Friday, June 27, 2014

Making Music with the SIPtones at Interactions 2014

Most of you know me as an analyst, and I'm not in the habit of putting my personal life on public display. I still get my share of spam, but let's keep this upbeat!

Music is my biggest passion, and I've been playing piano and guitar most of my life. If you follow how my youngest son, Dean, is progressing with his music career, that should give you some clues as to where that's coming from. I can only take some of the credit, though - he's got a real gift, and my job is help him take it to full potential.

He bypassed my guitar playing years ago, but I still love to play, mostly blues, R&B and some jazz. I was really happy to have a chance to do that recently with the SIPtones, who got play a long, two hour set at Indy's top blues bar, the Slippery Noodle.

The gig took place earlier this month during the Interactions 2014 event, held by Interactive Intelligence, a vendor most of you will be familiar with. The SIPtones are all consultants by day, and they've been doing this a while. By night, it's Wayne Sos on bass, Stephen Leaden on drums, Rick Hathaway on saxes, and Mike Moszynski on guitar and harp.

They were nice enough to let me guest on a few numbers, with all but one on keyboard. Towards the end of the night, I comped on guitar while Mike did a Juke-like harp raveup, Off the Wall, including playing on top of the tables in the crowd. Whoo hoo!

Rick is the bandleader, and like all good bandleaders, he documents their gigs. He put together a nine minute highlight reel of the evening, and it's been posted now to YouTube. Unless you're a SIPtones groupie, you'll never find it, so I'm being the brand ambassador here and sharing it with you.

I'm on keyboard off and on throughout the compilation, and while the sound isn't great, I'm easy to spot on the far left of the stage. When comping Mike on guitar, I'm on the far right - that clip is near the end of the video.

Anyhow, watch as much as you like, and please share it with anyone who might enjoy it - or better yet, sign the band to a mega-deal and world tour. Rick is standing by on his SIP phone, and I'll keep practicing to keep the dream alive.  :-)

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

New Contact Center Research from Interactive Intelligence

Interactive Intelligence is a company I closely follow, and many of us at UCStrategies attended their Interactions 2014 event earlier this month in Indianapolis. The company recently sponsored Wave 2 of their Customer Experience Survey, which is a decent sweep of what makes for a good interaction between customers and the contact center.

There's lots to like about the research, and for this month's UCStrategies writeup, I put together an analysis of three takeaways that are most pertinent to the UC space. I also included a link to the study itself, as there are other findings worth reviewing, but from my end, those will have to wait for another time.

With that, I'll steer you to my post, which is running now on the UCStrategies portal.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Personal Video and UC - "What are You Afraid Of?", Part 2

That's the name of my latest article running now in TMC's Internet Telephony Magazine. My Rethinking Communications column has been featured there for some time, and this writeup builds on Part 1, which ran last month.

We all know about room-based video and immersive telepresence, but personal video opens up new possibilities, both for one-to-one communication, but also the broader spectrum of UC.

The angle I'm exploring in Part 2 is bit more future-forward, as the focus is on the recent acquisition of Viber by Japan-based Rakuten. In the shadow of WhatsApp/Facebook, these types of deals send signals for how the communications market is shifting. Personal video is a distinct opportunity in its own right, but things get even more interesting when texting/messaging is part of the package, suggesting yet another move away from telephony and voice-based communication.

Nobody has quite figured this out yet, but when big companies get involved in acquisitions like this, the UC community needs to pay attention. Disruption seems to invariably come from outside the circle of usual suspects, and my view is that the Viber deal will filter up - or down - to the UC ecosystem sooner than later.

I'll leave it at that, and now it's time to steer you to the article. Also - to do this right, make sure you read Part 1 first if you haven't done so already. Then let me know what you think - deal?

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

UCStrategies Podcast - Interactions 2014 Recap

Many of us at UCStrategies were at Interactions 2014 a couple of weeks back in Indy. This is the annual customer/partner/analyst event run by Interactive Intelligence, a company we follow pretty closely. If you want to know how the cloud is impacting the contact center space, this is a top company to watch. There are lots of reasons why I say that, and to hear them, I'll steer you now to our latest podcast.

