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!

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