Thursday, May 31, 2012

The Demise of Cisco Cius - UCS Podcast

Another interesting and timely topic for our weekly UCStrategies podcast - the unexpected shelving of Cisco's Cius tablet. A number of us - including myself - have written about Cius on the portal, and on Tuesday, we shared our thoughts about the news.

Pretty mixed set of views, and most of us felt it was just too difficult to compete against the iPad, and the BYOD trend which shortly followed Cius has been too strong for a vendor-centric tablet like theirs survive. I still think they can salvage Cius as part of a vertical market solution, and I'm not alone on that front.

Hopefully, that makes for a good teaser, and for the full discussion, the podcast is running now on the portal.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Future of Communications - UCS Podcast

I may be dating myself, but do you remember Alvin Toffler and Future Shock? It came out in 1970 was the first of its kind to talk about how the pace of change in today's world was disrupting our modern sense of individuality, family and society. It was right up there at the time with Kubrick's 2001 for making us think about how were evolving as a species.

Fast forward to the week before last, and Dave Michels did a great Q&A on No Jitter with futurist Thomas Frey. Dave's communications-focused questions and Thomas's thought-provoking comments prompted the UCStrategies team to weigh in on these issues on last week's podcast, hosted by Marty Parker. Very interesting stuff indeed, and we all had our own take on where Thomas's thoughts fall into the UC milieu.

I was particularly focused on how we manage all the information coming at us 24/7 and then trying to filter that into knowledge and things we can actually use. Alvin Toffler popularized the term "information overload", and if he thought it was a problem before we had PCs, mobile phones and the Internet, I'd love hear his take today. I'm of the mind that the Internet makes us stupid, but let's save that for another time. Otherwise, hop over to our portal, and give the podcast a listen, which was just posted following the long weekend layover.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Rethinking Communications - my new column for Internet Telephony Magazine

If you've followed me for a while, you'll know I've had a long history with TMC on several fronts. I've written for them wearing different hats, mainly via my Service Provider Views column, along with my ongoing thought leadership for the Smart Grid portal. I'm not writing those currently, but I also participate regularly in their long-running ITExpo conference - will you be coming to the next one in Austin, October 2-5? Finally, switching back to my smart grid hat, I also co-produced the highly successful Smart Grid Summit with TMC for two years, so I've had a stint being a hands-on show producer as well.

With that preamble out of the way, my latest partnership with TMC went live yesterday. I've started a new monthly column with them, and I'm calling it Rethinking Communications. As the title implies, I'll be writing about current trends that should give us all pause to consider what we're doing in this space. We live with disruption around us 24/7, and nobody has all the answers. I certainly don't either, but I see a lot of things, and this is my soapbox to create some fresh dialog.

The column runs in the print edition of their widely-read Internet Telephony magazine, and made its debut in the May issue. I haven't received my copy yet, but the online edition was posted yesterday. So, you don't have to be a print subscriber to read my column - you just have to wait a couple of weeks until it goes online. I'm sure TMC will be happy to get their content to you both ways, and signing up for a print sub is easy - here's the form. Otherwise, I'd love you to read my column right now, so here it is online. As you'll see, the title "Is Dial Tone Done?" is self-explanatory, and as always, your comments are welcome.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Modern Tailor - the Suit Fits - Just Like UC

Well, I'm sure only my most hard-core readers have been on the edge of their seats wondering about this.

Since the Fall, I've had a sponsorship deal going with Modern Tailor, a Web-based tailor service based in China. This may seem unusual for my blog - and it is - but I see it as a consumer-based extension of what we try to do in the world of UC - collaborate. Can't get much further away than China, and this has been a great example where geography is no longer a barrier in what has always been a highly personal, sensory-rich type of business.

If you need a refresh on the backstory or my experience with previous Modern Tailor orders, you can start here, and then follow the links embedded throughout that post.

