Monday, December 16, 2013

Our Next Contact Center Webinar - the Holy Grail for Increasing Personalization and Engagement

If you follow me, you'll know I've been writing a lot lately about Amazon's Mayday button, and that has been a springboard for thinking about how to elevate you contact center to connect better with customers.

Last month, I spoke on a webinar about Mayday, and the turnout was tremendous. That particular event was sponsored by software giant SAP, and hosted by our good friends at TMCnet. Well, we're reprising that combination again with another webinar on January 21, at 2pm ET.

Clearly, there's an appetite to learn more about what all this means and what contact centers should be doing, and that's what we'll be talking about. The title tells the story pretty well - Search for the Holy Grail - Increasing Customer Engagement with Personalization in your Contact Center.

Joining me will be colleague Neal Shact, CEO of CommuniTech Services, and the discussion will be ably moderated by Rich Tehrani, CEO and Editor-in-Chief of TMCnet.This should be another strong event, and we hope you can join us. I'll be socializing the webinar off and on, and if you're ready to register now, here's the landing page.

Friday, December 13, 2013

My New White Paper - "VoIP Security - More Than Just IT Risk"

My blogging frequency is not a good barometer of what I'm up to, as some projects take months to complete, while other work is done on a daily basis. As you may know, I write a lot of white papers, some of which you can access from my website - along with other work samples.

VoIP security is a hot topic, and while the urgency to address it seems to come and go, the fundamental risks haven't changed. In fact, they're beoming more numerous and serious, and in my books, it's just a matter of time until some form of NSA-scale breach happens. These things do happen, but we just don't hear about it, as businesses don't generally like to acknowledge them. In the main, the thinking is typically "this won't happen to me", "we have adequate security in place", or "I don't believe those threats are real".

You can take your pick, but this misguided thinking is going to backfire sooner or later. As VoIP - and UC - gains mainstream traction, they will become attractive targets for the bad guys, who will always be at least one step ahead of most good guys.

Without oversimplifying things, that's the thesis I addressed in my latest white paper. The project was sponsored by Ottawa-based VoIPshield Systems, and if you don't know them, they've been at this game a long time, and believe the time is right to educate the market and help IT take more responsible measures.

To support that, they needed third party validation on the state of VoIP security, and that's what I was brought in to do. My research was broad-based across the value chain, and let's just say that the deeper you dig, the more there is to be concerned about. Of course, there's lots of technology out there that can mitigate the risks, and VoIPshield falls squarely into that category.

The white paper was recently posted to their website for download, and the press release to support the launch went live yesterday. VoIP security touches more bases than you may realize, and even if you have a mild curiosity, I think you'll find the paper a good read. To learn more, as well as download the paper, here's the link to press release. Comments are most welcome, and if you have war stories to share, I'm all ears.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

What Millennials can teach us about collaboration

Just back from a 9 day trip to Florida, and let's just say it's a little cooler up here in Toronto. Now I remember why I like Florida so much. Anyhow, back to work and lots to catch up on.

My latest Rethinking Communications column is running now on the digial edition of Internet Telephony, which is TMCnet's flagship publication. As the title of this post implies, I think those of us looking at VoIP and UC can learn a lot from Millennials, especially when trying to work in teams.

Collaboration is easier said than done, and you simply have to start from the foundational idea that the younger generation works differently that my peer group. I'm not here to judge, so you're best off saying it's different - not better or worse.

Once you accept that, tools like UC can be used very effectively if they support the way Millennials like to work. This generation is pretty independent, not to mention tech-savvy, so their expectations may not match yours. You might even learn a thing or two if you're willing to listen, but I'll stop there and hope you read my article - here's the link.

I think this is a fascinating topic, and once you digest that, feel free to share your thoughts - after, isn't that what collaboration is all about? Finally, if you like my thinking, you might want to read my other columns and thought leadership pieces, which you can find links to here.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

UCS Podcast - Mitel/Aastra and Industry Consolidation Trends

Well, the recent Mitel/Aastra deal got everyone's attention, and Mitel seems to be making a habit of acquiring like-sized competitors. Ususally, M&A activity is between big fish and smaller fish, but these days, whatever works is just fine.

This has given rise to thinking about broader consolidation trends, and usually becomes a hot topic after a shakeup deal like Mitel/Aastra. That's what we covered on this week's UCStrategies podcast, and I'd urge you to give a play if you want the state of the nation on UC consolidation.

I'm in there - around the 23 minute mark - along with several other UCS regulars. Dave Michels did a great job moderating, and the link was posted earlier this morning.

Friday, November 22, 2013

JFK's Assassination at 50 Revisited - the Day the Music Died

Many of us - myself included - remembered where we were 50 years ago today, but perhaps none of us witnessed JFK's assassination at Dealey Plaza. I sure don't know anyone who was there.

For modern music fans, you know what "the day the music died" means. If you don't, it refers to Buddy Holly, who was lost along with others in a fatal plane crash a few years earlier in 1959. Interestingly, his birthplace of Lubbock is due West from Dallas - not that far away.

What he represented to the nascent world of rock and roll, along with what was to become youth culture, was exactly what JFK meant to the idealism of post-war America and all the promise that the 1960s was showing. After November 22, 1963, nothing was ever the same again, and my feeling is that this was historical high point for America and we may never get back there.

If any of this resonates with you, then today is pretty special, and that's why I'm re-sharing one of my older blog posts here.

I wasn't at Dealey Plaza in 1963, but I WAS there in 2008, and given what made that day special, I'd say this is the next best thing, and a pretty good proxy for getting a first-hand flavor for what happened then.

So what was so special in November 2008? Well, Obama got elected, and I happened to be in Dallas the day the results were announced. If you care about these things, the stars really couldn't have lined up any better, and I took full advantage of the moment in both time and place.

I don't often cite old posts, but just after that trip, I put a photo-essay together based on my experience, and if you're even just a bit reflective of what today means, I think you'll enjoy seeing it. There was hardly any social media then, so if you don't follow my blog, you probably never saw it.

As a taste, here's one of my photos. What's this?

Well, it's the USA Today headline announcing Obama's win and "dream fulfilled" at the base of the JFK cenotaph in Dallas, where another big dream died 50 years ago today. How's that for linking one American dream to another?


If you don't remember my photo essay - or have never seen it - I hope you take a look. I'm pretty sure you'll find it time well spent and maybe learn a few things you never knew or saw. If you like that, you may also enjoy my Americana posts, which I do from time to time. Whatever you do, I'd love to hear what all this means to you too!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Cisco Collaboration Summit and Q1 Earnings - is Their Mojo Back?

It's a tricky question, and I know some people would love to say YES and some would love to say NO.

I'm leaning towards yes, but this is no slam dunk, especially if you're an investor. I attended their annual Collaboration Summit a couple of weeks back in Boca Raton - what's not to like? - and Cisco had their Q1 earnings call last week. I felt badly because I didn't get a chance to blog about the summit, but the stars have lined up for now, and I found that after the Q1 earnings call, there was actually a better story to tell.

That's what I've done for this month's contribution to the UCStrategies portal. Whether you're inside or outside the Cisco tent, I think you'll find this is a good read, and would love to know if you think they've got their mojo back.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Creative Destruction - is RIM's Loss Apple's Gain?

Am just testing something on my blog, and you may have seen this post already. If not, I think you may find this a good read!

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My latest UCStrategies contribution has taken a few turns along the way, but I think it's addressing some timely issues. You may not agree with my point of view, and that's fine. I may very well be dead wrong, but that's not really the issue.

On a few levels, I could see Apple making a UC play via RIM, but what I'm more interested in is the creative destruction that's going around this space, with RIM's woes being a textbook example. My main takeaway is that anything is possible these days, and if it's not Apple, I'm pretty sure it will be someone else from outside this space who will be making big moves in 2014. The incumbent vendors could manage to defend their territory against all comers, but given how weak many of them are, there is definitely opportunity to be exploited by outsiders with more money, vision, will, chutzpah - whatever you want to call it.

