Thursday, December 27, 2012

2013 Look-Ahead - I See Video

Last week on UCStrategies, we had our look-ahead podcast for 2013, and not surprisingly, everyone had an opinion. I certainly recommend you give that a listen to get the big picture on where UC is going - or not - and collectively, we sure covered a lot of ground.

I wanted to expand further on a theme I think is going be big for all kinds of reasons in 2013 - video. This has been a big story for a while, and has been primed to become an  even bigger story for just as long. Of course, Cisco has been betting big on video for a few years now, and even though they've had as many hits as misses, I wouldn't bet against this trend right now. I think video is the key to success for each of the Big 3 vendors in North America - Cisco, Avaya and MSFT - and there's a lot of innovation and disruption coming  from the bottom up. Startups and pure plays like Vidyo, BlueJeans and Vidtel are building nice traction now, and I'm pretty sure there are companies nobody is following now that will become hot names in this space at some point next year. I don't know who they are yet, but I am certain that's going to happen.

Enough said - otherwise, you won't get around to reading my analysis. For that, I need to steer you back to the UCStrategies portal, where you can read my December contribution and 2013 look-ahead.

Friday, December 21, 2012

2013 - the UCStrategies Look Ahead Podcast

Well, you name it, and we covered it on this week's UCStrategies podcast. It's a long one, but if you want a collective perspective on what we think 2013 holds in store, you can download the podcast here. Topics covered include overall UC adoption trends, WebRTC, cloud UC, mobility, video and federation.

Jim Burton did the moderating, and he had his hands full making sure everyone got a chance to contribute -nicely done. There's also a transcript if the sound of our voices is getting too familiar. Enjoy, and we'd love to hear what you think 2013 is going to look like as well!

Friday, December 14, 2012

So, What DO Analysts Think of Industry Conferences?

Well, who better to ask than the analysts? That's exactly what we talked about on this week's UCStrategies podcast, which also included consultant perspectives. There's a core group of us who go to a  lot of the same events, so this is a good chance to get our collective take, especially in terms of what we actually get out of going to them, and how well they meet our needs.

In case you're wondering, we don't just go for the fancy dinners and open bar - that's really more for the host's customers than us - attending these events is a lot of work. Job 1 is trying to absorb a non-stop firehose of information, and parsing out the useful bits from the marketing-speak. Not to mention the opportunity cost of billable time from being out of the office and fulfilling project work. It just means having to try and juggle all these things at the same time, and after you go to enough of these, this becomes second nature. The biggest wildcard is the destination, as most shows are on one of the coasts, so some of us are always dealing with jet lag, especially those coming from overseas.

If this is your idea of fun, then scour the Careers section of the analyst firm websites. It doesn't quite hold the romance of joining the Navy, but as long as the coffee is fresh and the room is bedbug-free, I can think of worse ways to make a living.

Almost forgot - yeah, there's a podcast to get the full story - here's the link for the audio, along with the transcript. Blair Pleasant - who I probably see at events more than any other analyst - moderated, so hat tip to her!

Been heads-down writing all week, btw, so blogging has been on hold til now. Should be back to more regular posting next week.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

VoIP - Stepping Stone to UC - Webinar this Friday

One more shout-out for my upcoming webinar with VoIP News - it's this Friday at 1pm, EST. This is a follow up to our last webinar, which covered the rationale for SMBs to adopt VoIP. Once you've made that move, UC should be the next thing on your radar. If you're in that frame of mind, you'll want to join us, and all you need to do is register here.

Monday, December 3, 2012

New White Paper - UC for SMBs

Wanted to share word about a short white paper I recently produced for  a client - Vertical Communications. They have a long history in this space and a pretty refined value proposition for small businesses. To support that, they engaged me for this paper, which can now be downloaded from their website.

The paper is titled "Beyond VoIP - Enabling Collaboration, Mobility and Business Process Enhancement with UC", and it just takes a minute to register here. If you're an SMB considering the merits of VoIP, I think you'll find this a good starting point on your journey.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Next Friday, Webinar - VoIP: Stepping Stone to UC

Just another quick shout-out for next Friday's VoIP News webinar. I've been doing a series of these with them, with the last webinar being a primer about VoIP for SMBs.

Now it's time to build on that, and the focus will shift to the broader possibilities of VoIP, especially when used in a Unified Communications environment. That's the ground I'll be covering on December 7 at 1pm ET, and I hope you'll join us. Here's the URL - it just takes a moment to register.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

ShoreTel Partner Conference - UCStrategies Podcast

If you're still thinking about what to make of ShoreTel's prospects following their partner event event earlier this month, here's how you should spend the next 30 minutes of your life.

Last week's UCStrategies podcast focused on our collective takeaways from the conference, but with a twist. For the first time, ShoreTel invited consultants to the event, so our podcast included perspectives from both analysts and consultants. You may not realize it, but we're in different lines of business with different types of expertise, and we're glad that ShoreTel has embraced both communities.

The twist is that no UCStrategies consultants were at the event, but a couple who are friendly with us were. So, not only do you get a complete picture of the event, but you also get to hear from some new voices. The podcast was ably moderated by Blair Pleasant, and if you can't spare the time to listen, there's a trascript to read as well. Here's the link, and as always, your comments are welcome.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

This Thursday - State of the Contact Center Space on Google Hangouts

Here's something different, but I think it will be fun. Toronto-based Fonolo has always been a bit outside the box, but in a good way. This Thursday's live video chat session is a good example, and if you want to catch up on what's driving the contact center space these days, you'll want to join us at 2pm ET.

I'm one of three analysts on this virtual roundtable - to my left will be Dave Michels, and over there on the right is Dan Miller. We all have something to say, and Fonolo CEO Shai Berger will be the ringleader trying to keep us honest.

If you haven't used Google Hangouts before, it's bit like doing sketch comedy. The format is open ended, so we just keep going until the schtick runs its course and the audience stops laughing. Well, in this case, it's more like we'll keep talking as long we have something interesting to say, and as long as there are people still hanging out with us. If things really get dull, maybe we'll switch and talk about the Middle East or even who should be the next Mayor of Toronto. Anything else you'd like us to cover?

Enough of the big buildup. It just takes a minute to sign up and drop in, and if you want to see what analysts look like, here's the landing page with all the details.

Monday, November 19, 2012

VoIP - Stepping Stone to UC - Webinar, Dec. 7

Am doing another webinar with VoIP News next month, and I hope you'll join us. Last month, we did a webinar on the evolution of VoIP, and now the focus is on how VoIP's foundational value sets the stage for Unified Communications.

The webinar is titled "VoIP - the Stepping Stone to UC", and that should be pretty self-explanatory. I'll be presenting at 1pm ET on Friday, Dec. 7, and for more details, along with the registration form, here's the link.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Collaboration - Why Now? My Current Internet Telephony Column

As you may know, I write a monthly column for TMCnet's Internet Telephony Magazine, titled Rethinking Communications. Each month I explore issues in a bit more depth than a blog post, and it's a good forum to reflect on current trends I see in my ongoing industry research.

This month's theme is collaboration, and my focus is on why it's becoming so important now, especially for SMBs. Equally important, of course, are all the great enabling technologies and the value they bring to make businesses more competitive. The article is running in the current issue, and if you don't get the print edition, you can read the digital version here. Furthermore, if you enjoy this, you might want to read my other columns, and the Rethinking Communications archive is here.
Finally, if collaboration is of ongoing interest, there's a Part 2 coming, and that will run in the next issue, fyi.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

ShoreTel x 2 - My Latest White Paper and Video Interview

Being busy takes many forms, and not all of my work is public. ShoreTel has been high on my radar lately, mainly around last week's conference, and I have two items to share with you here.

First up is my new white paper. Independent of the conference, I also have been working on a white paper for them, which was just published. The paper is titled "A Spectrum of Choices for Unified Communications", and it presents three scenarios for businesses considering UC. The most common choices would be to remain premise-based or to switch over to the cloud. Both have their virtues, but not everyone is ready to make a full move to the hosted model, and that's totally understandable. This gives rise to the hybrid solution, where you keep some pieces on prem and push others out to the cloud.

It's early days for this approach, but one that ShoreTel sees value in supporting.  In a nutshell, that's what the paper addresses, and you can have it in your hands in about 5 minutes - here's the registration page. If for some reason, this isn't working out, ask nicely, and I can send you the PDF.

