Tuesday, March 26, 2013

VON – 5 Years Later – the Day the Music Died?

Telecom was a late career move for me, so I don’t have the pedigree of people who cut their teeth on Lucent, Nortel, RBOCs, DSL, dial-up, etc. However, even I know that back then Cisco was a router company intruding on the PBX space, VoIP was a four-letter word that pretty much ruined AT&T, Nokia and Motorola ruled the cell phone market, RIM absolutely owned mobile email for business, Skype was a nonsense word and nobody even thought about Apple being a comms player.
The world sure is different now, and even a few years seems like a lifetime in a space that changes constantly. That’s actually been good for a latecomer like me, as I’ve already seen a few market cycles come and go, and with that, even I have some perspective. Memories can be short, and I’m certainly at a point where it’s easier to forget what just happened than to remember. For the younger crowd, it’s more about being in a constant state of overstimulation from the Web and all the screens that rule our digital lives. Most of it is noise to me and if you don’t have ADD, it’s like there’s something wrong with you. The machines are winning folks, but I’ll save that rant for another time.
Back to memory. Remember VON? Voice on the NetJeff Pulver and his once sprawling empire built around the disruption that came with VoIP? I’d like to say “of course you do”, but maybe not. Well, it was five years ago this week that VON crashed and was abruptly shuttered by the investors. Wow. Five years – soooo much has changed since then, and it’s hard to fathom now just how important VON was and how vital the community around it was.
There really was nothing like it, and I’ll be the first to say that Jeff almost single-handedly created a community that did far more than just attend conferences. I should add that he and everyone else in the VoIP space did this before we had social media, and we made it work just fine. More bluntly, I would say we didn’t need social media, and given today’s sensibilities, I’m not sure it would have been as effective if we had it. In my view, there’s a big difference between building a community and sharing a community – social media is great for the latter, but not so much for the former.
Jeff brought a passion that helped define VoIP from the dozens of startups he supported, right up to the FCC, whose policies determined which players would thrive or be doomed. Nobody had more fingers in the VoIP pie than Jeff, and through Pulvermedia he played all the angles, some better than others. Success is a funny thing, and there was no middle ground with VON – it was either the best thing that ever happened in VoIP or a necessary evil.
I’m in the former camp, and was a consultant briefly to Pulvermedia, so I had a pretty grounded view on how those times unfolded.  I’ll bet many of my readers are nodding and smiling now, as we all had fond memories of VON’s heyday.  Unless you were close to the realities of the conference business, it was a huge shock to hear the news back in 2008, which left a bad taste for many that I’m sure still lingers. Well, business is business and it’s often been said that Jeff is the only person who actually made money in VoIP, and even in today’s market that’s largely true.
Of course, Jeff knew this, and as quickly as he jumped into VoIP he jumped out. Actually, he did this earlier and came back, but when he left for good, it kind of signaled the end of a particular time. Jeff definitely had the VoIP mojo and he knew how to use it. Many of you have followed Jeff’s ventures since then, and while he seems happily ensconced in the social media world, it’s not the same on a few levels. He’s a smaller fish in a bigger sea, and the dynamics are quite different. Ironically – or perhaps presciently, social media has ended up having an impact on the conference business itself. Like everything else social media touches, the sharing experience ends up becoming more important than the community building experience, and people have fewer reasons to attend these events in person.
VON’s energy around VoIP was pretty special, and if you were there I’m sure you’d agree we don’t have anything comparable now. StartupCamp and for a time, eComm might be the closest things, but on a much smaller scale. Love him or not, looking back on VON’s demise in 2008 is a reminder of a time when the business was more fun. We all knew there was a great future of possibility ahead, and it was ours to shape – and a lot of you out there did just that.
Would this have happened without VON? Probably, but I’m sure you wouldn’t have wanted it any differently. I wasn’t around at the dawn of rock and roll, but for me VON’s demise was like the day the music died (if you need that explained, you’re probably way too young even for VON – just Google it – I know you know how to do that). Maybe more apt was Woodstock (ditto), which was the apex of the rock scene and youth culture, and after that it went downhill pretty fast. The music simply became a business, and was not nearly as fun or adventurous.
VoIP sure is getting like that, and it’s almost futile today to fight the bigs – Apple, Google, Microsoft, Cisco, etc. Today it’s really their world and we just live in it. Of course VoIP has now been supplanted by newer technologies, and others are on the way. They’ll all find their place in the IP communications pantheon, but the path just won’t be as much fun. The cloud is cool, but as Jeff says, “you can’t outsource fun”, and if you want to follow in his footsteps, you’d better not forget that. VON is gone, but I hope that spirit never goes away. Thanks Jeff!

Monday, March 25, 2013

UC and the Contact Center - Understanding Needs and Wants

Before becoming a telecom analyst, I used my MBA in Marketing in various ways, and before that I did undergrad studies in Social Psychology. Understanding needs and wants is about as ground zero as you can get in that field, and I think it can go a long way to making customer service better.