I hope you give my post a read, and would love to get your take - here's the link.

Housekeeping update - new RSS feed for my subscribers

It was recently brought to my attention that the RSS feed link for my blog is broken, and after doing some digging, I now know why. The link has now been updated and is working just fine.

So, if you have an RSS feed set up and want to subscribe to my blog, just scroll down to the "Subscribe" section on the right side of the blog page, and you'll see the "RSS Feed" link there.

Apologies for the inconvenience, and I definitely appreciate your comments, especially about things that need fixing!

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Reminder - Tomorrow's Webinar on Hosted VoIP Trends for SMBs

Just a quick shout-out for my next Ziff Davis webinar. The topic is adoption trends for hosted VoIP among SMBs - this is a space I regularly follow and will have some interesting market data to share.

I'm the sole presenter, but won't have any difficulty filling the time, and am confident you'll come away learning a few new things. The webinar is at 2pm ET, and here's the link for everything else you need to know to join us.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Smart Grid Webinar - Critical Infrastructure Protection

It's time again to put on my smart grid hat with Zpryme and tell you about our next webinar. Just as the phones and Internet represent critical infrastructure that must be protected, the same applies to energy and the power grid. Actually more so - a lot more so. Until we become self-sufficient with renewable or stored energy - not likely - we will need to rely on the broader power grid, so protecting this is pretty important.

That's what we'll be talking about on the next Zpryme webinar on Thursday, November 21 at 1pm ET. Joining me will be speakers from ViaSat and Southern California Edison; as usual, the webinar is free, and all the details you need are here. Hope to have you on the call.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

The Upside of Personalization for UC

Regular followers will know that I write a monthly column for TMC's Internet Telephony Magazine; it's called Rethinking Communications, and you can probably guess the types of things I focus on there.

Last month, I wrote about the downside of personalization in terms of being a hinderance to the adoption of Unified Communications. There's a lot of psychology at play here (my undergrad major is speaking now!), and I don't think businesses give this much thought in terms of what UC has to do to make an emotional connection among end users. Without that, adoption simply doesn't happen.

Well, now let's look on the bright side and the good things that personalization brings. It's all a matter of how you spin ideas, and in this month's column, I explore the upside. If you believe that giving people what they want matters, then by understanding what it is they actually want, your odds of success with UC are a lot higher.

If you're wondering what that might look like, please head over to the digital edition of the latest Internet Telephony Magazine, and give my post a read. Comments, as always, are welcome.

Monday, November 11, 2013

My AudioCodes Visit / Quick Thoughts on Israel

Finally back to blogging now that I've returned from Israel and gotten more or less caught up from being off sched the better part of two weeks.

Covered a lot of ground in Israel, and managed to work in a productive site visit to AudioCodes. They're based in Airport City, and as the name implies, their offices are right by the airport, making this a convenient stop for visitors on a short trip. As I learned, Airport City is a cluster of office buildings with a lot of tech, but once you get off that island, it's almost like being in the desert. Israel has a lot of contrasts, so this didn't come as a surprise in the least. It was a 2+ hour journey by bus from Jerusalem, but the visit was definitely worthwhile.

I had a series of meetings there, and it was a great opportunity for in-person briefings to get updates across the board, namely UC, SBC, gateways and contact center. I've always thought highly of AudioCodes, and this was actually my second time seeing them in Israel. Those impressions were certainly validated during my visit, and the company looks to have clear focus on where they fit in this space.

In basic terms, AudioCodes provides a lot of options for any partner competing against Cisco. I've written before about how the telecom/UC market is coming down to two simple choices, at least for North American enterprises. Head-to-head, it's Cisco vs. Avaya, but on a broader scale, it's Cisco vs. Microsoft. Most partners need to go with one or the other now to get ongoing traction, and this duopoly is a far cry from a few years back when there was more choice among vendors of all sizes.

AudioCodes has always had solid technology, but they've also done a great job of evolving their products and expanding capabilities, especially in the gateway/SBC area. They know their strengths - namely voice - and you won't see them dabbling much in video. That's better left to partners like Polycom. I also like how they've built up their contact center reach, and from I was shown, they are currently supporting a number of global, large scale deployments.

Since they're not in the PBX business, you don't normally associate them with UC, but they provide a lot of critcal network elements for both carriers and enterprises. Outside of the telecom vendors - and Cisco - I really can't think of any other vendor who can provide such a complete range of products that enable UC and voice communications in general. Maybe Sonus or Genband, but if so, not by much. AudioCodes may not own the customer the way Microsoft or Cisco does, but it's clear to me they bring a lot to enhance any vendor's solution.

As an aside, in light of today's merger between Mitel and Aastra, it's worth noting how important scale is becoming to survive in this market. Of course, in this case, we're talking about two telecom vendors, and this is the second time Mitel has done a deal like this to get bigger. With Acme Packet now folded into Oracle, AudioCodes is already one of the biggest players in their pond, but I don't see them doing anything comparable to Mitel to get to the next level.

To sum up, both contact center and UC are huge, horizontal opportunities, and I think AudioCodes has the right focus here for long-term growth. Voice still very much matters, and while the telecom vendors are struggling to see where they fit as trends like mobility and cloud are re-defining their place in the value chain, AudioCodes is squarely in the middle of what everyone needs to do well to make voice worth paying for. I hope to get further validation as my post-visit follow ups progress, and will share what I can then.

Otherwise, Israel itself is a whole other topic. This isn't the place for that, but it was a wonderful visit, and until you've been there, it's hard to understand how layered their world is. As much as Israel is a modern democracy, the price for freedom is very high, and as much as we felt safe and welcome wandering about Jersusalem, you just never know what could come around the corner or on the next bus you board. I'm not one to share my personal life online, but we took lots of photos and will just share a couple here. Am happy to chat more any time and who knows, I might write about it further another time - or place.






Monday, October 28, 2013

Amazon's "Mayday" Button - Contact Center Implications - Webinar

Amazon's "Mayday" feature is getting a lot of attention, and while the vast majority of businesses lack the scale to offer this service promise, it sure raises a lot of questions for contact centers. One of those is "just because you can, does it mean you should?", and from there many other implications pop up. It's too early to tell if this will be a passing blip or a new stage in delivering JIT customer service, but people are talking about it now, so the webinar is definitely timely.

Thanks to the Internet, our attention span is now measured in seconds, and if you take this level of instant gratification seriously, then you need to think about what Mayday could mean for your business and how you support your customers.

If this is on your mind, then you'll want to join us on Thursday, November 11 at 2pm ET. I'm part of a panel that will be discussing the various ramifications, and will be joined by well-known consultants Neal Shact and Dennis Goodhart. TMC is hosting the event, which is being sponsored by SAP, a company that certainly wants to know where this could take things as the pathway between customers and agents gets shorter.

We're still fine-tuning the agenda, but all the pertinent details are here, including a link to the registration page. I'll have more updates as we get closer to the date.

Friday, October 25, 2013

UCStrategies Podcast - State of SBCs with UC

Alphabet soup comes with the territory in our space, and the most recent UCStrategies podcast focused on SBCs - session border controllers - and their impact on UC. I've followed SBCs since this category emerged in 2004, and not being a technical analyst, I focus on the business-level issues. However, even among the analysts steeped in IT, SBCs have always been difficult to understand. On some levels, you can ignore them with UC, but as many deployments are calling for SIP trunking, SBCs become unavoidable. I've learned that SBCs are fairly new and somewhat foreign to the UC space, so this podcast was a long time coming.

