UC Innovation

UC Innovation

By Dave Michels April 18, 2013 Leave a Comment
UCStrategies Experts Podcast logo
UC Innovation by Dave Michels

Fresh from Enterprise Connect 2013, the UCStrategies Experts take a look at companies doing innovative things in the UC space. Dave Michels leads the discussion and is joined by Experts Jim Burton, Phil Edholm, Art Rosenberg, Jon Arnold, Marty Parker, and Blair Pleasant.

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Transcript for UC Innovation

Dave Michels: Hi, this is Dave Michels and welcome to the UCStrategies podcast. Today we’re going to talk about some interesting companies in the unified communications space. We’re going to be going through the roster here and see what companies people are watching and what you might expect in the next few years to come out of these companies. So with that, let me start off with Jim Burton. Jim, what companies have your eye right now?

Jim Burton: Well, let me start by qualifying the fact that the companies that I’m going to mention are all clients, so there’s a little bit of exposure there. But let me also qualify that nonetheless I think these are companies to watch, the companies will do great things over the next several years. I’m going to start with Dolby; we’ve actually done a podcast with them before. But Dolby has done a lot to innovate around conferencing and it’s very, very exciting what they’re doing. They have a very strong partnership with British Telecom to take this product and roll it out worldwide. And you can expect more innovation around audio in the enterprise from Dolby over the next few years. Those of us that were at Enterprise Connect got a demo, and it’s just remarkable; it’s just hard to believe that we haven’t had something like this and those of us that have used it can’t wait till we have it on a regular basis.

Another company I’ve been working with is NetSocket; they’re a very small company out of Texas and they announced a partnership with Microsoft back in the February timeframe and they have the ability to monitor what’s going on in a network, very cost effectively, and you’ll see things coming from them that unfortunately I can’t speak about at this point, that will be very, very innovative on how they can work with software defined networks, how they can go and manage some of these networks all automatically. And it’s going to be a huge step. There are also some other product areas that will be coming out of them; so NetSocket is the company to keep an eye on.

The third company I wanted to mention is IntelePeer, and IntelePeer for those that have been around for a while know that they’ve been in the SIP trucking space. But as they’re growing and expanding they’re looking at how they can provide hosted services. And while again another company I can’t spend a lot of time talking about because they’re still formulating their ideas; I can tell you that they’re somebody to watch as a potential hosted provider in this market space competing with all the big boys and competing with the other people that have been around for awhile. When you think about it they’ve got a drawing card right out of the gate because most of the stuff is delivered through trucking services that they’re providing already, and you layer on top of that some applications and some cloud services, they’ve got a lot to offer.

So I’m sure that one of my clients are going to be upset because I didn’t mention them, but I think that three is probably an appropriate number at this point so I’ll give it back to you Dave.

Dave Michels: Thanks, Jim. The Dolby stuff really is interesting, but they’ve only gone to market with one of their products with BT, the Dolby conferencing solutions, special audio conferencing. But they were doing sneak peaks at Enterprise Connect with something else they’re working on which is their conference room tabletop solution. And I have to say I’m really excited about that one. I never heard audio so good and so clear no matter where you were in the room. I’m anxious for them to bring that one to market.

Jim Burton: I’m with you – I agree, and they will be working with other partners in the long run but in the short term they partnered with BT and I believe that BT is going to pick up a lot of business along the way because of that relationship. And when people fully appreciate the value of that conferencing solution I think that there will be a lot of people jumping over to that platform.

Dave Michels: Very good. So Mr. Phil, what do you see going on right now that’s got your eye?

Phil Edholm: It’s an interesting time because there are a lot of exciting developments in the industry. We were actually talking just before this call about some of the things around SDN and working with between HP and Lync. And I think those are exciting because for the general UC market there are some exciting changes and things happening. But the only things I’ve been very focused on over the last year is WebRTC. I think WebRTC is obviously transformational. The change between communications being managed through servers to being essentially direct to the server that hosts the event, I think is going to be very dramatic and how it changes the communication landscape. And we’re beginning to see some companies that really are betting their future on WebRTC. I wanted to talk about a few of those and also because it’s a place where you can actually begin today to use WebRTC with Chrome and Mozilla in a real time environment and actually experience it. So really talk about this in about three different areas.

