explain this isn't just for tech bloggers - there are many other categories, much like you'd find in a newspaper (presuming you still read them - I sure do!) - business, politics, sports, travel, health, etc. So, if you want to read the best in Canadian blogging - for tech or otherwise, you've come to the right place. Check it out, and if you think Mark is missing any great blogs, just let him know, eh!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Social Media and Contact Centers - Lots to Explore

Social media and contact centers - these are two spaces keeping me busy lately, and it's even better when I can talk about them together. That's the focus of my latest column on Exony's website, and it's just gone live this afternoon.

As my research around this unfolded, more themes kept popping up, and now I've got way more to analyze than initially expected. I was thinking about doing 1 or 2 posts, but I now have 4 or 5 in the works, so this posting is really just an opener to put some issues out there for consideration.

Of course, contact centers aren't alone - everyone is making it up as they go, trying to figure out whether social media is a game-changer or a bad idea/colossal time waster. I'm still on the fence, but that will change over the course of my next few posts.

Being a work in progress, everyone has an opinion about social media, and I'd love to hear your thoughts on what it means to you on the contact center front.

XConnect launches Video Interconnection Exchange

Well, that title is a mouthful, but it's good news for anyone who likes using video for calling or conferencing - and especially those who want to do this but cannot.

Let's start with XConnect. They're a U.K. based pioneer in the IP peering space, a market I've been following for several years. It's been slow to develop critical mass, and I'm one of several analysts who have commented about the reasons, but most of us know that the underlying concept has value.

Until now, most IP peering initiatives have been voice-centric, but there's simply not enough money in it - or arbitrage opportunity - to make this a household name. The value proposition for video, however, is more attractive, and that brings us to VIE. Aside from the fact that video endpoints aren't ubiquitous, there are two basic barriers to growth. First is cost - video-enabling technology is expensive, and video is bandwidth-intensive, requiring operators and enterprises to invest heavily in upgrading their networks. The second major holdback is technology-based - specifically around interoperability. There's a mishmash of standards and protocols that make video difficult/impractical/impossible to do when trying to connect between or among networks.

This is XConnect's world, and to address these problems, they launched VIE - Video Interconnection Exchange - earlier this week. I had a briefing this morning with their CEO and Founder, Eli Katz, so I'll share some thoughts that go beyond the news.

The basic idea here is for XConnect to serve as the hub for a federation that addresses the above-stated technical issues, hence enabling video between IP networks. It sounds simple, but it's not - XConnect has been at this a long time, and they feel the market is now ready. Their news included comments from one VIE member, Telio. Long time followers of my blog will be familiar with this Norway-based operator, and they've been doing video calling for years. Telio is definitely an early adopter-type, and represents the type of operator that sees the value here.

I suspect U.S.-based operators will take a bit longer to catch on, but video calling is not new in E.U. or Asian markets. For consumers, of course, smartphones and tablets are simply kicking video into overdrive, and that's really going to accelerate the adoption of all things video. This means that consumers will actually drive demand here, and that's where I think things will get interesting for VIE. Think of it as video roaming. It won't take long for consumers to get beyond their My 5 circles of friends and family to wanting to do video calling anywhere/any time, with anyone.

The enterprise market is a different story - same for SMBs - the other two markets VIE is after. Now we're talking about conferencing and collaboration, which takes us into the worlds of telepresence and UC. There's more complexity here, especially around security, and I think carriers will have to be more proactive in pitching the VIE story to their business customers. As such, I think the business market for VIE will be driven more from the supply side, but that's ok. At least in this case, carriers are addressing a known problem, and there is pent-up demand for businesses to make greater use of video.

Being vendor-neutral, VIE sits in the middle of all this, and with their cloud infrastructure, offers a safe middle world where federation can take place. The key here is getting carriers to add their IP addresses to XConnect's ENUM registry, and as with anything cloud-based, there is a basic matter of trust to consider. However, carriers need to weigh that against current alternatives, and if they factor in what VIE offers in terms of enabling IP interconnectivity, scalability, security and cost effectiveness, the business case should become a lot stronger.