Stephen Leaden did a great job moderating, and I was happy to say my piece along with the other UCS Experts on the call. Since Acme Packet scored close to $2 billion being acquired by Oracle, everyone is wondering what all the fuss is about. Well, our podcast has been posted now, so to find out, you'd better head over to the portal now, where you'll find both the download and the transcript.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

My Next Webinar - VoIP Adoption for SMBs - November 15

It's time for another webinar with Ziff Davis. I regularly contribute content there, and build on some of that with webinars when the stars line up.

This time around, I'll be presenting on adoption trends for VoIP among SMBs - a topic I follow pretty closely. Registration is already quite strong, and I hope that keeps trending as the promotion efforts continue. As always, participation is free, and here's the link with the details as well as the webinar abstract.

I'll do a few more shout-outs along the way, and I hope you can join us - Thursday, November 15 at 2pm ET.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Next Stop - Florida - Cisco Collab Summit

Travel has been fairly light for me lately, and am totally fine with that. That said, I'm always glad to attend Cisco's Collaboration Summit, being held this year in Boca Raton, FL. No complaints going to someplace warm, especially in the same time zone.

Collaboration is by nature a moving target, and it sure will be interesting to see what Cisco's 2013/2014 take is going to look like. The more all-encompassing these collaboration platforms/solutions/ecosystems become, the higher the stakes get with customers, especially the big-spending enterprises.

Over the last week or so, we've seen some big moves by Avaya and Siemens - now Unify - to give us their flavor of collaboration, and now it's Cisco's turn. I've also had a few in-depths recently with Microsoft and their visions for Lync, so there's no shortage of end-to-end paths businesses can take for collaboration.

Cisco always does a great job with this event, and I'll be blogging/tweeting as time allows. For reference, the event hashtag is #csummit, and my handle is @arnoldjon.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Pros and Cons of Desktop Video

My regular followers will know that I recently attended the LifeSize Tech Day, held at their Austin, TX HQ. As per my recap post, it was a great experience; not just to see their offerings up close, but also to be immersed in the video space for a day and a half. In the spirit of using video to collaborate and extend our group experience beyond the onsite visit, LifeSize is engaging us in a series of occasional video-based briefings to more fully explore various aspects of this market.

There is always something new to learn in sessions like this, and last week they did one on desktop video. Ironically, I had yet-to-be-explained technical difficulties logging in, but was able to follow enough to gather some takeaways to share with you here. This actually merits a brief sidebar that touches on an unspoken issue which all vendors struggle with - simply getting video to work.

When you're living with video conferencing tools all day long - as these vendors typically do - it's easy to forget how complex the underlying technology is, especially with all the different standards and interoperability issues. The seamless one-touch experience is wonderful when it works as advertised, but we've all lived through much worse.

Just to be clear, I'm not saying this to pick on LifeSize. They certainly know what they're doing, and all vendors have issues here. It's an important sidebar, however, since first impressions are critical for the adoption of any new technology - especially something as intimate as video.

I think it's fair to say that many people - perhaps the majority - are skeptical about using video. Some of it is generational, and people on my side of 40 are not reflexively in a rush to go straight to video when using tools like Skype. By the way, I'm saying this as someone who is interviewed on TV from time to time, so I know what it's like to be on camera.

Another reason, though, is basic ease of use. Whether you see this as perception or reality, ease of use is not typically what comes to mind right away with video - it's almost like you expect there will be problems. When things work smoothly, it's a great experience, but when there are glitches with video, we tend to tune out real fast and not bother much trying to fix it - because we don't know what to do.

So, holding that thought in mind, if you think the tiny hiccup I had with LifeSize was an I-told-you-so moment, how do you think the analyst community felt this Tuesday when Siemens did their much-hyped re-brand for Unify? This was the biggest corporate level refresh I can remember in this space, so there was a lot riding on those first impressions.

Well, as anyone trying to watch the live video stream would attest, it was very problematic. I was hardly alone in not being able to get the feed, and when it did kick in, it was so intermittent as to be simply unwatchable. I'm not much of a twitter fan, but this was truly a good example of its value by seeing in real time that others were having the same experiences. There were tweets from all over the world with the same problem, and I had to feel badly for Unify here. Definitely a case where you live and die by the same sword.

So much for the short sidebar.

In the interest of your attention span, let me quickly come back to the topic - desktop video. Basically, what I wanted to say was how the briefing reviewed the use cases, along with the pros and cons of the applications we commonly use. Both video conferencing/calling and web conferencing were cited, with the leading exponents being Skype, Google Hangouts, WebEx and GotoMeeting.

We all know how these work, and they're easy choices for many reasons. However, it was instructive to review the limitations, such as variable video quality, limited scalability, number of steps required to get a session going, lack of support for multiparty calls and common directory integration to support everyone you want on the session.

To me, this speaks to the "good enough" nature of these applications. Nobody is expecting telepresence here, but there are plenty of use cases where the fit is good. For a lot of conferencing needs, the quality doesn't have to be HD, and if the groups are small and the nature of the meeting is fairly informal, the cost/quality tradeoff is acceptable.

No issue there, and where LifeSize comes to the table is for situations where "good enough" is not good enough. If there's one thing I've learned about video, it's the breadth of scenarios where it brings value. LifeSize does a great job explaining this, and in short, the more formal the meeting and the higher the stakes, the better the solution you're going to need.

This doesn't mean you stop using the likes of Skype or WebEx - there will always be a place for these. Rather, the higher-end solutions like LifeSize become additive to your overall toy box. When you need a better experience and a more engaging collaboration environment, it's just good business to have a room-based system where a team can gather and interact at a high level with remote co-workers.

There's a huge mid-market that doesn't need or want telepresence, but has both showing and sharing requirements that go beyond what OTT Web-based applications can deliver. LifeSize sees this as their sweet spot, and after our Tech Day experience, I can see why.

I'll be posting again when they have another deep dive session with our group, and hopefully will have a better sense by then as to how well that market opportunity is panning out.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Just Win, Baby!

I could easily blog 24/7 about my Boston sports teams, but that doesn't pay the bills - ESPN, are you listening? Will keep this short and sweet, and get back to regular blogging tomorrow. The picture below says it all, and I'm sure you've seen it 1,000 times, but damn, it's good.

Courtesy Boston Globe

Not only did the photographer, Stan Grossfeld, capture the moment perfectly, but the arms and legs form an almost perfect W to signify the eventual win coming in the 9th. Now that's a perfect moment!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

UCSrategies Podcast: Keep or Toss PBX? Cloud or Premise? Discuss!

Our latest UCStrategies podcast took a different route this time, with more of a debate-flavored tone. Led by Phil Edholm, we took a comparative, "versus" approach. Two topics were covered, with the merits of each side considered. First up was the PBX - do you augment it for UC, or replace it altogether? Similarly, do you stay premise-based or go cloud - or possibly have a hybrid solution?

I shared some thoughts on the first topic, and overall we expressed a wide range of views. These are timely topics for UC decision-makers, and hopefully this will clarify your thinking. The podcast has just been posted to the UCS portal, and you can download it here as well as read the transcript if you prefer.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Managing Power Outages - Smart Grid Webinar This Wednesday

Short notice shout-out, but I'll be leading another Zpryme webinar this Wednesday, October 9.

This one is on power outages - preventing them, fixing them, managing them, etc. We've all lived through these, and often they're stark reminders of our aging energy grid. Today's technologies are much improved in this regard, and this will be time well spent to learn more about that.

Joining me will be our sponsor Ventyx (an ABB company), along with two major utilities - Southern California Edison and Austin Energy. Just like our last webinar, this one is a late start, at 4pm ET. As always, registration is free, and all the details are here.

The Consumerization of Video Conferencing

I've got another item to share with you from the LifeSize Tech Day I attended a couple of weeks back. I was part of a group of "influencers" invited to attend, as was Andy McCaskey, who writes for SDR News. We hadn't met before, but being a small group, we all got to know each other during the event.

One of Andy's post-event follow-ups was for us to do a video interview. Basically, he wanted to get my take on where video conferencing is going and how it fits into the Unified Communications value proposition. From there, we talked about the LifeSize event and where we see them going in this market.

