Friday, July 29, 2011

Social Media and Contact Centers - Part 2

I've been writing a column for Exony over the past few months, and it's been a great opportunity to explore how IP and hosting are impacting the contact center.

My most recent thread has been about social media's role in the contact center, and the more research I do, the more layers keep peeling back. My most recent analysis is running now on Exony's site, and the theme is unintended consequences. I'll let you think about that for a moment, and hopefully your curiousity will be piqued. At that point, zip over to the site, give the article a read, and let me know your thoughts. Part 3 is coming soon!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

ADTRAN - Continued Growth, All Good

I had a briefing yesterday with ADTRAN to discuss the highlights of their recent Q2 results, and while this may be old news for the financial community, it's still worth noting for anyone that doesn't follow the company closely - and if you're in telecom, you should be.

I've been following ADTRAN for some time, and while they may not be a household name in telecom, I'll take their numbers any day, especially given how majors like Cisco and RIM are facing some big challenges now. As publicly cited, revenue and income are both growing and are at record levels. Getting growth in both areas is not easy, and speaks to how well the company is being run.

This last statement may sound like motherhood, but when you consider the vast range of both product lines and businesses they serve, ADTRAN has a lot on the go. They may not have the brand recognition of Cisco or Avaya, but the growth is there, and more importantly, they're making money. I'd say they're about a year away from hitting $1 billion in sales, and with $150 million of liquid capital on hand, they're certainly in a position to shape their roadmap.

There's still a lot of legacy out there, and a big part of their business is helping customers transition to IP. It's easy to think we're in an all-IP world, but businesses still have lots of interop challenges to work with both existing and new network elements. Looking ahead, I was updated on the progress they're making with vertical market UC solutions, virtualization and cloud (esp their 10 Gig Netvanta interfaces), and support for carriers rolling out IPv6.

ADTRAN covers more ground than most vendors, and there's always the risk of being spread too thin, but their growth metrics indicate otherwise. This was clarified in the briefing, as growth is coming from both hardware and software product lines - not just in the U.S., but overseas as well. So long as this trend continues, my only caution is a view I've held for some time - the company culture is still pretty product-centric - and while this is ideal for switches and routers, a different language and mindset is needed for service-based offerings like UC or hosted. This type of shift takes time, and I'm optimistic they'll get there. Who knows - with all the Cisco layoffs, something tells me they're getting a lot of resumes now, and that might help them get there faster.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Telesphere - Taking the Cloud to Market

Yesterday I got briefed on an announcement that just went live today. Wanted to share it with you, as I think this is a great example of where things are heading in the hosted services/cloud space. The company is called Telesphere, and now that I think about it, our paths crossed a few times a year or so ago, but based on today's news, they're ready to make some bigger noise.

In short, they've launched an end-to-end cloud based solution that should find a solid niche with businesses who don't want the hassle of managing their communications systems or the capital expense of upgrading to IP. As the release explains, Telesphere brings their own MPLS network, and they've partnered with three leading vendors for the complete solution - BroadSoft, Polycom and CounterPath.

There are several moving parts here, and I'll keep this simple. Unified Communications is a moving target to define, but everyone gets the basic premise about integrating multiple modes on to a common platform. Telesphere offers a variety of flavors to suit different use case scenarios, but the main focus for them is video. Having come from Cisco C-Scape recently, it's not hard to see why vendors are pushing strongly down this path - there's more money to be made than with voice, plus it's actually a better way to communicate.

With that, I'm going to be pretty video-centric here in talking about Telesphere. The core offering in the launch is called VideoConnect, and it's exactly as it sounds. Telesphere has put all the pieces in place to support a cloud-based videoconferencing service that works on most all key endpoints. BroadSoft and Polycom already work together with BroadCloud Video, which supports up to 12 participants, and being standards-based, will work with most standards-based video deployments, including big screen systems and tablets. Counterpath adds support for desktop video with their Bria softphone application. Smartphone support is coming, but for now, there's a lot to consider here.