So, just like dating a girl, you start small and work up to the good stuff. They made a couple of shirts for me and let me order a tie. The shirts required my measurements, and then I had to choose through a practically unlimited selection of fabrics/patterns/styles, along with a long list of customized features and accents. I know it's just a shirt, but doesn't this sound familiar? Y'know, a bit like personalizing your UC settings and preferences. It's the same thing in my book - that's what the Web and IP brings to just about everything we do now in terms of customization and self-provisioning.

I've already posted about how well those experiences went, and that goes a long way towards building up trust, which again, is essential for getting beyond the routine applications with UC. So, now it's time to step up to getting a suit. This is a much bigger leap of faith, and wouldn't be happening for me without that track record. The selection isn't as wide as for shirts, but the process was basically the same - with one exception.

Getting a suit to fit right is far more challenging than a shirt, so for a first-time order, there was an extra step involved. To get the best fit possible, I needed to send them a suit of mine that fits me well. I was ok with that, and they provided very clear instructions. I had to bear the cost - about $60, but keeping the big picture in mind, I know I'll be getting the suit back along with a new custom-fitted suit. There was some trepidation about ever seeing my suit again, along with getting it back in wearable condition, but I had faith, and they handled all of this just fine.

The only inconvenience really, was the time involved. I didn't ship at the cheapest rate, and certainly not the most expensive. From Toronto to Shanghai, my suit was enroute for about 5 weeks, so if you're in a hurry or can't be without that particular suit for a while, this isn't going to work. Add to that the time they need to make the new suit, then ship both back to me, and I'm out of pocket garment-wise for the better part of 8 weeks.

Fair enough, but I managed just fine wardrobe-wise, and for me the results were definitely worth it. The process I went through to select what I wanted in a suit was easy to follow, and the end product was very much as expected and as advertised. I don't wear suits every day, but I like dressing well, and there's nothing like a custom-fitted suit.

Would I do it again? Absolutely. Like a lot of things, once trust is in place and expectations are met - or exceeded - most of the friction is removed from the relationship. Presuming my body holds up ok, they only need my suit once, and then it's easy. Then, it's just a matter of selecting what I want, knowing that the fit will be fine. Their pricing is very fair, and you can easily spend a lot more off the rack without getting a great fit. Sure you'll get your suit a lot faster, but I'm in no rush. If that sounds like you, Modern Tailor should be a great choice for your next suit.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Videoconferencing webinar with Vidyo, May 23

Got a shout-out for another webinar I'm doing. It's been a busy month, and next week I'm presenting on a webinar sponsored by Vidyo, and hosted by UBM TechWeb.

The webinar is titled "Videoconferencing: Business and the Big Picture", and I'll be talking about the trend driving the demand for video as well as the business value it brings for everyone involved. It's next Wednesday - May 23 - from 2-3pm ET, and you can register any time now. Here's the landing page and registration form, so sign up, and I hope you can join us!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cisco Plus Event, Toronto

It's very rare for me to have back-to-back local events, but that's what's happening this week. Yesterday I attended Cisco Plus Canada 2012 here in Toronto. As Canadian telecom events go, it's pretty big, and Cisco is one of the few vendors up here who could draw a crowd like this. It's an annual showcase of all things Cisco, primarily for IT buyers, and it sure looked like all-hands-on-deck for Cisco Canada - they were everywhere.

Lots of traffic and a healthy exhibitor space filled with key partners of all kinds. The big telcos were there - Bell, TELUS and Allstream - of course - along with a good mix of vendors, integrators and technology partners, such as Dimension Data, Exony, Flexity Solutions, CBCI Telecom and Esnatech. Adjacent to the show floor was an overwhelming mix of Cisco presentations, with in-depth sessions on every variation of collaboration imaginable. I sat in on several, and while the content was geared towards buyers, I found the quality high and the audiences pretty attendant.