We did this session last week, and it's been posted now to the portal. Jim Burton  handled the moderating, and I was one of several UC Experts sharing our takeaways. Here's the link, and I hope you enjoy it.

If ININ is your cup of tea, you may also enjoy my own blog post about the event from last week: "PureCloud, Millennials, Boulders, Football and the SIPtones!".

Friday, June 13, 2014

GENBAND Perspectives 2014 - Takeaways, Pix, Tricks and Throwbacks

This week was Perspectives 2014, Genband's annual customer/partner event held in Orlando. I've been to a lot of conferences lately, so my frame of reference is pretty broad. Like most vendors in my orbit, the race is on to the cloud, and Genband seems pretty far along that path. Unlike most vendors I follow, this company is firmly planted both in the enterprise and carrier spaces. Following - and understanding them is a bit more challenging, and I still don't have a totally clear picture.

My views won't move the dial much on that front, but it's clear that Genband knows where they're going, and I guess that's what matters, at least for now. Being private, they have a lot of flexibility to address both markets, as well as try new things. I got enough of a vibe that going public is in their plans, so best to get all this sorted out now. If you read my wrapup post from the Interactive Intelligence conference last week, you'll see how much harder this is to do as a public company.

The event was light on content compared to other recent conferences, but there was still lots to absorb. We heard a lot about the cloud, with Kandy being the big news, and if you followed the tweets, you'll know what I'm talking about. There's a lot to like in what Genband is doing, especially with their Tier 1 partners, but we didn't hear much about their go-to-market roadmap, especially with channels. On that note, most of my peers were of the same mind that we didn't hear enough about how these partners are actually using Genband's technology.

We also heard lots about how they're selling outcomes and solutions, but not as much about their specific products and how all the pieces fit together. This is important for us analysts given all the infrastructure categories they play in, as well as getting a better sense of their focus on enterprise versus SMB customers. Hopefully, we'll get more balance on that front next year.

I'll leave it at that for now, and share some high level takeaways from the presentations. Genband definitely puts on a good show - but we could do without the fog machine - it's humid enough in Florida, and it felt like a rainstorm was going to happen during the sessions at any time.

Genband also gets top marks for style - nobody talks much about these things, but I thought the staging was great. Very creative use of props, lighting and warm color mixes. Had a 60's vibe for those of you old enough to remember the set designs on variety shows like Ed Sullivan when musical acts were on. Enough about style - let's get to some substance - here's what resonated most for me......

CEO David Walsh setting the tone with strong messaging about their financial health, and the strategic path Genband is following to become a "Level 4" supplier. In essence, this means being an "outcome as a service" partner offering a guaranteed ROI - as opposed to being product focused. Tall order, and that's a new term for me, but that's where the margins are.
The reason why he feels confident they can do this is because they're private. He had a great slide showing the "fish" model, where with cloud you have to invest heavily to deliver the services initially, plus live with a downward sloping revenue curve. Over time, these paths reverse, as your costs drop and total revenues ramp up once customers come over to the cloud. He rightly noted that public companies have a much harder time convincing their investors to be patient for a few quarters until this pans out. Time will tell!
He also set the stage for four big themes we heard throughout Perspectives - OTT, the cloud, WebRTC, and the need to embed real time applications anywhere to pervasively engage end users.
Mark Pugerude, Pres. of Global Sales, providing first-hand examples of how they're leveraging the cloud and WebRTC. This wasn't the first time we would hear about voice-based applications that effectively engage customers without the need for a phone number. He cited fring and uReach as partners that allow companies to do customer transactions without the need to speak with a live agent. A lot can get done now with messaging to initiate processes and automate workflows, all self-managed by the customer.
B.G. Kumar, Chief Product Officer, talking about NFV and SDN. This is a big theme among carrier-focused vendors, and he did a good job connecting the dots, explaining how these moves are not just a Capex reduction play, but also a time-to-market driver. That's what carriers need now, whether to compete against OTT players, or to launch their own white-label OTT offers to retain customers.