We all know that some people love using video and some don't, but there's no denying how it adds value in the workplace. One key challenge is the firewall and connecting video across different enterprise networks. Telesphere has addressed this in the cloud, so they can serve as a hub of sorts, through which video traffic can pass among their customers. In keeping with their best of breed approach, they're using Acme Packet for the SBC component - not only does it interop with all the leading network vendors, but it can scale to whatever level Telesphere needs.

Once businesses see the value of this concept, they become believers when they experience both the ease of use and high quality. In the IP world, videoconferencing is no different than making a call - it's reservationless, and just requires dialing up an IP address. The quality comes through via HD audio and video - even on the desktop, and when end users see this, it's hard to go back to everyday phone calls or low res video chat. Plus, management will like the fact that one-to-one video sessions are free, so long as they're running over the LAN.

Being a cloud-based and managed service, Telesphere is also playing up the Capex-free angle. This can be a key value driver, as businesses don't need to make a big investment to have video, and if they do need endpoints, the cost can be built into the monthly service charge rather than coming from a capital budget.

For now, VideoConnect will largely be a line extension for Telesphere's existing customers. However, if the expected traction materializes, they'll have a proof of concept to warrant pushing this out into the broader market. Their MPLS coverage is nation-wide, so they can sell into any region, as well as support businesses with branch offices across the country.

If all this comes to pass, I think Telesphere will have a new model for the cloud communications space. I've always believed that owning a network gives you leverage for sustained growth, and everything else can built up through partnerships and the best-of-breed approach. That's exactly what I'm seeing here, and it shows that you don't have to be a Tier 1 carrier or vendor to succeed. Once you've adopted the cloud as the home for communications - and that's still a big leap for many companies - all bets are off in terms of who can best deliver those services. Google is certainly poised to do this, and Microsoft is working hard to get there, but for now there's plenty of room for companies like Telesphere make the model work and truly bring high-value video to the workplace.

Friday, July 22, 2011

ShoreTel Conference Recap – Brilliantly Simple, Sort Of

ShoreTel is a company that’s definitely doing things right, and while I’ve only been following them closely for about three years, they’ve come a long way during that time. Having come from Cisco’s event last week, the market share lines are clearly drawn in the IP telephony space. In North America, Cisco and Avaya/Nortel hold about 75%, which doesn’t leave much for everyone else. The playing field has inevitably thinned out, and for anyone else to crack double digits in share, that would be a pretty big achievement.

As in any market with this type of structure, there is room for a few Tier 2 players that will collectively grab maybe 20%, and the remaining 5% will go to a fragmented field of Tier 3s who are barely hanging on, or have found a defensible niche. ShoreTel is clearly in the Tier 2 group, and the case can be made – and they had industry data to show it – that they are the top player in that stratum of the market. Sure, there’s a huge jump up to the Cisco/Avaya league, but Tier 2 is still a big space, and ShoreTel can do very well here without worrying too much about who’s above them or the multitude of Tier 3s down below.

Just like last year, it was easy to see the strong rapport that ShoreTel has with their partners, and that goes a long way to explaining their momentum. Being a public company, there were plenty of proof points to support this, and I tweeted several of them during the event (#shor11). In terms of my key takeaways, I’m going to focus on the messaging we heard, both in the keynotes as well as the various personal briefings and hallway banter.

I’ll start at the top, with CEO Peter Blackmore. He came across as a serious, credible leader, and presented a pretty sound vision for ShoreTel to make the most of their market opportunity. The unspoken message is to beat Cisco – where they have had their share of success – but the clearer message is to present a great offering that the market can understand and see value in. This is the root of their “brilliantly simple” tagline, and with all the complexity around making IP technology actually work, it resonates nicely with both customers and channel partners.

I’m not going to rehash the details, but he set the stage explaining the market drivers they’re trying to capitalize on. Mobility is the big one, and this was a strong theme during the event. Video was big too, but secondary to video. They’re a bit behind the curve on these fronts, so there’s a lot of hasty catching up going on here. However, we have to remember that a lot of businesses wouldn’t know what to do with a soup-to-nuts collaboration solution, so there’s a still a window here for ShoreTel.

