Monday, April 30, 2012

The End User Experience - What Else Really Matters for UC?

This is the fnal post in my series to support the UCSummit 2012, which starts next  Sunday in La Jolla, CA. Am really looking forward to that - it will be my first UCSummit, and I've never been to La Jolla, but I'm told it's really nice.

If you've been following this series, you'll know it's focused on the channel and helping them bring UC to market. UC is a different world than traditional phone systems, and there's a lot of learning needed on both sides of the business equation - buyers and sellers. I'm of the view that the end user experience is the real value driver for UC, and if channels don't buy into that, they're going to have a tough time transitioning in this market.

Enough said - my post is running now on the portal, and as always, your comments are welcome.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Podcast - UC, the channel and the cloud

This week's UCStrategies podcast addressed some big issues that any VAR or system integrator faces with UC - what to do about the cloud? The topic was put together by Steve Leaden, and he did a great job facilitating the discussion with several other UCS colleagues. A number have hands-on experience working with channels, and it was a good validation about how big these changes are, and how quickly they are coming. I added some thoughts at the end, mainly around the opportunity the cloud presents for channels to pursue new markets and customers.

Most of the conversation to that point was around managing existing customers, but that only addresses the defensive nature of what the cloud represents. I think net revenues with these customers will shrink with the cloud, and for that reason I wanted to emphasize how they can leverage the cloud to find new business. Regular readers of my blog will know the storyline I've been advocating for some time around Apple and how the iPad can be their Trojan Horse into the business market. I think there's a business just waiting to happen around an Apple UC ecosystem, and I'm sure many channel players are thinking the same thing.

Enough banter - the podcast is up on the UCStrategies portal now, along with a transcript. Give it a listen - and/or a read - and drop us a line to share your thoughts - we'd love to hear from you.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

How Video Drives Innovation

This post kicks off my current cycle for the CIO Collaboration Network, where the focus is on video. I've been writing about video a fair bit lately, and for this series, it will be in the context of business value and collaboration. To start off, this post ties these ideas to innovation, a magical characteristic that defines all successful companies.

Innovation is a subjective, loaded term – just like collaboration. For both, we know it when we see it, but each is difficult to clearly define. Both are also positive forces and highly valued by business on their own merits. However, the two are highly intertwined and can be enabled by a common technology – video.

There are certainly several aspects of collaboration that can be easily measured, especially around streamlining operations and business processes. These are the attributes that define ROI and support the business case that IT needs to sell upwards to management. Conversely, by the way, there could be a top-down mandate where management deems that collaboration is the new imperative. In this scenario, management may also define the collaboration metrics, and then it becomes IT’s job to meet them – or risk losing budget and staff.

Collaboration, of course, means many things, and things get interesting when you want this to drive innovation. Most businesses would hold that innovation is the product of teamwork and from that, collaboration is the process by which new ideas get put into action and commercialized to help grow the business.

So, where does video fit in? Let’s work backwards from the desired result first. The end product is innovation, which can be both inward and outward-facing. Internal innovation is about finding new or better ways for the organization to perform, reduce costs or increase revenues. There are predictable efficiencies that come from applications such as UC which can drive these results, but that’s not true innovation. Working smarter is great, but innovation is about breakthroughs and thinking outside conventional rules. In that regard, innovation usually comes from unexpected sources, and that’s what makes collaboration so powerful.

The same holds for outward-facing innovation, which takes the form of new products/services, or better ways of dealing with customers, suppliers and partners. I could go on at length about how this can happen, but not in this post. My main idea here is that both inward and outward-facing innovation depends on collaboration, and now it’s time to bring video into the picture.

Measuring the costs and the benefits of innovation is difficult, and if organizations become too dogmatic about this, they’re more likely to stifle innovation rather than nurture it. The musician in me understands the creative process, and the best results always come from an environment that supports the free flow of ideas. For companies that want great innovation, they need to support it with a fine balance of fiscal accountability and openness. Technology plays a key role, but ultimately you need the right culture.

