Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Next Stop - Mitel, Ft. Lauderdale

This has been my busiest travel month in a long time, and after this, I'll be home for a while. On Wednesday, I'm off early to Mitel Freedom 2011 - their annual partner/analyst event.

It sure has been an interesting year for Mitel, especially with Don Smith retiring. Am looking forward to meeting his successor, Rich McBee, and getting some in-depth updates on their roadmap, including virtualization. They've been out front on this one, and I'm keen to see how that's fitting into their Freedom initiative. Lots to catch up on, and I'll share what can here and on Twitter.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Connectivity Week - More Photos, Day 3

Yesterday was pretty full, starting with some VC perspectives and then a keynote from the CTO of the United States, Aneesh Chopra. Pretty heady way to start things off, and from there I've been keeping tabs on the wireless panels I put together for the conference. That run started with Ben Boyd's panel on FCC policy issues around wireless networks. He was followed by Berge Ayvazian and the lively public vs. private networks debate. If you weren't there, you missed a good one. The afternoon closed out with Kat Shoa and another big topic - critical communications infrastructure. I did several posts and tweets about Day 3, so I'll keep this short and share some photos. More to come with Day 4 highlights.

Silicon Valley business models roundtable, led by Chris Hickman

Aneesh Chopra, CTO of the United States

Ben Boyd's wireless policy panel

Berge Ayvazian and the public vs. private networks debate

Kat Shoa's critical communications infrastructure panel

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Zpryme’s New Energy Consumer Report Launched at Connectivity Week

It’s Day 3 here at Connectivity Week, and I’ll be busy running the sessions related to the role of wireless in the smart grid. This isn’t the kind of conference with a lot of news releases or product launches, but there was a launch that I think will be of interest to anyone in smart grid – either on the supply side or as a consumer.

Some of you know that I recently partnered with Zpryme to jointly produce smart grid research, and we launched our first report in March focused on the U.S. renewable energy market. We’d be happy to field your inquiries about this, but let’s come back to the news here.

Zpryme does first rate research, and yesterday their latest study was launched here at Connectivity Week. Not only is it an insightful barometer of what today’s “new energy consumer” looks like, but you can download the report at no cost. The research was underwritten by Itron, but the research is totally market-focused – no vendor pitches here.

To pique your interest, I just wanted to share a few highlights that caught my eye. There is so much to learn about what consumers really think about energy and everything around that, and I’m pretty sure you’ll have a few I-had-no-idea takeways here.

- The report provides a tangible connection between two variables that I think are highly related – the price of gas and electricity. With gas prices jumping so much lately, the research shows that 76.5% of the consumers are now more sensitive to energy prices. They also looked at a sub-set of the sample, which they call High Tech Users (HTUs), and among them, this sensitivity is notably higher – 92.2%.

- That said, there are several data points that show a true lack of knowledge and engagement around energy and smart grid issues:

-- 39.3% are not aware of what smart grid is
-- 48.2% are not interested in an EV- electric vehicle
-- 45.2% don’t know what type of electricity meter they have
-- 21% spend less than a minute reviewing their utility bills, and 48% spend less than 3 minutes - wow!

Clearly, utilities have a huge job ahead of them, and this report is a great resource to better understand what needs to be done.

- On the network and infrastructure side of things, the research also quantifies some promising growth prospects:

-- The U.S. smart grid communications network equipment market was $735M in 2010, and will grow to $1.6B by 2015 – that’s a healthy 17% CAGR

-- The mix of spending is roughly 65% for wired equipment, and 35% for wireless

-- Supporting the wireless opportunity, the research shows that 53.1% indicated that they would be comfortable with their utility working with a cellular provider such as AT&T, Sprint or Verizon.

There's plenty more to explore, and I encourage you to get the report and see for yourself. We all know the opportunity here is huge, but it won't happen unless you understand what's on the consumer's mind.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Connectivity Week - Takeaways so far and Photo Highlights

Am tweeting and blogging as time allows here at Connectivity Week. Sessions are well underway here, and so far, the program has been great. Yesterday we had a full day with Judith Schwartz's Consumer Symposium, followed later by a very engaging keynote from Geoffrey Moore (Crossing the Chasm), and provided broader context around how difficult it is for utilities to make the transformational moves related to smart grid.

This morning has been more of the same with an interactive panel focused on a major theme of the conference - defining the value proposition for smart grid. Lots of different views here, especially with speakers from India and Japan.