Peter Blackmore stated an ambitious goal of reaching 20% market share from their current level of 9%, and that would really put them in the big leagues. A lot would have to go right, especially in moving up-market – and wrong for their competitors – and he identified building the right mix of channel partners as the key for doing this. There was a lot of talk around how they’re supporting their channels, especially in terms of having no conflict. This clearly is a pain point for channels with other vendors, and ShoreTel looks to have a good plan here.

I could go on and on about all the positives their executives shared with us (I need to be balanced and fair!), and taken at face value, it’s not hard to understand why they’re winning business and why their stock price has doubled. If you’re a fan, the strong financials make them poised for a good run, and possibly to make some acquisitions. If you’re a doubter, and still think about the old ShoreTel, you’ll point to their lack of profitability, and perhaps say they can’t scale enough for enterprise customers. You didn’t hear much about the latter at the conference, but given the history, these things can’t be ignored either. Overall, though, I like their chances.

So, what’s to worry about? Well, “brilliantly simple” can be a differentiator so long as you can deliver it. Clearly, ShoreTel has done this, but it’s largely been with voice and fairly basic deployments. On one hand, there’s a huge market around this, and their CEO noted that only half of the market has moved to IP. The opportunity is easy for businesses to understand - and for channel partners to sell/support. If that was the extent of the business, we could all go home happy.

As mentioned, mobility and video are just now being added to the mix, and while it’s early days still, these are much harder to keep simple. I have no doubt they will get all these pieces to work, but as we saw from various demos and briefings, there’s a ways to go still. Their acquisition of Agito gave them some FMC expertise, but mobility is not native to ShoreTel’s R&D DNA. When the bigger players talk about collaboration, conferencing, social media, mobile UC, SIP trunking, etc. it’s pretty clear what these look like and how they work. You don’t have the same sense of that yet with ShoreTel. For example, their Polycom videoconferencing endpoints only work with each other, and aren’t yet integrated with the desktop. That’s ok – they’ll get there, and I think they’re realistic about where they can compete successfully here.

I guess it all depends what you’re comparing this against. CEBP is not on the ShoreTel menu yet, but does it need to be? They know their market, and they know what their partners are willing/able to support. These capabilities are really not big drivers yet among their core customers, so they don’t have to be best-in-class here. The challenge comes in trying to make mobility and video as “brilliantly simple” as voice. I don’t think anyone has been able to do that yet, so if they can truly pull this off, they’ll really have something special.

I’m not alone in wondering how quickly all this will come together. If their roadmap takes too long, there’s a real danger of businesses finding ways to do what need to do with Lync, at which point ShoreTel doesn’t have much to offer beyond voice. Similarly, if mobility and/or video take things from simplicity to complexity, they’ll undermine their core business. That’s a tricky balance to strike, since they need to succeed with both channels and customers.

Now it’s easier to understand why they’re using a two-tier channel model, and why so much emphasis is being placed on expanding/enhancing their partner base. It’s no secret that data VARs are not created equally when it comes to voice – and vice versa. This is a different sales pitch, and it has to work for the channel as much as for the customer. ShoreTel certainly isn’t alone here, but they definitely have a lot riding on keeping things simple.

In short, I think ShoreTel has a strong hand, and the market is theirs to lose. They’re also late to virtualization, and that’s a dual-edged sword. If it happens too quickly, the core business is cannibalized, and the XaaS model is harder for channels to understand and monetize. On the other hand, if other vendors have better virtualized offerings, the business may go that way among customers who decide to go all-in.