BT Technology's CEO, Clive Selley. He did a great job explaining how BT is acting on what B.G. Kumar was talking about. Was great to hear how a Tier 1 carrier is responding to the likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc., and it sure looks like they've done their homework. I particularly liked his example of BT Sport, where they've really leveraged technology to create a superior viewing experience. 
Aside from the World Cup just getting underway, the focus is to show how you can differentiate from the competition via a network that can deliver an immersive experience with "killer content". This applies particularly well to live sports - aside from being appointment-viewing that keep subscribers glued to your network, it's also content that a lot of people are willing to pay for. You can't ask for anything more. Being in Canada, this is exactly what Rogers Cable just did by buying up the rights to the entire NHL calendar, guaranteeing them a locked-in audience that is happy to watch hockey 24/7. Good move.

Jonathan Chambers, Chief, Office of Strategic Planning and Policy Analysis at the FCC
I'm using his photo down below from the Genband website as I didn't end up taking one. Kinda appropriate considering Jonathan didn't use any slides. No smoke, no THX sound effects, no race car video clips, nada. Just talking, with some very heartfelt comments about where public policy and good government fits into the winner-take-all mentality that drives the tech sector.
There couldn't have possibly been any less sizzle to his talk, but it resonated for me more than anything else at the conference. It's easy to forget that monopolies can be a good thing, especially when they serve the public good, raise everyone's quality of life, and are guided by responsible regulation. This may sound like heresy to today's youth who expect so many things to be free and on their terms. 
If you're old enough to remember rotary phones, you'll know that the Bell System was more than a phone service. The White and Yellow Pages were probably the most often-used books in people's homes, and 911 was literally a lifeline you depended on when needed. Sure, it's a bygone era, but the landline was the social fabric that tied us together - everybody.
Jonathan Chambers delivered a strong, populist message about the need to include everybody in this brave new world, where it's all about me. Today, we're free to pick and choose telephony services like any other consumer product - it's just another application in our digital lives, and if we don't like the service or find a better deal online, see ya.
Well, we're not all digital natives or tech-savvyy Millennials who pretty much cease to function if separated from their smartphone for 5 minutes. What about the elderly, what about the disabled, what about the poor? Basic communication is even more important for these people, and they're in danger of being left behind. 
This was Jonathan's "big ask". Regulators can only do so much, and his appeal was to consider the needs of these people - these citizens (not subscribers) - when bringing cool technologies to market. There's a greater good that can be served here by Open Source, WebRTC, the cloud, etc. in terms of delivering affordable and accessible forms of communication. 
As he rightly noted, "libraries are more than just bookshelves" - they are social spaces that many people depend on for free Internet access. We don't read books like we used to, and the role of libraries is changing, making them ripe for innovation with the kind of technologies we heard about at Perspectives. We also heard a lot about the importance of "communities", especially when trying to monetize things like OTT, and libraries serve communities in different but equally valid ways. It's all about your perspective, right? :-)  Well done, Mr. Chambers.
Nayaki Nayyar, SVP, Cloud for Customer Engagement at SAP. Great presentation talking about what customer engagement means in the digital economy. Really compelling examples for using multichannel applications that draw a composite picture of your customer, pretty much in real time. If anyone can do this, it's SAP, so this is a good partner for Genband. 
This may have been news to the audience, but her talk was largely a replay of a webinar I did back in January with an SAP partner and customer, titled "In Search of the Holy Grail". I don't have access to Nayaki's slides, but we covered most of her messaging during the webinar, and I can get you our presentation - all you have to do is ask. :-)

Prof. Gary Hamel - the marquee speaker, talking about how our long-standing hierarchical management model just doesn't work in today's world. His main message was the turbulence in our tech-driven world is changing faster that the ability for organziations to show resilience and adapt. He attributes this to the top-down, command-and-control corporate model, and there's definitely truth to that. Good food for thought here, and he cited familiar attributes needed to get with the program, such as having a meritocracy, being open, community-focused, and most of all, being open to experimentation. If this sounds like the Web, you're right, and that's exactly his point. Very engaging guy, but he never stopped pacing around the stage and talking as if we were all wearing headphones. Intense, but he knows of what he speaks.