The first is there are a number of companies that are looking at WebRTC as a client, but two – there are two companies that have actually rolled that out, Drum and UberConference. In fact, if you go to UberConference today when you log into a conference and they have a – it’s a free conference, it’s audio at this point. What you actually can choose is to use your computer; if you do that actually is implemented through WebRTC and I’ve actually been using that for a number of conferences over the past few weeks and found the voice quality to be absolutely excellent. And again, it’s without a download, it’s device independent; you can use it on a system that has a browser that supports WebRTC.

Drum has done a similar thing. I don’t actively use that as much but again, I think it’s a place where you can try it. So what we’re beginning to see is this transition. That’s a pretty major point because if you stop and think about how much audio conferencing there is and if we took 20 or 30 or 40 or 50 percent of that and moved it from being on TDM circuits over to IP because now it’s easy to do for any device, just click and make it work, it could be pretty transformational. So a good way to experience that today, and anyone can go do that.

A second area I think that’s interesting is Priologic; they’ve done a lot of client development work for people like Cisco. They’ve actually rolled out a WebRTC set of libraries and capabilities that enable people to very rapidly put together a WebRTC application. They’re model actually is to let you do that quickly and then have hosting to manage some of the complexity of WebRTC and delivering a value solution. They’re a good company for people that are looking for some WebRTC tool kits to work with, etc.

The third area is video. I mean one of the things that is incredibly interesting about WebRTC from a video perspective is it actually enables video to be done where the pure video flows directly between the end points and the actual cost structures of managing the service are relatively low. Typically you can actually see costs for a year well under $1.00, maybe even well under a dime per user to actually provide a WebRTC video service because the media path is actually directly on the network. All you’re managing centrally are the web pages that actually deliver that value.

A couple places where you can experience WebRTC video. One that’s there today and one that’s still a bit in stealth mode, but one to look for and check over the next few weeks to see. The first is a company called Bistri. Bistri has a video product to market. They started actually with a Flash-based implementation but have now put in place the WebRTC-based implementation. Another one would be TenHands – also one to look at and try.

And then there’s another start up that’s called FACEmeeting that actually I’ve looked at. It’s actually the most solid WebRTC video I’ve seen to date. It’s not actually in the market yet, but something to look for in the next three or four weeks and a name to keep in mind.

So I think there are a lot of exciting things coming on and as we move over the next about two months and both the Mozilla Firefox and the Google Chrome browsers get to maturity in terms of their releases, this is going to be an exciting space and an exciting set of companies to watch. So Dave, back to you, some exciting things.

Dave Michels: It is exciting; I think WebRTC is really going to have a very disruptive impact on the unified communication space. I think I’ll jump in with some of the companies that I’ve been watching. I’m looking at my list of three companies here, and ironically they’re all in the video space. I think video is really going to be going through some big changes and really breaking out of the traditional meeting paradigm.

The first company I wanted to mention is one called Zoom, and I think these guys are basically picking up where WebEx I think left off. In fact, the CEO came from WebEx. Their tag line is “real life collaboration experiences,” and their product is called UMX or Unified Meeting Experience. And what they’ve done is they’ve combined your HD video sessions, your web meeting sessions and a very strong mobile client. In fact, the mobile client can even start the sessions or be the host of the conferences. They also have instant messaging as well. They’re only a few months old. I think they’re like nine months old or something like that and they’ve already got something like 2,000 business customers, have hosted some 200,000 meetings, and it’s pretty impressive what they’ve pulled off. What I find really interesting about these guys is they have this...it’s a cloud service and in fact they have a freemium model so you can try it out for free. I think you have unlimited one and one meetings and there are some restrictions around the group meetings. But even if you pay for it it’s like $10 a month; it’s not very expensive and they only charge for the people that can actually host a meeting.

