Thursday, March 31, 2016

What Millennials, Mobility and 5G Mean for UC - My Channel Partners Takeaways

I produced a series of spotlight profile posts for the GetVoIP blog around the recent Channel Partners conference, but I had more to say specifically about UC&C. That's what I focused on for my latest contribution to the UCStrategies portal.

As the title implies, these three factors all have an impact on where UC&C is heading, and when you mash them all together, it's pretty profound. I got a really good sense of that from a panel at Channel Partners comprised of Millennials, and moderated by Verizon. If you're willing to listen to the younger generation rather than dismiss them, you can learn a lot, and that's the tack I'm taking in this writeup.

We have lots of great content on the portal, and hopefully you'll read my post, and from there check out what my fellow UC Experts have to say. Sharing is encouraged as only, and if you share for me, I'll gladly share for you!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

ETS16 - Day 1 Quick Hits

Things are moving fast here at Zpryme's ETS16 - Energy Thought Summit - and I'm wearing a few hats. I've been producing a lot of thought leadership content in advance of the summit, and this morning, I hosted the first session - an Open Mic panel that was a lot of fun. Today I'm also doing a series of video interviews with industry execs, and these will turn up soon on the ETS Insights page.

Time is short, and for now I can only manage a few photos with brief commentary from yesterday, plus some late additions from the Open Mic session. Here we go...

Early start yesterday, with a tour of the power plant site, which was decommissioned a few years back, and has been totally reinvented as a different kind of community asset. Very impressive, and Austin is really leading way for integrating energy and the role of utilities into the fabric of everyday life in the digital age. Kind of ironic to see two letters below not illuminated - not sure if that's Austin humor, or nobody noticed these lights are out.  :-)
Another cool vibe about Austin is the arts scene. It's more than just a music town, and creativity is everywhere here. I believe it's actually a key part of the secret sauce that makes the tech startup scene here so dynamic. If that's not on your radar, it really should be. Check out what they've done with these huge metal tubes - as I understand things, it's part of how they cool the water when producing steam to drive the turbines. Not any more, and I love what they've done here. Perhaps it symbolizes a prison break, escaping from the legacy energy model, or more likely reinvention - for both the energy sector and repurposing an industrial site to something with great aesthetics. I'm reaching, but I also see the bodies of two guitars here, and that wouldn't be out of place in this town.
Another example of repurposing the site and 21st century urban renewal. Dormant cooling tower next to a high rise condo, making this a very hip neighborhood now.
Another part of the tour was to see what they're doing to promote alternate forms of transportation and energy - electric vehicles and e-bikes in particular. They're doing lots of leading-edge things in these areas, and here's a fast charging station, with a Nissan Leaf with the lid flipped up for charging.

Nothing really radical here, but I really like how the charger has the look and feel of the pumps we all use at gas stations. I asked about this, and they are in fact, looking at partnerships with gas stations to put in some chargers, even one that serves BBQ. Why not? Fast chargers only take about 20 minutes, so it's about the right amout of time to get a bite to eat and get back on the road.
Now, here's the interesting part for me. The experience of using an EV charger totally has the same look and feel as if being at a gas station. They didn't have to design it this way, but when you think about the activity you're trying moving people away from, it's much easier to do that when the user experience is so familiar.

If EV charging looked different - or weird as they say in Austin - or complex, people wouldn't use it so readily. The UC&C space is going through this now, and the vendors definitely get it, and that's really helping drive adoption. Great to see that here with energy, and when other points of contact in the home have the same thinking - smart meters, thermostats, home networks, etc. - that's going to make smart grid adoption move a lot faster.