Second is a short video interview from the conference. ShoreTel's Tricia Stream got to play roving reporter, and did a few in-the-moment segments with analysts asking about our take on the state of UC. You can watch them here, including my segment, which runs about 2.5 minutes.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Fonolo Contact Center Roundtable - Nov. 29 - Join Us!

Sure has become a busy month all of a sudden, and I'm posting when time allows.

Quick shout-out for a roundtable that I've been invited to join on contact center trends. It's hosted by Fonolo - based here in Toronto - and I'll be joined by analyst colleagues Dave Michels (@DaveMichels) and Dan Miller (@dnm54). We'll be talking about hot topics such as social media, the cloud, mobility and virtual queuing. Fonolo's Shai Berger is hosting, and if you follow him - @shaiberger - and his blog - you'll know he tirelessly promotes thought leadership, and this should make for a lively session.

You can get all the details here - we're on at 2pm, Thursday, November 29. Always ready to try new things, Shai is doing this via Google Hangouts - hey, why not?

Just for the record, I am an Advisor to Fonolo, but with two other analysts in the room, it's fair to say they'll keep me honest.  :-)

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

ShoreTel 2012 Partner Conference - Timing Isn't Everything

On Friday, I just had time to post some photos and a short commentary about ShoreTel's 2012 Partner Conference in Orlando. It was good as usual, and on the flight back I wrote a longer recap piece, this time wearing my UCStrategies hat. ShoreTel's UC capabilities are a work in progress, but definitely coming along, and 2013 will tell us how well they're executing on their roadmap.

Yesterday, my writeup was posted the UCStrategies portal, and you may have seen it already via the twitter feeds. The post is titled "Timing Isn't Everything", and you'll just have to read it to connect the dots. Here's the link, and while you're there, please check out the rest of our content. We'll be doing a podcast about ShoreTel's event as well, and hope to have that done by early next week.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Moving Beyond Dial Tone - Webinar Next Tuesday

Just doing one more shout-out for next week's webinar, "Moving Beyond Dial Tone". I'll be presenting along with Cisco Canada, and we'll be talking about the range of options available to businesses looking to move on from their legacy PBX systems.

There's still a big legacy base out there, especially in Canada, and even if your phone system has a few years of life left, a good case can be made for making the move to VoIP. The good news is you don't need to get rid of that system to do that, so the opportunities are broader than you may think.

Registrations have been strong, so we're expecting a pretty strong turnout, and I hope you'll join us. The webinar is next Tuesday - November 13 - at 1pm, and registering is easy. The details are here, and if you'd like to learn more, just drop me a line.

ShoreTel Partner Conference - Quick Highlights

Thursday was the core day for ShoreTel's 2012 Partner Conference, and they sure covered a lot of ground. In short, the event gets bigger and better - over 1,300 here - mostly channel partners, who seem very happy to be here. There are about 25 analysts here, and for the first time, they've also invited consultants, who also number about 25.

Lots of good messaging here, and the ShoreTel story is pretty strong. Still not making money, but basically, they're investing in growth, and if things go to plan, the profits will come. There are three key areas where that investment is happening - first, building the Sky brand, which takes both time and money. They still need to build out their cloud footprint for North America with full 1:1 redundancy, and in time, to support global customers. The upside for cloud was clearly articulated here, and if you buy into that, they're on the right track. Perhaps more importantly, they have rightly noted that the cloud market is highly fragmented and up for grabs, so there's no reason why ShoreTel cannot emerge as a market leader, or even the market leader.

Second is their investment in the channel, and we heard about new programs that are coming to help partners sell both cloud and premise. This is new territory and will take time to mature for sure, but at least this gives partners a chance to address the entire IP telephony opportunity. Premise business is on a slow growth curve, and that's where the market is today; cloud is the fast growth market, and by 2015, they expect it will be 42% of the market.

Third is R&D, and we saw some new things that look pretty cool. We can't talk about the details yet, but let's just say their mobility story is catching up to the market, and the partners clearly liked what they saw. They're also moving along in the areas of virtualization, contact center and video, and it's fair to say they've moved well beyond being a low cost IP phone vendor for SMBs.

That's all I have time to write about for now, but will have a longer recap coming early next week on the UCStrategies portal, so look for that then. Otherwise, as usual, here are some photos from yesterday.

Who is this lady? Pretty campy, but fun, working the crowd with corny jokes. If you weren't here, nevermind...

CEO Peter Blackmore
 David Petts, SVP WW Sales
Dan Hoffman, new title: President and GM, Cloud Division (ShoreTel Sky)
Pej Roshan, VP Product Management

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Obama Redux - Flashback Photo Essay - Nov. 5, 2008 - Obama, Dallas and JFK

Four more years - that's the storyline for the U.S. election. Great win for Obama, but not much has changed across the board in the mix of power, and let's hope the two parties can find ways of working together. Nothing like a financial crisis to force the issue, and I hope they figure this out before China calls our hand and starts dictating economic policy. Yeesh.

Well, let's stay with the afterglow for now, and I wanted to share a photo essay of mine from 2008. Some of you may remember this, but many of you weren't following me then, and I hope you enjoy this.

On November 5, 2008, I happened to be in Dallas, Texas - the day after Obama got elected. Wow. Talk about a happy accident. Clinton sure had his JFK parallels, but nothing like what Obama had. While we're still living off the hope 2008 brought, it was a pretty inspiring message then.

So, if you're a fan of.... Obama, JFK, conspiracy theories, or just America, I hope you'll check out my post from my day in Dallas. Also, if you like this type of posting, please check out the other posts in the Americana section of my blog.

Enough said - let's go back to 2008, and sadly, to 1963 - would love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Next Stop - Orlando and ShoreTel

Election Day in the US of A, so it's understandable if you're not totally focused on the world of tech and telecom today. Quickly, I voted via absentee ballot last week and believe Obama will win - let's see how the day unfolds. If you like American politics and want to bask a bit in Obama's halo - which will either be very big or very small this time tomorrow - you'll definitely enjoy a flashback post I'm going to run here tomorrow that I wrote this exact time four years ago, from Dallas of all places.

Back to the present. Tomorrow I'll be enroute to Orlando for ShoreTel's Champion Partner Conference. This year's theme is titled "The Future is Calling for Growth" - it's a good slogan for ShoreTel, but probably a better one for Romney, huh? I don't think telecom can drive the U.S. economy very far, but as per their recent earnings, ShoreTel continues to post good growth, both from their core premise business and their new cloud business via the M5 acquisition.

The latter has recently been branded ShoreTel Sky, and regular followers here will know that I've written often about M5 and what this could mean for the company. You should also be familiar with my writing about how tricky it is to market cloud communications, as the underlying concepts and language used to describe them are far from consistent. Just look at how ShoreTel is describing Sky - "hosted VoIP and cloud unified communications". You could argue they're playing it safe and covering all the bases - some call it cloud and some call it hosted. Some buy VoIP and some buy UC. Fair enough, but I don't think most businesses really understand - or care - about the various terms here. Maybe I'm over-thinking this, but their core customer set isn't leading edge enough to parse these things, and too many terms may confuse potential buyers and slow down market adoption.

This is one of the questions I'll be looking for answers on from ShoreTel's leadership team, and I'll keep you posted on that as the conference unfolds. They're certainly doing a lot of things right, and if their momentum continues, all that's missing is profitability. Compared to how other vendors are faring in this space, this isn't a bad place to be and I'm keen to hear how they envision the future. Maybe we'll even hear some inspiration that the White House could use. Outsourcing telephony to the cloud looks like a pretty good idea, but I'm not a fan of outsourcing our jobs, so let's hope the next Prez can keep our economy premise-based.

I'll post here as time allows, but for more timely updates, follow me on twitter - @arnoldjon - and definitely on the ShoreTel feed - #shoretel12.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Email and UC - the Moose on the Table

Catchy title, huh? Well, that was the topic of this week's UCStrategies podcast. I have often wondered why email doesn't have a more central role to play with UC. Email is just so core to our daily workflows, you'd think it would be a big driver. I'm sure if email had been invented today, it would look a lot different, and certainly be voice-enabled.

The podcast discussion was lively, and if you've been thinking about this "moose on the table" as well, then you'll enjoy our podcast. I was on the call but didn't contribute, and just wanted to share the link with you here. Don Van Doren moderated the call, and here's the link, from which you can either listen to the discussion or read the transcript.