But I think what’s really interesting about this is their hybrid model. They use the cloud service to authenticate the users, but the actual meetings and the actual content stays on premises – and the software that you can host in your own servers, and that solves a lot of security issues. And just one other point about these guys that I think is really interesting is that they have this multi-screen capability and I don’t understand why this isn’t more common, but most video conferences you have some content you’re looking at and you’ve also got the video stream and you have to fit that onto one monitor in most situations on most desk top clients. And most desk tops have two monitors these days or more. And so I like the idea that you can actually put the video on one monitor and the content on the other. Very interesting company, high quality video; I was impressed with that, very affordable and a very nice user interface.

A second company is Magor out of Canada, and they’re product is called Aerus. This one I learned about at Enterprise Connect; I was very impressed with it. They’re tag line is “Democratize visual collaboration,” and again it’s a video content sharing experience, but everyone is equal, there’s no ball to pass, each user has control over who and what they view. Everyone can share, you don’t have to re-set up a conference if you want to change who shares. Anyone can invite, anyone can control who can see them, in fact. It’s a point-to-point architecture so there’s no transcoding, no control servers, no infrastructure, no MCU. It comes bundled on hardware but it’s really a pure software play. And they do have a cloud angle to it as well which takes care of interop and WebRTC, making sure that Phil’s happy.

It’s very interesting because a lot of conferences are...you have to set them up, maybe a point-to-point, and then you want to add another user and you have to reset them up to go through the MCU. This is all fairly dynamic and fairly – I don’t know if dynamic is the word really – and they also have a very good integration with the iPad. I was really impressed with that.

The third company I wanted to mention is Vidtel. I’ve known Vidtel for a little while now because they were in the Innovation showcase last year in 2012 at Enterprise Connect, and I’m just am very impressed with how this company is blossoming. They had a very strong showing at the most recent Enterprise Connect, and they often get mentioned with BlueJeans. You know, people say Vidtel and BlueJeans ... almost like a standard term, but they’re very different than BlueJeans. And what I like about them is that they’re very channel focused, their global market is all around the channel. They have a very unique cloud gateway service, which allows Enterprises to reuse or use their existing equipment and infrastructure, their MCU, letting Vidtel take care of intraoperability and universal phone numbers or addresses etc. to get to your equipment. And then the third service, which is what they’re most known for is their hosted MCU service. They had a lot of partners in their booth this year showing their channel commitment.

A company called Aver, which has a low cost room system, less than $1,000. They had Compunetix doing MCU services and they had BurstPoint which does streaming and recording. They’re also expanding their go-to-market partners and Jim mentioned IntelePeer and ACT was also there.

So I think there’s a lot of opportunity for the UC premise vendors that are all adding point-to-point video; to partner with Vidtel I think that makes a logical play to me and I don’t think it makes sense to buy MCUs anymore. And just a last point about Vidtel is I see that I’m not the only fan of theirs; Frost and Sullivan just awarded them their 2012 entrepreneurial company of the year. So those are my firms, and I think video is really going to be an interesting space to follow.

Phil Edholm: Dave, this is Phil. I wanted to add a comment on the end of your comment about Magor. One of the things I found in talking with them, and it’s actually pretty exciting and one of the things I didn’t talk about was video generally. But what they’re doing is something that’s very different because it’s not just video conferencing; it’s actually the potential of video or vigilant information integrated with the business flow. You mentioned the comment about anybody can host it; it’s kind of democratic, but what that really allows you to do is take a visual piece of information, a visual video conference, someone with a problem that’s showing it on their hand-held device to a contact center agent and actually have that visual information follow a business process flow. And if you look back at a lot of the CEPB integrations, that visual information integration actually is very valuable. And I think that they’re really onto something there and I know some of the customers that they’re working with, some of their clients actually are really looking at that and how that can improve their business model. So I think they are an interesting company to watch and someone that, not on that unified collaboration, UC for collaboration for knowledge workers, but more on that information worker side may have a lot of value for companies to consider.

Dave Michels: Great - let’s move to Art.