We did the interview late last week, and it's posted now on the SDR News portal. It runs about 14 minutes, and if you get a chance to watch it, I encourage you to look at the other content there afterwards. I know Andy has interviews coming with other attendees from the LifeSize event, but they're not posted yet.

Just a quick caveat on the segment he did with me. I didn't know this was being done as a formal interview for broadcast, so the quality is far from optimal. Had I known, the video setup would have been much different and easier on the eyes. Well, it's what we say that really matters, right? And, hey, this is a simple dose of realism - something that we don't talk about when trying to explain why we don't use video all the time.

Bottom line, video does not translate well for ad hoc communication, which happens to be the way that a lot of communication actually takes place. Am not sure we're ever going to fix that, and since I'm not auditioning for a job at ESPN - that would be so much fun! - I'll just leave it at that and hope you can see past what's on the screen.

Friday, October 4, 2013

The State of Teleworking - UCStrategies Podcast

That was the topic of our most recent UCStrategies podcast, and it's taken a bit longer than normal to get posted. There's a lot to talk about here, especially from a UC perspective, and if anything the two very much go hand in hand.

We had a lot of UCS Experts on the call, so you'll get your money's worth if you want to listen through the session. I was still struggling with my headcold and had very little voice during the session, but I made the effort and added my thoughts.

The session was ably moderated by Roberta Fox, who actually has a lot of experience in this area, so she was the logical choice for the role. You can listen to the podcast here as well as read the transcript. Either way, I hope you learn something here and we welcome your comments.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Last Call - Today's UC Webinar with Jabra at 2pm ET

Not much more to say, really, but I hope you can join us. This will be a fireside chat type of format where I'll be discussing various UC trends with Jabra, with an emphasis on why the time is right now for SMBs to be going in this direction. Registration is free and here are the details.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Fonolo's Take on Top Contact Center Analysts

Fonolo has long been one of the more interesting Toronto tech startups, and they continue doing good work in the contact center space. I'll tell you off the top that I'm an Advisor to Fonolo, but that's not material to what I'm sharing here.

Yesterday, they published their 2013 list of the top analysts covering the contact center space. I'm pleased to be on that list and have maintained my good graces from last year as well. I'm just 1 of 14 analysts, so my bigger message here is that this is a pretty solid group of thought leaders you should be following if this space is on your radar.

Shai Berger and his team rely a lot on reaching the right people to get their message across, and I know how hard they work at building up these relationships. Fonolo may be a small player, but they're pretty plugged in, and I'd put more stock in their brain trust community than relying on what a PR shop or a digital media agency will tell you. As with anything else, "know your source" is my mantra for credibility, and Shai knows of what he speaks. Oh, and I'd be remiss not to say thanks for considering me again for 2013!

Without further ado, here's the list, and if you care to comment further, am sure Shai would be happy to hear from you.


Thursday, September 26, 2013

Webinar Next Week with Jabra - Shifting to UC for SMBs - Join Us!

It's never dull around here, and it seems if I'm not writing, I'm doing webinars or going to industry events. Next week is no exception, and on Thursday, October 3, I'm the featured guest on a webinar sponsored by Jabra, and we're on at 2pm ET. It's more of a fireside chat, really, and I'll be sharing my views with Jabra on various trends and drivers that are making this a good time for SMBs to consider UC.

I think it says a lot about where UC is going for Jabra to be doing thought leadership events like this. They're not a company that would be top of mind in this space, but when you think about the varying forms UC can take these days, they absolutely belong. Jabra sure has an interesting history and I've been using their products for a while - both headset and speaker peripherals. If you think about the all-important "end user experience", along with the PC's growing role as the desk phone's eventual successor, these products can add a lot of value for any UC solution.

If you're nodding your head to this, then you really should join us next week. Registration is free, and we'll be done by 2:45 - not even an hour. All the details are here, and if you know anyone else who might be interested, please pass this along - thanks!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Collaboration vs. Connectivity - my updated view of the video conferencing space on UCStrategies

Regular followers will know that I attended the LifeSize Tech Day last week in Austin, TX. I learned a lot there, not just about what LifeSize is doing in the space, but also about how the overall vendor landscape is shaping up.There are a lot of ways to look at the market, but for me, two value drivers say it best - connectivity vs. collaboration. Most vendors do one of these very well, and in terms of delivering the right mix of price/performance, they generally fall on either end of this spectrum.

LifeSize stands out for me since they seem to be going for the middle ground here, and while I think the opportunity is attractive, the market first needs to "get it". That's not so easy to do, especially with cloud and WebRTC nown starting to change the rules of the game in a big way. There's a lot of evolution coming for this space, and based on my takeaways from Austin, I've put together an overview of how I see the landscape today. Since video is a key component of UC, I thought it best to do this on the UCStrategies portal for my September contribution there. My post is running there now, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Microsoft Technology Centre/Lync Love Day - Toronto

Am trying to keep pace here, and a headcold right now isn't helping.

This post is a bit belated, but definitely worth sharing. Last Wednesday, as part of Microsoft Canada's Lync advisory group, I was invited to attend to attend Lync Love Day, along with a tour of their newly-opened MTC - Microsoft Technology Centre. The timing was good, since the day after I was on the analyst concall where the U.S. Lync team gave their update on things. So, I've had a full dose of MSFT lately, and feeling pretty in tune with where they're going.

The MTC, btw, is their first in Canada, so I'm in the early cohort of people to see it. If you've been there or to any of their other MTCs outside of Canada, am sure you'd agree they've done a great job. These days, all the vendors are trying to get/stay close to technology buyers/influencers/decision-makers, not just because the market is so competitive, but also because their new technologies are complex and the stakes are getting really high for IT folks to make the right bets.

I've got some MTC photos below, but most of our time was spent getting updates on Lync. Overall, the message there is about "delivering an experience - and not just communicating". Key areas we heard about included how Skype and Lync will be integrated, extending Lync to the mobile space and driving more enterprise voice adoption via the cloud.

It's still not clear if they know how to monetize Skype, especially when talking to enterprises. Skype definitely has a play with SMBs and SOHOs, but my concern is that enterprises will associate Skype with being consumer-grade and PC-based, both of which run counter to Lync's value proposition for this end of the business market. To me, whatever they do with Skype will be a bonus, and with RIM imploding, I'm sure moving into enterprise mobility space is a higher, more lucrative opportunity.

Video, of course, is another piece of the puzzle, and having been at the LifeSize event earlier last week, I wanted to address this separately. As a sidebar, for both of these events, I was the only analyst in attendance, so you won't likely get this type of perspective from anyone else unless you follow a pretty broad circle of people like me.

Since Cisco staked their claim on video and telepresence being about collaboration, all the other vendors have fallen into line for this to be the main driver. I've now seen how LifeSize is delivering their take on collaboration, and MSFT gave us a great demo for theirs. Of course, the big advantage with Lync is the natural integration with Office and everything else MSFT, and so as long as they can provide an easy-to-use high-touch environment, they have a great solution.

We saw that in spades, and there's a photo below to give you a taste. Their approach to collaboration is different, as instead of fixating on a passive video screen to watch other people or share content, there is also an interactive element via whiteboarding. It's a very natural, cool way to work, especially since the work can be shared and edited in real-time and then saved for sharing later. Nothing new here, but collectively all the pieces are offered as the LRS - Lync Room System, and it's a pretty compelling mix of collaboration, content sharing and live interaction for anyone connected to the session. And, yes, it works across most mobile devices, so you can join a LRS meeting pretty much from anywhere.