Show time at the Paramount - they don't make 'em like this any more.
ETS President Drew Johnston welcoming everyone and setting the tone.
Dr. Thomas Wagner from NASA - great talk, more about that later - and some visual art happening in real time. I didn't catch the name of the illustrator, but over the course of the morning sessions, she created a visual narrative that captured the essence of what the speakers were sharing.
Voila! The finished product - very cool, huh? And, between sessions, there is a musical performer to serenade us - different ones each time. In this case, we had classical music. Loved it, but am not sure if she was playing a cello or a viola. Anyhow, I don't think you're going to see this mixing of arts, creativity and music - all acoustic, all live - at any other event. Again, you may call Austin weird, but it totally works for me, and really engages all the senses.
For star power, we had Dr. Vint Cerf, via remote connection. Too bad he couldn't be on stage, but it was great to hear his thoughts. The experience was just so-so, though, and Google Hangouts was probably not the ideal choice for such an esteemed speaker. That's another conversation, but I'm wearing my smart grid hat right now.
Finally, some me time. This was from today's 8am session, so it's really a bonus add-on for my Day 1 recap. I MC'd the Open Mic session, and I grabbed this photo that was posted on twitter earlier. Thanks for that! We had a full house, and was very happy to have a local pianist accompany us during the transitions from speaker to speaker. Maybe it's just an Austin thing, but it was a nice touch.
Here's the piano man, Adam Lozoya. Literally, he was discovered playing on the street the day before, and next thing you know he's at my session. Great guy, and nice of him to let me play a bit too - I can't not do that if there's a piano in the room. Here he is with Act II, performing outside the theater during our morning break. Gotta love the electric candles sticking up, and of course the tip hat. Man's gotta make a living!

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

UCS Podcast - Role of Customer Engagement in the Contact Center

Well, the role is definitely changing, and we don't talk about this enough, but that was the focus for our latest UCStrategies podcast. Blair Pleasant as usual, did a great job moderating, and we had a wide range of perspectives, covering both how technology is impacting the customer experience, along with how the relationship between buyers and sellers has evolved in today's digital world.

The podcast can be accessed here on the UCS site, and my comments start at the 7:33 mark.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Channel Partners Conference - Two More Posts: Vonage and Microsoft

At the recent Channel Partners conference in Las Vegas, I produced a series of posts for the blog. They were based on interviews I conducted with various executives from the companies being profiled, along with my own take on where each one fits into the shape-shifting world of UC and collaboration.

The first set of posts featured Nextiva and 8x8, along with my overall impressions of the event. Links to these can be found in my sumary post about them from last week.

Since then, the final two posts are now running on the GetVoIP blog - one featuring Vonage and one with Microsoft. The links to each are below, and while you're there, I encourage you to check out the other content on the GetVoIP blog, which covers more than just VoIP and UC.

Channel Partners Spotlight on Vonage - What Makes Them a Good Partner

Microsoft at Channel Partners - "We're Channel-Friendly"

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Energy Thought Summit, Austin - Final Shout-Out!

With this being a short week, I wanted to push another post out about Zpryme's ETS16, starting next Tuesday in Austin.

I've cited the back story regarding my involvement in the summit along with the smart grid space in general many times, and if you don't have that, here's a recent post about it.

I'll be flying to Austin on Monday, and if you're there, I won't be hard to find. As you may know, I've been writing a fair bit to support the summit, and my latest is a Q&A I did with Intel about the role IoT plays in how utilities evolve for 21st century needs.

Once you see that, my other posts won't be hard to find, and I'll continue blogging and tweeting throughout the event.

Oh, and if you're there, I'm hosting the Open Mic event bright and early on Wednesday at 8am!

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Channel Partners Conference - My Initial Posts

It's been a week now since the Channel Partners conference in Las Vegas, and while I've been doing a lot of writing since then, I haven't been doing much blogging. A big reason is that the writing I've been doing specifically around the conference is being published on the GetVoIP blog.

You may have come across these posts already, as myself and others have been sharing them on social media. If not, here are links to the first three posts of mine, all of which I think you'll find of interest. I've got two more coming, and will update this post when they run, hopefully by end of week.

Channel Partners Spotlight on Nextiva - Winning the Loose Balls!

8x8's State of Channel Program - My Exclusive Interview at CPExpo

Channel Partners Conference - First Take

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Next Stop - Channel Partners Conference, Las Vegas

Got a quick trip this week - going to Las Vegas later today for the Channel Partners Conference. Am doing things a bit differently this time around, as I'll be guest blogging about the event for I've contributed to their blog before, but this time I'll be providing updates there on the conference from an analyst's perspective. If you're at the conference, drop me a line, and if not, I hope you follow my posts.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Energy Thought Summit - My Q&A Interview Series

Slipping on my smart grid hat, as Community Advocate for the upcoming Energy Thought Summit in Austin, I have a few roles to play. One of them is developing thought leadership content to provide a preview of what to expect at ETS16. This has taken two basic forms, one of which I just completed, and now I've got a second track underway.

The first form is my four-part TECH series, where each article focused on a distinct theme that defines ETS16 - Transformation, Emergence, Convergence and Humans. Earlier this week, the final article was posted, and that's a good starting point if you'd like to explore the full series.