Day 2, starting off with Roy Timor-Rousso, CEO of Genband fring. Given how the world is unfolding lately, this is looking like a very good pickup for Genband. Yet another Israeli startup-made-good, Roy did a great job laying out the business case for OTT. With lots of carriers in the audience, I liked hearing him say that for them, OTT is a matter of when, not if. It's easy to be in denial about something that is hard to monetize, but he showed the big picture adoption trends, along with some real-life examples of how OTTs really can add value. 
The key is to find a vertical niche where specific applications make total sense. He identified five such markets, with prime examples being expat communities and university/student campuses. The key is for the carrier to offer services/applications that are customized for specific customer set. With fring, all they have to do is bring it to their subscribers - let fring white label the offering and take care of all the complexity. Under the Genband umbrella, fring can do that, and it's really a win-win strategy.

CMO Brad Bush going deep on WebRTC. He hinted at loving WebRTC so much, he has a tattoo, but that sounds like an urban myth to me. :-)

Brad hosting a panel on OTT and WebRTC. Good views here, best summed up by TMC's Rich Tehrani. His call to action was that "we have to start thinking like an industry - we're all competing with Facebook". I totally agree, and it echoes Clive Selley's comments about how disruptive and innovative outside players like Facebook have been for everyone entrenched in the comms market.

Pretty sure this was from the LiveOps preso. Another strong partner for Genband, but I just thought this photo looked kinda cool. Not quite a message in a bottle, but close. Plus, if you read the rest of this post and check out my YouTube video clips down below, you'll know exactly why this photo is here. I just want to see how much you're paying attention! :-)

Fun time - Cheap Trick - really! They played at HOB - House of Blues at Universal Studios. Pretty surreal spot for a retro show like this, but it's always fun to feel 25 again.
If you like party bands and this type of vibe, you'll love this post of mine from 2006. If you were around then, you'll remember the VON days. This was THE event in VoIP, and nobody threw bigger and better parties than Jeff Pulver. My post was from Jeff's HOB party in Chicago during Globalcomm, with the-best-cover-band-on-the-planet, the Herding Cats doing their usual VON gig. If you don't believe me, check out the photos and video clips from my post. If you've seen a better band - except maybe the SIPtones - I wanna hear about it!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Best in Biz Awards - am judging again this year

Back late last night from Genband's Perspectives conference in Orlando - takeaways post and pix coming tomorrow.

That's it for biz travel til the Fall - I hope! It's been 5 events in the last 7 weeks, and 7 in the last 10, so I'm conferenced-out for now. Time to stay local while the sun is shining. I already have 4 R&R trips happening this summer, but you'll have to ask me about those - I don't share my private life online.

Couldn't get any blogging done during Genband, but here's a quick item to share. For the past couple of years, I've been invited to judge by Best in Biz Awards International for various categories. This year, I've been asked to judge entries for the 2014 Most Innovative International Company category. That's a mouthful, and I just received the company profiles, so it's time to get to work on these.

Am not sure when the winners will be announced, but I'll post updates as needed. Otherwise, feel free to follow things directly on their twitter feed: @bestinbizawards.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Interactions 2014 - PureCloud, Millennials, Boulders, Football and the SIPtones!

As conferences go in the collab/communications space, Interactions 2014 is right up there. I stayed til Wednesday afternoon, and wish I could have been there til the end. During that time, though, I saw plenty to confirm that Interactive Intelligence is living up to their tagline for being Deliberately Innovative.

I'm just going to share some high level takeaways here, and will likely drill down further on some themes next week elsewhere. There's a lot to like about ININ, and not much to dislike. Maybe I could rag on about the weather we had, but otherwise, this company has a pretty good handle on its destiny.

I have a lot of notes, but am not going to do a data dump here. I'll do my best to distill my thoughts into 2 basic takeaways.

1. Great growth story.

This is always easier to tell with a public company, and we saw lots of metrics to validate their performance. ININ would be a great target for a company with deep pockets looking to become an overnight force in the contact center space, but Don Brown is a very sharp guy. He's got a good thing going in Indy, including an I-could-work-here-forever culture that's pretty rare these days. Anyhow, it's great to hear about a company in this space with no debt, nice profits, strong margins, $105 million in the bank, and a 25% revenue CAGR since 2010.