The highlight for me was the TELUS demo bus outside. I've seen this before with both NSN and Ericsson - it's an impressive way to take your story on the road. What I liked most about the TELUS bus was the overall concept. This is really their Trojan Horse to win business from Bell on their home turf in Quebec. The bus is all done up in French and goes around Quebec to showcase all this cool technology. I think it's a great strategy, not just for getting business there, but also to evangelize collaboration. SMBs aren't generally the most tech-savvy, so instead of waiting for them to discover it, why not bring the technology to them? Good plan. Oh, and if you think this was also a clever ploy to divert attention from the event host, I'll keep them happy by noting that most of the gear on display inside the bus is Cisco (and Tandberg). Check out the photos below!

ShoreTel/Smart IP UC demo, Toronto

It's been a busy week, and am catching up on postings today. On Tuesday, I attended an event here in Toronto sponsored by Smart IP, one of Canada's leading systems integrators. They have a pretty strong focus on UC, and brought out a room full of customers and prospects to get an update from ShoreTel about their UC capabilities.

Many in attendance were telephony-only ShoreTel customers, and it was interesting to see how the value proposition is presented for them to move up to UC. ShoreTel's Dan Brown did most of the talking, and his presentation emphasized the familiar simplicity theme that runs through most of their messaging. I thought Dan did a great job breaking down the core elements of UC and reviewing the trends that are leading businesses to get beyond IP telephony. A key message was how well ShoreTel works across multiple vendors, and that resonates well with Avaya/Nortel customers who are looking for simpler, less costly options.

Dan's storyline was brought to life by a customer case study presented by Claude Vezina of BDO, a national accounting firm. Claude cited many exmaples of how "ridiculously simple" ShoreTel was to deploy, and he spoke well of the system's reliability in the 5 years they've had it, as well as the consultative nature of ShoreTel's support process. The strongest message for me from Claude was his assertion that "IP telephony is an application - accept it". I liked his tone about that, and it served as a wakeup call for customers with a telecom-centric mindset that UC is much more than VoIP.

Overall, the event was nicely done. To get people in a transformational mindset, things got started with an inspirational talk from Mike "Pinball" Clemons, a CFL/Argo legend - arguably the most famous athlete in Toronto. He's good - very good, and had the audience in the palm of his hand from the get-go. After the sessions, we enjoyed the Blue Jays/Rays game at the Rogers Center - no complaints.

Pinball Clemons getting the audience in the right frame of mind for UC - sweet!

Dan Brown talking about ShoreTel's UC capabilities

Jays/Rays game. Sorry folks, but are we in Toronto or Tampa Bay? Pretty hard to tell from the crowd, huh?

My UC Summit Takeaway - It's Only UC, But I Like It

You know how that song goes, right? Music is my passion, and it often provides an interesting frame of reference for the telecom space, and if you enjoy the way I connect these dots, then you should like my latest post on UC Strategies.

Last week, I attended the 4th UC Summit, and it was a solid event on all levels. I had a couple of posts about that during the summit - here and here, but haven't been able to reflect on the overall experience until now. In short, I see a lot of parallels between how the Rolling Stones created their own success, and the opportunity facing the channels now in the UC space. The Summit provided a lot of guidance about how they should do that, and I'm here to add some historical perspective from another field to show how it's possible to break the rules and still come out ahead.

If that piques your interest, then give my post a read - it's on the the UCStrategies portal now - and let me know if you want to get off or on my cloud.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Jon Arnold Joins Zpryme's Smart Grid Advisory Board

Some of my readers know that I wear a second hat in the smart grid arena, and have been active there for a few years. Aside from co-producing the successful Smart Grid Summit with TMC for two years and driving thought leadership for their Smart Grid Portal (which peaked at over 2 million monthly page views), I have been closely aligned with Austin-based Zpryme Research.

I've always been impressed with their work, and they have a thriving practice focused on smart grid and cleantech. In a prior life, I ran a niche market research consultancy for 15 years, and have been a practitioner of both qualitative and quantitative research for almost 30 years. Given my background and smart grid activities, it's not surprising for me to have a strong affinity with Zpryme. We've worked together on several projects, and around this time last year we published our first joint report, focused on the U.S. renewable energy market (it's still available for purchase!).