On that note, the business models aren't entirely clear to me, but once carriers decide they need to offer this capability to meet customer demands, they'll figure out pricing schemes pretty quickly. This will probably take the form of monthly subscription fees, much like the tiered options we have for broadband service. Whatever form that takes, I think the odds of success are pretty good, since market demand is real. As mentioned, the business market will probably take longer to kick in, but once carriers find success with consumers, they'll find ways to make it work for enterprises and SMBs.

Disclosure - I'm an Advisor to XConnect, but not actively involved in their everyday operations. I'm sharing this to be fully transparent, but that aside, I can objectively say that the trend around video peering is becoming more real now, and VIE is a tangible proof point. As other developments emerge in this space, I will comment accordingly. I am in fact, working on another one currently, but it's not ready for public consumption. Stay tuned!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Interactive Intelligence - CIC 4.0 Updates - Adding Value with Speech Analytics

I've written about Interactive Intelligence before, and this morning they announced some interesting enhancements to their CIC platform - now version 4.0. I got an in-person briefing in advance last week, and have shared my thoughts now on the UCStrategies portal.

The key focus for me is on speech analytics and their Interaction Analyzer applications. I've been following the contact center space more closely lately, and this is exactly the kind of intelligence that contact center managers need. If you like what Google does with search or what Cisco does with Social Miner, then this should be of interest to you. And if not, let's move on. My takeaways are posted now on the UCStrategies portal, and as always, your comments are welcome.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Service Providers and Contact Centers - Leveraging Trust

That's the topic of my latest analysis for Exony's website. My column has been building steady readership, and this posting examines the value that service providers can bring with a hosted model for contact centers.

There's a lot to explore here, and I'll be continuing this thread in future posts. However, as a starting point, I think trust is the foundation upon which carriers can position themselves as the right partner to help enterprises better manage their contact center operations. Without further ado, here's the link to the writeup, and I hope it broadens your thinking on the topic. Webinar - AT&T, Avaya and Me...

Just a shout-out for the latest webinar. It's this Thursday, June 9, at 1pm EST - and of course, is free to take part in. Titled "The Road to Cutting Edge, Effective and Revenue-Enhancing Communications", we'll be exploring challenges and opportunities facing enterprises, especially those with legacy PBX systems.

I'll be the lead presenter, and will be discussing the trends driving the changes that enterprises need to deal with sooner or later. Of course, the sponsors - AT&T and Avaya - will have their take on things, and on the whole, it should be time well spent. I hope you can join us, and all you need to do is register here.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Mitel Partner Conference - More Highlights, Takeaways and Photos

Getting through the analyst briefing session now. This is where we get more detail on Mitel's product roadmap and go-to-market plans. Not much talk here about VoIP, SIP, IP PBX, etc. They're repeatedly cited how they've moved on from TDM-to-IP, and how the conversations now are much more about business appplications and flexibility to support end users across a variety of scenarios.

There has been some talk about UC, but it's mostly about cloud, virtualization and data centers. Freedom is their overriding architecture, and following the best-of-breed approach, they're adding partners to support the full ecosystem, and that's what we saw at the Solutions Expo yesterday. It's a different model from the bigger vendors who want to do it all. Lots of flexibility here to support all the major smartphones and tablets.

As the morning unfolds, it's becoming clearer what they meant earlier about shifting from being a solutions provider to offering Freedom, which is really an enabling architecture. So, most of the discussion is about the virtualization story rather than the specifics about varying UC or telecom features.

They certainly have all those pieces - just like everyone else - but their differentiation is really built around virtualization, which brings us to VMware. I think this is a good plan to create some market separation, and they seem to have a pretty good head start here, so I like their chances. Other vendors work with VMware too, but it looks like Mitel has made the biggest bet with them. So, there's a lot riding on this relationship, and I'd say it works so long as it works for VMware. I'm sure this is an interesting market for them, and if Mitel has success selling their customer base on virtualization, they'll be fine.