That aside, their rapid growth for cloud-based deployments is hurting their stock price - but over time, this will even out. It's pretty clear that those who migrate to the cloud intelligently will be the winners, and ININ is definitely on the leading edge here. Problem is that you trade the up-front revenue from a premise-based sale to the annuity model of smaller but ongoing payments from customers. That's going to result in a smaller CAGR, but a more viable future. Wall Street doesn't quite follow this logic since they live quarter to quarter. Have faith, folks - I'll take this scenario over most any of their competitors, public or private. Is the recent dip a good time to buy ININ? I'm not a financial analyst, but it looks that way to me.

2. PureCloud is a big bet, but with a big upside.

This was the "big news" of the conference, and if you've been following the online coverage, you'll know by now what this is about. Basically, Don Brown looked at Amazon Web Services, and said, hey, why don't we use that model for the contact center? I think he's exactly right, and while I'm not a Web guru, I understand the basic concept of ELB - elastic load balancing. As Don explained, if this works so well for Netflix - which it does - imagine what it could do for ININ. From what I know, AWS is tops at being scalable and economical, and there's really no benefit for ININ to do this in-house.

Like any mid-tier player trying to beat the top tier guys, you have to have the right solution to win the Tier 1 business, and PureCloud gives them a great shot at doing so. More importantly, ININ understands how the cloud is changing everything - the business value of physical infrastructure and solutions/applications is going in different directions. Anyone can partner with AWS, but nobody quite has the contact center tools that ININ does. Once the end customer is ready for the cloud, they really don't care whether the data centers are ININ's or AWS's - they just want it to work and deliver on the product promise.

Another "aha" for PureCloud is that it's not a contact center solution. It's a cloud solution with a contact center module, but also does social media, directory, telephony, UC and add-ons like document management and WFM. Clearly, many of their customers are interested in doing more than contact center with ININ, and PureCloud is a great delivery platform to support a more complete offering. It's not a big leap now to see how ININ can truly go head-to-head with Cisco, Avaya, Unify, et al - how's that for stirring the pot?

Downside? Well, for contact center, PureCloud isn't much different from CaaS in terms of features. The architecture, however, is very different, and this will take some explaining. Pushing CaaS customers further into the cloud may be a hard sell - both for end customers and their channel partners. We heard how only 10% of the cloud business is through channels, but that level is now rising. Still, they have a lot of work to do to find the right channel partners and get them up to speed. This also means cannibalizing some CaaS business, so there's a bit of risk there. Two other factors to consider - one is how well the broader market will view ININ as a partner for applications other than contact center. Second is the AWS relationship, which is essential for PureCloud's ultimate success.

Lots more to say, but we all have jobs and can't read blogs all day! I'll leave you with a few more quick thoughts along with these photos.

CMO/overall host Joe Staples setting/taking the stage. He provided some great data points showing just how much impact social media has on how we communicate and what that means for customer service. They get social, and the PureCloud demos nicely showed how it can make agents more effective. Joe also made similar cases for the impact of mobility and the cloud - and how ININ has factored these not just into current offerings, but also for what's coming - which we later saw during the red-hot technologies segment.
We also heard from keynoter Jay Baer, a very engaging digital marketing star, who shared lots of cool data points/factoids that jived with Joe's themes. One killer takeaway - "if your company sucks, social media isn't your biggest problem." Yup. Companies that shy away from social because they're afraid of getting photo-bombed, etc. aren't thinking this through. As we heard often, the upside of social will be greater than the downside - presuming you do things at least half-right. Apologies -Jay was so much fun to watch, I forgot to take his picture.

CEO Don Brown - he sure sets the tone for ININ's casual culture, but also one that's very open. No big egos here, and their execs are always accessible to us.

What a treat - Aron Ralston. I didn't know his name until Tuesday, but you know the movie - Between a Rock and a Hard Place. Well, that's him - prosthetic arm and all. Kinda tenuous connection to the contact center, but he did a credible job trying. Just an incredible story, and you should just go see the movie. He tells it with a lot of emotion and it sure kept the 2,000 or so in the audience damned still - not too much Facebooking going on then. Inspirational talks don't get much better than this, and for me, the main takeaway is that you have to learn to confront the boulders that trap you in life - learn to embrace them and not push them away. Hard to do - cost him his arm - but it gave him the right mindset to survive an otherwise certain death sentence deep in a valley that nobody ever stumbles across. Wow.

