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....

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

And now for something completely different - Modern Tailor - my review

This post is out of the ordinary for me, but there are some explanatory threads here – just bear with me. Regular readers will notice a banner ad that recently started running on my blog; it’s for Modern Tailor, and I wrote about the whole back story around this in this post.

I’ve now gone through two cycles of ordering shirts from Modern Tailor, and am sharing my thoughts on the experience so far in this review. Briefly, Modern Tailor is an online men’s clothing merchant, and typifies the trend towards Internet shopping and doing away with the hassles of going out to a store. Everything in life has its tradeoffs, and shopping is no exception. It’s not hard to think of things that take the fun out of shopping in person – traffic, parking, crowds, crappy service, poor selection, messy stores, rude shoppers, etc.

So, before getting to Modern Tailor, I’m building a case for online shopping – of any kind. I’m not a big shopper, but if there’s a way to avoid those hassles, you’ll get my attention. To be fair, there are things about going out to shop that I enjoy, and sometimes the overall experience trumps the shortcoming, especially if you get what you wanted – and even better if you get some unexpected surprises along the way like a sale or purchases of things you didn’t plan on.

Interestingly, those unexpected surprises are just as likely to turn up online these days, and the better online shopping sites get at replicating the in-person experience, the more successful they will be. Every bricks-and-mortar business has its KSFs – key success factors – and you don’t have to look much further than book or music retailers to see what happens when online alternatives improve on those KSFs.

One could argue those are easy businesses to take online, and clothing is just too personal to work this way. There’s a lot of truth to that, but this hasn’t stopped virtually every major apparel player from going down this road – either directly with their own websites, or through retail distributors like department stores. So, if you think that buying men’s shirts online is a bad idea, keep on reading.

The two strikes that come up right away are getting a good fit and how the material looks and feels. Personalization is one of the Internet’s virtues, and Modern Tailor addresses these issues pretty well. Let’s start with the first strike – getting a good fit. When ordering shirts, their website has a well defined and easy to follow process. Once you’ve selected the shirt type and style (more on that later), you have two options for sizing. The easy route is to just go with standard sizes – just as you would in a store with whatever is in stock. This is a good option if your build is pretty normal, or if you’re not too fussy about fit.

However, Modern Tailor is a tailor, right? Nobody shops at a tailor for off-the-shelf clothes. This brings us to the second ordering option, where you are prompted to provide exact measurements for all the elements that go into crafting a shirt. It’s a bit of work, but you only have to do it once. The menus clearly lay out each step, with instructions about to take all the measurements yourself – arm, neck, sleeve, torso, etc. Once all the measurements are entered into your profile, you’ve now created a blueprint for future purchases. This brings me back to personalization – thanks to the Internet, you can now get shirts that fit more precisely than anything you’ll get walking into a store – unless of course, it’s a tailor.

However, Modern Tailor is much less expensive than your neighborhood tailor shop – these shirts run about $60 – many are less - which is about what you’d pay in a store, but here you’re getting a custom fit. The only risk is that if you provide inaccurate measurements, the shirt won’t fit so well. So, I guess if you don’t trust yourself here, either go to your local tailor and pay a lot more, or settle for an off-the-shelf fit.

If you’ve ever had made-to-measure clothing, this is a no brainer. There’s nothing like having clothes that fit 100% right, and based on the two shirts so far, Modern Tailor delivers on that brand promise. My shirts fit great, and unless my body changes materially, I can keep ordering shirts with confidence, knowing they’ll fit right every time.

This brings me to the second issue – look and feel. One of the best parts of shopping in person is seeing a shirt that you just know right away you like – and want to have. Then you pick it up to feel the fabric and look it over more closely. You can’t touch the fabric on Modern Tailor, but you can do just about everything else. When you select a shirt on their site, they provide multiple views of the garment, including close-ups to highlight the pattern and detailing, such as the collar or the cuffs. For my liking, they provide enough views to get a pretty good idea of what you’re going to get.

Once you select the shirt style, then the fun begins – and this is where the personalization really comes into play. There is a seemingly endless series of options to customize every facet of the shirt – collar type, cuff type, color of buttons, breast pocket type, inset stitching, monogram – just to name a few. Most options are standard – no cost – while a few are a la carte. There’s absolutely no excuse to get a run-of-the-mill shirt here. If you want your shirts to have personality, you can’t do better than this, and there no way you’ll get this shopping retail.

So, aside from not being able to touch the fabric, there’s not much missing here. Perhaps the biggest plus is the selection, which I haven’t mentioned yet. There are literally thousands of shirt styles and patterns to choose from, so this takes the personalization theme of the Web to a level that no store – or tailor – can possibly match. Of course, the onus falls on you to scan through them all, but if you’re looking for something different – business-style or sporty – get a coffee, sit down and go to town.

Once you get by these issues and buy into the premise of online shopping, there’s one psychological issue left to address. Buying in person has one advantage you just can’t beat – the best part of shopping is taking the purchase home and getting to use it right away. We rarely buy things and put them away for six months – the fun comes from enjoying them right away.

With online shopping, you have to live with the anticipation of waiting for the product to arrive. With Modern Tailor, you just know it’s a global operation, and the garment is made overseas somewhere. These days almost everything in stores is made overseas, so why should this be any different? As such, you would naturally have some anxiety about how long it will take not just to have your shirt made, but to receive it.

Both are very real concerns, and for both my shirts, Modern Tailor was great – not only was the overall process fast, but they managed it very well. Once my order was confirmed online, they provided regular email updates as to when the shirt was made, when it was shipped and when I would receive it. All told, I had my shirts in hand within 10 days of placing my orders. When you consider that the tailoring is done in Hong Kong, and I live in Toronto, this was a pretty impressive turnaround.

As for the shirts themselves, I’m really enjoying them. The fit – as mentioned earlier – is great, and the quality of workmanship is very good, especially for the price point. When ordering online, I knew the shirts were 100% cotton, and my only suggestion is that the shirts have a label confirming this – along with washing/care instructions. This is standard practice, and I’m not sure why they don’t do that.

Otherwise, I would recommend Modern Tailor to anyone who likes shirts and wants to stand out from the crowd. I should add this is just the beginning – there are plenty of online sites that only offer shirts, but Modern Tailor has it all. Their selection of ties is excellent, and of course, they can make you a suit. So, I look at shirts as the first stage, and if they provide great fit and quality there, that’s a big step towards earning my business for a suit – and I won’t have to fly to Hong Kong to boot! So, can they take your order?