Thursday, February 28, 2013

Start Me Up Innovation Campaign - Calling Canadian Tech Entrepreneurs!

This marks Year 2 for the Start Me Up Innovation Campaign, an initiative run by Toronto-based Backbone magazine. I was cited in their current issue, and the pub is a great barometer for the domestic tech scene.

Their campaign is well-supported with private and public sector sponsors, and seeks to attract entries from startups with sales under $2 million. They're offering a range of prizes for winners, including seed capital, incubator space and professional services. Applications can be taken up til March 30, judging runs the first two weeks of April, and the pitch-off to produce the winners is on May 6.

Sounds like a good idea to me, but I'm not a startup, so I'll just put this out there for my followers. If you fit the bill and could use some industry cred, here's where you need to go next.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Backbone200 - Best of Canadian Tech

Been over a week since I last blogged, but the world is still intact, right? Paid work always trumps blogging, and business has been good lately, but I've got a window now for a quick post.

Backbone magazine does a nice job tracking the Canadian tech scene, and the current issue is especially noteworthy. This is their big state of the market overview, presented as a series of short "best" lists for a whole bunch of topics and trends. It's a great way to quickly gauge what's hot - people, companies, technologies, resources etc., and they compiled this by speaking to a lot of different people, including myself.

I commented mainly on the VoIP space, where I cited 5 vendors to watch - Avaya, Microsoft, Metaswitch, Mitel and ShoreTel. Pretty hard to do justice to this market with a sound byte, but am happy to take things further if anyone is interested.

Otherwise, this feature is an informative, breezy read, and without further ado, here's the link.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Microsoft Canada - Lync Updates

Yesterday I attended the first meeting of Microsoft Canada's Insiders of Lync group at their Toronto-area country HQ. I'm glad to be included in this group, which is made up of analysts, market researchers and IT consultants. While I like the moniker better as the name of an alt/indie band, it reflects this group as being an informal advisory body, and that's a good thing.
We were set up as end users with dummy employee profiles, and they spent the morning walking us through the various UC features and how they work in typical collaborative settings. Overall, it was a good way to experience Lync, and it set the stage for the Lync team to get to know us better. This will allow us to provide  ongoing  feedback on the Lync experience as well as their go-to-market plans.
As we tried the various applications, you can see how convenient it is to run all your applications from the desktop and from a single interface. No need to close out programs or switch to new programs - it's pretty seamless from the point of searching for who you want to contact, then through the various stages of contact and collaboration.
I've been writing about Lync recently on the VoIP News portal, and there were no surprises here. Ease of use is great, and so is the quality of experience - both voice and video were clear. It's easy to see how this could quickly become your default UC environment - all the apps are there and the integration is pretty smooth.
The big outlier, of course, is the phone and without dwelling on this too much, they made it easy to see that you wouldn't even miss it. As the first photo below shows, our basic setup included a simple desk phone, but we never needed to pick up the handset or use the keypad to dial. Old habits die hard, but with all the desktop options for reaching people being just a mouse click away, the concept of dialing a phone number will soon seem archaic.
To me, the key thing that drove this home was the discussion about peripherals, namely the Jabra headset and speakerphone, and the LifeCam line of webcams. Being Lync certified, they're fully plug and play, and being high quality devices, they enhance the overall Lync experience. Microsoft understands that to make people comfortable moving on from the PBX, you need more than just a notebook, which simply can't compete with audio quality. The Jabra endpoints make Lync feel like a more complete voice solution, and the LifeCams do the same for video. Without this, I think the notebook on its own becomes a weaker case for building a UC solution around. 
Time will tell, but I think Lync is on to a good thing, and we certainly heard some validation of that from the channel community, who ultimately must sell it. Pairing Lync with SIP trunking sounds like a pretty complete package, and shows just how far software has come to support communications.
I should also add that Skype was mentioned a few times, and is still a work in progress for the business market. As Lync federates with more customers, it will be easier to find ways to integrate Skype, and I think they'll eventually figure this out. There's certainly more to come, and I'll provide updates after our next get together.

Mark Hickson walking us through some demos

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Fierce eBook - SIP Trunking Benefits and Challenges

Well, there are many ways to get thought leadership out there, and here's one I haven't seen much of - the eBook. This idea is courtesy of Fierce Enterprise Communications, and is sponsored by Acme Packet, who has been making their own big news lately.

