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UCStrategies' Dave Michels interviews Caleb Barlow of IBM following his keynote presentation at UC Summit 2011, held March 27-30 in La Jolla, CA. IBM is a Platinum sponsor of UC Summit 2011.
Also on UCStrategies.com about IBM's keynote: UC Summit 2011 - IBM Keynote, a video clip of Caleb Barlow's presentation.
Dave Michels: Hi, this is Dave Michels. I am at the UC Summit in La Jolla, California, with Caleb Barlow, Director of Unified Communications and Collaboration at IBM, specifically around Sametime, is that correct?
Caleb Barlow: Yeah, that is correct, Sametime being our flagship product in this space.
Dave Michels: Excellent. So let me ask you a few things about what you are hearing. This is conference season. I saw you at Lotusphere, I saw you at Enterprise Connect, and I see you here and you are meeting with lots of people. That’s a lot of conversations in a short amount of time, what are you hearing about Sametime?
Caleb Barlow: Well actually, it's interesting the travel schedule has actually been pretty crazy. I have done about 50 briefings in the last couple of months. The thing with Sametime that we’re really starting to hear from our customers and our partners is how we can start to articulate the intersection between unified communications and social business. And as you know Dave, we also have IBM Connections, which is our foray into social business and what we’re really starting to do is bring those two constructs together. Because at the end of the day, the things you do in social whether that is updating somebody’s Facebook wall, a tweet, or the internal equivalent on Connections, these are forms of communications, just like what you would have with a audio conference or video conference or a chat.
Dave Michels: Excellent. Now, at Lotusphere, it was just before the Super Bowl and you were getting some pretty good attention around a fairly significant win for Sametime and IBM with I think it was the Dallas Public Safety was using –
Caleb Barlow: Yes, it was actually the City of Fort Worth. So of course, they had a big event there – the Super Bowl. The challenge that they had and this was all delivered by an IBM business partner, called Unified Edge, was – you’ve got to bring all these different agencies together and you think about it, you’ve got FBI, you have local, state police, county, various EMS and fire agencies, and you have to get them all working together. And of course, they are all traditionally on different frequencies, different systems –
Dave Michels: You have a background in fire, don’t you?
Caleb Barlow: Yeah, I actually do. That is how I put myself through college, believe it or not.
Dave Michels: Excellent.
Caleb Barlow: So I understood this use case, but what is fascinating about this is they bring all these different agencies together, using Sametime so they can instant message, they can form a meeting on demand, but Unified Edge had the ability where they can actually broadcast on the radio frequencies that these various entities are using. So if the fire needs to talk to the sanitation workers, they’ve got a way to do that.
Dave Michels: Now, switching gears here, from the shift from voice to UC that you see occurring, how do you feel the role of the business partner can or should change?
Caleb Barlow: Well, there’s a lot of business partners that have their heritage, certainly on our side of the long collaboration, there’s a lot of business partners that maybe grew up selling Nortel switches that have their heritage in voice and with these two things coming together, there’s a new breed of business partner that is emerging—one that frankly understands both. We are actively out trying to identify and recruit these types of partners, because I think they are going to help us enable the communication systems of the future, where there is no difference between the desktop phone and the computer. And in fact, in many cases they may be one and the same. But that requires often some different skills, some different capabilities, and an ability to execute in the channel in a different way.
Dave Michels: Now, speaking of how roles are changing let me talk briefly about headsets. Do you see that the enterprise role around how enterprises manage headsets is changing or do you have an opinion around that?
Caleb Barlow: I’ve got some pretty big opinions on this. I think – one of the things that I have encouraged my teams to do and we’re pretty public about, is the need for a headset plan. Anytime you are deploying a voice solution – the headset is ultimately where the quality of that experience is going to start. What we certainly found internally in IBM as we put our own Sametime Unified Telephony product into production, is a good headset oftentimes provides a better experience than the traditional desktop phone. I will tell you personally, I unplugged my desktop phone and threw it in a drawer. I don’t need it anymore, because I get more capability out of a headset with a Softphone than I ever could out of a desktop phone.
Dave Michels: And I recall that there were actually a large number of headset vendors at Lotusphere, obviously Plantronics and Jabra were there, but there were a handful of others that I was surprised to see there. You have a significant partnership program?
Caleb Barlow: Yeah, Plantronics and Jabra are certainly leading the pack—but there are several others, and one of the things that I think is most interesting about what they have done is that they have actually thought through not just the headset being a microphone and a speaker, but they can do things in the software based on whether or not the headset is on your head, what types of interactions you have with the headset. So this becomes an extension of the software experience; not just a microphone and a speaker. And frankly, they’ve done full integrations into the Sametime product set.
Dave Michels: Actually that is a great cue there because you have a number of telephony voice partners that integrate with Sametime, but it seems that you treat them, or IBM treats them all the same. They are the same. They are either a partner or they are not a partner, but I have noticed that some of those partners have a far richer and deeper integration with Sametime, than some of the others and I was wondering, are you, is IBM going to create some sort of way for end users to understand the levels of integration, as opposed to just whether they are a Sametime partner or not?
Caleb Barlow: Honestly, Dave, I think that is a great piece of feedback, and something that I have been thinking a lot about. We integrate – you name a voice vendor – we integrate probably in some way, shape, or form or have some sort of interoperability statement. But as voice becomes more prevalent in new ways, particularly through the use of softphones or the fact that Sametime can now be your phone, we’ve really got to do a better job of articulating the differences between these vendors, their level of integration, and frankly also giving our customers some clues into which vendors to look at for different types of solutions.
Dave Michels: Along those same lines then, a lot of customers are looking at various forms of hosted solutions and Sametime is still largely associated with a premise-based – can you elaborate on can you mix and match premise Sametime with hosted voice or is IBM moving into hosting Sametime or can you talk a little bit about that?
Caleb Barlow: Great question, as well. And of course there are different variants of hosted, right? There is kind of your software as a service model, there is private and public clouds. We are actively and aggressively working in all of those different areas. You will see some of these stood up by our business partners; a great example is Meetrix that offers hosted Sametime and hosted SUT. In addition to that, LotusLive offers some of our capabilities. So this is a fine balancing act for us between enabling partners like Meetrix for some capabilities and some services, but also in some cases we will offer them ourselves on things like LotusLive or in our private cloud deployments.
Dave Michels: That’s great. Well thank you very much Caleb. I appreciate your time and we look forward to hearing more from IBM and Sametime.
Caleb Barlow: Thanks a lot Dave.
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