As with any other UC vendor, video is a big part of the story, but just as important is how seamlessly it works across all the tools and applications we use every day. Yes, it costs money, but it's a lot less than immersive TP, and a far richer experience than desktop, cloud-based video conferencing services. This should be a great way to enhance the Lync value proposition, and since there's hardware involved, LRS looks to be pretty channel-friendly. We saw pieces from SMART Technologies and Crestron - hardly household names, so there's a lot riding on them are partners. Polycom is also a LRS partner, but we were told they're not ready for market yet. Hmm - should that be a concern? I'll leave that out there for consideration - time for some pictures....

Mark Hickson demo'ing LRS - behind him is the whiteboard, left; and on the right screen are 3 live video panels - 1 for him, 1 for a remote attendee, and a hard-to-see panorama showing each of us there in the room with him. He's holding up a tablet to show the video there as well, and later he did the same with the other mobile device on the table in front of him.
One of the testing/interop rooms during the MTC tour
Fellow UCStrategies colleague, Roberta Fox, checking out the gigantic touch screen in the MTC lobby - this was pretty impressive.
Last stop on the MTC tour - the Envisioning Centre. Very cool - theater setting where they simulate various work environments to show us just how seamlessly their technology works across the spectrum of settings.



Smart Grid Webinar Reminder - Tomorrow at 4 ET - Smart Metering Programs

Just doing a last call to join us for tomorrow's Zpryme webinar on smart metering programs.

First off, a correction on the time from my previous post - it's at 4pm ET / 1pm PT. Sorry for any confusion, but it's a late start, and goes for 90 minutes.

We've got another first rate group of speakers, and joining me will be Tim Wolf of Itron, Lee Krevat of SDG&E, and Matthew Crosby of Pecan Street Inc. Registration is free, and you can get all the details here. Hope to see you there!

Friday, September 20, 2013

LifeSize Tech Day - Quick Thoughts and Cool Photos

Earlier this week, I attended a Tech Day with LifeSize at their Austin, TX HQ. Technically it was a day and a half, but y'know, everything is bigger in Texas, right?

I love Austin - just search my posts here to see why - and this being my first in-depth exposure to LifeSize, I wasn't sure what to expect. As a rule of thumb, I don't love too many companies, but I sure came away liking this bunch a whole lot. I was part of a small group of "influencers" at this event, and we got a pretty good close-up of their products, their people and their roadmap.

My week has been pretty jammed and only have time here for some flash impressions and photos that I think tell an interesting story. I'll have more to say in the next week or so, including my thoughts on how I now see the video conferencing vendor landscape shaping up. That piece will run as my monthly column on UCStrategies, and in light of yesterday's funding news for BlueJeans, this space won't stay still for long.

This brings me to my elevator pitch takeaways. As you may know, Logitech is the parent company of LifeSize, and as we learned, having a B2B company owned by a consumer-focused company cuts both ways. When you're a Tier 2 player, the pedigree and financial heft of a big name like Logitech does come into play when trying to win those bigger deals. On the other hand, there can be some challenges getting them to understand the realities of your business, and it's not so easy to create magical synergies - just ask Microsoft about that with Skype.

As a sidebar, LifeSize isn't Logitech's first foray into this space. I've been following the comms market for a while now, and about 5 years ago, they acquired SightSpeed for $30 million, and I'm told it's still in the mix somewhere. I don't expect you to know or remember that, but I was an early follower of SightSpeed, and if you care to know more, here's one of my posts about them. There's a reason why companies are acquired, and clearly, Logitech sees a long-term play here.

Hey - did you catch that? Clear. See. No? Their desktop video application - ClearSea. Nevermind. Well, Sheldon Cooper would have gotten it, and of course he would have chided me on the difference in spelling and only given me half-credit for being half-clever (how's that for a subtle homage to Texas, btw?). Bazinga!

So, LifeSize soldiers on, with great home-grown technology, and they showed us how they've been a pioneer in this market. Of course, that's no guarantee of success, but they sure know this business from the bottom up. The company is probably doing about as well as can be expected, and they're certainly not alone among video vendors trying to figure this market out. Video is the most touchy-feely of all communications technologies, and finding the right balance between price and end user experience is the Holy Grail all these vendors are after.

Complicating this is the fact that video is a hybrid of product and service, and their room-based systems fall squarely into that category. Going back to my MBA Marketing days, this is probably the biggest challenge in all of marketing - short of trying to create demand for something where none has previously existed. It's much easier to market one or the other, but products and services together is very tricky, especially where most decision makers struggle to see the business value of video.

There are lots of players making a go of just selling one or the other, and while this market is still finding its legs, I believe there's plenty of room for what LifeSize offers. We heard lots about how well they understand the opportunity, and I'm onside with their thinking. They certainly know how to make the technology work, and while their user interface needs to be more intuitive, the big challenge is getting their value proposition out there and better understood. Video has to be experienced for best effect, and it's pretty hard to sell people on the merits of a 55" HD monitor from a demo on your PC screen.

Most video vendors struggle with this, so LifeSize is hardly alone. Bigger picture, though, is the shift happening to the cloud and virtualized services which looks poised to redefine video altogether. Things have come a long way from when Polycom owned this business - something LifeSize's management team knows a lot about - and I'd say we're in the midst of another cycle of creative destruction. I'm not sure where that leaves LifeSize, but if they play their cards right, they'll be fine. That said, I don't know what the right game is to be playing right now, and that's where I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Stay tuned, more posts to come! Until then, let's shift modes as well as technologies and have a look below.

Just one of many testing areas we saw during our lab tour. Every interop permutation you can imagine is going on here, so if you want best-of-breed, LifeSize is pretty solid.

Fun, wow - the audio testing chamber - it's so quiet in here you get a headache hearing yourself think. This is a great example of doing their engineering in-house, and with lots of trial and error, this is how you build the perfect speakerbox for conferencing. R&D is definitely a core asset, but I'm pretty sure you only get these things in black. No harm in stealing a page from Apple -why not other colors?

I know - crappy picture - room was dark and my battery was on fumes. It's not a microwave oven or a TV, but let me connect the dots with the next few pix.

What's this? A PC monitor next to the mystery box above. It's hard to see, but this is a design rendering of car chassis and the wheels. Is this starting to make sense now?

Now picture Bob Barker saying... "it's a brand new carrrrrr!!!" Much smaller than a Fiat, and it doesn't come with an Italian family of 3 (if you don't know what I'm talking about, watch this brilliantly funny commercial - it's just 3 minutes - but only after you finish here, ok?).
No really, it's not a bar of soap - this tiny car has wheels that turn and pistons that go up and down!

And gears and a crankshaft underneath to make everything go - wow!

Figured this out yet? 3-D printing, yup. I want one of those. Maybe LifeSize is in the wrong business, or this is a hint of what their real roadmap is. I'm sure with all that engineering in-house, they've got some other things cooking, and I doubt that means making a 6 cylinder version or offering a metallic neon green finish.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

UCStrategies Podcast - UC Trends and News Roundup

Last week we had a good catchup podcast with the UCStrategies group. The agenda was a bit rich for one session, and I could only participate at the front end, but we covered a lot of ground. Some key items included our thoughts on Microsoft/Nokia, what Cisco's recent acquistions say about where things are going, and the same for some recent leadership changes in the space.

Since I had to drop off early, I was the first to speak, but several others had their say, and it's all here in one tidy posting. I've been away at vendor events since Sunday, so I'm behind on my postings, and the podcast was posted on Tuesday - here's the link. Phil Edholm did a great job moderating, and if listening to our thoughts is too much to bear, there's a transcript on the post as well!

We'd love to hear your thoughts along with ideas you'd like to see us address on future podcasts.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Downside of Personalization

Communications technology is becoming increasingly powerful, and alongside with this comes a new dynamic in the balance of power between IT and end users. I've written often about this, and in many ways the latter seems to have the upper hand. BYOD is one manifestation of this, but another is the growing availability of productivity applications that can be accessed beyond the LAN and outside of a UC platform.