This was followed by a keynote from Mickey McManus of MAYA Design. His point of view was far more organic and was as thought-provoking as anything I've seen at eComm. In short, he posed the question for utilities regarding how they would manage all the information that would flood into their networks if smart grid was wildly successful. Phew. For guidance, he turned to nature, and gave a fascinating perspective as to how information is collected and managed for all life forms, including humans. You had to be here to connect the dots - I'm still trying to get my head around this.

Enough for now. I'm currently sitting in on the V2G - vehicle-to-grid panel. This is the kind of stuff that leads people like me to agree with the idea that EVs are the killer app for smart grid. Potentially, it has the biggest impact on home energy use, and is something most of us think about and use every day. As gas prices keep climbing, the EV storyline gets stronger. This session, however, is a good example of the practical challenges - storage, battery life, driving range, charging stations, reverse energy flows, regulations, auto maker priorities, etc. - that need to be coordinated and addressed before EV's can be mainstream. Bottom line - we need more pilots, and don't worry if some of them fail.

Judith's symposium and after panel

Mr. Clasma, Anto Budiardjo

Geoffrey Moore

Day 2 opening panel - the smart grid value proposition

Mickey McManus

Vehicle-to-grid session

Monday, May 23, 2011

Connectivity Week, Day 1 - Smart Meter Consumer Symposium

The Day 1 focus to this point at Connectivity Week has been smart meters. It's one of my favorite topics in this space, and I'll be moderating a panel about it later in the week. This day-long session is a consumer symposium exploring various facets around smart meters.

This symposium is really covering the gamut with speakers/experts from across the whole spectrum, including utilities and the press. It's a great way to explore a pretty touchy topic, especially here in California, where the biggest utility, Pacific Gas & Electric has come under a lot of fire for how they've handled their smart meter rollout.

Lots to explore here - issues of privacy, data security, consumer perceptions, health concerns, pricing issues, etc. Bottom line, consumers really don't understand what smart meters are and why they're being installed without much input from them. Can you blame them? Utilities are not customer-centric by nature, and there's a real disconnect between their motives for deploying smart grids, and why consumers should welcome them. The more you talk about this, the more issues come up, and it's quickly apparent that a lot of things need to go right for this to be a win-win.

In short, it's a trust issue. Consumers haven't had much reason to trust utilities, and so far, smart meter roll outs haven't done much to change that. On the other hand, when you have intelligent discussion happening - as we're having here - consumers definitely get it, and if you make them equal partners, the odds of success go way up. Privacy is definitely a bedrock issue, but it's confounding when you look at how readily people share private information when using social media. As such, there isn't a straight line path here - am sure it will be a lot of zigs and zags, but I think we will get there.

Enough for now - back to work...

Friday, May 20, 2011

Next Stop - Santa Clara and Connectivity Week

All next week, I'll be in sunny Santa Clara for Connectivity Week - whoo hoo! Sure will be a great show, and I'm happy to be part of it. I've been blogging and tweeting about it pretty regularly, and if want to see what I'll be doing out there, it's all in my post from earlier this week.

If you're out that way and want to get in touch, I'm not hard to find.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

UCStrategies Podcast - the Future for Service Providers

This week's UCStrategies podcast was about the future for service providers, especially incumbents. I've been keen on this topic for years, and still believe that the service provider of the future has yet to emerge.

Anyhow, Russell Bennett did a great job pulling this together, and I enjoyed being part of it. The podcast has just been uploaded to the UCS portal, and you can give it a listen any time. Enjoy!

Forecasting the Cloud - Q2 Edition of ETM Just Published

ETM - Enterprise Technology Management - is a quarterly publication with a global focus on IT trends and issues. The print version is a pretty high-end production, with lots of rich content, including contributions from the analyst community.

I write for them occasionally, and was invited to contribute to this issue, which is solely focused on the cloud. My article is one of the lead stories, and the online edition has just been published.

If you want to immerse yourself in the latest thinking on the cloud, you should download the Q2 issue now - and if you like what you see, you should subscribe to receive the print edition. You can access the download link from the Editor's welcome page here, and then take your time. It's a dense publication - over 130 pages - but they use 3D Issue, an eBook magazine platform, which makes for a great online reading experience. Would love to hear your thoughts!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Connectivity Week - Next Week - My Smart Meter Session

Those who follow me know that I continue to stay active in the smart grid space, and one way is by participating at Connectivity Week, which takes place next week in Santa Clara. It's a solid event, and I've been doing a few things to help spread the word.

I'll be there the full time, and will be most visible as the moderator for a session titled "AMI Consumer Backlash – Perceptions and Realities". It's a topic I'm quite keen on, and for anyone either currently using a smart meter in their home, or have been approached by their utility about it, you can't help but feel strongly one way or another.