For me, the most interesting takeaway was Blair Pleasant's comment about how social media platforms are part the landscape now, and I've been thinking the same thing. The group talked about some numbers showing how email activity far exceeds making phone calls, but also how email is on the decline. This is largely a generational thing - email still dominates for most of us, but not Millennials.

Their tool of choice is social media and all the short form modes of text communication. Once social media becomes more tightly integrated with UC, I think that shift will accelerate - and at some point, these tools will become voice enabled. When that happens, it will be time to ask some serious questions about the long term value of email. Gee, maybe I should have jumped into the conversation!

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cisco/J Arnold & Associates Webinar - Moving Beyond Dial Tone

Just doing another shout-out for this upcoming webinar. We're in the process of finalizing our presentations now, and this should be a good event. If you're wondering whether you should simply upgrade your aging PBX or are ready to consider the bigger/braver/better world of Unified Communications, SIP, collaboration, etc., then this is where you want to be on Nov. 13 at 1pm.

I don't have a event website to point you to for the full overview, but here's text that is being used by Cisco and IT World Canada in their email invites:

IT World Presents: Moving Beyond Dial Tone

How to gain the benefits of truly collaborative communications
Many companies face important decisions as their PBX systems begin to reach end-of-life. Decisions like ... What do we want and need from telephony? How can we extract the most value out of our communications? Can we cost-effectively gain all the benefits of today's advanced collaboration technologies? 

Once you answer those questions, what about implementation? Do you perform a full-scale rip-and-replace project? Can you gracefully migrate to new collaboration technologies without a full-scale change? Should the new system be premise-based, hosted or a hybrid of the two? 

Technology decisions about telephony have never been more challenging... 

But the good news is that today's telephony goes far beyond the dial tone to deliver valuable features like web conferencing, BYOD, unified messaging, unlimited scalability and more. Plus, the real opportunity lies in the business value gained through improved productivity, cost-efficiency and collaboration that only a unified communication system can offer.

Attend this one hour webinar to get the answers you need to make the best decisions and deliver the best business outcomes.

Does that speak to you? If so, here's the link to register, and I hope you join us on the 13th!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Desktop Video - When Good Enough is Good Enough

That's the title of my latest article running in the current issue of Internet Telephony Magazine. I think the title is self-explanatory, and am just doing a quick shout-out in case you don't get it - either in print form or the digital edition.

I hope you give it a read, and your comments are most welcome. In case you don't know, I have a monthly column in the magazine called Rethinking Communications, and you can access the article archive here.

12 Analysts to Watch in the Contact Center Space

Fonolo is a Toronto-based startup I've been following for some time, and CEO Shai Berger is definitely passionate about the contact center space. He writes regularly on the topic, and is very much up on the issues facing contact centers and where the technology is going.

Shai is also on top of how analysts are covering this space and earlier this week, he profiled "12 Analysts to Watch" on his Customer Service Blog. I'm happy to be included in the list, and while an advisor to Fonolo, I'm certainly not the only analyst cited, so I'd say this is a pretty good group to be following.

All I really want to do here is socialize the list, and if you're looking to stay on top of contact center thought leadership, you've got plenty to work with here.

ShoreTel, the Giants and yes, the Blue Jays - Right Place, Right Time

I haven't blogged about baseball in a while, but that doesn't mean I'm not following it. If I didn't have to work for a living, I'd be doing that all day long, along with writing about cooking, music, cinema and culture. Otherwise, I'm happy to steer you to my previous posts - just scan the Boston Red Sox category, listed in the sidebar of the homepage of this blog.

Those who know me well  know that baseball is a major passion, and a few threads have come together this week that call for a quick post.

First, of course, is the World Series. Really, who thought the Giants would be here? Still hard to believe, but they sure made it look easy in Game 1. Different path, but same result last night. WHY did they try to score Fielder in the 2nd? Dumb move. Slowest guy on the team - hold him up and you have 1st and 3rd with no outs - I'll take those odds any day to plate at least 1 run in that inning. That could have been enough to win. The throw even missed the cutoff man, and they still threw him out - yeesh.

Giants have the mojo again this year - plain and simple. Detroit needs a parade so bad - I really feel for them. If the NHL lockout continues, there may not be a Winter Classic, and guess where that's supposed to be? Yup. U of M Stadium, Ann Arbor - Wings and Leafs. I've been there - now, that's a big crowd.

Oh, and speaking of the stars not lining up, the Giants are a decent team, but how cool would a Tigers-Cardinals WS have been? If you're old enough to remember 1968, you'll likely agree with me that's right up there for all-time great finals, especially if you like pitching. Bob Gibson and Mickey Lolich EACH pitched 3 complete games - it's just so unthinkable by today's pitch-count driven standards. Al Kaline is one of my all time faves - he fell 1 HR short of 400, but got 3,007 hits - how criminal is that? Only 8 players ever got 400 HR and 3000 RBI - soooo close to being #9. At least he got his WS ring in '68 - there is some justice in Tiger-land.

Back to 2012 - and some telecom too. Watching the opener on Wed, I just had to smile and think back to March, when I attended ShoreTel's analyst day, where they shared their initial roadmap for how the M5 Networks acquisition was going to tie in with their business.

Well, they hosted the event at AT&T Park in San Francisco. Naturally, it was a dreary, rainy day, but that didn't spoil our fun during the stadium tour. I included a few photos of the park on my blog post about the event, and if you're a fan of their stadium, you'll like this. You'll like it even more if you want to see what complexity looks like in terms of the telephony infrastructure that ShoreTel has replaced there.

I didn't think much of it then, but it was really cool to wander freely about an empty ballpark, and needless to say, I took a lot more photos. Thought I'd share a couple of shots that you're not likely to see anywhere else.

Behind home plate - how often do you ever see an ungroomed baseball field - no base paths, no mound, no plate area. Well, you have now!

The view deep and low in the right field corner - cool, huh?

Enough said and shown. Here we are, 7 months later, and the ballpark is a lot busier! Thanks for the event, ShoreTel, and kudos for making a big splash with M5 the same year as the Giants being here, in both of your home towns. Not to mention both of you having the same color schemes - that's good marketing - brilliantly simple, right?

This alone is enough for a nice baseball post, but there's more! Wednesday marked the 20th anniversary of the Toronto Blue Jays first of back-to-back World Series wins. That was pretty cool, especially being the first WS title won outside of the U.S. It was also special for me, not just being in Toronto, but also because my first son - Max, whom many of you know - was born on that date. So, he's also 20 - wow - where did the time go?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

In Cloud We Trust - Even for Contact Centers

Wearing my UCStrategies Expert hat, I regularly contribute content to their portal, which I believe to be the best go-to spot for what's really happening in the Unified Communications space. This includes writing sponsored posts, and we're very transparent about that. I was engaged to write the most recent one for Interactive Intelligence, a company I have long followed and always regarded as an innovator - and I'm not alone in that assessment.

The topic was the suitability of the cloud for contact center solutions, and to help our readers better determine if this is right for them. To me, it really boils down to trust, and that's what my analysis is focused on. Sure, ININ has a cloud-based contact center offering - CaaS - but the article isn't really about that. Yes, I think CaaS is a good solution, but others exist too, and my main objective is for readers to look beyond that - and look within themselves to think through what trust really means.

For broader context, I referenced what Google did last week to pull back the veil and let us see what really goes into a cloud infrastructure. It's way more complex than most of us can possibly imagine, and we need more of that instead of the blind trust that seems to be driving this push up to the cloud.

Hopefully, that's enough of a teaser to get you reading my article, titled "In Cloud We Trust", which was posted on the portal late yesterday. From there, I urge you to spend time exploring the UCStrategies portal. I'm just one of many analysts and consultants who follow this space, and if you can't something new from our collective insights, then you're probably in charge of Google's cloud team!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

ITExpo Takeaways - Views from UCStrategies

This is a bit late in coming, but for last week's UCStrategies podcast we focused on the recent TMC ITExpo event in Austin, Texas. I did my own posting about the show previously - as many others have - but this podcast was a good opportunity to share our collective thoughts, specifically about what we took away from a Unified Communications perspective. The transcript of our podcast has been posted now on the UCS portal, and I hope you give it a read.

In addition to the UCStrategies takeaways and my blog post, TMC's Paula Bernier did a video interview with me at the show. It runs about 10 minutes, and I cover a wide range of topics around UC, including the challenges of selling it through channels, getting end users to understand the UC concept, the current state of UC offerings, and how UC fits in the contact center. Here's the link to view the interview, and from there, I urge you to view the other interviews conducted by various TMC editors during the show, mostly with vendors, but some keynotes are posted there as well.