On the upside, there’s a lot to like about ShoreTel – the little engine that could. This also came out in the closing keynote by Joe Theismann – yeah, the football guy. Boy, was he good. Motivational speakers are pretty predictable, but I thought his message worked really well. He talked about teamwork and the need for channels to work closely with ShoreTel to get the results. He had great analogies and stories from his playing days, and they apply very nicely to what the conference was all about. So, lots of positives to build on, and it’s pretty simple for me – if they can keep it simple, they just might get their 20% share – and if they do, Joe will no doubt double his fee to come back, but it will be worth every penny.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

ShoreTel 2011 Conference - Day 1

Busy schedule here, but so far, the ShoreTel Mobilize for Growth analyst/partner event has been great. Solid growth story here, and I really like the leadership team they've put together. I've been tweeting regularly and taking notes during the sessions. For now, I just have time to pass on some photos from yesterday. After things wrap up today, I'll have time to reflect a bit and will have something worth reading for you then.

Hey, it's Chicago - what else would you expect for an opening?

CEO Peter Blackmore - I liked his vision and sense of purpose for growing the company - sounds like they're in good hands here.

Don Girskis leading a panel with three high-growth partners and hearing how they got such great results

CMO Kevin Gavin's silhouette and the mysteries about how marketing is helping ShoreTel succeed

Monday, July 18, 2011

Next Stop - Chicago and ShoreTel

Second week in a row of travel - tomorrow I'm attending ShoreTel's analyst and partner event, titled Mobilize for Growth. The event is in Chicago, and it's a safe bet it won't be as hot weather-wise as Cisco's event last week in Las Vegas - phew.

Catchy title - this year's ShoreTel conference continues the momentum from last year's breakout developments that have put the company on a strong growth track. And of course, mobility itself is another big theme, and I'm sure we'll be hearing all about that in Chicago.

ShoreTel may not do things as big or fancy as Cisco, but they put on a solid event, and with a strong core of happy channel partners, they look to have a defendable niche in this crowded and messy market space. Also, now that their new CEO - Peter Blackmore - has a year under his belt, it will be interesting to see his roadmap for 2012. I'll share the highlights and Twitter away as time and WiFi allows!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Cisco C-Scape - More Takeaways, Photos, Deaf Culture, the Human Network and The Godfather 2

I've got some not-so-random thoughts to share from the last 2 days of Cisco C-Scape 2011. I'm not your typical industry analyst, so my take here is a bit different, and I just might get you to see collaboration a bit differently. If you want straight up analyst coverage, just mine the Twitter feeds that have been going non-stop.

Overall, the event has been as advertised - huge, splashy, very well run, and plenty of access/exposure to executives across all lines of business. Definitely worthwhile, and Cisco keeps the bar very high for giving analysts what they need.

Cisco Live is the big piece of this event, and they had over 15,000 partners in attendance - with another 40,000+ following via the Web - that's pretty impressive. If you weren't with us, here are a few photos from the keynotes. I've got another one later in this post, so keep reading.

Opening number - no, this isn't an audition for Hair or Godspell - but a great warm up for John Chambers. This was a faux flash mob that started out in the aisles and then took over the stage. It was about as unscripted as a reality TV show - totally not, of course! - but very fun and very Vegas.

Jim Grubb walks John Chambers through a vertical market demo of various collaboration applications. This was for the oil and gas sector - very compelling and more plausible than last year's demo for collaboration in the school classroom.

Padmasree Warrior's keynote

So, collaboration remains the main story for Cisco, but they made it clear that routers and switches are still the core of their business. Cloud is a big part of their roadmap, but they remain married to the mantra of the network being the driver for collaboration.

To deliver on this, we heard a lot about their commitment to innovation and architecting networks that help businesses achieve their goals. John Chambers talked about how we're shifting from an information economy to a networked economy, where value comes not from moving information around, but in finding experts who can help businesses solve problems right now. The demo cited above was a great example of this, where they used Quad to source an expert to help solve a remote pipeline maintenance issue.

Moving on, much of our time was spent in small scale briefings, and that was a great way to get interactive updates on various areas of interest. There were a lot of these going on, and it didn't take long to realize there was a small army of analysts there, many of whom are way outside the realm of colleagues I work with. Cisco has become that big and expansive that you need this many people to understand the full picture. Of course, that's also part of the problem, and we heard a lot about how Cisco has had to re-trench and focus on a more manageable customer set.