Innovation isn’t in a box that sits on a shelf in the lab; it’s in all of us, and can be drawn out when properly supported. In short, the more we can collaborate – and the more easily we can collaborate – the more likely those conditions will exist to generate innovative ideas. Video has a central role to play given the decentralized nature of work today. Sitting at your cubicle all day is no longer the norm, and with the globalization of business, teamwork almost always has a virtual element. This trend is only going to continue, and it is becoming the exception rather than the rule for teams to work on projects face-to-face from start to finish.

By now it shouldn’t be too hard to connect the dots to see the value of video to support collaboration in an atomized workplace. Whether working from home, auto, airport, hotel, client or branch office, video – especially as part of UC – is the great enabler for collaboration. This actually holds true on two levels. First is technology – today’s video experience is powerful, intuitive, economical and nearly ubiquitous. Video is the most engaging communications mode, making it ideal for collaboration. For collaboration to drive innovation, the process must involve the senses. Great ideas don’t come from talking on the phone or swapping emails. You need richer communication – talking, seeing, watching, showing, listening, reading, sharing, etc. – and today’s video delivers that.

Second is generational. For many businesses, innovation is about using technology to make their products/services better or finding better ways of bringing them to market. Increasingly, this is becoming the domain of Millennials – workers who have grown up their whole lives with the Internet. Not only do they have a highly attuned understanding of technology, but they’re also very comfortable with video as a means of communicating. This is no small consideration, given that a key holdback for video adoption has been the low comfort level many people have for using it.

As such, the business value of video becomes quite strong when the people who are most comfortable using it are also the most at home with the technology upon which innovation will largely be based. This demographic is also accustomed to the virtual organization and the need to collaborate with disparate team members.

Coming back to the idea that innovation lies within all of us, it stands to reason that the easier it is to collaborate, the better able to business will be to draw ideas and inspiration from as broad a pool as possible. Innovation is just as likely to come from a happy accident as from a structured process, and if that’s the end result, why limit yourself? Putting a price tag on this seems futile, and given the affordable options with video today, there really is no excuse for businesses to let that get in the way of collaboration to drive innovation that creates competitive differentiation.

This post sponsored by the CIO Collaboration Network and Avaya.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Can you monetize video? Should you?

These are the pressing question I'm asking of the channel in my last post for UCStrategies. This is a series I'm writing in support of the upcoming UC Summit 2012, which I'll be attending May 6-9 in La Jolla, CA. Can't wait!

I have no doubt that video is a driving force for UC, but I'm not sure the channel can really monetize it. However, by effectively supporting/enabling video, the channel can position themselves for bigger things with a full-featured UC solutions. That's what I have in mind for my post, and it's running now on the UCStrategies portal. As always, comments are welcome.

Friday, April 20, 2012

State of the Cloud - Snapshot Survey

Independent analysts and consultants are hard to come by here in Canada, but long-time colleague Henry Dortmans is one of the best. He's from the technology consulting world, and has a deep reach into both the end user/IT community as well as the consultants and vendors on the solutions side.

Like me, he's got an endless curiousity about the bigger picture, and occasionally puts together a survey to take the temperature of the market on current trends. He just did one on the cloud, and I wanted to share the key takeaways with you here.

The survey audience was a mix of IT consultants, vendors and end users (mostly end users). He polled about 400 in total, and got a very respectable 25% response rate, so there's a credible basis for the findings.

He asked 3 simple questions:

1. Has the industry done a good job explaining cloud?
2. How difficult do you think it will be to implement cloud services in the coming year?
3. Is this an area where you think independent advice can help buyers?

Question 1 - explaining the cloud...

For this one, consultants and end users felt roughly the same - about half for each said NO. Suppliers feel a bit differently - only 25% said NO, and the rest said either YES or PARTLY. It's not a huge sample, but interesting to note that the vendors see this as less of problem than everyone else. Depending how you see things, perhaps this may be part of the problem - ?

Question 2 - difficulty implementing cloud

End users were definitely more apprehensive than either consultants or vendors - 45% said the difficultly level would be HIGH. For the other two communities, only 15% felt that way - and 25% of vendors felt it would be LOW. Again, there seems to be a disconnect between buyers and sellers, but we've heard that before.