One video in particular is Rich Tehrani's interview with Andy Abramson of Comunicano, both of whom should be well known to my readers. Andy, of course, is not a vendor, but he cites some great examples of how he's using collaboration tools to help his clients with their go-to-market plans. UC isn't just for big companies, and if anything, it's a great leveler for businesses of all sizes.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Empower, Engage and Innovate - my takeaways from Cisco's Collaboration Summit

I got back late last night from LA, and really enjoyed this year's Cisco Collaboration Summit. Yesterday I posted some photos and said I'd have a recap coming, and I managed to write that on the flight home.

Lots to think about, and I could have written 5 very different recaps - there was a lot to digest. Well, the first one's free, folks, and that one is running now on the UCStrategies portal. Wearing that hat, I'm looking at the UC implications from the summit, and you might not agree with me. That's fine - just calling it the way I see it, and I hope we can have some dialog, so let's hear from you. So, here's the link, and I'll leave it with you to share your thoughts.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Cisco Collaboration Summit 2012 - Quick Thoughts and Photos

This year's Cisco Collaboration Summit finished up yesterday for the analysts, and as always, there was lots to absorb. If you followed the tweets, you'll have a good sense of this, and I'm going to write my recap in a post for UCStrategies, which will likely run on Monday. Just have limited time to post before my flight home now, and wanted to share a few photos.
First, from Day 2, Lynn Lucas

Partner panel, moderated by Rich McLeod. I found this probably the most engaging session, and we heard a lot about what customers are investing in today to bring collaboration tools into their business.

Site tour of the Staples Center, showcasing Cisco's deployments, mainly around supporting video and digital signage. Nothing overwhelming, but it was great to see all the ways that these tools make the operations flow smoothly as well as to enrich the fan experience. These are two of the guys who really make it happen.

Closing keynote from Dr. Michio Kaku. Nice insights about how science drives innovation and what our world is going to look like in the future. If he's right, we'll live a lot longer and of course, computers will be everywhere - and nowhere - as he likes to say. Here's a slightly ominous double-take of him - onscreen and with an Alfred Hitchcock silhouette.

Day 1 - Colin Miles from Virgin Media talking about how they're using Cisco's collab solutions

Cisco's OJ Winge watching Colin stage-side from his virtual office

Nice demo showing how social media tools are being used in real time to drive collaboration - and of course, across multiple screens and endpoints

Murali Sitaram talking about how cloud-based collaboration will be their main platform now, and explaining their two pronged route to market - Cisco branded as WebEx, and partner-hosted HCS

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Cisco/J Arnold & Associates Webinar - Moving Beyond Dial Tone

Told you I've been busy lately. Got another webinar to share that I'm presenting on - this time it's with Cisco Canada. The topic is about options that businesses should consider when looking at PBX replacement. We're focused on the mid-market here, and I'll be reviewing the issues facing these businesses along with the need to think more strategically about the paths they can take. Inertia goes a long way to preserving the status quo, but the sooner a business can move to VoIP and closer to UC, the better their foundation to remain competitive in terms of communications technologies.

So, here are the details. The webinar takes place on Tuesday, November 13 at 1pm ET, and is being hosted by ITWorld Canada. I'll be presenting along with Cisco, and together we'll provide a good roadmap for IT decision makers about what the future holds for a world beyond dial tone. If that describes your current dilemma, here's the form, and I hope you'll be joining us on the webinar.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

VoIP webinar this Friday - "VoIP: More Than Just Cost Savings"

Been pretty busy lately, and I need to do a shout-out for my next webinar. I'm the featured presenter, and it's being hosted by VoIP News, and the registration page went up yesterday.

The webinar is this Friday - the 19th - at 1pm ET, and I'll be providing an overview of VoIP's history and why it is becoming so popular now, especially among SMBs. Should be a good webinar, and I know VoIP News is expecting a nice turnout - hope you can join us.

Pretty simple to sign up - here's the landing page to register, along with full details about the webinar.

Friday, October 12, 2012

What IT needs to know today - the Canadian perspective

Long-time colleague Henry Dortmans is very well known in the Canadian telecom space, and one of the ways he stays involved is his monthly e-newsletter, On the Line. He's been doing this a while now, and it reaches about 3,000 people across the spectrum up here - IT decision makers, vendors, carriers, consultants, media, etc. It's a great way to take the pulse of the market and share learning, so I'm always happy to contribute when asked.

For the current issue, Henry asked a handful of analysts for our thoughts on what IT/telecom decision-makers need to know today about our space. Pretty simple request, and we were just asked to provide some short answers. It's not a definitive assessment, but collectively, I think we've covered the bases pretty well. The issue went out to his distribution list last night, and I wanted to pass on the URL here. I hope you enjoy it, and if you like what Henry is doing with OTL, and want to stay up on the Canadian market, he'll be happy to add you to his list.

Next stop - LA and Cisco

Tough finding time to blog this week. Was at two events last week, and Monday was Canadian Thanksgiving. All of a sudden it's Friday, new business keeps coming my way, and my plate is very full. Some of this will soon be public, including an upcoming webinar I'll likely be posting about later today.

Next week, I'll be in Los Angeles for Cisco's Collaboration Summit. This has turned into a solid secondary event in the shadow of C-Scape, and I've been fortunate to attend the last few iterations. It's very timely for anyone in the UC space, and as usual, there are always interesting things happening in the market.

This week is no exception - Polycom re-launched/re-branded their entire business (sure hope it pays off!), Siemens just had a lengthy analyst webinar announcing all of their strides to gain share - and re-brand as well, plus a firehose of news/updates across this space from last week's ITExpo.

Aside from all this buzz from the competition, there's talk of John Chambers stepping down at some point, so  next week should be very engaging. It's never status quo with Cisco, and I'll do my best to blog and tweet as things unfold.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

UCS Podcast - Polycom's Makeover

Polycom made a big splash this week with a full makeover - both their offerings and branding. There's a lot at stake, as this is a company that followers in our space are really wondering where they fit long-term in the UC ecosystem. They seem to be positioning themselves as a UC&C solution, and I think that's going to be a stretch for a lot of people, myself included. However, you have to be aggressive and bold in this space, and they've certainly done that.

That was the focus on this week's UCStrategies podcast, and if you want to hear the view from the UC community, this is how you should spend the next 20 minutes of your day. I don't follow Polycom on a technical level, so I didn't comment on the call, but there's a wide range of ideas here to digest. Basically, it's a mixed bag - some strong positives, such as a total shift to software that's channel-friendly, and some missing pieces, but I'll leave that for you to discover. Here's the link from our portal, and I hope you get to it right now! Russell Bennett facilitated the call, and there's a transcript there as well.

Friday, October 5, 2012

ITExpo West 2012 - Key Takeaways

Have only had a taste of what's on tap at TMC's flagship event here in Austin. For the time I've been here, it's been a blur of briefings, panels, keynotes and short walkabouts on the show floor. Phew. You really can't do justice to this event in a day and a half - it's longer for a good reason - you need time to explore all that's going on in this space.

As such, my impressions are only based on a limited set of experiences. First off, I'll reiterate my take from last year's Expo, and say that Austin is a good choice in moving on from L.A. Am not so sure calling it the "West" Expo is the best label, but that's what it is, and I like it.

I'm not alone in saying that horizontal events like this create stress before you even get there. There are several sub-events with specific content - WiFi, cloud, contact center, M2M, etc. - but geez, you just can't cover 'em all unless you send a big team. For every great session I see, there are many others running at the same time that I'll never see. The underlying message for TMC is that I hope they can find a way to make this content available to both attendees who can't see everything and of course, the much broader audience who can't get there. Monetizing this is always the tricky part, but it's shame that a lot of these sessions ultimately play to a small audience.

With that said, I liked what I saw, and the panels I was involved with were quite good. I really enjoyed speaking at the SUITS event - this is one of the newer sub-events, and hopefully it will grow. I believe there are a lot of participants at ITExpo who could benefit from patent monetization, but they just don't understand how it works or are even aware of the possibilities in the right hands. Similarly, the multichannel contact center panel I moderated had a solid lineup, and I can tell that the audience took away some good ideas.

Time is always short as an analyst at these events, and in my limited time there, I was kept busy meeting with many vendors, including Siemens, AudioCodes, Vertical Communications, Digitalk, Sonus,, Sangoma and 8x8. There were plenty more I wanted to brief with, but they'll have to wait until another time.