Art Rosenberg: Thank you, Dave. As you well know my focus has been where’s the real big ROI going to come from, UC and IC, the contact center and customer services as being a prime candidate, and that’s changing very dramatically in terms of customer services moving more towards self service, which is one, cost effective and efficient, but it also is more beneficial to the end users who really don’t want to talk to somebody when they just want information or do a transaction that’s very simple. They don’t want to have to talk to somebody unless they do have a problem. So you want to have simplified, multi-modal self service applications with the option for click for assistance when you need it and even there you want some flexibility in terms of do you want to talk to them, do you want to chat with them, do you just want to send them a message and no big rush, they’ll get back to you? Whatever your situation is... And there have been a few companies that have been moving in that area – some of them are well known like Interactive Intelligence. Their move to the cloud is obviously helping that, but that’s also making it more democratic in a sense that they’re going after the small companies; it’s not just the larger organizations.

And there are some others that are ready have been doing it like EchoPass, and they are cloud-based hosted and managed contact center services. But then they’re now in a position to start emphasizing the new role of multi-modal mobile self service applications.

Voxeo, which you gave an award to at Enterprise Connect, is on my list as well and they started with IVR and I know the founder from way back; they are moving to multi-modal self services. And not just voice; and there’s one other one that just came up – Jacada – and I just actually sat in on a presentation and they’re trying to move the old IVR into making it visual. And what they’re doing is if you’ve got an investment in IVR already and all you want to do is upgrade it so that it can now be more visual, you can use your old infrastructure, either the software infrastructure which is VXML, and you can then convert it to being visual for like a smart phone. So the whole interface becomes visual; it’s not a voice menu, it’s a visual menu. The output is also visual and it all can be basically the same except it’s now much more efficient for the user; they don’t have to listen to things which may be difficult now. I had questions about what happens when people for whatever reason want to use voice commands because that’s another option, but they’re not into that yet. So basically they’re helping the move of interactive self service from IVR, existing IVR, making it real easy to move into a visual interface instead of voice. They still use a telephone connection but it’s a click to call, a directory kind of thing from your smart phone, but then it becomes a visual interface once you’re connected.

And then there’s always the option there as well which I just found out about, that was one of my questions, and what they do is that once you need assistance then you got the option of selecting what kind you want and they offer two kinds. Do you want to talk to somebody and have a voice connection, or do you want to chat with someone and have a visual connection? And that’s the customer’s choice. So anyway those are my highlights for the moment in that space.

Dave Michels: Thank you Art, you know it’s interesting we’re hitting cloud, video, WebRTC; we’re hitting all the buzz words – that’s good. And I’m glad you mentioned Voxeo Art, because Marty, who is going to be speaking next here, was part of that judging panel that selected Voxeo.

Art Rosenberg: I saw that. I happen to know them and I would have voted for them if I was there!

Dave Michels: The other thing about Voxeo, Art, is that people talk about the IVR space as if it’s mature and dead, but it’s obviously not and I think Voxeo is doing some great things but so are some other great companies in that space, AVST, Esna, a little company called HarQen. I think there’s a lot of activity going on in the IVR and messaging space, very interesting stuff. Thank you, Art.

Art Rosenberg: One last comment. It’s not just the inbound traditional IVR and so on. But with mobility it also expands the role of outbound notifications so you have for example, reminder messages and if something is detected that’s important, your bank account is overdrawn you better do something about it. So customer service is becoming much more two way because of mobility access.

Dave Michels: Marty, what are your thoughts on companies you’re keeping an eye on right now? 

Marty Parker: Thanks, Dave, for the opportunity to join you on this podcast. Several others had begun to touch on the theme of applications. And so I have been watching for the companies that are going to enable applications for communication because I think the growth has gone out of the desk set telephone business. I think the growth has gone out of selling station lines and user licenses. I think the growth in this industry will come from applications.

Sure, using more video is an application; I got it. But the things we have been hearing about have been in the areas where the communication media can become part of the workflow. I think Phil’s example was a good one of that.

So the two companies that have most come to my mind on this—one is young, one has been around for a while. Plivo—and Dave, you recognized them in the Innovation Showcase, again getting points for the Innovation Showcase here—you recognized them this year at Enterprise Connect 2013.