Wednesday morning was another highlight - a panel of Millennials, moderated by Joe Staples. Great idea - get some 20 somethings to talk directly to us about how they engage with technology and what customer service means to them. Biggest surprise - to hear about how little they use email - it's all about text and chat with them. Totally different communication regime, and yes, they live with their mobile devices 24/7. And yes, they shop online - a lot - almost no point in going to a store any more. I really don't understand why/how people buy things like shoes online, but hey, if the price is right...

The "All American Tailgate Party" at Lucas Oil Stadium. Well, the crowd was a bit sparse, but how often do you get to do this?

Or this? The fun for me was here later on Tuesday night. This is at the Slippery Noodle, Indy's top blues bar, and the SIPtones are in fine form. Left to right - Wayne Sos on bass, Stephen Leaden on drums, Rick Hathaway on saxes, and Mike Moszynski on guitar. 
I guested on a few songs - mostly keyboard, but also guitar, and it was all good. More photos will emerge soon, and hopefully some video - stay tuned.

Next Stop - Orlando and GENBAND

Barring any last minute developments, this should be my last business trip til the Fall, and I'm good with that. After next week, I'll have attended 8 industry events over a 10 week period. No mas!

Genband - or GENBAND to be proper - is another one of those vendors not afraid to try new things, and I'm good with that too. I've followed them for a while, and the company truly is a survivor with a long history of growing through acquisition. It's a hard way to build a growth story, but they're still here, going strong. Like many of their competitors, GENBAND has been reinventing themselves as fast as possible from legacy technology to software, and now to cloud.

Starting Monday, I'll be there to hear all about it, and am looking forward to re-connecting with the company, as I couldn't make their event last year. Perspectives14 will be in Orlando, and I'll  blog/tweet as time allows. My twitter handle is @arnoldjon, and you can follow the full event feed via their handle #GBP14.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Infographic - The Rise and Fall of Nortel

Well, here's a new way to tell an old story.

I do various forms of writing for Ziff Davis B2B, but you can also tell a story pretty well with pictures. Infographics have become a good canvas for that, especially since people are so saturated with content all day long. I worry that I'll be out of work if people can't be bothered to read anything longer than 140 characters, so best to go with what's working.

Recently, I wrote a series of posts for Ziff Davis about Nortel's demise, along with a well-attended webinar on the topic. Nortel still resonates with most people I know, so as a companion to all this writing and talking, they engaged me to develop a storyline outlining the company's rise and fall.

I put the pieces together a few weeks back, but graphics take a while to develop, and that's the downside compared to writing and posting on the spot. Anyhow, it was just posted the other day, and if you want an easy-on-the-eyes recap of Nortel's roller coaster rise and fall, here's the infographic.

Comments are welcome, and if you like what you see, tell them you want to see more infographics like this. My PR director will be grateful!

Monday, June 2, 2014

May Writing Roundup

Not as busy as April, but I still had plenty of writing on the go. Hopefully by now you're familiar with my monthly roundup post. The idea is to provide a digest of last month's posts that I think you will still enjoy reading.

I don't expect you to follow everything I write, so this is a one-stop-shop to get a high level sense of what I'm seeing in the UC/collaboration space. So, here you go...

Wanna Hangout? Can We Do UC There? May 28, UCStrategies portal

VoIP and UC - Know the Differences! May 23, Toolbox for IT portal

Metaswitch Forum 10 - Quick Thoughts May 15, my blog

What is Cisco Selling? It's not UC. May 13,  UCStrategies portal

Saving Money with VoIP - and Spending too May 12, Toolbox for IT portal

Personal Video and UC, Part 1 - What are you Afraid of? May issue, Internet Telephony Magazine

Ask Your UC Vendor - How Can You Make Me Successful? May 6, ADTRAN UC blog

Migrating to VoIP - What to Look for in a new Vendor May 6, Toolbox for IT portal

Migrating to VoIP - What's Your Starting Point? May 2, Toolbox for IT portal