Another highlight was StartupCamp6, which always draws a big crowd. This year featured Mike Tessler as the main attraction, and he's done a great job taking BroadSoft from struggling startup to a profitable public company - something only a handful of execs in our space have been able to do. The format was especially nice - a fireside chat setup, led by Scott Wharton, BroadSoft's former CMO. They had a great discussion about the trials and tribulations of growing a startup, and I'm sure this was a nice inspiration to the many hopeful startups that are drawn to this event time after time.

That's all I have to share, as I'm flying back today. Even with the bits I saw, there's a lot to digest, so you can imagine what you'd have to sift through over the full duration. In short, I liked what I saw, and am sure I missed a lot of content that was just as good. I don't think there's an easy answer to this, but I'd much rather have this problem than nothing to choose from. TMC has managed to carve out a nice niche over the years, and this market has a lot of learning to do, so I hope they keep their focus. I don't expect that to change, but it sure would be nice if there was a way to leverage all the content that falls under this big tent. Friendly food for thought, right?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Metaswitch Forum 2012 - Photos and Quick Thoughts

Just have time for a quick post about Metaswitch Forum 2012. I was only there for 1 full day, and am now enroute to ITExpo in Austin, where I'll be speaking on a panel in a few hours.
Normally, I get to attend the entire Forum, and it's too bad, as this event is always solid from start to finish. It keeps getter bigger, which speaks well to their growing customer base, but more importantly, they do a great job sharing their vision and roadmap. This is one company that usually gets things right, and have built a strong portfolio that gives carriers a lot of flexibility in figuring out how to stay competitive.
This is particularly challenging for their core customer base, many of whom have not really lived in a competitive world until the past few years. Most are still migrating from TDM, so there are a lot of transitional issues that need to be addressed. It's important to note that Metaswitch also has leading edge customers, so there's a lot more going on here than helping RLECs and Tier 3 operators adopt VoIP.
A lot of my time is spent in the UC world, where collaboration, video, social media, tablets, etc. are part of the everyday conversation. There was hardly any reference to this at the Forum, but that's not to say these things aren't important. Metaswitch is focused more on infrastructure than applications, and by getting the foundation right, operators are in a much better position to make the big trends like cloud and mobility work in their favor.
That's one way to look at things, but the main theme this year is innovation - we're all in the Innovation Race to win customers and make money, but it's not about being the fastest. There were many clever analogies during the morning keynotes, and a key idea was that speed + direction = velocity. Simple but effective. Anyone can move quickly, but without a clear direction, who cares. What matters is having purpose - adding that to speed yields velocity, and that produces better and more sustainable results.
Another good discussion from Steve Gleave came around invention vs. innovation. It's easy to equate the two, but here's the difference. Invention is about using money to create ideas - which is fine - but innovation is about turning ideas into money - much better. With that in mind, Metaswitch has done a great job this year getting attendees stoked about the importance of innovation to give them a better future in a business that is not easy to make money in these days. Building on that, of course, their offerings provide the tools that support innovation and give carriers the confidence to try new things.
There's a lot more I could say, but not today - gotta get on a plane. I'll revisit the Forum again soon, but for now, will add a few photos from the morning sessions. All of these should be familiar to Metaswitch followers - except the last one. They had a very inspiring keynote speaker this year - U.S. Olympic decathalon winner, Ashton Eaton. Really impressive hearing his story about an ever changing training regimen and disappointments along the way, but finally resulting in his Gold Medal win in London. Great vibe in the room for celebrating USA, but equal kudos to Metaswitch's ever-so-British sensibilities to bring him to the Forum. He may not know an SBC from a media gateway, but Ashton sure knows about how innovation helps in the pursuit of excellence, and he's got the gold to prove it.

Steve Gleave, aka GleavieBoy - @gleavieboy
CEO John Lazar
Martin Taylor
Ashton Eaton - awesome!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Next stops - Metaswitch and ITExpo

I haven't travelled since June, and next week gets me back on the road a bit more than usual. Two core events for me are mashed up during the same week - the Metaswitch Forum and TMC's ITExpo. Can't be in two places at once, so I'm splitting time, going to Metaswitch Monday/Tuesday, then to ITExpo for Wednesday-Friday.

Between shows in two cities and a bunch of connecting flights, next week's travels will take me to Washington D.C., Orlando, Austin and Atlanta. Both shows will be busy events, and I've been blogging and tweeting about each for the past couple of weeks. While there, I'll continue to do so, and aside from my blog, you can following the twitter feeds from each event - #mforum12 and @ITExpo.

Aside from attending these events, I'll be on two ITExpo panels, so come see these sessions if you can:

- Wednesday at 2:30 - speaking at the SUITS sub-event - "Monetizing Licensing Rights"

- Thursday at 1:00 - moderating on the ITExpo Customer Experience track: "Multichannel Communication and the New Customer-Company Relationship"

Monday, September 24, 2012

Cisco, Collaboration and the Contact Center

Last week, I attended Cisco Canada's Collaboration Update here in Toronto. I'm one of the few analysts who gets to go their collaboration events both in Canada and the U.S. - I'll be at their big collab event next month in L.A. - so I get first-hand updates in both markets.

The Canadian update was pretty upbeat, and Cisco is holding its own here just fine. Collaboration is very much about UC, and the event had a strong focus on the contact center, which is probably Cisco's highest growth priority these days. Selling UC is a challenge for all vendors, and the main takeaway for me is how Cisco has made their contact center offerings both more market-friendly and more channel-friendly.

Also, by focusing on collaboration as the value driver, their offerings are broadening the traditional scope of what a contact center can do, and that's where things get interesting for me. To find out why, I need to steer you now to the UCStrategies portal, where my September contribution is now running. There's a lot to explore in this new world and we'd welcome your take on where you see this space going.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

ITExpo Session in Austin - Multichannel Communications and the Changing Customer Relationship

Been too busy to blog lately - offsite a bit, and working on new things, including some upcoming webinars you'll be hearing about soon.

Time for a shout-out about a session I'm moderating at TMC's ITExpo 2012 West, back for a second year in Austin, Texas. Am really looking forward to it, and on Thursday, I'll be wearing my moderating hat for a panel focused on the impact of multichannel communications, and how that's impacting the relationship between businesses and their customers. I've written a fair bit about this topic elsewhere, and given my focus on Unified Communications, I see a lot of implications, especially for companies who don't understand this new environment.

Joining me will be speakers from Aspect, Zuberance, Voice4Net and Radish Systems. Based on that lineup, you should just come for the names alone - anything goes these days for what companies call themselves. Our session is part of the Customer Experience track, and we're on at 1pm. The full details are posted here on the Program Guide - just scroll down to our time slot and click on the session title.

Oh - if you haven't registered yet, there's a discount code on my blog landing page - upper right - you can't miss it. Hope to see you there!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Snail Mail - Flawed, but it Works - Just Like TDM

Pretty busy writing and researching lately, but I just had to get this posted today.

Call me old school, but I still use the postal service - just like I still read newspapers, use a paper-based calendar, and listen to vinyl. I'm even still into silent movies, table hockey and board games, but let's save all that for another blog, or just come by for a visit.

Bear with me, foks, there is a telecom thread coming. I got a check in the mail yesterday from a client in California, and was kinda surprised to see the state of the envelope - see below - this is pretty much exactly how it looked.