This is a different Mitel from their last analyst event in 2009, where they first announced plans to work with VMware. With Inter-Tel pretty much behind them, I think they've done a great job to position themselves for the present environment. The pool of vendors is smaller today, and you need to be big but also agile to survive. They look pretty ready to me, but it really comes down to the channel, since most all sales go/come through them. Based on what we're hearing, they seem pretty ready too. Rich McBee and his team look to have a clean slate here, and we're hearing all the right things, and I think it's fair to say we'll see the results by year end. I'll certainly be watching and updating you here.

Things wrap up later this morning, and I'll leave you with a few photos to complement my thoughts...

New CEO Rich McBee

Steve Beamish and da Bears - this was fun - the Chicago Bears are a Mitel client, and they shared their deployment story with us

VMware's Carl Eschebach - very impressive growth story - a bit too strong for my liking. I see a great future for virtualization in the comms space, and I know the core audience is Mitel partners, so we're only going to hear about the upside here.

Solutions Expo - Magor's TeleCollaboration - I think there's a great story here, and even though they're a Wesley Clover company, we heard barely a peep about them during the Mitel sessions - that's why I'm here to get the word out, I guess...

RIM's booth - I think this is a key partnership for Mitel - aside from these being two Canadian companies, there's great synergy here, esp with the PlayBook being so new - this really completes Mitel's UC offering

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Focus UC Guide Published Now

As you may know, I'm a regular contributor to, and have been involved with a few of their buyer's guides. The latest one was a joint effort with fellow indie David Michels, and the focus is on Unified Communications. It's really a follow-on to the guide we recently wrote for enterprise telephony systems, which has been generating a lot of interest on

With that said, the Focus Experts' 2011 Unified Communications Guide has just been published, and I think it's going to be pretty popular as well. To get it, you just need to register on the site, and you'll have it right way. It's hot off the press - they don't say that so much any more, do they? - and you can get it here. Comments as always, are welcome!

Mitel Business Partner Conference, Day 1

Good start to Mitel's conference today. Over 1,000 partners here, so it's a pretty big event, and it's a great chance for the analysts to spend time both with Mitel's team as well as this extensive community.

Yesterday afternoon, we had a nice update session with Mitel's management team, and if you've been following Blair Pleasant's ongoing tweets, you'll pretty much know the story. That aside, here are the key takeaways for me...

- big changes since their last analyst event in 2009 - new CEO, new exec team, Inter-Tel merger now fully absorbed under one brand, now a public company, Freedom architecture is the new basis for their offering - no longer focused on solutions, bigger shift to the cloud and virtualization (VMware), and a stronger focus on mobility - esp with their RIM partnership

- I could just leave it at that - lots to digest there, and I'll touch in these things in upcoming posts

- lots of discussion about their roadmap to simplify the business, better align their channels and leverage their head start in virtualization - again will talk more about these later

- more focus on virtualization, and explaining how Mitel has success with the best-of-breed approach, and this is where they play very well with VMware - better than the bigger vendors who favor an all-or-nothing approach

- the changing role of VARs - glad to hear this - talking about how they need to be more consultative with their customers. Mitel is definitely ahead of the curve moving from hardware to software and now to the cloud/virtual world, so they focused on the need to aggressively recruit the right VAR partners who can sell converged voice and data solutions. Mitel has the offerings and they have the customers - pretty simple, but you know it never is.

- go-to-market issues - they were pretty frank about the challenges they had, esp with the Inter-Tel merger. This was a welcome conversation, and the exec team talked about they're re-aligning things, both regionally and by size of business. They also recognized that the brand needs some support - "Mitel who?" was the way they referenced this.

Lots of good ideas here, and the messaging around eliminating channel conflict has probably been the most warmly received, especially among the 1,000+ partners here. So, this basically means no more Mitel competing with channels - it's all about partnering now. Ok, as Phil Keenan is saying this morning, "if it's not working, fix it".

As a random aside, is it just me, or did Mitel pick this hotel because the elevators have a design pattern on their doors that looks a lot like their logo? Guess I've been in the sun a bit long, huh...