This is not what IT had in mind with UC, and in that regard the ability for end users to personalize their communciations experience cuts both ways. That's what I have explored in my current column in IT Telephony magazine. I'm particularly focused on how personalization can run counter to the spirit of collaboration, which really is at the heart of UC. This may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the power of personalization, but I think it speaks to how many people relate to technology, especially Millennials.

My latest Rethinking Communications column is running now in the digital edition of IT Telephony, and you can read it here. Agree or not? Let me know!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Meeting of the Minds, Toronto - Takeaways, Images and Pix

Had a solid day yesterday at Meeting of the Minds here in Toronto. In short, the focus is about developing sustainable plans and solutions for today's cities, and it's a great mix for my two focus areas as an analyst - communications technologies and smart grid.

Lots of big picture ideas, but if you have faith in technology, the world can and will be a better place, even as cities become impossibly crowded. Naturally, many of the big sponsors are the big vendors and manufacturers building these technologies - namely Cisco, Schneider Electric, IBM, Toyota and Bombardier. They're all doing cool things, and when you start thinking large, Big Data becomes the holy grail and that helps drive something bigger, the latest must-use acronym, IoE - the Internet of Everything. We just heard a good overview of this from Cisco's Wim Elfrink. It's a pretty powerful idea, and if you thought talking in terms of billions is big, IoE is all about trillions. Bigger can be better, but a lot has to go right to get the desired results.

As we know, technology in a vacuum doesn't do us much good, and there are three major things otherwise that have to "go right", and we heard a lot about that too. First, there is the role of the public sector - government programs, policies, regulations, etc. The conference kicked off with a short talk from Ontario's Premier, Kathleen Wynne, and she made it clear that government should - and will - have a growing role here, not a shrinking role. Add to this the huge role of education, especially in Canada where post-secondary schools are totally publicly-funded. Clearly, we need lots of public/private partnerships, and other speakers from the public sector gave us good examples in their talks.

Second is the ultimate driver, money. Cities are broke and most governments have limited means to fund the initiatives we've been hearing about here. Conversely, the financial community has tons of money, and has the will to invest in this space, but many of the elements are missing that make the business case they need to open their taps.

Finally, there is the will and inclination for us as consumers to adopt these technologies. That's a complex topic, and on a global basis, it's all over the map. Some technologies will be passive and transparent to us, but others will cause us to change how we do things. Then we have the unspoken Big Brother elements, but let's leave that aside - that's another forum for me altogether. We saw some cool examples from Toyota with autonomous technologies where cars drive themselves. This is just the tip of the iceberg for how a lot of things that define daily life will be re-invented and re-booted, especially once connectivity becomes cheaper, more ubiquitous and more intelligent.

Urbanization is an uber-trend for sure, and this has been a great conference to connect these dots on a deeper level. Ultimately, politics, money and public acceptance will dictate how successful these great technologies will become, but I'm optimistic we'll get much of this right, and it's an exciting time to make the world a better place.

Kudos, by the way, for Toronto landing this event - it's been all U.S.-based previously. Kudos again for the venue - the Evergreen Brick Works. You'd be hard pressed to find a more appropriate, eco-friendly, super-sustainable site anywhere. Great choice.

I'll leave you with a very fun wayback reference to the August 1925 issue of Popular Science magazine. This was from the Toyota presentation given by Jim Pisz, and imagines what the urban landscape will look like in 1950. Sometimes you have to look back to see where to go forward, but if you take the time to explore this, you'll see that the basic issues haven't changed at all - they're just more complex now.

The image below is just an excerpt - there's a bigger image and here's the link to view it.

May Live to See - 1925

If you know me, I'm a music guy, and will bet I wasn't the only one in the room who started humming "I.G.Y. - What a Beautiful World" when this image went up on the screen. I may be dating myself, but this is from Donald Fagan's unnderrated 1982 solo album The Nightfly - love it. If you don't have that song bouncing around in your head now, either you don't know it or you were too busy texting and not listening here at the Brick Works!

Opening comments from Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynne

Innovation panel - OCAD, MaRS, ON Ministry of Research and Innovation

You'd never think we're minutes away from the downtown core - pretty rustic

Ok, I know, I need a better camera, but this moment ties things together nicely. The venue used to be the brick works from which much of downtown Toronto was built. Now, it's been repurposed to promote sustainable living and greater environmental awareness for the well-being of cities. I'm looking through a kiln (the sign above saying HARROP looks more like a subway stop, huh?), and at the far end is center stage where a keynote is being given. Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Is there hope for our cities? I think so, and I hope I can attend the next MOTM.




Monday, September 9, 2013

Smart Grid Webinar - Sept. 24 - Smart Metering Programs

Time to put on my smart grid hat with Zpryme and tell you about our next webinar. If there's one thing most people generally understand about this space, it's smart meters. You know, that digital power meter your utility came by to install and replace the legacy reader that sits outside your house but you've never actually taken a look at. Well, coming from the telecom space, what VoIP did to telephony, the smart meter is doing to utilities.

The smart meter - or AMI - is the prime building block for the big picture smart grid evolution we're all going through, as it establishes two-way, real-time data flow between utilities and subscribers.Since every home and business has to have one, it's a big business and there are lots players with a vested interest to get these deployed as quickly as possible.

Hopefully, that's enough of a teaser to get you to join us on September 24 at 1pm PST - that's 4pm ET. The webinar is free, and joining me will be Tim Wolf of Itron, Lee Krevat of SDG&E, and Matthew Crosby of Pecan Street Inc. Our webinars are well attended, so I suggest you register early - here's the link.

Speaking of smart grid, just a half-step to the right, I'll be attending the Meeting of the Minds conference here in Toronto the next two days. This looks to be a great event, and if you're interested in how we build sustainable cities - I sure am! - I'll be blogging and tweeting as time allows.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Next Stop - Here - Meeting of the Minds

Been going full-out here after Labor Day with lots of new things on my plate for the fall already. One of them is a rarity for me - a conference here in Toronto - what a concept! Actually, this one has nothing to do with telecom, but everything to do with communications and other things related.

I've been invited to attend Meeting of the Minds 2013 next week, and it showcases an A-List roster of leading thinkers and players in the area of urban sustainability. Much of it has a local flavor - how will Toronto plan for its future and accommodate the ridiculous growth boom currently happening here. However, Toronto has joined the big leagues of major cities, and is a good choice to host, taking over from last year's site in San Francisco.The broader focus is on global urbanization and sustainability strategies, so these are fast becoming almost everybody's problem.

Of course, a lot of this is about infrastructure and connectivity, and that's where my dual focus on communications and smart grid brings me to attend. I'm really looking forward to the program and will be onsite next Tuesday and Wednesday, and will tweet and blog as time allows. Look for me if you're attending, and otherwise, there is a free webcast option, but I can't find the link right this minute.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Skype Just Turned 10 - Time Flies!

Last week I was at ITExpo in Las Vegas, and going into Labor Day weekend/end of summer, tech stuff just may not be top of mind, myself included. Am sure lots of interesting news items got missed then, and I wanted to quickly acknowledge one here that seems worthwhile to me.

Last Thursday, long-time Skype watcher, Stuart Henshall, wrote a nice post around Skype turning 10. I love Skype, use Skype, have a pretty distinct history with Skype, and have also been watching them closely, pretty much from the beginning. However, I didn't think about when that milestone was happening, and yeah, I guess it has been 10 years.

Wow - time sure flies, and I wanted make sure this got some new legs in case you missed it last week. I tweeted his post then, and am re-sharing here if you haven't read it yet. Others have since written about it and I agree with Stuart's take about this being a missed opportunity - "wasted" in his words. I would argue that the only things that have come close to having so much disruptive impact on telcos and consumers would be the iPhone/iPad and Android - both of which are wildly successful. We may never really understand why Skype didn't reach its business potential, but it sure has had a great run - and I think will continue to do so. I have lots of thoughts around this, but that's another series of blog posts - stay tuned!