As you can see, the envelope wasn't sealed, the flap was torn, and the letter was half-opened. It's a total mess, yet the letter got to me, and the check inside was perfectly fine. There was no damage, and anyone can see this was a check, yet nobody saw fit to take it and pretend to be me at their local Money Mart (and the check wasn't just a few hundred dollars, so it could have been a nice payday).
I've actually had stranger things happen with my mail, but generally, the service works fine for me. Sure, sending mail from the U.S. to Canada costs more and takes much longer, but it does get here. Email has its virtues, but regular mail still has value too. This letter travelled over 2,000 miles, and to arrive in my box in this shape tells me that the mail service works pretty well. Sure, I'm probably lucky too, but the bank took my check, and the end result was achieved.
The parallels to telecom struck me right away. Snail mail is like TDM - both are great for what they were designed for, but they're costly and complex services to provide, and are being replaced by cheaper, more efficient alternatives. I'll bet you'll have to think hard if I ask you whether it's been longer since you last mailed a letter, or made a legacy landline phone call.
With all that said, both services still function very well, but most people simply don't value them any more. We used to take the reliability of these services for granted, and when email crashes or VoIP sounds like you're under water, we just shrug and carry on. These shortcomings are part of the experience, but they never would have been tolerated with legacy services. Sure, there were lots of problems with mail service, but the rain or shine delivery promise of the U.S. mail is about as ingrained in the culture as apple pie. That reliability isn't what it used to be, but the mail comes 6 days a week (for now - but only 5 in Canada), and for those still using TDM, the service pretty much still has 100% uptime.
I've long maintained that the postal service is really in the privacy business. The mission is to deliver letters and parcels from point A to point B as efficiently as possible. Mail is private and personal - the seal on an envelope is a pretty flimsy form of security, and it only works because it's implicitly understood that you NEVER open someone else's mail. Postal workers don't do it (well, they're not supposed to!), and we don't even do it when we see other people's mail. For the most part, personal privacy is respected.
Yet, the letter in the photo above got to me just fine. I can't say whether anybody actually looked at the contents, but it arrived in the same condition it would have if the envelope was sealed. The idealist in me would say that the privacy principle was upheld here, and even with an unsealed, half-open letter, nothing was compromised when it easily could have - or maybe I'm just lucky!
Let's get back to telecom. In the TDM world, there's a dedicated circuit between the callers. For the most part, it's totally secure and private, the reliability is virtually 100%, and the quality is pristine. IP-based calls may be far more efficient in terms of using network resources, but all of these TDM virtues are somewhat compromised - that's why phone calls today are practically free. 
Now, think about my letter being a VoIP packet in a data network. I can't articulate the specific comparisons, but a packet with this much damage would never get to its intended destination. Or, if it did, it would be exposed to all kinds of security and privacy vulnerabilities along the way that any wannabe hacker could have a field day with. I'm just saying that the potential for bad things to happen here is very high, and it's part of the bargain when you move on from legacy to nextgen technologies.
So, while TDM and the postal share similar baggage, they still have their virtues. Their successors no doubt have their advantages, and there's really no turning back, but the price of progress can be higher than expected. There's no way that the equivalent of my letter in a data network would have gotten to me, and while this isn't an everyday occurrence, it's a reminder about why what we had worked so well for so long.
It's the same reason I still listen to vinyl. If you didn't grow up with it, you can't possibly understand what you're missing. As with VoIP and email, digital music definitely has its virtues, but even with a bit of homework, it won't take long to understand the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that vinyl is hands-down superior. Time to get back to work - if I have to explain this, then you really don't know, but I'd need a entirely separate blog to debate these things. Hmm....

Friday, September 7, 2012

Tablets at Work - Beyond BYOD

One of my many writing hats is a monthly column I started this year for TMCnet's flagship publication, Internet Telephony magazine. My column is called Rethinking Communications, and you can probably guess what I'm writing about from the title. Better yet, read 'em all, and if there's a topic you'd like me to explore, let me know. As Obama said last night, it's all about you - I'm here to serve, so your ideas are always welcome.

The September print edition is out now, and the digital version just went online yesterday, so if it's not in your mailbox, you can just click here to read it now. This month's focus is on BYOD and the broader implications for both IT and the business overall. It's a messy challenge for sure, but businesses have to embrace it unless you have no intention of ever giving up your rotary or touchtone phones. Going the other way, if you've adopted BYOD without skipping a beat, I'm sure a lot of readers here would love to know how you did it, so don't be shy.

ITExpo Shout-Out - Austin Calling

Last I checked, the ITExpo West 2012 website says the conference starts in 24 days and 23 hours. If you have absolutely nothing to do between now and then, feel free to stare at the home page non-stop to follow the countdown, right to the last second. Uh huh...

TMC's next show is just under a month away, so it's time to start talking it up. Last year marked their first shift from LA to Austin, and I'm not alone in thinking this was a good move. If you're still planning to go, it won't take long to find the link on my blog homepage, including a 20% discount offer. Otherwise, the ITExpo website should do the job of selling you on the event, both for the content and the exhibit hall.

I'll be there Wednesday through Friday, and will update my activities as things firm up. As things stand, I'm moderating a panel on the Customer Experience track - Thursday at 1pm - and speaking on a panel on Wednesday at SUITS, one of the co-located events at the Expo.

More details to follow, and you'll be hearing/seeing/reading about/from me in a few places leading up to the conference, so stay tuned. Until then, I sure hope you're coming, and hopefully the weather won't be as hot as last year. Regardless of the heat, I'll be making my rounds to the bars to see live blues at night - joiners are welcome!

Thursday, September 6, 2012

UCStrategies podcast - Gartner UC Magic Quadrant

On this week's UCStrategies podcast, we discussed our views on the latest Magic Quadrant report from Gartner, which was focused on UC. Needless to say, we all have opinions on this, so it was a lively discussion, which was hosted by Marty Parker.

Not surprisingly, Cisco and Microsoft ranked highest on the grid, and each is there for different reasons. Avaya remains up high as well, but am not so sure they'll keep pace next time around. Siemens also fared well, and Mitel stood out again on the innovation spectrum, mainly based on their virtualization focus.

That should be enough to get you over the portal, where you can now listen to the podcast and/or read the transcript.Once there, you should also read Marty Parker's detailed analysis of the key findings, which is posted now on the portal.

Metaswitch Forum 2012 - Are You In?

Finally getting back into routine after Labor Day, both with project work and some new things you'll be hearing about soon. Been close to home for most of the summer, but industry events are popping up now for the Fall, so I'll be doing my share of travelling soon enough.

Next up is Metaswitch Forum, which is a bit less than a month from now, running from October 1-4. This has long been one of my favorite vendor events, and it gets better every year. The 2012 theme is "who's in ?", and you can read that a couple of ways. I'm in, but only the first two days, as I have to split time that week with the ITExpo - more on that in another post.

So, there's certainly the post-London Olympics vibe of competition, racing and winning, and this oh-so-British company is game to take on all comers - which they've been doing successfully for some time now. Their momentum continues to be strong, and the program for 2012 very much reflects that.

Did you see Bill Clinton's DNC address last night? Wow - pretty tough act for Obama to follow, but it makes me wonder if Steve Gleave didn't write some of his speech. So much of Clinton's messaging aligns with the Metaswitch theme this year, and being a Democrat, I couldn't help but think this way. We're all in this together, coming to the Forum to learn from each other, discover what the technologies can actually deliver, and how the company's roadmap is built around what their customers actually need.

Bill Clinton talked about cooperation, inclusion, collaborating, and shared values that make for a stronger nation and more equitable society. As a company, a lot of that actually comes mind with Metaswitch, but these ideas also very much apply to what they're empowering their customers to do. I think we're going to see a lot of this reflected in their value proposition and how they make their customers more competitive. Am not expecting a keynote from Barack Obama, but when it comes to sharing a vision, the leadership at Metaswitch does it as well as anybody. I'm in.

Friday, August 31, 2012

UC state of the market review - UCS podcast

Seems to be a good time to reflect on where the UC market is going these days, and if you follow us on the UCStrategies portal, you'll know we've done that a few different ways. I wrote a piece there the other day, and on this week's podcast, we explored things a little further, mainly through the lens of recent reports produced by UCStrategies experts.

This is not an easy market for anyone to understand, and while that's good for business at our end as analysts and consultants, we don't have all the answers either. UC remains a work in progress, making it challenging both for businesses to buy, and channels to sell. My view is that the vendors continue to innovate and enhance their UC offerings, but the value proposition remains ahead of what many businesses are able to manage right now. Of course there are loads of success stories out there, but UC has a ways to go before it becomes the lingua franca of business communications.

I'll leave it at that, and hope this tweaks your interest enough to hear what all of us at UCStrategies and our reports have to say about the current market - so, time to move on, go to the portal and give it a listen. This podcast was ably moderated by Marty Parker, and there's a transcript if you'd rather just read what was said.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

New Smart Grid Report - Asian Energy Storage Market

Some of you know that I wear two hats as an analyst - primarily tech/telecom, but also in the smart grid space. I've been active with the latter for a few years as a thought leader, speaker, conference producer and market researcher. The parallels and overlap with telecom are too strong to pass up, and I'm constantly looking at ways to bring these worlds together.

