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?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Avaya Office 8.1 Release - Cloud for SMBs

Today, Avaya announced a major update with Office 8.1, with a particular emphasis on giving SMBs more options and flexibility. I don't think anybody is really driving the IP communications bus these days, but in 2012 all the major vendors seem to be the same path with UC, cloud, mobility/tablets and BYOD. Clearly, the days of owning customers with proprietary PBX systems are over, and these vendors have pretty much now shifted entirely to offering software and services. We all know how businesses benefit by reducing Capex and funding UC out of Opex, and that puts a lot of pressure on vendors to be more price-competitive and innovative in terms of meeting today's moving target of end user needs.

Along those lines, I participated in Avaya's Office 8.1 brief last week, and now the word is out. There's a lot of news here, and beyond today's press release, I'm not going to get into the details - you're just a click or two away from finding that on the news sites. On the whole, I think Avaya has done a great job, both for customers and channels. Of course with such a huge installed base - 7.5 million users globally - they have a lot to defend, and that's what 8.1 is designed to do. For SMBs, they've added scalability, giving IP Office a big swath from 10 users, right up to 1,000, at which point the mid-market overlaps with Aura. That's fine, at least they have all the bases covered with a complete UC solution.

As with many other vendors, there's a cloud version - Avaya Live - really an entry-level offering to complement the premise-based IP Office offering. Keeping pace with the market, IP Office serves multiple endpoints - PC, mobile and IP phones, along with an iPad-compatible Flare experience. They outlined a nice roadmap into 2013, including video interop/support for their Radvision acquisition, Lync integration, virtualization support, enhanced contact center capabilities and fuller integration of Flare with other environments.

The only thing missing for me was social media, which I don't think got mentioned at all. Considering all the recent buzz with Cisco rebranding Quad and Microsoft acquiring Yammer, I thought there would be something, if only just on the 2013 roadmap. Nada.

I also found it interesting that desk phones were almost entirely absent from the discussion about 8.1. Again, I don't think they were cited at all during the briefing, and there's no mention of them in today's press release. Just shows you how much the market has shifted, that even Avaya (don't forget Nortel) doesn't talk about phones any more. My main concern is with 8.1 focused heavily on SMBs, this customer set is still pretty telecom-centric. I raised this point during the Q&A, and it was taken in stride, so hopefully they've read the tea leaves well enough to make 8.1 attractive to both channel partners and SMBs. Time will tell, but the bigger picture shows a strong update that should keep Avaya at the front end of the UC market unless social media disrupts everything, but I don't see that happening any time soon.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Enterprise Social Software Trends - UCStrategies Podcast

Busy week here on many fronts. This week's UCStrategies podcast built on two news items for major players - Microsoft acquiring Yammer, and Cisco rebranding its Quad platform. Both play into the ever expanding/confusing zone where social media and business communications intersect, and within the UCS group, Blair Pleasant has had a strong focus here.

Blair did a great job putting this podcast together, and we did our best to elevate the conversation above the din of social media, and into the more sophisticated realm of "enterprise social software". When the business world comes up with its own language to describe something we're already using, you know there's money to be made and empires to be lost. That's exactly what's driving the news from Cisco and MSFT, and we came at the topic from our usual wide range of perspectives.

We had a very lively discussion, and if you're wondering whether social media will have a legit home in the world of UC, this is what you should do after reading my post. The podcast - and transcript - was just posted to the UCS site, so click here to give it a listen and/or read, and by all means, join the conversation. After all, we're talking about social media here!

Contact Center Trends - Interview with Customer Interaction Solutions Magazine

Got another TMC-related post here, this time wearing a different hat. They've been publishing Customer Interaction Solutions magazine for 30 years now - that's a pretty good run! To support that, Executive Editor Paula Bernier has been doing a series of interviews across the industry about what various people are seeing in this space. Sounds like a good idea, and I was happy to hear from her to be part of this.

We recently did our Q&A, and covered a lot of ground, including offshoring, the role of IP communications, the cloud, and even digital signage (as an emerging mode for interacting with customers). The interview was just posted yesterday, and you can read it here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

"What is the Role of IT Now?" My Latest TMC Column

You may be aware that I recently started contributing again to TMCnet. I've done so in a few guises, with this iteration being my monthly column called Rethinking Communications. My column runs in both the print and digital editions of their flagship publication, Internet Telephony magazine, so there's a lot of reach here.

For some reason, my column didn't run in the June issue, but it's running in the current issue, and the digital edition just hit my email inbox this morning. Being summer, this is a double issue covering July and August, so  it will be out there for a while. The print edition has been out for a bit already, so whether you get this in the mail or prefer to read online, I welcome you to read my article, which is on page 11.

My focus this time around is the changing role of IT, something I'm seeing a lot across my work and research. I can only touch on a few things in the article and I'm sure many of you are seeing similar trends. It's a big topic, and I'll certainly be revisiting it here and elsewhere soon. Until then, you can download the July/August digital edition here, and I'm sure you'll make Rich Tehrani and his always-on editorial staff happy if you continue reading after my article through the rest of the issue. I've been through it myself, and there's lots of great content, including pieces from Skype's Jonathan Rosenberg about video, snom's Mike Storella about hosted Lync, and a nice profile about Andy Voss and Sansay covering the broader SBC space. Podcast - Mitel BPC Takeaways

Am slowly getting back to blogging - been focused on new business and getting projects off the ground. For those of you following the Canadian telecom/IT space, should definitely be on your radar. It's a great resource run by veteran journalist/blogger Rob Dutt, and he covers a lot of ground, both with his posts and podcasts.

He invited me to do a segment shortly after Mitel's Business Partner Conference, which I attended a couple of weeks ago in San Diego. In light of RIM's latest challenges, Mitel looms pretty large now on the Canadian landscape as possibly our strongest tech company, so it was timely to have a chat. I've already written about the event on my blog, but the podcast format has more runway to explore ideas in conversation as opposed to composed prose.

I realize this is a bit after the fact, but the posting has just come my way now, so if you still want to get a first-hand account of this year's Mitel BPC, you can tune in here. Rob does long podcasts - over an hour - and I'm one of a few guests on the program, so there's lots more to explore here. Our segment is towards the end, so to listen in, scroll ahead to the 55 minute mark, and you'll find us there.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Up for air

Been about 2 weeks since my last post - decided to take a break from blogging and catch up on a million little things that have been building up the past few months. Being an indie isn't easy, and after having my busiest and best month in May, things eased up in June. Two trips, though, kept me on the road, but since then it's been a more manageable pace. I'm not one for sharing my personal life online, but the upside of being an indie is getting all this catching up done once all the deliverables have been fulfilled.

Blogging doesn't pay the bills, though, so I've been in active business development mode lately, and now things are getting busy again. No business travel on my calendar probably til October, and that's fine by me. Looks like I'll have a full plate with new projects/clients through the fall, and that helps provide fodder for blogging and tweeting.

That's it - just popping up to say I haven't gone away. When my blog goes quiet, it's usually for a good reason! Go figure, I pick July 4 to start posting again, and maybe 5 people will see this today. That's ok - I know my market and I'll be back with new posts soon enough. Until then, Happy 4th and a belated Happy Canada Day!

Oh, and if you think Canadians don't have fun with their holidays, check out this ode to Canada, hoser-style. This is the most fun you can have with empty beer cans, eh!