Those of you who have known me a while will know about my oldest son, Max. He has always been the real tech authority in our family - even back when Skype started up. If you go back that far, you may recall when VON was really rocking, they had a couple of events here in Toronto. I was quite involved with them, and at the time, Skype's co-founder, Niklas Zennstrom had good reason not to set foot on U.S. soil - if you don't know the back-story, well, that's another post - but he had no problems coming to Canada.

So, in the spirit of reflecting on what made Skype so special, here's a wayback machine post of mine from the 2005 VON Canada event, and below is a photo of Niklas, Max and myself at the show. Max has grown a lot since then, and don't be fooled by his boyish looks. Am pretty sure he was the only kid in North America to get a private audience with Niklas back then, and he's been honing his knowledge ever since, including his own column he just started writing for Ziff Davis's Toolbox.com portal. Way to go, kid! And... thanks for the post, Stuart - glad I caught it on twitter.



Thursday, August 29, 2013

ITExpo Takeaways - Innovation, Startups and Implications for UC

Just saw Steve Wozniak's talk here at ITExpo in Las Vegas. Definitely the marquee session, so everyone is here. Lots of great stories about how he learned how to build things as a kid and how that set the stage for what was to come. The natural curiousity that comes with being a kid is the best magic of all, and if everyone followed their early instincts, most of the world's problems would be solved overnight. Nevermind....

Back to work. I just posted my thoughts about Tuesday's StartupCamp8. It's a different take, and is focused on where - or how - UC fits into the startup ecosystem, especially around driving innovation inside businesses. Problem is that I'm not seeing much of a fit, at least based on the startups we saw.

Is this a big deal? I don't know, but my instincts tell me that UC is on the outside looking in when it comes to how startups think about the business problems they're trying to solve and whether they see UC as an enabler for their ideas.

If that raises questions for you, I think you'll enjoy my post, which is running now on the UCStrategies portal. Please give it a read, and would love to hear your thoughts!

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

ITExpo 2013, Las Vegas - Day 1

Yesterday was Day 1 of this year's ITExpo West, being held for the first time in Las Vegas. Much bigger here in many ways than Austin was last year. Too early to tell how this location plays out, but there are definitely lots of people here. Just sharing a few high level thoughts from what I saw yesterday.

Things kicked off with a roundtable panel on tech trends, with voices from TMC, analysts and consultants. There were a lot of good ideas and food for thought, and the hour flew by fast. Topics covered included M2M, white spaces, WebRTC and the need for IPV6. Bigger picture, a key theme was the idea that our personal identities have value - as we better understand that, the relationship between buyers and sellers will change, and this has implications for everyone in the room - both as consumers and as businesses trying to make money in telecom.

Moving on, I moderated a well-attended session on how technology can be used in the contact center to improve the customer experience. Lots to talk about there, and it's clear that things like social media, mobility and multichannel communication are presenting big challenges for contact centers. It's also worth noting that almost everyone in the room was a first-time ITExpo attendee. This happened as well in the panel I ran this morning on hosted PBX. I'm sure the Las Vegas location has something to do with that, and maybe TMC is tapping into a new audience - time will tell.

Otherwise, yesterday was full with briefings and from there, everyone went to StartupCamp8. Over the past few ITExpos, this has been the most engaging session, helped in large part by the open bar, but also the content. The format is well honed now, and 4 startups gave their pitches, followed by some feedback from the judges. After that, the audience voted on winner, which turned out to be a local startup, Alice Receptionist. None of these really stood out for me, but I have a more detailed post coming about these startups - it will run on the UCStrategies portal, hopefully before the week is out.

Preceding the pitches, we heard a good keynote from Jeff Bonforte of Yahoo!. Aside from telling us how they missed out on acquiring Twitter for pocket change in its early days, Jeff covered 12 elements that characterize innovative organizations. Overall, this sounds like a good recipe for success, and clearly most businesses simply aren't wired this way. Aside from things you'd expect to hear, I enjoyed his take on the need to fail before you can succeed. For companies that can learn from this, the main idea is that the more you fail, the more likely you'll find something that actually sticks. It seems countertintuitive, but when you compare the culture of startups against enterprises, it's not hard to see why this is standard procedure for the former type of business.

I'll get another post out by end of the week, and I'm sure the buzz will be great when the show floor opens later this afternoon.

Rich Tehrani kicking off the show
 Technology trends roundtable
 View of the strip from the 62nd floor during the reception following StartupCamp8

Friday, August 16, 2013

ITExpo Preview - Session #3 - VaaS

Last but not least, my third session at the upcoming ITExpo is titled: "VaaS - Leveling the Playing Field for SMBs". Add one more acronym to your alphabet soup canon in this space - now we're talking about video as a service. With cloud, you just know that sooner or later, everything will get their "aaS" moniker, just like finally getting added to the Apps store up in that same cloud.

Well, if any application can truly benefit from the cloud it's video. This is the most expensive of all communications modes to provide with a premise-based solution, and now that the technology is "good enough" for just about any endpoint, the market is finally here. This certainly isn't what Cisco had in mind with telepresence, which is such a great experience, but really just for the Fortune 1000 set. Cloud-based services are nowhere as good, but my favorite tag line of "good enough" definitely applies here, and that's one of the themes we'll be exploring on the panel.

Our session is Thursday, August 29 at 1pm, and is part of the the Cloud4SMB Expo, which runs under the ITExpo tent. I know it's one of the last sessions of the conference, but if you're not dashing off to catch a red-eye back East, this should be a fun session.

Joining me will be Vishal Brown - Yorktel, Mark Cray - AGT, and Steve Vobbe - Glowpoint. Full details are here, and hope you can join us.

Am on vacation next week, and blogging gets a break too, so I won't likely post again til just before the Expo. As a reminder, I'm also moderating panels on Tuesday and Wednesday, and I posted about them here and here. See you in Las Vegas!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

ITExpo Preview - Session #2

Continuing from yesterday's post, this is a series of shout-outs for the sessions I'm moderating at ITExpo West, coming real soon. This is TMC's flagship event, and is being held in Las Vegas from August 26-29.

So, on Day 2 - Wednesday - I'll be hosting my second panel, titled "10 Ways Hosted PBX Will Benefit Your Business". Gee, I wonder what that one will be about? Whether you call it hosted or cloud or managed, the trend to go off-prem is really strong, especially in the SMB space.

Joining me for this one will be Aaron Charlesworth - Vocalocity, Tim Healy - Telepacific Communications, Steve Lingo - XO Communications, and Bill Miller - Freedom Voice. That's a pretty solid lineup, and if you don't come away learning something new here, then maybe you should moderate this topic next time around.

We're running at 10am, on Wednesday, August 28, and the session is part of the Cloud4SMB Expo, one of the many sub-events running alongside the ITExpo. For more detail, just scroll down this page to our date/time, and I hope you can join us.


Wednesday, August 14, 2013

ITExpo Preview - Session #1

TMC's ITExpo is now just 12 days away, and there are lots of loose ends to manage as usual. I'm moderating three sessions, and am doing separate posts for each. They're all different, and I hope to see you at some or all of 'em.

As you probably know by now, this year's West event is in Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay. It's a pretty hot time of year to be in the desert, but that's the story. This is actually TMC's 3rd locale for the West ITExpo in 4 years, so we're all looking forward to seeing how they've changed things up. Los Angeles was their base for several years, but they pulled roots and had the last two Expos in Austin. I loved it there, but it's not really a Western spot and I guess it just didn't pull right, so off to Mandalay Bay we go.

I'll be there the full time, and my first session is Tuesday, August 27 at 10am. This will be a topic I really enjoy researching, and it's going to be fun. It's called "Solving the Customer Experience Equation", and we'll be exploring the relationship between communications technology and contact center agents, and how best to marry those for providing great service.