One way I do that is through my association with Austin-based Zpryme Research. They produce best-in-class research on smart grid and cleantech, and I have worked with them on several studies. In May, I was added to their Advisory Board, which gives me a chance to help guide them in developing topics and strategic analysis that really helps move smart grid forward.

Zpryme has some big things planned for the Fall, and the first offering comes with their latest report, which was just published today. The report focuses on the Asian market opportunity for energy storage, and in my view, this is a major smart grid driver. As the report shows, Asia represents about 50% of the overall market for energy storage, so it's a pretty big indicator as to where things are going. As Executive Editor, I have incorporated my insights along with those of the research team and the Advisory Board, so there's a lot here behind the numbers.

If want to know why energy storage is such a big deal for smart grid and who the big players are, you'll get a lot out of this study. The report is the first in a new series just launched, and you can download it for free at Zpryme's site. All the details are here in the press release, along with some key findings and data points. If you get it, we'd love to hear your thoughts - that's a pretty good deal, right?

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Is the UC market moving forward or backwards?

I don't really have the answer to this question, and I'd love to hear your thoughts. If you follow the UCStrategies portal, you'll know that we cover the ground pretty well, but the jury is still out for me. For this month's contribution, I've written about how UC remains a moving target, which must make it difficult for IT decision makers choosing a solution - and equally challenging for the channels.

Am pretty sure I'm not alone on this tangent, and if you're of the same mind, you should enjoy my post, which is running now on the portal. Even better - if you're not of the same mind, please speak up and share this with the rest of the class (can you tell it's almost Labor Day?). Healthy debate is always welcome here!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

UCS Podcast - How Are UC Vendors Doing?

This week's UCStrategies podcast was based on a series of recent earnings reports by vendors in the UC space, with the most recent being ShoreTel. We started there, and moved on to the general state of things given the current struggles many vendors are having with their numbers.

No doubt, ShoreTel continues to post solid growth metrics, and they're certainly holding their own against the competition. It's also great to see that they're adding new customers - no doubt at the expense of others - so, they're doing a lot of things right. Overall, though, they're not making money - it sure beats losing money, but the bottom line performance isn't matching the top line, and that's always tough on a public company. Of course, the M5 acquisition will take some time to bear fruit, so let's hope that's reflected in the next update.

Looking more broadly, most of the discussion on the podcast was on the overall weakness of vendor performance. We know that Cisco was hurt because public sector spending is down, but we also touched on the impact of wider trends that are slowing down adoption of UC. The cloud is probably the biggest, and while ShoreTel has a good growth story to report there, the base is still pretty small. My take is that buyers are still uncertain about putting UC in the cloud, and equally important, channels still don't have the right business model to help them drive adoption with their customers.

There is a lot of uncertainty in this market, both for vendors and buyers, and that's the gist of what we talked about on the podcast, which was moderated very nicely by Blair Pleasant. I think you'll find this a good discussion, and it's available for listening now on the UCStrategies portal.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

VoIP, Video and Collaboration - Andy Abramson's Take

Andy Abramson's VoIP Watch blog has long been one of the best out there, and we've been helping each other as long as I've been an analyst. He's got both wide and deep perspectives, and is as well connected as anyone I know in this space. You can - and should - also follow Andy on Twitter: @andyabramson.

The other day he pinged me about a news roundup post of his from the weekend which focuses on current VoIP, video and collaboration items worth following. It's a great recap, along with Andy's personal views on where things are going - and more often than not, he's right. The post may be a couple of days old, but it's still  very timely, and you really should give it a read

He's considering doing this on a more regular basis, and I think that's a great idea. After you read this, I'm sure you'll agree, and by all means, let him know - he'd love to hear from you. There's a lot going on in these rapidly converging spaces, and Andy has it covered pretty well.  If there's anything else you'd like to see covered this way, let both of us know, and maybe we can take this to another level.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Innovating with UC - Outcomes, Processes and Subscribers

I don't blog about everything I write, and my column on ADTRAN's UC blog is one example of that. I've been writing a regular series of posts there for some time, and I use it as a forum to explore various facets of UC from the IT perspective. I don't focus on the technical aspects, but there is no shortage of other factors that drive success deploying UC across an organization.

Most recently I've been writing about the role of innovation, and how IT can think differently about the needs of end users to encourage and accelerate adoption. End users don't think about UC as a solution, but they do use the applications on a daily basis. My view is that there are several ways take an innovative approach and get them thinking differently, not just about the value of UC, but also about how IT can be their best friend in helping them derive that value.

So, for a change, I'm doing a shout-out here to let you know I've been on this tangent for a while. My latest post is running now on their site, and it's about why outcomes are more important than processes for UC to have value. As a teaser, there's a nod there to Apple and a throwback reference to the early days of the PC. If you like my thinking, I hope you mine my older posts, leave a comment, and track what's coming next.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Quiet, but busy

I wish I could say blogging has been light because I'm on the beach, reading novels and getting back to playing piano, but it's not the case. Dang.

Just been busy, plain and simple. Quite consumed with one large project that will keep me going through early Fall, and finishing up a couple of white papers this week. Of course, this is the slow season for conferences, so travel has been light, but that will change soon enough. I've got several conferences in my calendar for the Fall, and am sure others will add to that after Labor Day.

I probably won't be blogging much for another week or so, and just wanted to pop my head up let readers know what's keeping me busy. Until then, I hope you're following my posts on the Adtran UC blog, my regular contributions on UCStrategies, my monthly column in IP Telephony magazine, and my occasional tweets. Back to work!

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Vertical Communications - East Coast Analyst Day Recap, and a New Market Opp

Don't get too many trips where I fly to the U.S. for half a day, but that's what I did on Tuesday. In theory, it's very efficient - leave early, do your business and be home the same night. Sure makes for light packing, but just like when packets get dropped with VoIP, things happen - more on that later...

I'm seeing a common theme these days among second tier or lower vendors in this space, and what I heard at Vertical's event was no different. Analysts, of course, are in a different boat than customers or channels - we're influencers, not buyers. The Vertical team gave us a pretty good overview of their portfolio, which has 3 core offerings - Wave IP, MBX IP and SBX IP. In short, Wave is their future-forward UC offering, while MBX and SBX are hybrid key systems to get laggards started on the path to VoIP.

Vertical is a classic SMB play - their sweet spot is multi-site businesses, and the more the better. Their product line certainly covers the core needs of this market - it's very telecom-centric, with some collaboration capability. We didn't hear about video or social media, but they address needs that provide plenty of value for SMBs - IM, presence, mobility, soft phone, voice mail, conferencing, call recording and even some core contact center features. It really is an all-in-one solution, and on that basis, I can see the appeal for sure.

There's a  lot of legacy in their DNA - mainly from Comdial and Vodavi - so they have a solid solution to get businesses on the path to VoIP and UC. The messages here are different than what you hear from the Tier 1s when they talk about the enterprise market. I found it a clear reminder that a lot of the business world is still very much entrenched in legacy, so you have to dial things down to a level they can relate to. That's why I don't think it matters much that Vertical isn't talking about video or business process improvement - these aren't value drivers yet for SMBs. Actually, what SMBs really value is good value and simplicity, and that's what Vertical seems to be doing well. They talked a lot about their singular licensing model being a differentiator, and I can see that having appeal for SMBs when considering how to make all these applications work together.

As you know, I'm not a technical analyst, but based on the presentations and demos, it's fair to say that their technology does the job well enough. Actually, probably better than others, especially if you consider their large customer base, growth track record and portfolio of over 200 patents. Also, as their name implies, they  have a strong focus on vertical markets - especially retail, but others, such as education, medical, financial and government.

This takes me to the common theme mentioned earlier. I have no reason to doubt that Vertical's technology works fine and that they really understand how to help SMBs move along the TDM-IP migration path. The real challenge that all vendors serving SMBs face is marketing and sales. This is what really creates separation. Vertical understands the needs of SMBs perfectly well, but the big job is getting the market to see that. We heard plenty from COO Rick Dell about how hard they're working to build up the channels and to educate them on Vertical's value proposition. It's an endless job, of course, but it's the lifeblood of their business.

The SMB market is huge, and it sounds like Vertical has a good game plan here. My post here is one example of how engaging with the analyst community is part of that plan, so I'd say that's working pretty well. For me, the bottom line is that you have to bring the technology to the market - for most SMBs, their phones work just fine, but there's not a huge impetus to change. The market needs to be educated first, and you need to show them what's possible with VoIP and UC.  Based on Tuesday's event, Vertical knows how to do that, and if they stick to plan, they should continue to do well.