And the fabulous thing about Plivo is they have actually created a platform for applications. So if you decide you want to create an application, including WebRTC-capable applications for communications, they have done a marvelous job of setting up a platform where you or your developers or your VARs can just land on that platform. There you can start using any of the major API families that you might be familiar with, so different developer communities can find something comfortable for each of them on that Plivo platform.

The platform has all of the telephony integration already hooked up, so you want to connect SIP trunks off the Plivo platform and the cloud back to your premise PBXs, do that with a SIP trunk. You want to make calls to or receive calls from the public switch telephone network or of the cellular network, do that on the Plivo platform. You want to set up Web pages, host WebRTC and so forth, do it on the Plivo platform.

And they may talk about the kind of companies that are using them. I mean there are a number of companies that are already using the Plivo platform actually to build their businesses, just like companies are hosting businesses on say, the Amazon platform. These are building communication apps, businesses on top of the Plivo platform. Very, very impressive. So worth visiting them.

The other one I bring out is Thrupoint. Thrupoint has been around for a decade or more, actually more than that, providing systems integration services initially to the financial services business. But they saw the architecture of the Internet multimedia subsystems of the cellular world IMS and they became pretty skilled, actually masters, at that. They have platforms that they have in place, which they got both through development and acquisition, that allow them to provide a number of application capabilities to a business, and design, develop, integrate, and operate kind of through the value chain in a very flexible way. And they have gone well beyond the financial services world into the healthcare world and manufacturing and other general-purpose areas.

So I would say, big opportunity for companies like that who are going to specialize and are, like Thrupoint, already specializing in application development, so that the enterprise who says, “I need this now and I do not want to hire my own application staff because what happens when this project is done? How do I keep them busy? I do not want just want to be having to keep enough applications to keep everyone busy. I need the apps done when I need them and I need them on demand. I need them to be maintained and supported.” That is where a company like Thrupoint would come into focus.

Also, by the way, outside the application space I will just give a quick comment that NextPlane continues to impress me with their ability to provide a cloud-based federation service for essentially any brand of presence and instant messaging, including the click-to-communicate up into the media streams, audio/video media streams. So somebody to watch, I think, in the high-end federation space; but I will still come back to applications as the future of the business and the future of the industry. Thanks a lot.

Dave Michels: Thank you, Marty. Jon Arnold, how about yourself?

Jon Arnold: Thanks Dave, I echo your comments on Vidtel and I’m glad you brought that one up; I’m an advisor to them so I was a little hesitant to comment. But I did want to just add a passing mention on a couple. One was – it was just mentioned EsnaTech, also in the Toronto area. I just want to concur that they’ve been doing the desktop thing for a while now and they’ve had a pretty good focus on this space. And I just want to mention another one that ties into what Art was saying about mobile customer service and that’s Fonolo, which is based here in Toronto as well. I am an advisor to them as well but I’ll just put that aside for a second because they’re an example I think of a company that’s taken the right approach by reinventing themselves a few different times, but what I like about what they’re doing is they focus on a specific business problem in the contact center. And that’s, in their case, get rid of hold time. This whole idea of virtual queuing and tying into things that Art has been talking about of making the outbound calling experience much more at the fingertips at the agents now, where the customer doesn’t have to waste time, and so they’ve pioneered all this use of phone trees to really get into the deep dialing of all of the IVR systems and finding a way to automate these processes. So it’s kind of a narrow form of CEBP in a way, of bringing these processes back out to the customer without having to wait on hold and it saves time. Interestingly, yes for the customer, but more importantly for the contact center.

And again coming to Art’s point, the contact centers are looking for ways to cut down costs and they kind of stumbled into this by accident, but they discovered that this idea of cutting back all the hold time actually saves the contact centers a huge amount of money. So they’ve gone to market I think a good way by identifying a specific pain point that these guys have and working their way backwards to create a solution from scratch. And I think that’s a good way on a narrow basis to put a UC type of application in to work because it ties into the whole multi-channel experience that the contact centers have to live with now. So I think we’re going to see more of that kind of thing coming to market soon because they’ve proven that it works.