Just as the communications space has been radically disrupted the past 10 years, the same story is unfolding now in the energy sector, and that's why I've been involved here for several years. These posts will give you a pretty good idea of how technology has been a driving force for change across the entire energy value chain, and we still have a long way to go.

Now I'll get to the second form of thought leadership. Another way of understanding what's driving change is to hear first hand from across the ecosytem - the disruptors, the utilities being disrupted, and energy consumers. I've done this via a series of Q&A interviews that is still ongoing, and the first set was just posted this week, and links to each are provided below.

I'll add others as they're posted, and I hope you enjoy these. Who knows? Maybe it will be enough to get you to come join us in Austin, March 29-31.

S&C Electric - Energy Storage Opportunities
S&C Electric - Innovation and Collaboration for Energy
Allconnect - New Ways to Connect With Customers
Smart Grid Consumer Collaborative - Managing Customer Chaos

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Why Are We Still Using Desk Phones?

This is one of my favorite questions, and depending on your needs - and perhaps age - the answers will be very different. Neither is right/wrong - it's just that the realities of how we communicate have been constantly changing ever since VoIP came along. Those changes continue to come, and the idea that desk phones will disappear isn't so radical any more.

While that logic might lead to an inevitable conclusion, we're not there yet - far from it. The desk phone business is very much alive and well, and my latest Rethinking Communications column for TMCnet explores why that's the case and what you should consider in terms of what's really best for your employees. That should be a strong enough hook to get you over to their site, where my article is now running in the March 2016 digital edition of Internet Telephony Magazine.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Humans - Bringing the Personal Touch to Energy

That's the title of my fourth and final post in the "ETS16 Primer" series as a lead-up to the Energy Thought Summit later this month in Austin.

As you may know, this is part of my broader involvement in the smart grid space as well as this conference, both of which I do with Austin-based Zpryme Research. I've been posting updates here, with the most recent being about the third post in the Primer series.

The latest post looks at the importance of keeping humans central to how utilities go about modernizing their business. It's easy to think passively about energy as a commodity service, but humans are the ones building the smart grid, as well as being the consumers of what they produce.

Our world is much more connected and engaged today - hence my interest in smart grid coming from the UC/collab space - and the success of modernization efforts relies heavily on keeping the human touch. That's what this post touches on, and helps set the stage for ETS16. I hope you read it, and if you like it, I encourage you to read the earlier posts in the series, and maybe, just maybe you'll decide to join us in Austin, March 28-31.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Univago - Solving Video From the Cloud