Today, Zpryme announced their Smart Grid Advisory Board, and I'm very pleased to be included in that group. Five others are on the board, including Andres Carvallo and Christine Hertzog, both of whom I've enjoyed working with in this space. Zpryme has a great niche and I anticipate getting busier with them as the year goes on and gas prices remain high!

If you're planning to attend ConnectivityWeek 2012 next week in Santa Clara, Zpryme will be one of the drivers of the Energy 2.0 track, and I've had a hand in that behind the scenes. I attended last year, as I see this being a great forum to bring the worlds of smart grid, IT and communications technology closer together. It really is a first rate event, and hopefully this board announcement will help raise Zpryme's profile there.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

May 15 Webinar - Choosing the Right Phone System

Just a quick shout-out about a webinar I'll be participating in next week. It's hosted by Ziff Davis B2B, and is sponsored by RingCentral, one of the leading cloud-based voice providers. I've worked with them before, and am looking forward to the next one, where the focus will be on choosing the right business phone system.

As you may suspect, there will be a strong element in support of cloud-based telephony, which is a big trend now, especially for SMBs. The webinar will also be a good opportunity to get up to speed on how the value proposition around telephony is rapidly changing. I'll be speaking to these trends, and am working on my presentation ideas now.

I hope you'll join us - it's next Tuesday, May 15 at 1pm ET/10am PT. Just takes a minute to register, and here's the form along with the webinar abstract.

UC Summit - Day 2 Highlights

The day started with what I found to be the best presentation of the summit. UCStrategies Expert Phil Edholm gave a very balanced and insightful keynote on the business value of video. Phil is fairly new to the UCStrategies team, and he brings great expertise to a space that is transforming UC more than anything else. One key idea to define the video opportunity is to distinguish between three types of workers – Knowledge, Information and Service. 
Phil gave great examples of each, and clarified how Knowledge workers derive the most benefit from collaborative video because they require the most engaging modes of communications to be effective. Going the other way, Phil talked about meeting tourists – employees who join meetings where attendance is optional. He showed how video will cut down on this activity considerably, and along the way provide a fast ROI by virtue of reducing the time lost by meeting tourists who could otherwise be doing their jobs.
There were other strong takeaways from Phil’s keynote, but hey, if I spent all morning writing them up here, you wouldn’t need to attend, and that doesn’t bode well for the long term survival of the summit.
Instead, I’ll move on to another interesting panel – the analyst roundtable, which I participated on.  This session was led by Blair Pleasant, and joining us was Samantha Kane, Art Rosenberg and Steve Leaden. We each spoke briefly about specific trends, and my focus was on the post-PBX world, and how the channel could adapt for clients that are ready to move on from having a phone system. We covered a lot of ground in an hour, and the audience wasn’t lacking for good questions.
One of the better vendor keynotes came in the afternoon from Wayne Baines of Microsoft. He made a strong case for how well MSFT is leveraging its huge installed base around Lync and cloud based services. With 1 billion Office users, there’s a major market opportunity for them with UC, and even without mentioning Skype, Wayne painted a pretty promising picture for Microsoft’s prospects.
Finally, Jim Burton hosted a panel of consultants, and that generated some good dialog about how they could work more effectively with the channel to support them in UC. Together, these groups represented most of the people in the room, and it was a great forum for paying attendees to share ideas about how to make their business more successful.
All told, the summit fully met my expectations. I was happy to have a chance to speak, and based on comments later on, it sounds like our session was well received. It was a great chance to hear first hand about how UC is being deployed, and of course what the vendors are focusing on at present. I’m of the view the nobody really knows where the market is going, and nobody really owns it, and in my mind, these ideas were validated at the summit. At least I came away with a greater sense of confidence that my ongoing research is picking up the right vibes about the state of UC. 
So, kudos to Jim Burton and his supporting cast for putting on a great show in such a relaxed setting. I think attendees got their money’s worth, and I’m pretty sure most will be back. I count myself in that circle, and if you want to share your thoughts on the event, the floor is now yours…

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

UC Summit 2012 - Highlights

This is my first UC Summit and so far it's been great. Things started Sunday afternoon and we had a full day yesterday. There's a nice mix here of channel partners, UC vendors, IT consultants and a handful of analysts like me.