Ok, so let's move on the cryptic references in the title of this post. Let's start with The Godfather. If your mind works like mine, you'll have figured this out by now. Anyone who has seen John Chambers speak knows that he's absolutely the best - nobody commmunicates as smoothly as he does. He's got that perfect blend of business focus, folksy Southern charm, an Atticus Finch sense of lawyerly measured conviction, and the cadence and gleam of a preacher. The audience is always in the palm of his hand, and with 15,000 in the room, that's pretty impressive.

This was a very happy audience at a very upbeat event - the Pimp My Router routine was hilarious! - but while all this was going down, all I could think of was the fantastic climax of The Godfather, Part 2 (has there ever been a better sequel film?). C'mon, you remember - how calmly Michael Corleone goes about his business while his grand plan to consolidate power unfolds with a series of brutal, fast-cut executions and takeouts. Coppola - and Pacino - at their best.

As we all know, there has been lots of coverage about Cisco layoffs as part of the aforementioned retrenching. On Monday, the talk was 5,000, then on Tuesday it was 10,000. Whatever the number ends up being, it will be a lot of people out of work or taking early retirement. I'm not saying this is a heartless move - in fact, during the analyst Q&A, John Chambers was very candid about the care they take with employees. However, everyone knew this cloud would be hanging over the event, but you'd never know it from listening to the keynotes. :-)

Now, let's talk about two other Cisco mantras from the event. First is a tag line they've been using for a while - The Human Network. Hold that thought. The other one is listening. John Chambers had a customer-centric theme in his keynote - "you ask, we deliver". I like that - short and to the point. All successful companies do this very well - they listen and learn, and I've always had the sense this was a hallmark of Cisco.

However, I didn't realize how true this really was - figuratively and literally - until I noticed something that I highly doubt ANYONE in that arena of 15,000 people picked up on. The photo below isn't great, but I'll explain. Her name is Angie Beachley, and behind her, Padmasree Warrior is giving her keynote. So, why is Angie facing the audience, and why is she so animated?

Simple. She's a signer. Sitting across from her in the front row (not pictured) is Bryan Dixon. He's with SAIC (and NASA), and a NetVet as well. Bryan is also deaf, and Cisco provided a signer so he could follow along. I noticed the same thing on Tuesday, where a different interpreter - Rod Voris - was used.

I wouldn't expect you to connect these dots, but I've grown up with Deaf Culture, as my youngest brother is deaf. As I chatted up Bryan through the interpreter (I don't know sign language), I learned that he went to the same university as my brother - NTID - National Technical Institute for the Deaf. A number of things struck me about this that add some color to the world Cisco lives in.

First, we take it for granted that all the powerful tools we have for collaboration and Unified Communications work for everybody. Try telling that to those who are visually or hearing-impaired. It's really tough when you can't see, but deaf people can at least pick up the visual cues. I have known for years that the deaf community is actually a tailor-made market for many of the tools we rely on. My brother and his friends don't talk on the phone of course, but they text and chat like crazy, and video is perfect for them. If you've ever been around a group of deaf people conversing, you'll notice right away that sign language is incredibly rich and nuanced in ways that speech doesn't have.

I'm not saying for a minute that Cisco should view the deaf community as another vertical market. However, I have no doubt that people like Bryan Dixon can help Cisco make these tools more engaging and inclusive for everyone. It's really hard for deaf people to get regular jobs, but in the world IT, I think they can do incredibly well, and teach others how to make sharper use of all their senses. If this isn't The Human Network at work, I don't know what is.

I wanted to add a coda to this from yet another unlikely source - football. American football is without a doubt the most complex and collaborative of all team sports. I'll bet you didn't know there's a deaf college football team. Gaullaudet University is in Washington D.C. - it's the only all-deaf university in the world, and they've had football as long as any Ivy League school. Until recently, do you know how they sent play calls in from the sidelines? They bang a drum, and the QB picks up the vibrations, which come in code. Pretty neat. They also invented the huddle way back when as a way to prevent their opponent from seeing the play calls which were signalled using sign language. Here's an article if you want to check this out further.