Dave Michels: I’m really glad you brought up Fonolo. We selected them in the Innovation Showcase at Enterprise Connect two years ago and then last year they picked up best of show when they were there in their own booth. I think they do some really interesting things.

I also love the idea of virtual queuing, and it’s interesting to me because it’s getting out of the call center, even. There’s a local ski shop here in Denver that has a big sale every year and they’re doing virtual queuing to get your boot fittings. Instead of waiting there for hours for the boot footer, you give them your cell text number and they give you like a 20-minute notice and then they tell you when it’s your turn. I think that makes so much more sense than standing there waiting in line. And in fact, the ski store told me that the customers end up shopping, so it really makes a lot of sense.

Jon Arnold: I just want to add Dave, by the way to your comment back to Vidtel for a second, you were commenting how they were different from BlueJeans and I think that’s an important thing to state here, too, because we here talk a lot about the channel issues, about getting UC and UC apps to market. And I think that’s one of the important distinctions there; I think with BlueJeans is that they’re totally channel focused and that eliminates conflicts of direct sales versus indirect and I think that’s a big issue for a lot of these guys getting to market. And I think that speaks to the role of the channel and how important they are for getting these smaller guys off the ground because none of these small companies we’ve talked about can really invest in a direct sales force. So how to bring that technology to market is one thing but the actual partnerships I think are just as important as the story that they’re trying to bring to market; how do you get people’s attention, and that’s why those channels have such a big role to play.

Dave Michels: Great points. Well, I want to get over to hear what Blair has to say; so Blair what kind of companies are you watching these days?

Blair Pleasant: Thanks, Dave. One company I have been following lately is eZuce. They are focusing on transforming enterprise communications from a hardware solution based on a lot of cumbersome equipment that does not have much flexibility, to solutions that are software-based, owned by IT, and delivered in the cloud. They say that they are a communications and collaboration company offering voice, video, IM conferencing, Web and social networking, but using a simple licensing structure based on perpetual seat licenses rather than more complex licensing structures.

Their product is hardware agnostic. It is built primarily as a cloud software solution, but it can be on premise, in a private cloud, or hosted in a public cloud. And it is based on open standards, so it does not have limitations as far as what it can integrate with. It can integrate with most any CRM or other type of application.

And the product is based on open SIP standards. And when I was at the SIPFoundry Conference last month, I got to meet with some of the developers who had been working on this and are very excited about what they can do with the product and some of the flexibility it offers.

Another company I have been talking to a lot lately is Fonality. They are one of the cloud data companies focused on this smaller end of the market. They deliver VoIP and UC business communications for small- and mid-sized businesses. And they can do this either in a public or a private cloud or as a hybrid premise solution. And that is really one of the ways that they are differentiating – with this hybrid type of approach.

They provide an all-in-one software communications solution that has enterprise features like multiple audio-attendance, voice mail to email, some ability functionality, and also UC tools like presence, secure chat, click to email, audio conferencing, desktop sharing and some other things.

And one thing that I really like about them is they have this really cool user interface that they call Hide or Heads-up display. And it is really one of the easiest and most intuitive user interfaces I have been using recently. That is one thing I like. And they have a pretty compelling solution.

There is also a WebRTC company – I mentioned them on a previous podcast – called Zingaya, and they provide a really simple way to embed click-to-connect capabilities on a website. And it is really for web and mobile developers to embed voice and video functionality with just a few lines of code.

I saw a demo recently where they show how easy it is to add click-to-connect capabilities to any website. And I think that can really be important for companies that do not necessarily have formal call centers, or want easy ways of letting their customers connect with informal contact center agents or just an easier way to connect with the company or with agents.

So obviously there are lots more companies that are out there we are following that are exciting; but these are three that are top of mine. So thanks a lot.

Dave Michels: Great, thank you Blair. So with that I think it’s time to wrap up the call and thank you everybody for participating and we’ll be back next week with yet another exciting podcast.


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