It's pretty hard to be on the fence with smart meters, and it's one of the most contentious topics in smart grid. The topic will be pretty prominent during Connectivity Week, and I'm happy to be presiding over this panel, which should be a nice exclamation point at the end of the conference.

If this helps change your mind about coming to the conference, great! If you're attending, I just want to get this session on your radar, and hope you can join us. We have a great roster, and joining me will be Mark Toney of TURN, Ward Camp of Landis + Gyr, Larry Owens of Silicon Valley Power, and John Cooper of Ecomergence.

For more detail on our panel and the speakers, here's the synopsis. You'll be hard pressed to get a more complete perspective on the state of unrest from this group, and just for good measure, I'll add my take from a writeup I did on TMC's Smart Grid Portal a few months back.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Dimension Data - Brand Refresh

When you're busy, you're busy. During the Dimension Data event 2 weeks ago in Boston, part of the buzz was around their rebranding. I've commented about the event itself, but the branding refresh was under embargo until Tuesday of this week. Given my travels the past few days, this is my first chance to post about it.

To catch you up, the details are nicely spelled out in their press release from Tuesday.

During their event, we could see the new branding everywhere, but we just couldn't talk about it externally. I did, however take some photos, and here's one that shows the before and after.

As you can see, the color scheme is brighter and greener - a nice nod to global warming, etc. - which of course, is a big deal in the energy-intensive data center space. Also, the lettering has shifted to lower case, and everything is more rounded, even the around the points of the triangle in their logo. I'm not a design expert, but this does come off as a friendlier look, and reinforces their mantra about being customer-centric. Works for me.

If you haven't gotten your fill of DiData yet, I have one more thing to share with you. I just wrote up my views on where Unified Communications fits into their roadmap, and that was just published this afternoon on the UCStrategies portal.

Multichannel Contact Centers - More Options, but Challenging

My latest post for Exony is on the topic of multichannel contact centers. The premise is that multichannel affords more options for supporting customers, but has a lot of associated challenges to make it actually work. Some issues are obvious, but others are more subtle, and when you get a bit granular, a lot of interesting decision points come up around how best to manage things.

If that's of interest, I hope you'll read my analysis, which is running now on my column page on Exony's site. As always, comments are welcome.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Microsoft and Skype - Now THAT's Interesting!

MicroSkype? - clunky, but there's a fit here. I've been traveling, and haven't been able to comment on this news til now. It's too late for news, and you've probably read enough about this already, so I'll just add a few thoughts here. I should add that the UCStrategies group did a podcast on this yesterday, and while I missed that, it's ready now - here's the link.

Since I am behind the curve here, I'll at least point you to colleague Dave Michels, who had the scoop on this ahead of almost everyone - here's his take.

My turn - in short, it's good for Microsoft because...

- both have deep, global reach with consumers, with lots of ways to help each other's brands - two strong brands for very familiar products is a great foundation for growth - and don't forget about their stake in Facebook - interesting, no?

- they need a new hit for the consumer space - and just think about how well this could play with Xbox

- Skype is on track for $1 billion in revenues, so there's a nice financial impact right off the bat

- it's a great fit with Lync to help them succeed with in the business market as they shift from software to the world of apps, UC and the cloud - think about the collaboration and real time messaging possibilities with Windows, Office and Skype - both for enterprises and especially SMBs (where MSFT stumbled with Response Point)

- again, for the business market, Skype brings the critical voice piece that MSFT never really had - this will reduce their dependence on telecom vendors, and makes you wonder if they're seeing something in Skype that Avaya wouldn't/couldn't see

- they need to stay relevant in the mobile market, and with Skype's user base, this opens a lot of doors for disruptive mobile offerings - and just think how interesting this would become if they went on to acquire RIM

- it's affordable financially, but is probably their biggest acquisition to date

- they need to shake things up overall to keep pace with Google, Apple and Cisco - plus this keeps Skype away from them - MSFT can't match these companies now for coolness, and Skype's cachet can help this in hurry - it's a bit like free agency in sports - MSFT needs a power bat and Skype is the best option available today

- they need an infusion of innovation and out-of-the-box thinking, and that has been Skype's calling card - maybe not as much as in the early days, but the culture is still there

It's also good for Skype because...

- they get a partner/acquirer who can help them reach fuller potential in less time than staying independent

- not only do they have a stronger product set to integrate with, but a great user base (sans IBM Sametime and the Mac world), as well as established channels for distribution

- the pressure is off for an IPO (they are carrying a lot of debt, after all), and this is a nice, tidy exit for the investors and founders

- the pressure is off Avaya to find/create synergies with them - now both can go their separate ways, but could well meet again as competitors

There's SO much to be said about all these points, but time is short in my world right now, and I have to move on. Don't let that stop you from adding to the conversation - am always keen to hear your thoughts.