So, what's my point? Well, look at how ingenious all this is - no matter what faculties you have, it's in our nature to find ways to communicate and collaborate. The deaf community has learned this in spades, and believe me, a lot of deaf people think we're the ones with the handicap - and they wouldn't want it any other way. This is a different and long-winded take on collaboration, and I'm just trying to say it's a very human process, whether one-to-one or one-to-many. In my view, this little sidebar validates for me that Cisco is on the right path with collaboration - perhaps more than they realize.

The world needs more people like Bryan Dixon to make us aware of the full potential for how we communicate and share ideas. However, we'll only get there if the focus is on human communication - the technology is a means, not an end. So, kids, stop walking and texting with your head down, and look at what's in front of you in real time - then you just might bump into Bryan one of these days.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Cisco C-Scape - Day 1

Just wanted to get a quick post out about C-Scape 2011. Yesterday was an analyst-only session, so we were in our own world most of the day. The event kicks off in full form this morning, so I'll have more to say in my next post.

Our session yesterday was focused on collaboration, and more specifically the roles played by Jabber and WebEx. It was nice to devote this much time to collaboration, and it was great to hear - and discuss - their roadmap and vision about how these tools add value. Collaboration can mean a lot of things, and vendors tend to define it in terms of their offerings, but buyers already know that. In this forum, Cisco takes the network-centric view, so it's an inside-out approach, which makes IT happy. Contrasting that, though, is the struggle to meet rising expectations as employees keep bringing new personal devices to work and wanting to use them on the job.

We didn't drift too much over into social media - the focus was very much about enabling team work, often using video. Over the course of the sessions, we saw several on the fly demos using WebEx and demonstrating the Jabber interface, which incorporates just about everything you could ever need around presence and real time communications. The details were a bit much for me, but clearly, when all the pieces are integrated like this, the collaboration story becomes very strong.

Not surprsingly, the emphasis was on enterprise, so there wasn't much talk about this might play out for SMBs. That's fine - enterprise is Cisco's strong suit, and this is where the most money is spent. Inevitably, there was a lot of talk about Microsoft Office integration, and Android support with Cius, so it was impossible to avoid the other giants in the room. This leads me to another key takeaway, which was a repeated message about interoperability and open systems being key drivers for collaboration. Cisco has a lot riding on Cius gaining traction, and they know that no single vendor can truly do everything.

All told, the first day was well done, and it was great to get that much focus on an area that is so critical to Cisco's future. Time to go now, and get started on Day 2, which is where most of the activity will be during C-Scape. Back soon.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Hosted PBX - my New White Paper with Metaswitch

I was recently engaged by Metaswitch Networks for some thought leadership in the hosted services market. Whether you call it cloud or hosted or managed, this is a strong trend, especially among SMBs. They had me research and analyze the factors driving this space, as well as evaluate how their Hosted PBX offering addresses the needs of the market.

They recently published the white paper, and it's now available for download on their website. The paper is titled "Hosted PBX and Beyond", and
you can register here to get a copy. If you like what you read, I'm sure they'd be happy to hear from you! If you have any difficulty getting the paper, just drop me a line and I can get you a soft copy.

Next Week - Cisco C-Scape, Las Vegas

Not doing much travelling lately, but I have back-to-back trips coming up the next two weeks. Next week I'll be at Cisco C-Scape, and with all the challenges Cisco has faced recently, this should be a very interesting showcase for their 2011 roadmap. Of course, there's still a lot of buzz around last week's launch of Cius, which I most recently wrote about on the UCStrategies portal.

C-Scape is always a great event, and Cisco really knows how to put on a show. If you don't have a sense of this, check out my post from last year's event, which included the first announcement of Cius (one of my photos shows a working prototype).

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Cisco Cius - Will it Succeed/Can it Succeed?