So far, the presentations have been two basic types - keynotes by vendors, and market analysis by UCStrategies Experts. The keynotes have been good, including some nice demos, especially from Cisco. It's fair to say the audience  got more out of the market analysis sessions, which have covered a lot of ground already. Dave Michels and Marty Parker had a thought-provoking Show Me The Money session, where they drove home the message that disruption is coming to the channel in a big way. As Dave said, "it's been a tough millennium", and there's lots more disruption on the way. From there, Dave and Marty provided ideas for how the channel can adapt and reinvent themselves - or  exit if they aren't prepared to go with the flow.

Blair Pleasant joined Marty and Dave for a great roundtable discussion of the UC vendor landscape, which provided a good counterpoint to the vendor keynotes. Also of note was Michael Finneran's colorful discussion about mobility, and the challenges around integrating it with UC.

Overall, the content has been very good, and the program is nicely paced. It's not overwhelming, and there's lot of opportunity for people to mingle, especially around the grounds, which are very zen-like. It's hard not to be relaxed here, and that makes it easy to chat with just about anyone you see.

I'll have another post tomorrow about Day 2, which is well underway as I write this post. Below are a few photos from Day 1, which are ok, but Dave Michels has a real camera, and you can check out his photo gallery here.

Marc Inderhees and Rich McLeod during their demo of how Cisco and Jabber works across multiple devices and modes.

Michael Finneran during a quiet moment of his mobility overview.

Marty Parker, Blair Pleasant and Dave Michels during the UC vendor landscape session.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Next Stop - UC Summit 2012

I've had a nice run of being home, and just as the weather finally starts to get nice, I have a trip - go figure. On Sunday I'm going to La Jolla, CA for the first time, and am participating in my first UC Summit. This is the annual conference run by my colleagues at UCStrategies, and I'm really looking forward to UC Summit 2012.

If you follow me, you'll know I've been writing a series recently focused on helping the channel sell UC, and that's very much what the UC Summit is all about. The event has built a solid track record and the content is as good as it gets for the UC space.

I'll be speaking on the "Things You Need to Know" panel, which runs on Tuesday from 10-11, and otherwise I won't be hard to find. By all means, let me know if you want to meet - drop me an email or a tweet - I'll be tweeting regularly (@arnoldjon). Something tells me the wine will be very good there, and that's a good clue as to where I might be after the sessions, preferably outside in the warm California sun! Hey, I'm from Canada - can you blame me?

Using Video to Drive Growth

This is my second post for the current cycle focusing on the value of video for the CIO Collaboration Network.  Last week's post examined how video can support innovation by better enabling collaboration, and now I'm going to look at another important business driver - growth.

I'll start from the basic premise that video has a lot of value on its own, and even more so when part of a UC platform. Video is collaborative by nature, but is even more so when integrated with the other modes found in most UC offerings. Of course, with webcams built into PCs now, plus the proliferation of smartphones and tablets, video is very much becoming an any time, any place tool.

This foundation may not be universal yet, but it's fast becoming the norm, and with that comes heightened expectations. End users expect more, simply because it works. IT expects more because video is becoming easier to deploy and support on the LAN. Most of all, though, management expects more because they see video's potential to make not just employees, but the organization as a whole more productive. When productivity goes up, growth should follow, so for management, video is more than just another mode for employees to communicate with each other.

Collaboration plays a key role here, and works on two levels. First is the idea that employees need to work together, among themselves to get things done. You don't need UC to collaborate for simple tasks, but it definitely brings value for more complex or longer-term projects. Within a UC solution, video is the real secret sauce when teams are decentralized and need to meet on a regular basis. This is amplified even further when the project has a strong visual element such as product design or an interactive process.