Cloud-based video collaboration platforms are turning up across the spectrum of communications providers these days, and for good reason. Ease of use has improved, the quality of experience is now enterprise-grade, and cloud economics are making these offerings very attractive. All of this represents a big step forward from legacy, room-based systems, and now the power of video is accessible to everyone across an organization.
One of the keys to making video valuable as a collaboration tool is the ability to support ad hoc meetings. There will always be a need for formal, scheduled conferences, but today’s workplace is highly fluid, and what enterprises are really striving for is to provide applications that employees can use on their own, from any location, at any time and with any type of endpoint.
The cloud makes all this possible, and I’ve had a chance to review one of the latest entries, namely Univago from Yorktel. Pronounced Uni-vahgo, their cloud-based collaboration service was launched last October, and is one of many offerings Yorktel has developed as a managed services provider for the enterprise market.
User experience
My comments about the user experience will be brief since I don’t have intensive needs for platforms like this. That said, the user portal is intuitive, and the screens aren’t overly cluttered with options that tend to cut down the real estate that’s actually used for video. Overall, I’d say Univago has succeeded in making the process of collaborating fairly easy, right from starting a meeting, inviting people and then managing the session.
All the features you’d expect are there in terms of control functions -mute/unmute, show self view, full screen mode, etc. - selecting audio/video devices, content sharing, screen sharing, chat, etc. I particularly liked the feature for selecting bandwidth – not just to optimize the quality of experience, but also to help conserve power consumption. While Univago is very much built as a self-service platform, IT is accountable for the costs, so this is a subtle way to encourage end users to help keep that in check.
In terms of capacity, it’s worth noting that Univago can support HD meetings up to 30 people, and for a cloud-based service, this should suffice for most needs. I should also add that Univago can be customized, meaning that enterprises can use these meeting rooms as branding opportunities to show customers how tech-savvy they are. The same applies to service providers as well, so they could offer Univago on a branded basis to enterprise customers to differentiate themselves from competing carriers.
Joining a conference is quite easy, with three options that cover all the basic scenarios – via a browser, a phone or an endpoint. For browser access, Univago is optimized for Chrome, while other browsers may need a plug-in for initial use, and some certain features, such as desktop sharing are not yet supported. When calling in via mobile phone, Univago supports iOs and Android, and both require the Pexip Infinity Connect Desktop Client, which can be downloaded for free from their respective app stores.
These are fairly straightforward, but it’s the third option that enterprises will especially like. The “Endpoint” option allows participants to enter a Univago meeting room from existing video systems, either legacy or IP-based. While enterprises will already have some mix of such endpoints, in most cases, they’ll be able to use what they have to join Univago-hosted meetings. More importantly with Univago, they’ll be able to interoperate with each other – more on that later. Currently, Univago supports video endpoints and applications from Polycom, Cisco, Microsoft Lync 2010 and 2013, Lync Online via Office 365, Skype for Business, as well as the dominant video protocols, H.323 and SIP.
Another nice feature is the ability for users to have up to three separate rooms – URooms – so they can have saved settings and groups for regular meeting sessions. This makes it easy in cases where employees have back-to-back meetings with different groups or teams. Once these meetings are scheduled in the calendar, going from one to another just requires a few mouse clicks. Nothing needs to be customized or downloaded, allowing each meeting to start on time.
Notable points of difference
With so many hosted and WebRTC-based video conferencing/collaboration solutions out there, it’s hard to tell them apart. For everyday needs, they all perform similarly and have a comparable set of features. To be fair, the lines are getting blurry when focusing just on video conferencing for meetings, and then needing to compare that against full-fledged UC and/or collaboration platforms that incorporate video into their offerings. That’s a broader discussion for another time, and I’ll conclude by noting three aspects of Univago that stand out for me.
1.   Flexible deployment options
Univago is offered via three different models, two of which will be familiar. First is the pure play cloud model, where the service is hosted by Univago and accessed over the public Internet. This will be the most economic option, requiring no new infrastructure, but QoS can be impacted as scale increases or during periods where bandwidth demand is highly variable.
Second would be a private network scenario – namely MPLS – where the enterprise connects directly with the Univago cloud, bypassing the Internet entirely. Off-net users would still need to connect via the public Internet, so the attraction of this option may depend on where most employees will be working from. This option will be more expensive, but it scales better than the public Internet and IT has more control over QoS.
Third is a bit of a twist, in what Yorktel calls the “hybrid deployment”, where a Univago conference node resides onsite, behind the enterprise’s firewall. Off-net users still need to connect via the public Internet, but for everyone else – on-net users - this provides the most secure environment with highest quality experience possible. What makes this attractive is the ability for Univago to deliver a consistent experience for meeting participants from wherever they’re calling in.
For the enterprise, there’s a big benefit in that all the public Internet traffic is routed directly to another Univago node, hosted in Yorktel’s cloud. In fact, they have three data centers, one each in North America, EMEA and Asia, and each one hosts a Univago node. Wherever this traffic originates from, it is routed to the closest of these data centers, at which point, it establishes a direct connection with the Univago node on the customer’s location.
In short, this federated approach allows public Internet traffic to be vetted by Univago, only allowing authenticated participants past the enterprise firewall and into the meeting. Not only does this help keep customer bandwidth consumption down, and mitigates IT security risks, but with this distributed architecture, Univago can intelligently route calls, saving precious milliseconds in latency that can degrade a video session. There’s also a cost savings element for enterprises when participants use telephony for the audio portion of a conference. Since the nodes are regionalized, local toll free numbers can be used in place of a centralized system where all the calls dial in to the same number.
To date, this option is still in trials with some enterprise customers, so it’s not yet commercially deployed. However, I’m told interest has been keen, as it addresses some key challenges faced by distributed enterprises for supporting video with both onsite and offsite participants.
2.  Virtual gateway to bridge legacy and IP systems
The earlier issue of supporting proprietary systems and mixed protocols is addressed by their Enterprise Gateway service. This can be deployed either onsite or in the Univago cloud, but the result is the same - “any to any” interoperability. Yorktel believes Univago to be unique in this regard, whereby this service brings together all these disparate elements that usually create barriers for video conferencing – H.323, SIP, WebRTC and Skype for Business.
For enterprises struggling to do this, along with having a strong desire for a video solution that’s accessible to everyone, their virtual gateway will be a selling point. Another factor to consider here is that Univago is a full service partner. That means they’re more than just a conference bridge up in the cloud. If enterprises need support to get these elements working together, this is where Univago – and Yorktel – adds value that pure play cloud offerings cannot provide.