Oh - one more thing you should know that could bode well for them down the road. Vertical is privately-held, and Korea's LG is a major shareholder, as well as a development and distribution partner. I found that pretty interesting, and can't think of any parallels among Vertical's competitors. Clearly, this could open some avenues for global growth, and possible tie-ins for mobility offerings. Most of the aforementioned patents are Vertical's, but you can't rule out leveraging LG's R&D at some point, or even access to capital for expansion or acquisitions. Consolidation at this end of the vendor pool will no doubt happen at some point, and I'm sure that must be in Vertical's thinking.

As a quick coda, I mentioned this was supposed to be a tidy, one-day trip. Well, best intentions aside, the weather didn't cooperate, and I spent a lovely evening trying to sleep on the floor at the airport. My 6am flight the next day went off without a hitch, but Tuesday night was pretty chaotic. All I'll say is that there were many missed opportunities where the airline could have made this mess totally manageable with some simple communication. This isn't rocket science, but as a parting message to my hosts, the airline sector sure looks like a ripe vertical for the taking.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Next stop, Elizabeth, NJ - Vertical Communications

Been heads down working this week on projects, so not much time for blogging. Not traveling much lately, but I do have a short one early next week. Am not here on Monday, and Tuesday, I'll be attending the East Coast analyst event for Vertical Communications. They're doing some good things with hosted UC, and am looking forward to hearing more, especially their routes to market. Never been to Elizabeth, NJ, so my circle of travel will soon expand by a degree or two - whoo hoo!

Monday, July 23, 2012

New UC Report - Slacks, Jackets and Suits - Q&A with Blair Pleasant

Things have been busy in the UCStrategies camp, with the latest buzz being the release of a report produced by Blair Pleasant of COMMfusion, titled Unified Communications & Collaboration Market, 2011-2106.

I'm not alone in wanting to see some solid research quantifying the market opportunity as well as surveying the vast and ever-changing vendor landscape. Blair has done a great job with both, and to further explore what the research can tell us about the state of UC - or as Blair now says, UCC - we just did a lengthy Q&A, which I think you'll find of interest, especially if you want to know what slacks, jackets and suits have to do with UC!

The interview is running now on the UCStrategies site, and by means, please follow up with Blair with any questions of your own.

Friday, July 20, 2012

When Microsoft starts losing money... UCStrategies podcast

Sometimes the stars line up nicely, even when not by design, and that's certainly what happened this week with Microsoft and UCStrategies. This week's podcast topic was a review of how recent announcements and moves at MSFT following last week's WW Partner Conference here in Toronto would impact the UC space. There's lots to consider here, especially around Lync, Office 365, Surface and Skype implications. 

As usual, the podcast has a wide range of views, and while I didn't have any comments to add, I still want to socialize this here. We did this on Tuesday, which was 2 days ahead of Microsoft's quarterly results, and by now you would know this was their first money-losing quarter ever. EVER. I don't think any tech company has had a run like theirs, so this is a big deal, at least to me. With Google and Apple doing so well these days, MSFT can't afford any wrong moves, and they've had a few of those. Despite their dominance and resources, they're still on the outside looking in with mobility, and if they can't catch that wave, these other players will have little to fear as this trend continues.

I wrote earlier this week about RIM's challenges, and as big as they are here in Canada, they're pretty minor compared to what happens if Microsoft hits a wall and keeps losing money. Definitely a trend to follow closely, and to better understand what UC has to do with their fortunes, you really should check out our podcast, which was hosted by Jim Burton. It's running on the portal now, along with a transcript - and once you're done, poke around - there's lots more great content there.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Canada's Shrinking Tech Sector - Is Mitel #1 Now?

Some stories have a shelf life beyond 30 seconds, and this is one of them.

Those who follow me closely know that I don't chase news stories, and I'm rarely first out of the gate with happenings in this space. I'll never become beholden to the reflex-like urge to tweet about life as-it-happens - am way too old for that, and nobody cares two seconds later. Journalists and bloggers thrive on being the first know and first to show, but analysts are a different lot. There's very little value in that for my line of work. Our role is to be objective and reflective, and our value comes from describing and explaining. Enough about that - here's an example of what I mean.

I'm one of those old school types who still reads the paper every day, but some stories don't get read right away. Our leading national paper, the Globe and Mail had a nice piece from earlier this month about the demise of Canada's tech sector, largely hinging around RIM's struggles, which are in the news every day up here. For a while now, RIM has owned the mantle inherited from Nortel as Canada's pride and joy in tech, and while there are many flavors of tech, this run has been great for telecom analysts, as we've been spoiled with visionary leaders for about 15 years now.

I know I'm dating myself, but this is a bit like watching Jean Beliveau hand the reins over to Guy Lafleur in 1971 - he left the Habs in good hands and fans could rest assured Les Glorieux would continue their legacy (which of course they did, but being a Bruins fan, let's move on). Yeah, I'm a huge hockey fan, and sorry Leafs fans, but I can't think of anything remotely close to that, and frankly, I can't think of too many really solid comparisons in hockey since that time. Anyhow, we're talking about Canadian success stories here, and I'm sure you get the point!

Well, by all accounts our telecom run in Canada looks to be ending, and we see evidence of that every day. Until the iPad and Android came along, RIM owned this market, and there was no credible alternative for business users. We all know what's happened since, and it astounds me how every vendor has the same roadmap for mobile integration with UC and VoIP. They all have the same plan - support Apple first and then Android.

End of discussion -- but oh, did someone at the back mention RIM? Well, we're not sure yet and might support it next fiscal year, but it's not in the immediate plan - no one is asking for it and we can't find many developers. By the way, someone left their BlackBerry out at the registration desk - here it is. Oh - nobody's coming up to get it - hmm. Well, I'll just leave it here and you can claim it later after everyone has left.

You think I'm making this stuff up? Sad but true.

Let's move on to the bigger picture. Iain Marlow and Sean Silcoff have done a nice job in this article examining why Canada can't grow our tech companies beyond being mid-size as well as having sustainable success in the global market. Being American but  having lived in Canada most of my life, I have a pretty good handle on why that is, and I couldn't agree more with what Iain and Sean are getting at. Culture has a lot to do with it, not just within Canada, but also the way others view us - and both are problems. Like a lot of other industries (banking and resources aside), Canada does a great job of creating tons of small, successful businesses, but scale isn't our strong suit.

Both RIM and Nortel sure broke the mold, but they got too close to sun and now we have to wonder what's left and what does the future hold? The biggest surprise for me was how the article cited Canada's strongest current success story in tech - SXC Health Solutions. Huh? Well, the numbers are there, but I'm sure you've never heard of them either. We're conditioned to think of tech leaders up here as being in telecom, since that's the been norm since Nortel got hot, but clearly tech encompasses many things. Of much greater interest is the fact that this company was initially based near Toronto, but as the article explains, their path to big time growth came from essentially moving the core business to Chicago. In this case, the grass is definitely greener on the other side.

Anyhow, just read the article please. You'll get a better understanding as to why it's so hard to raise capital here, get attention from outside of Canada, and how the loss of big players like RIM takes away the anchor needed to nurture the supply chain and developer ecosystem so important to long term growth.

On the financial side, the article clearly shows how our startups sell out too soon, and hardly ever build up to the billion dollar paydays that Yammer is so typical of. As a result, the article also points out that tech companies now only make up 1.6% of the TSX's valuation (and this doesn't include SXC, since it is rightly categorized as a healthcare stock) - a far cry from 2000, when the metric was 41%. Wow.

This brings me to the final item - the one that should matter most if you believe RIM's best days are in the past - who is #1 now in telecom? I doubt anybody was thinking about this a year ago, but if you care about Canada's tech space, it's a valid question. Pretty much all the companies cited in the article are pure software companies or component makers, and they provide a nice update on once-hot players like JDS Uniphase, ATI, Cognos, Descartes and Corel. They also mention Mitel, and this is really the only one of the bunch I would consider telecom-related; and in my books, they would be the successor to RIM. I've been of this mindset for some time now, and here's my take on what this means from a post back in March.

Is that a good thing, and what does this say about Canadian telecom? It's great for Mitel, presuming they can keep up the good work, and based on what I saw at their Business Partner Conference last month, they seem to be on the right track. They recently listed on the TSX (MNW - also MITL on Nasdaq), so if they can boost that 1.6% share of index valuation, it's a very good thing. What do you think?