The second level of collaboration comes not from working among, but working between. First and foremost, there's an implicit degree of collaboration required between employees as end users and IT as enablers. When both work together, management is happy - IT is earning its keep and fulfilling the UC vision, and employees are working more effectively. Extending this further, employees also need to collaborate between themselves and external stakeholder groups - customers, suppliers and technology partners. Each requires a distinct collaborative effort, and all can benefit from video.

As such, IT has a lot at stake to make collaboration work, and I've already cited why video is now at the heart of this imperative. Let's tie this now to the main storyline of my post - driving growth. IT can certainly stay with the familiar and focus on metrics that show how video-based collaboration drives traditional growth - namely increased revenues and profits (via decreased costs). Nobody gets fired for meeting those objectives, and they're certainly achievable with today's UC deployments.

Fair enough, but we can think a little bigger too. Reducing costs is a great way for IT to shine, but it's really just table stakes. Increasingly, management views IT and communications as strategic differentiators, and true market leaders expect more. They need IT to be innovators; not just in getting more for less, but in leveraging their technology investment into competitive advantage.

One way to do that is to introduce new growth metrics that add value to the business and reflect the outcomes enabled by collaboration. For example, I believe that IT can build a strong case for a growth metric built around the concept of human capital. In today's post-industrial, knowledge-based economy, human capital is becoming the real asset of a business. Outside of traditional manufacturing operations, bricks and mortar assets have limited value now, and forward-thinking management teams know this.

Building on that premise, communications is the primary enabler for building human capital; employees can get mundane tasks done on their own, but the real work that drives the business forward can only come from teamwork, aka collaboration. People must communicate to work together, and UC provides the richest palette of tools for enterprises to support their employees.

When those dots are connected together, IT can bring some innovative thinking to the boardroom and show management how UC - and video in particular - can drive growth from the company's greatest asset, its employees. With the right metrics, IT should be able to define a baseline value of human capital for each employee, and as employees adopt collaborative tools like video, show how that value is growing. This isn't the place to define those metrics - I'm just trying to seed the idea that IT can raise their standing by showing how video-based collaboration can do more than just drive traditional growth drivers. Are you with me?

This post sponsored by the CIO Collaboration Network and Avaya.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Aculab Cloud – Executive Q&A