That's the kernal for a much longer discussion, but I got the ball rolling with my latest contribution to the UCStrategies portal. The main idea is that customer needs and wants are different things, and a great customer experience is more than just having an agent solve a problem in an efficient manner. It's really about communications, especially listening, and my view is that Unified Communications can really empower agents on that front.

What do you think? I'm sure you have an opinion, but do me favor - read my post first, and then share with us on the portal. Here's the link, and I hope to hear from you soon.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Know Your Alternatives Recap - State of UC in Canada

Last month was the 3rd Know Your Alternatives conference here in Toronto. There aren't many events with this focus in Canada, and it was a pretty  good barometer for how the market is taking for Unified Communications. In short, it has a ways to go, but heading in the right direction. If you're new to this event, my wrapup post is a good place to start.

I enjoyed the event - both as a speaker and attendee - and have been putting in my two cents with the KYA host, Emily Nielsen to make it bigger and even better next time around. Emily is definitely picking up the cues, and as with all events, the content is your best calling card.

Her team has just posted a series of short video clips highlighting key takeaways as well as interviews with various speakers. If you couldn't make the event, these are a good set of touchpoints for how the UC space is shaping up in Canada.

To set the stage, here's the event summary - it's just 3.5 minutes. You'll probably recognize the speakers - and even me - and if you have any comments about the event, Emily would love to hear from you. Even better, come join us next year!

Social Networking for Business - is it Just Social?

Here's a topic I'm sure your business is struggling with these days. If not, either nobody there uses social media - highly unlikely - or you've simply banned it outright - bad idea. Or, you've figured it out and have a healthy balance for both work and play use - but that's not the norm quite yet.

Wherever you're at on that spectrum, I think you'll enjoy my latest article for TMC's Internet Telephony magazine. This is part of my monthly column titled Rethinking Communications, and is now running in both the print and digital editions for March 2013. Here's the link to the article, and if you like to get your media in print form, let the folks at TMCnet know, and they'll be happy to add you to their mailing list.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

UCS Podcast - Surround Sound - Taking Voice up a Notch

It's Thursday, so this must be blog-post day. Apologies, but lately I seem to be posting only on Thursdays, but trust me, there's no big plan here. I really would like to be blogging more regularly, but projects and writing commitments are keeping my slate plenty full, and that's a good thing. For those of you who like my posts, I'll quickly reiterate that a lot of my work is publicly available. I share a lot of this via my tweets (@arnoldjon), but you can also follow my other posts from this page from my JAA website.

Enough about me - let's talk about this week's UCStrategies podcast, on which I was a participant. This one had a twist, as it was part product demo and part roundtable analysis. Joining us were representatives from Dolby Voice and BT Conferencing, and we got an advance look - or listen, really - at a conferencing solution they'll be showing off next week at Enterprise Connect in Orlando.

In short, Dolby is taking audio up a notch with Surround Sound spatial audio. It's a very cool experience that has its roots in the gaming world where these type of effects really matter. Dolby and BT have teamed up, believing this can really enhance the conferencing experience along with the quality of calls in the contact center. It's a bit abstract, but like seeing HD TV for the first time, you don't want to go back with spatial audio. We're all familiar with the shortcomings of audio conferencing, especially when everyone starts talking at once. So, there are definitely some problems that Surround Sound can address, but it's all about the experience, and to do that, you need a few things, including a headset that supports spatial audio.

You'll just have to take my word that it's good, and better than whatever you're using now. I did have some technical issues, but can vouch first hand for the experience. The next best thing you can do for now is to listen to the podcast, where I'm sure all your questions will be answered. We usually have a transcript to accompany the audio, but given the topic at hand, there really wasn't any point. If you're going to Enterprise Connect, this will be a great primer, and hopefully you'll get your own demo there next week. Until then, here's the link, and happy listening!

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Podcast - Remote Workers - is Yahoo Right?

Hot topic lately, and time will tell if old school work-at-your-desk policies will save Yahoo. Personally, I think remote working is great for certain types of people and situations, but for the masses, bad idea. Gee, can you tell that I work from home?

I could host my own podcast on that ornery topic, but you're much better served with a diversity of views, and that's exactly what come out on this week's UCStrategies podcast, moderated by Phil Edholm. We had voices on both sides of the issue, but the general sentiment was positive. As I noted, nothing drives the need for UC like remote working, so this shouldn't be surprising given our collective focus on this space.

While a lot of people talk about the merits of technology as a driver for remote working, it's all about trust to me. I don't care how many tools you throw at remote workers - some people are cut out for this, but a lot are not. Companies will get great productivity out of some employees from home, but if you're laissez faire about it, you end up on a slippery slope downhill. They work you, right? Not the other way around.

Enough rose-colored wishful thinking. Every business has its own comfort level with the leash they keep on employees, and that's the way it should be. Now its time to hear what everyone else thinks - here's the link, where you can also read the transcript if you don't have the time to listen to the podcast.