Many questions around last week's launch of Cisco Cius, and I posted some initial thoughts following the in-person demo I saw here in Toronto. Opinions are all over the map about Cius, and there is no shortage of people who think or want it to fail. That's fine, but I think Cisco has done a lot of things right here, and while they may not succeed right away (or at all), this looks to me like what collaboration will become once the market catches up to this technology.

Some of this is ahead of the market still, but there's plenty there to get excited about if you're a Cisco shop and you think video is the way to go. Of course, if you still think that voice and telecom is the gold standard for communicating, then Cius is a huge waste of time and money. That may be where a lot of enterprise sentiment lies today, but I do believe that video will drive the future, and tablets will be a big part of that.

If you're still with me, then I welcome you to read my longer post today, which runs on the UCStrategies portal. There's a lot to like about Cius for UC followers, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Cisco Cius - Impressive Demo - But Will the Market Buy?

Been too busy to post about this til now, and hopefully, there's still an appetite to hear more about the launch of Cisco's Cius tablet on Wednesday. I say "hopefully", not just because I don't move in Internet time and am not big on instant analysis, but also because so much of what I've seen out there is just descriptive rehashing of what Cius does - not what it is or what it means. I can't believe how lazy people are, just endlessly re-tweeting this type of coverage - and surely I hope you don't view Twitter as the final word as an authoritative source. I'll save that one for another day.

I'll start off by saying this is the warm-up post. I'm just going to recap a few key takeaways, which I'll flesh out further in my next UCStrategies writeup - look for that early next week. I attended a hands-on demo of Cius on Wednesday at Cisco's Canadian headquarters here in Toronto, so I can actually say I have a first-hand account of the product as well as the benefit of the in-depth presentations onsite as well as via telepresence.

Before sharing some thoughts, you may know that the Cius story is a year in the making. Cius was announced at last year's C-Scape (and I'll be there this year in about 10 days), and I wrote up my impressions shortly after for the UCStrategies portal.

A lot has happened since the announcement last July, and in this case, I think it plays into Cisco's favor. The tablet market has exploded since then, and while the iPad is still the "it" device for consumers, we've since seen Flare and more recently, the PlayBook for the business market. I'm sure Cisco has learned from those launches, and following their hasty exit from the consumer video space with Flip, their go-to-market with Cius has become pretty focused.

Cisco's GTM for Cius isn't bullet proof, but I think it makes for a strong entry given how fast this market is growing. Nobody has a solid value proposition yet for the business market with tablets, which is still very much an early adopter space. The Cius demo only confirmed my belief that while this bright, shiny object has undeniable sex appeal, both vendors and end users don't really know what it or how to integrate it with everything else they're already using. The last thing we want is another gadget to carry around, and it's too early to tell if Cius will displace other end points, or simply add to the mix.

Regardless, I believe Cisco is in a truly unique position to make tablets a success in the business market, but a lot of things have to go right, and of course, businesses need to see a reason to buy. With so many employees using iPads for fun, it's going to be interesting to see how they drive adoption.

Most techhy types that I know routinely carry an iPhone and a BlackBerry - it's pretty clear that an iPhone just doesn't cut it for business. I could see the same thing happening here with tablets - where are people going to put all these gadgets? Restaurant tables are going to get very crowded now when people meet, and do their usual power moves to lay out all their devices so they don't miss a call, or a sports score, or a tweet, or whatever.

Can you picture that? Two guys meet for lunch, and out come the phones and the tablets. Two guys and eight gadgets on the table - as you know, men can't project power if they keep these things in their pockets. I don't know what women are going to do! This is getting silly, but that's exactly what's going to happen - let's move on.

I'll explore more about what I think Cisco has done right in my UCS post next week, as well as what all this might mean for the Unified Communications space. Until then, here are a couple of photos from the demo, and if you made it this far, I think you'll enjoy my post next week.

For those of you up here in sunny, warm Canada (is that an oxymoron?), happy Canada Day! And for my expats south of us, Happy 4th!