Over the past few months, Aculab has been a sponsor here, and to support their recent cloud-based offering, I have produced a monthly post highlighting their progress. Aside from shining some light on Aculab, my broader intent was to show how the cloud is impacting vendors from all ends of the communications spectrum.
This is my final post in that series, and features an executive Q&A interview with Faye McClenahan, Aculab’s Head of Strategic Marketing. I felt it would good for readers to hear directly from Aculab about how they view the cloud, not just as an evolution for their offerings, but how it provides new value for their customers. I hope you enjoy our conversation, and by all means, your comments are welcome.
JA  Let’s start with the most basic question – briefly explain Aculab Cloud, and tell us a bit about what’s behind your move in this direction?
FM  If you are familiar with Cloud jargon, the best way to describe Aculab Cloud in the first instance is as a platform-as-as-service (PaaS).  Our service is the availability of telephony resources (such as play, record, conferencing, live speaker detection, etc.) presenting the capability to deploy telephony applications that can make, receive and interact with calls, without having to purchase the telephony hardware or software typically required.
The application can remain premise-based, as can the data.  Aculab Cloud is there to execute the telephony functions and to ensure the calls are handled as required, and that there are enough telephony resources to accommodate fluctuating call volumes.  When the application isn’t in use – there is nothing to pay.
Whilst renowned for our hardware, Aculab has always been about telephony software.  Over the years, that has seen us add a whole range of telephony resources to our portfolio.  In addition, we have looked for alternative ways in which our technology could be used – from different card form factors, to software packaged for use on a host processor, to our latest venture whereby the resources are made available for use in the cloud. 
JA  The cloud trend seems almost de rigueur for vendors in the communications space now. Having such a strong legacy pedigree, what particular challenges did you face doing this, and conversely, what particular advantages does this confer on you compared to entries with little or no legacy history?
FM  Some interesting challenges included the management of the Aculab Development team as a ‘customer’ of one of our more traditional telephony platforms – Prosody S.  In addition, there is an element of restructuring required to offer a service rather than a product that you ship; however as mentioned previously, Aculab has always been about the telephony software – whether it is loaded onto cards, available to download onto a host processor, or through the cloud.  We know telephony, we know how businesses want to use the telephony, the challenges they face and the resources they require in order to achieve the call flows desired – that’s what sets us apart.
JA  Other companies in this space have cloud-based offerings; what is distinct about your architecture?
FM  Greater flexibility and greater choice.  In terms of your application, you are free to run it on a server on your own premises, your customer’s premises or indeed, you could choose to run it in the cloud (e.g., on Amazon or Rackspace).  In addition, we allow you to select, according to region, which Aculab Cloud you wish to use to maximize QoS and to provide an additional redundancy measure.
JA  Aculab talks about being a “true” cloud offering. To help our readers better understand how the cloud is a step forward in your business, how would you characterize that? Also, how is this different from a hosted or managed offering?
FM  Simply put, cloud should equate to a significant reduction in the CAPEX required to run a telephony application as well as for the telephony resources needed to scale on-demand.  These two factors combined, make the creation and deployment of telephony applications not only cheaper for small development houses, but it also reduces the costs for large providers who can handle fluctuating call volumes without having to purchase the capacity to handle the peaks.
Whether a service is hosted or cloud-based is probably of more interest to the hosted service provider than to the end ‘consumer’ of the service. To the end user, they probably wouldn’t be able to tell much difference (if any).  However, for the solution provider, they will have some service limitations in pursuing a hosted strategy rather than a cloud one. 
Offering a hosted service means that the solution provider will need to buy servers and telephony equipment, and have specialist staff programming, managing and supporting that equipment, power costs, the running costs of a data centre, etc.  Those costs will undoubtedly need to be passed onto/shared with the end user.
In addition, it won’t be as flexible or scalable.  To offer a hosted service again means you have made an upfront investment into a set number of servers (and therefore capacity).  This may result in either underutilised resources or having to turn away business because the capacity is not available.  The knock-on effect on customers is that the capacity may not be available when they need it, or they will have to book capacity in advance or they will simply have limitations placed on them as to how many concurrent calls can be made.  With Cloud based-deployments, there are no such issues.
JA  For your core served market, what are you finding to be the real value drivers and advantages? Is this different from what you expected prior to launching?
FM  Speed of development has been a big advantage – Aculab Cloud supports high-level programming languages (Python and .NET).  That, coupled with the corresponding telephony APIs, has enabled developers with limited telephony expertise to write applications that meet their business requirements in a matter of weeks. We always spoke in terms of users being able to reduce development time by orders of magnitude and to see real-world evidence of that is gratifying. 
JA  From the customer’s perspective, what are they gaining over legacy, and how quickly are the benefits being realized? Conversely, are they making any notable compromises with the cloud?
FM  To summarize, the main benefits include scalability of telephony resources (so they don’t have to provision for peaks), quick development times (no specialist telephony or low-level programming language expertise required), cost savings (pay for what they need, when they need it - OPEX not CAPEX).  Furthermore, customers can capitalise on these benefits pretty much from day one – cloud telephony is all about making it inexpensive and quick to develop and deploy.

The only drawbacks I can see concern the limitations of high-level programming languages, by nature they restrict capability in comparison to the use of low-level languages such as C, but complete control comes at a price – complexity, lots of code and the need for expertise.  The other compromise relates to ownership, not having anything physical to ‘sell’. But personally I think this is a cloud with a silver lining (excuse the pun) – as with ownership comes responsibility and undoubtedly costs.