Oh, before signing off, this news took me to the Wayback Machine and my early days of blogging. There was a time, folks, when Skype and Apple sounded like a good idea - and back in 2005, I sure thought so! Imagine what could have been if Skapple happened, and add to that the iPhone world of today. Whoo wee...

What's the future for the desk phone?

That's a big question facing telecom vendors these days, and I've posted my views from time to time. Tech Target is a portal I write for occasionally, and they recently engaged me to write about this topic for their SearchUnifiedCommunications.com site.

If it's well received, I hope to be writing an expanded series of articles to further explore what the future may hold for desk phones. Ultimately, the readers will determine that, so all I can ask is for you to read the current article (registration may be required for full text, but it just takes a minute), and let them know if you'd like to see more!

Friday, May 6, 2011

ShoreTel - Doing Just Fine

Sometimes, it's really hard to blog about timely items, and the past week or so has been one of them. There have been some pretty good quarterly reports lately from companies I follow, but I just haven't been able to get to them. However, the stars have lined up to get to one of them, albeit a week or so late. No matter - I haven't posted about ShoreTel in a while, so they're due.

By nature, public companies have to share a lot of information, and for the line-by-line items, I'll steer you to the press release for their Q3 reporting from last week.

ShoreTel's fiscal Q3 lines up with the calendar Q1, so the results are pretty current. It's a good news story all around, and I just want to share my takeaways.

- It's always nice to hear about growth, but even better to the numbers on a chart! Revenues keep growing steadily - up 8% from their Q2, and an impressive 39% from Q3 2010.

- ShoreTel cracked the $50 million level in Q3 - $51.6, and are on track for hitting $200 million in annual sales. That's pretty decent.

- The other metrics are all trending stongly - gross margins, licenses, customer adds, etc. There's long been a knock on ShoreTel for not being profitable, but even there, they posted net income of $602,000. If they can stay in the black, the company will truly be firing on all cylinders.

- Not to be overlooked is $103 million in the bank with no long term debt, so really, how concerned should you be about the company, now that they're break-even or better?

- I think the market has already answered that question. Their stock is at a 52 week high, hovering around $11, with a spike of $1.52 after the earnings came out. Back in March, it was under $7, so there's a nice trend happening here.

- Business-wise, ShoreTel is showing results across all sizes of businesses. They've always had a strong SMB presence, but now, 31% of their 1.7 million end-user licenses are in 500+ employee businesses.

- International growth is looking good - another indicator of a company getting to the next level. Markets outside the U.S. account for 12% of revenues, including a 100% jump from last year up here in Canada.

- Market share is another important metric. Based on Synergy Research's data, ShoreTel has 6% of the U.S. enterprise telephony market. This may seem small, but 75% of the market is with either Cisco or Avaya/Nortel. So for the rest of us, Synergy's data indicates that ShoreTel hase the biggest slice of the pie. Actually, what's more interesting about this data is the trend for the big two. As of Q2 2009, they were pretty even - about 35% each. Since then, Cisco has trended up, and Avaya/Nortel down - Cisco is up on them 11 points now, at 43.4%. That's a big shift.

- Otherwise, there's lots of good news about new customers and product launches/developments. Of particular note are working relationships with Polycom and HP. Both will help them be more effective against the big guys, especially Cisco - plus, the added video pieces will strengthen their UC and collaboration stories.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Dimension Data Perspectives 2011 - Thoughts

Have been in Boston the past few days, taking part in this event. Dimension Data is doing a lot of things right, and that goes a long way to explain why NTT acquired them last year.

We got a good mix of executive roadmaps, customer insights and more focused breakout sessions. Overall, they gave the analysts a deeper understanding about their philosophy, culture and of course business strategy. They are very much a services business now, and have moved well past being a hardware reseller. There was a lot of talk about virtualization and the cloud, and based on what their customers are doing, this trend is very real. It's also much harder to do than it looks, and Dimension Data clearly has a good sense as to how they can help customers get there.

I really enjoy events where the execs are so accessible and comfortable sharing their plans with us. Being South-African, they also have an international viewpoint that's a nice change from the U.S.-based companies we spend so much time with. While we didn't hear that much about the NTT integration, they did explain the synergies, and it looks like this has been a good move for both parties.

I'll be writing up another piece about this event for the UCStrategies portal shortly, and that will naturally have more of a UC focus. Until then, I should add that Dimension Data shared their new branding with us, but it's not for public consumption until May 10. All I can say is that it looks good, but you'll have to wait a few days to see for yourself.