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.