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.