3.       Virtual receptionist
This is another feature that ensures only authenticated participants calling in off-net can join a Univago session hosted on the customer’s private network. Much like with audio conferencing, callers are prompted via IVR to enter their ID using DTMF tones to pass the “gatekeeper” and enter the meeting.
Since these calls will be Web-based, an IP address can be used as well, which only bona fide participants will have. Aside from making the process of joining a meeting more seamless, it keeps the spam out, which also helps optimize bandwidth consumption. It’s also worth noting that this feature represents another branding opportunity for enterprises, whereby callers can have a direct association with the company at every step of the way during their meeting experience.
All of the above comes with the offering – not separate, costly add-ons - so enterprises have a comprehensive solution in Univago, with a great deal of flexibility for deployment. There’s far more here than what purpose-built cloud video services offer, and compared to premise-based systems, Univago gives customers greater choice and control.
In essence, Univago is a PaaS offering that’s built for what enterprises need today when it comes to making video meetings and collaboration as easy to use a making a phone call. For enterprises looking for a vendor-agnostic partner, and don’t have the resources to manage a collaboration solution in-house, PaaS for cloud-based video is a viable approach. I’d keep watch on Univago, as their success will be a good indicator of the PaaS model as a driver to accelerate the use of video for collaboration.
Unlike most cloud-based services that are pure play video providers, I should add that Univago is one of several offerings from Yorktel, and being new, it’s almost like a startup venture inside the company. So, kudos to Yorktel for innovating around long-standing problems which enterprises really need to get solved. Collaboration is too strategic now, and with enterprises so decentralized, video simply has to work better, and that’s why Yorktel has come up with Univago.
Finally, from the buyer’s side, it’s worth noting that Univago can be purchased as a standalone offering – making it directly competitive with pure play video providers – but also in tandem with other Yorktel services. This would make sense where enterprises are looking for a full-service MSP to handle all their communications needs.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

February Writing Roundup

As you can see below, I had a good variety of writing last month. Aside from the regular mix of UC, collaboration, customer experience and VoIP, there are two things to note that are a bit outside the norm.

First, wearing my smart grid hat, I'm quite involved with the Energy Thought Summit, running end of March in Austin. I've been active in this space for some time, and one of my roles is to create thought leadership leading up to the summit. Last month, two posts in a four part series of mine ran - see below.

Second, if you just read one thing from this digest of posts, go to the very last one, which wasn't even written by me. Rather, it's by long-time Forbes writer David F. Carr, who wrote a great review of a panel I moderated on collaboration that he was a speaker on. I don't get cited in the mainstream business press very often, so this was very nice to see - and totally unexpected.

Otherwise, here's what else I was writing about last month to give you a sense of what I'm seeing in the communications market.

Ideal Scenarios for Cloud-Based UC, Feb. 25,

What Employees Will Not Like About VoIP, Feb. 23,

Vertical Communications - Can They Succeed Selling Direct?, Feb. 22, UCStrategies

Considering Unified Communications as a Service?, Feb. 18, TechTarget PRO+ Premium Content

Three Things Employees Will Love About VoIP, Feb. 15,

VoIP Deployment Mistakes to Watch For, Feb. 9,

Convergence - The Road Ahead When Transportation and Energy Merge, Feb. 9, ETS16 portal

Three Factors That Impact Audio Quality for Conferencing, Feb. 8,

Top Six Tips for Shaping the Customer Experience in 2016, Feb. 4, Enterprise Management 360

UC Analytics Must Mature Before Benefits can be Seen, Feb. 4, TechTarget

Emergence - New Players and Technologies Bring Utilities to the Innovation Game, Feb. 3, ETS16 portal

Honorable mention - I moderated a panel about collaboration in late January at ITExpo, and one of my speakers, who spoke on behalf of a vendor, is also a regular contributor for Forbes. He wrote an article about the session, with generous citations for me and the other panelists.

Are You Communicating or Collaborating?, February 2, Forbes, by David F. Carr