Question 3 - can independent advice help buyers?

You'd think this would be a no-brainer, but hey, that's why we do research! Well, consultants sure thought this would be a great idea - 90% said YES - no surprise, right? Vendors were onside, just not as strongly - 60% said YES. However, the buyers - for whom this question was targeted - were the least supportive - only 30% said YES, and 60% said MAYBE. I was hoping the comments from respondents would explain their logic, but there weren't too many clues.

Sure makes you wonder, though. The sample isn't big enough to be conclusive, but it's too small to ignore, so I do think there's some credence to the basic findings. Regarding what buyers are saying, I'm thinking they're not sold on the idea of independent advice simply because they don't trust it. If so, there's a basic credibility issue that the consultants and vendors will have to overcome, especially since the cloud is so touchy-feely. For buyers used to dealing in hardware and physical network equipment, the cloud is all in their head - it's just so ethereal.

Another factor, of course, is the cost-benefit analysis. That independent advice won't be free, and cloud economics doesn't have much of a track record in our space. So, it's not hard to see how this added cost just might wipe out any ROI or TCO advantage that cloud could bring.

To wrap up, I've passed on most of the data highlights, but Henry's summary includes respondent comments for each community. The market researcher in me finds these the most interesting parts of the study, and if this is catching your interest, you'll feel the same. Henry will be happy to share this, so just drop him a line - - and tell him I sent ya.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Are your clients ready for video? Are you?

I've been on a video theme lately when writing about UC, and this one is my latest post for the series I'm doing on the channel for UCStrategies. Video poses all kinds of questions for businesses, and for VARs and integrators that are ahead of the curve, this is a great opportunity to add value.

My post is running now on the UCS portal, and once there, you're find lots of other fresh content focused on the channel. This effort is part of the lead-up to the 2012 UC Summit, being held a few weeks from now in La Jolla, CA. If you can imagine all the brainpower associated with UCStrategies in one place, that's what the summit is about, and you won't find a better place to immerse yourself in the UC of Things. It's invitation-only, but there's still time to be involved.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Ready, Willing and Able - Keeping Up as UC Evolves

This is my latest UCStrategies post in a series focused on helping the channel sell UC. To sell UC, they need to know where the market is going, and how best to support the client. Easier said than done, especially if your forte is legacy voice. Things are changing quickly with UC, and if you don't keep pace, it's hard to add value and earn your client's business.

My post looks at three ways to keep the value proposition strong with clients, and you can read it here now. The series continues next week.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Adding Value - Don't Become Sanford and Son!

Just a quick shout-out for my latest post on the UCStrategies portal. This is part of a series I'm doing now that focuses on the channel and the challenges they face getting their clients to deploy unified communications.

Am sure you're wondering about the title of this post, so you'll just have to read it to find out. Let's just say that the "post-PBX" world will give rise to all kinds of new opportunities - some more glamorous than others.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

How you can add value in a "post-PBX" world

The term "post-PBX" world carries a lot of weight these days, and it's right up there with the "post-PC" world that Apple is leading us into. Change can be disruptive, and in the communications space, the thought of leaving the PBX behind is about as good/bad as it gets.

This topic has been on my mind for a while, and I just posted some thoughts about what this means for the channels who are trying to sell UC. Definitely a lot of challenges there, but I see a pretty exciting opportunity, and for that, you need to hop over to the UCStrategies site, where my latest contribution is running now. Go!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Mobility and UC – the Power of Any Place, Any Time

If you've been following me closely, you'll know I've got some new writing gigs going. One of these is for the CIO Collaboration Network, which just got started. I'm writing two posts a month for them, with the first couple done now - here and here - along with one post that runs exclusively on their portal.

So, I'm posting here for two reasons. First is to let you know that my first post is running now on the portal, and second is to steer you there to become familiar with the community they're building now. It's pretty good, and colleague Dave Michels is the Community Manager, so we're in good company.

If you're not there yet, my post is about the value that UC brings to making mobility a rich enabler for collaboration. That's a lot of ideas is one space, so give my post a read to see how I pull them together.