JA  Serving existing customers is one thing, but what about growth opportunities? Where does the cloud take you in terms of new applications to extend your customer’s capabilities? How about new areas – either in terms of gaining new customers or entering markets you could not serve previously?
FM  For a long time, telephony has been somewhat restricted to the realm of C programmers and telephony experts. In turn, telephony applications have been very complex and taken many months to write.  With Aculab Cloud, we took the opportunity to provide higher-level programming languages, wrapping a number of tasks into simple call functions.  Not just to speed up the development time of existing customers, but also to allow a wider range of developers to add telephony to their toolkit. That step means a new market, encompassing, for example, vendors of broader-based business applications, rather than just telephony applications – the realm of existing customers – has opened up. The idea of telephony being inclusive to business processes through integration, similar to the concept of unified communications, is attractive on a wide market sense.
JA  You’ve been doing a number of things to educate the market about the cloud and its value proposition. In what regards have you been successful so far, and where do you see the biggest knowledge gaps or misconceptions?
FM  The biggest misconception for me is the idea that buying your own telephony equipment will be cheaper in the long run than a pay-as-you-go service. Consider the comparison between renting and buying a car. The argument goes that for short-term use, a car rental is cost-effective, because you only pay for what you consume. The clincher seems to be the statement that if you drive frequently and/or for longer, owning a vehicle makes better financial sense. Does it, indeed?
To buy the analogous car, you first need a deposit, typically thirty percent of the purchase price, which is a non-trivial investment, assuming you don’t have to borrow the cash in the first place, in which case the proposition becomes even less attractive. To retain ownership of the car, you are then committed to paying the balance of the price of the vehicle, in monthly instalments, over an extended period of time, not atypically several years.
During that hire purchase contract term, you are also likely to take up a maintenance or service package, which may or may not include provision for consumables e.g., tyres, and you may even extend the warranty for an extra monthly cost. All that sounds like pay-as-you-go masquerading as CAPEX, does it not.
At the end of the term, you own a car. However, the car is worth far less than you paid for it and probably no longer ideal for the task for which it was first procured. So you buy a new car and if you’re lucky, the residual value will suffice for the deposit on the new one. It’s exactly the same when it comes to telephony deployment choices – when looking at costs, you have to consider the true OPEX for the equipment/service you have purchased.
JA  Voice is at the core what you do, and the cloud does hold promise for exciting innovation. As your cloud offering matures, where do you envision the breakthroughs that will take voice in new directions?
FM  Voice is often portrayed as inferior, the poor relation, if you will, to other modes of communication – outdated perhaps.  Certainly, we have all become accustomed to and embraced SMS, IM, chat, even social media channels as an alternative, in some ways preferred, method of communicating.  But even with all these new forms of communication, there is no escaping the pre-eminent position voice enjoys when wishing to fully and properly convey meaning or to understand a nuanced message. VoIP and Skype were breakthroughs as was virtualisation, which led to cloud, but in terms of voice, the common element is people talking to each other, which is unlikely to change. We may use voice less, for some of the more mundane activities and where it’s socially acceptable to use other means, but ultimately, people will always want/need to talk. Future breakthroughs are likely to be in the realms of user devices and transport, with, perhaps, revolutionary set up times and call quality issues coming to the fore after years of suffering from poor quality cell-phone calls.
JA  What about the bigger picture; namely your vision for Aculab’s cloud roadmap? How much are you focusing on making the development of today’s applications faster and cheaper, as opposed to being more transformational, and pushing into new areas that legacy solutions simply cannot address?
FM  We have already pushed into new areas by providing high-level APIs – it has allowed a whole new generation of developers to add telephony to their tool kits.  Making it easier for people to add telephony or use telephony to aid their business work flows will always be an objective.  Easier means faster and faster means cheaper, and, in terms of ROI, the result is wholly satisfactory for the developer.
Reducing the cost of utilising telephony is also a key focus, where we understand that our volume customers are under price pressure from their competitors, which filters all the way through to the demands of their users and/or subscribers.  At present, we are focusing on a number of typically expensive and resource hungry technologies, such as TTS, ASR and Fax.  When you place these in a cloud context, where resources can be pooled, shared and utilised on demand, suddenly technology that may have been limited to large corporations becomes accessible – both viable and affordable – to SMBs.