Joining me will be Steve Brubaker from InfoCision Management Corporation, Steve Chirokas - VoltDelta, John Cray - Zeacom, and Ann Sung Ruckstuhl - LiveOps. With four speakers, the time will fly, but you'll definitely hear some pretty sharp perspectives.

If you want get regular updates on the show, follow my twitter feed, and along with TMC's - @arnoldjon and @ITExpo.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

BestinBiz Awards Winners Announced

A while back, I posted about being asked to be a judge as part of the BestinBiz Awards. Their scope is international, but do have separate awards for North American companies, and 2013 entries for that region close really soon - August 16!. While not solely focused on tech or telecom, there certainly were companies in those spaces, but that's not really the point here.

Aside from that vertical focus, my MBA and entrepreneurial background give me a good perspective for assessing things that apply horizontally across any type of business. This is where my focus on strategy, go-to-market, organizational structure, customer satisfaction/retention, branding/positioning, value proposition, competitive standing, partnerships, fundraising, exits/M&A, etc. comes into play.

I was pleased to contribute this to the process, and it was fun evaluating the companies sent my way. While most of the 2012 International winners were outside my space, I'll give a quick shout-out here to the ones you'll probably be familiar with:

- Tekelec - Innovative Company, Silver
- Redline Communications - Comback Company, Gold
- Minacs - Customer Friendly Company, Bronze

You can read more about the competition and review the full list of 2012 International winners here.

Overall, I'm pleased to say that 8 of the 10 companies I evaluated made it to the winner's circle, and this process is a great way to get exposed to some interesting new players and technologies. A few have a focus in emerging areas that will be relevant to UC and CEBP, so don't be surprised if you hear about them at some point. Of note, I'll mention:

- Arkadin - mobile UCaasS - especially audio and video conferencing
- BlackLine Systems - enterprise SaaS to automate financial processes
- Vision Critical - engagement platforms to allow enterprises to build community with customers, suppliers, etc. to improve decision-making processes
- Mimecast - mobile security and data archiving
- Clarizen - collaboration and project management workforce platforms

Friday, August 2, 2013

ITExpo - 24 Days and Counting....

I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be in late August just before Labor Day than... Las Vegas. Yeah, it's a dry heat and everything is air conditioned anyway, but summer is short around here and if I have to travel now I'd rather be going to a cottage (that's happening the week before) or a beach (ditto).

With that said, it's ITExpo time, and this only happens twice a year, so that's where I'm going to be. As you likely know, TMC continues to expand/enhance/improve this show, and you have to admit, having Steve Wozniak speak is a pretty cool draw.

This is just a quick shout-out, and I'll be posting more extensively starting next week about the conference. I'll be moderating some sessions, so stay tuned for details, and if you're not following the TMC tweets - or mine - just add these handles for up to the minute updates - @ITExpo @TMCnet @arnoldjon

Thursday, August 1, 2013

UC Pitfalls and Opportunities

The title says it all, and that's what we talked about on this week's UCStrategies podast, ably hosted by Blair Pleasant. Our roster of Experts has recently expanded, so there's a pretty rich range of perspectives on this topic, which seems to be a perennial thread in our consulting and analyst practices.

There's a lot that's right with UC, but it's more challenging to deploy successfully than you might think. To learn why, please head over to the portal and give the discussion a listen, or just read the transcript if that's more convenient.

Now You Want Me to Collaborate? Leave Me Alone!

That's the title of my current article running in Internet Telephony Magazine. As you hopefully know, this is TMC's flagship publication - both print and digital versions - and my monthly column, Rethinking Communications, has been running there since May 2012.

As the column's namesake implies, I try to focus on issues that transform how we think about and use communications technologies. This is pretty fertile ground, and I often look at things from the end user's perspective. That's definitely the topic this month, as I approach collaboration from a slightly less receptive vantage point.

If you lean on me long enough about collaboration, you'll tap into a vein along the lines that it's overrated and overestimated. I'll leave it at that for now, and hope you'll hop over next to the digital edition and give my article read. Give that some thought, and I'd love to know if we're seeing things the same - or not.

Before signing off, I'd be remiss to not use this post as a quick heads-up for ITExpo, TMC's bi-annual conference that's just three weeks away! Yikes - I have to get my panels organized, like now. More on that in my next post. Will I see you there?

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

New Research - Promising UC Outlook for SMBs

Got some new industry research to share, and the news is good. Back in late 2010, Metaswitch Networks did some ground-breaking research with SMBs to better understand their thinking around communications technologies, especially their phone systems. I produced a position paper for them based on the data, which gave me first-hand access to the detailed findings.

SMBs don't just buy on price, and we all have a lot to learn about this huge segement of the business market, especially UC vendors and service providers. Well, I'm happy to say that Metaswitch Networks has updated this research and am even happier to say that there's lots of upside for those who take the time to understand what really drives SMBs.

Metaswitch is just starting to get the word out, and I got the first analyst briefing about it last week. There's lots to digest, and they've done a nice job summarizing the key findings in a public document you can access from their website.

Before you do that, though, I'm going to steer you to my analysis of that summary, which has just been posted on the UCStrategies portal. UC wasn't in the mainstream vernacular in 2010, but it is now, and since UC is a key element of the research, UCS is the logical home for my writeup. So, please give it a read, share your thoughts with us, and if you want to learn more, give their research summary a read as well.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Smart Grid Future Outlook Webinar - Thursday, July 18

Back from vacation now - haven't been online much for a while and slowly catching up to things. Non-stop busy since returning, and I wanted  to do a final shout-out for this webinar tomorrow. I've been doing a fair bit lately with Zpryme, and this webinar is going to be very well attended.

We'll be talking about where the smart grid is going, and along with myself, there will be presentations from eMeter, Bluebonnet Elecctric Cooperative, Arizona Public Service and NAESB. It's another strong lineup, and with five speakers, this will be a 90 minute event. I hope you can join us - we start at 1pm ET, and the full details can be found here.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Zpryme Webinar - Future Solutions for the Smart Grid

Pretty busy here just before disappearing on a family vacation. Am happily wearing my smart grid hat now and donning my dual role of host and presenter for an upcoming Zpryme webinar. These events are getting great takeup and the last two I've done have been really good. First rate panelists, up-to-the-minute research and solid insights from leading companies in this space.

So, if the smart grid crystal ball piques your interest, you'll want to join us on Thursday, July 18 at 1pm ET. Joining me will be speakers from eMeter (a Siemens company), Arizona Public Service, Bluebonnet Electric Co-op, and NAESB - North American Energy Standards Board.

If you lived through the disruption of Hurricane Sandy, you'll know how vulnerable our aging power grid can be, and this is the place to be to learn how the smart grid will better prepare us for future disruptions.

The webinar is free, and runs 90 minutes - we have a lot of ground to cover. Here are the details about the topic and our speakers, as well as how to register. See you there!

Merits of UC in the Cloud - EM360 Podcast/Article Now Posted

Enterprise Management 360 is a UK-based venture focused on thought leadership for IT executives from the analyst community. This is another entity that engages me on occasion, and my most recent involvement was an interview I did with Todd Abbot of Sonus back in May.

They do a good job of bringing industry leaders to the table, and a few weeks back, they had me lead a roundtable panel on the business case and reservations about putting UC in the cloud. It's a huge topic these days, and we had a great group on hand.

Joining me was Sanjay Bhatia of GENBAND, Richard Bennett of Avaya, and Jon Martin of BT Global. I really enjoyed having views from both vendors and carriers, as this presents major implications - and opportunities for each as they struggle to maintain ownership of the end customer.

We had so much to talk about that the podcast was broken up into three distinct segments. EM360 has just posted them here on their website where you can download and listen any time.

They've also included excerpts in their flagship quarterly glossy magazine. The Q4 edition is in distribution now to subscribers, and the digital version is now running live. Here's the link, and the transcript from part of our podcast runs on pages 12-15.

I hope you find this content helpful, and comments are most welcome.