So, an eBook is longer than an article, about as long as a white paper, but arguably not as authoritative. Regardless, SIP trunking is a topic still needs explaining, and if you're still wondering what it can do for your business, you'll want to give this a read. Fierce does good work, and I was glad to be asked for commentary on a couple of sections of this eBook. I'm certainly not the only voice here, and I hope you give it a read, and more importantly, I hope you learn something new.

Here's the link to download the PDF - it just takes a minute, and if you can't get this to go for you, drop me a line and I'll get you a soft copy.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What Oracle's Acquisition of Acme Packet Means for UC and Telecom

Last week's news may have taken many by surprise, but when you look at where the communications landscape is going, seeing Acme Packet acquired by software giant Oracle isn't a big stretch to me. They are probably in the top 5 in terms of clout for shaping the IT/software/networking world, and it seems inevitable to me that communications will be subsumed there. The telco vendors have been losing control of their destiny ever since IP came into play, and as innovation continues to come from elsewhere, along with the rapid rise of the cloud, I just don't see that changing.

$1.7 billion is a lot of money to Acme Packet, but a minor investment for Oracle, so there should be nothing surprising about the economics. Oracle may not need 100% of Acme's SBC pieces right away, but their huge footprint with global Tier 1 carriers and solid enterprise customer base gives Oracle a ready ramp to support end-to-end IP applications. Acme's roots are in enabling voice over wireline networks, but the future is data applications over wireless networks, and they are ready for that as well as any other SBC vendor. This is the world that Oracle wants to be in as well, and pooling two dominant vendors only makes sense - so long as there's a shared vision and all the pieces can work together as a singular solution.

Time will tell, but until then, I think this marks a shift as to where telecom is heading, and while UC isn't the main story here, it will also be impacted. That's the focus of my current contribution for UCStrategies, and it's posted now on the portal. Even if you don't follow SBC's, I think there's an important message here for our broader space, and I'd love to hear your thoughts after you give this a read.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Know Your Alternatives Conference

Yesterday, I participated in the 3rd Know Your Alternatives event, which took place in downtown Toronto. I've written about the conference before, and attended last year as well. There just aren't many telecom events in Canada outside of the Canadian Telecom Summit, but that's a very different type of event.
This one is on a much smaller scale, but with many familiar faces. IT consultant Emily Nielsen runs the event, and hats off to her and team for doing such a good job and providing a forum for buyers and sellers to meet and maybe do some business.
In short, UC is gaining traction in Canada, but the market lags the U.S. for a few reasons. There's the oft-cited conservative nature of businesses here, and there is truth to that. We also have a less competition on the carrier front, and this tends to keep TDM going strong, with slow takeup for SIP trunking.
Over the course of the day, the sessions were focused on educating the market about the various aspects of UC, along with how various trends are making life harder for IT decision makers. There wasn't much about social media, but we heard lots about desktop video, BYOD, the cloud, multimedia in the contact center, mobile customer care, etc. For a one-day event, we covered a lot of ground, and hopefully IT attendees came away better prepared for the "alternatives" that KYA is trying to get across to the market.
Host Emily Nielsen welcoming the audience (apologies, lighting wasn't great for my smartphone camera)

Executive leadership panel, with Ross Pellizzari of Avaya, Rick Otway of Cisco, Tom Lang of Mitel, Kevin Gavin of ShoreTel, and Emily Nielsen as moderator

Our "Why VoIP Now?" session, with Emily and myself (photo courtesy of Rob Gowans)

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Collaboration - What it Means to Employees

Just a quick note to share my latest article running in TMCnet's Internet Telephony magazine. This is part of my regular monthly column titled Rethinking Communications, and the current article focuses on the value of collaboration to employees. My previous column looked at the value to the business, which has a different set of drivers.

Here's the link to the article, and as always, your feedback is welcome, along with suggestions for future topics.

Buying and Selling UC - My Webinar This Friday

Just a quick shout-out for my webinar this Friday at 2pm EST.

This continues a series I've been doing with Ziff Davis B2B, and this time we're moving up the value chain to focus on Unified Communications. The twist here is that rather than focus on the technology issues, I'll be talking about two different hats IT needs to wear when going down this road.

First regards the range of things that need to be done to make good buying decisions - which entails more than you might think. Second is the job of selling IT - not only must you convince management this is a good investment, but also to convince employees that it's a good idea to use UC.

There's plenty of ground to cover, and I hope you can join us. It just takes a minute to register, and you can also read more about the webinar here on the web page.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Know Your Alternatives - This Thursday, Toronto - Am Speaking There

Busy week! Just back from a great ITExpo event in sunny Miami, and on Thursday, I'm speaking at the Know Your Alternatives event here in chilly Toronto. Am also doing a webinar on UC on Friday, but I'll have a separate post about that.

So, the third Know Your Alternatives event is coming up fast - this Thursday at the Metro Convention Center, North Hall. First off - it's a solid event - I was there last year. We have very few telecom events up here, and the fact that this one is run by an IT consultant tells you just how different this space is from the U.S. KYA is only a day long, so it won't take up too much of your time. If you're local, it's not too late to register, and hopefully I'll see you there.

I'm speaking at 11:30 on Track #4 - Business. The session is titled "Why VoIP Now? End of Life Scenario Opens the Door to UC", and it's a fireside chat format. I'll speaking along with Emily Nielsen - she's the show organizer, as well as being President of her IT consulting firm. So, we'll be contrasting perspectives between an analyst and an IT consultant on the roadmap leading to UC.  We'll have lots of time for audience participation, so please come see us if you're attending!

Friday, February 1, 2013

ITExpo Highlights

Time sure flies, and that's not a good thing when the weather is sooo nice in Miami Beach. ITExpo is finishing up this afternoon, but I need to get on my way now. Guess I won't be winning the Jeep, but you can't have it all, right?

Seen a little of everything this time around - all the sessions and speakers I heard were quite good, but attendance was variable. I ran 3 panels - 2 were well attended, and 1 hardly at all. Video seems like the hot topic - those sessions were busy, as was Ingate's SIP Trunking program and Crossfire's M2M tracks. I'm not the only one feeling this way, and it's no reflection on the content - just a lot of demands on our time. Between visiting the show floor, catching keynotes, doing briefings, stepping outside for some sun, networking in the hallways and dropping in on sessions, there's a lot of ground to cover. This means attendance of your session has a lot to do with what else is going on at that time, and every conference has to deal with that.

Overall, TMC does a great job keeping things moving along, but I think the stress level would be lighter if there were fewer things to be running to. No time was wasted, and everything I saw was worth getting to - just wish I could have seen more.

With that, I have a highlight and a lowlight to share.

The highlight, as expected, was John Sculley's onstage interview during StartupCamp7. Larry Lisser has done a great job with this, and it always draws a full room. Quickly, the format is to have 4 startups do a 5 minute pitch, then take questions from an expert panel as well as the audience. There were two winners - the audience went with Verbalizeit, and the panel went with Thruview. I liked Thruview the best as well, but none really did that much for me. Seems like everybody is in the mobile apps business now, but they all face the same challenge of monetizing a cool idea. Enough from me on that - you can read up on all this on the Expo website.

Back to John Sculley. I didn't know much about him, but his story sure is a good one. I actually found his Pepsi experience more interesting than his time at Apple. Sometimes you have go way back to revisit ideas that really matter now, and he's a great example of that. Looks like he was the driving force that made Pepsi a major player based on a simple twist of marketing logic - "don't sell the product, sell the experience".

With so much commoditization in the communications space, this is probably the most important message to impart. If it could work with Pepsi, it sure can work with UC, video, social media, mobility, etc.  That's my big takeaway and highlight. When engineers run a company, it's all about the product; but when marketers are in charge, it's all about the experience. Ideally you want a balance, and that's why Steve Jobs was so successful. Obviously, it's hard to do, but it absolutely should be driving every company in our space.

Lowlight? Well, for me, it was my panel yesterday, which ended up having two speakers - BroadSoft and Metaswitch. How often does that ever happen? In headier times, this would have a been an SRO session, with everyone anxious to see how they would square off. Well, we played to a near empty room, so we ended up talking about more mundane things. Too bad - this could have been a very lively panel, but we were up against too many other things at that time, and that's the way it goes. Too bad. Maybe next time we'll be the headliners, and then we'll really have to be ready. I'm up for it!