Transcript for UC Summit 2013 Takeaways
Blair Pleasant: Hi, this is Blair Pleasant with my UCStrategies colleagues. We just got back from La Jolla, California. We had our fifth UC Summit last week and we all had a wonderful time. The UC Summit is a small, intimate event aimed at resellers and VARs, or what we call “solutions integrators,” and UC consultants. There were no end users at the event, so the vendors and attendees are free to be more open and discuss things without worrying about end users being there. There was lots of time for networking and interacting with peers and colleagues. And lots of wonderful food and wine, and just an all-in-all terrific event. We had three-and-a-half days of sessions, including keynotes, breakouts about UC technologies and trends. We heard from vendors, we heard from some of the participants, some of the UCStrategies people, and there was lots and lots of great information being shared by everybody.
So we are going to discuss some of the key takeaways and what we heard that was most interesting and relevant. Dave Michels, why don’t we start with you? What did you hear at the summit and what would you like to share?
Dave Michels: Thanks, Blair. The UC Summit is such an interesting event in my mind because you have the collection of both resellers and consultants and/or what we call the influencers or trusted advisors. And they have such different perspectives on the industry. It was reassuring that I think this year the summit was more upbeat; everybody seemed to be in a better mood. Sales were up, and people felt more optimistic about the space. There was not a whole lot of confusion around UC anymore. I think the vendors have largely agreed on what UC is and that seems to include presence, IM, video, as well of course voice. And that debate seems to have subsided down significantly.
Along those same lines, I think it is getting a little harder for the vendors to stand out. And I am personally getting a little bored now with some of the demonstrations that show things like making a call on an iPad, or being able to receive a call on a mobile device, things like that. It’s just not as compelling as it once was. And in that light, I find it interesting how, particularly among the dealers, there is such religion and loyalty to the different brands, and but the differences between the products are becoming less and less. So there is a little bit of a discrepancy there. And why is this particular product so much better than the others? The answers are becoming very similar. And I think it is going to be a big challenge for the vendors moving forward as they have to differentiate the products as the gaps are getting smaller.
Just to recap a couple of things that I was involved with in the presentation side, where together we presented what we call the Vendor Roundup. We went through pretty much every major vendor. We summarized their strengths and challenges and hit what was new in the past year. I do not know about you, Blair, but I really felt that that was kind of what I was just describing, the differences are getting much smaller.
And the other thing that really struck me was how much has happened. We had done that presentation the previous year, and so I thought we could just use the same deck and it would only take five minutes to prepare. But there has been a tremendous amount of change over the past year. I was really shocked when we put it all together, how much change had occurred.
Blair Pleasant: Yes, pretty much every vendor we covered introduced something having to do with cloud and mobility. I think almost every slide when we talked about what is new had something about cloud and mobility in there.
Dave Michels: Yeah, a lot of video as well; a lot of video solutions.
Blair Pleasant: Yes.
Dave Michels: Speaking of video, the UC Experts did a presentation on four key technologies that we thought were changing the landscape. They were mobile, which Mike Finneran I am sure will talk about in a moment; WebRTC, which Phil (Edholm) presented, which I still think is a little over-hyped, and then I presented both the shifts in the cloud and video opportunities. I think there are a lot of opportunities in both of those spaces, and I think the cloud is fundamentally changing the way the UC value proposition in the sense that it has become so complicated with all these different applications and the cloud is really changing that. Also, mobility is such a strong part of UC and the cloud solutions basically treat mobile the same as everything else. Mobile is not a second class citizen. So those changes are definitely occurring.
I also want to discuss some format changes. If you have been to the UC Summit before, there were some changes this year where we tried to separate out the audiences – the keynotes – we did not allow competitors in. We had some separate sessions for resellers and for consultants. I got mixed feedback on it; I will be curious to see what other people think about that. My biggest complaint was having to move all the time. I am like a Winnebago type camper, with my backpack and my laptop and everything. But I actually felt that the format probably worked for the better with the smaller venues and the more specialized audiences. I will be curious what other people have to say about that.
But those are my thoughts and I am sure I will have some more as I hear other people chime in with theirs.
Blair Pleasant: Okay, thanks Dave. I actually loved being able to move around and go from one room to another so I did not feel like I was just in one place all the time. That was my take on it. Jon Arnold, you did a presentation on Lync and we would like to hear about that, and also some of your key takeaways.
Jon Arnold: Kevin and I did the first presentation on Lync and as far as takeaways from that goal, I think the main thing that came out of that was some of the reaction to this whole CEBP reference that I made in the presentation. And I think I caused a lot of people to question whether we are focusing on the right things. I think that the whole CEBP thing is really important, and I was really just trying to raise it as a potential concern. Mainly because the direction where you see it going is beyond everyday communications. And it was just one of many things we were trying to address to say you have got to think about these things if you are going to take an all-Microsoft route.
So I think both Kevin and I felt that that kind of got people talking about a lot of things. Maybe more than we needed. But it certainly got people’s attention. And I think we were all wondering where to take that. But there are definitely camps on both sides about it, and it is an interesting topic. Yes, we probably could have spent more time overall in the event talking about elements of CEBP, but on the whole, I think we covered a fair bit of ground with the Microsoft presentation. I know Kevin will add to that. But the audience was pretty engaged in that and thought that was pretty good.
Regarding some of the other takeaways, I really agree with you and Dave in terms of the flavor of UC right now. A lot of similarity across the vendors, but compared to last year, we definitely can see how the value proposition has crystalized quite a bit. And I was really pleased to see in the vendor presentations how the compensation models are evolving to be a little bit more up front about how (reseller) companies are going to make money with this. Because that is clearly a lynchpin to get this going. So I thought that was really good; I think it shows some maturity of the space that, as Dave said, the value proposition is clearer now, how to sell it is clearer now.
But what I still think is missing is some of the end user applications that really make a difference. If you take all the similarities away from what all the vendors are talking about, you have to work hard I think at that, at the event to really see what might be standing out. And the two things that really caught my eye was the Avaya keynote where he talked about the issue of information overload, and how do we manage all of this communication, especially all the instant messaging, and all the real-time, text-based commentary that comes out of presence. That was the only thing that really jumped out to me as something new and different that says, you know what, all this UC stuff is wonderful, but human beings still have to use this stuff. And I think the vendors will start moving more – I hope they do – to some of the things that make the experience more meaningful for end users besides just communicating more efficiently. So I thought Avaya was onto something there with how to manage that information and that takes in that whole area of speech analytics, of big data analytics, this kind of thing.
And that is what drew me to Thinking Phone (Thinking Phone Networks); I thought they were one of the more innovative offerings out there, mainly because of that focus of speech analytics and how to take more control over what comes across the UC Environment. Because it really is just a bit of an open funnel; we are creating all these channels to bring more information into the workplace, but we are still very short on tools of how to actually manage it and use it effectively, both for the end users and of course, for the IT folks. And I think that is something we will probably see more of coming down the pike. And it also speaks of a lasting that keeps all of us busy as consultants and analysts, what is next.
So last year, as Dave mentioned, WebRTC was the big “what is next?” thing, and I think that is a good feature of this event that every year we touch on something that is new and emerging. Phil spoke to that towards the end with the SDN presentation. I think that is going to be a key thing to keep people coming back – to show what is ahead of the curve. And as long as we keep doing that, I think we will be adding value to the community.
Art Rosenberg: Jon, this is Art. I just want to make a comment about what you were describing in terms of overload. There was not too much being said or done about multi-modal message management, which I think is the next generation of unified messaging. It has got to be something that benefits everybody, not just the recipient of a message. But the overload in terms of all the different kinds of notices and the messages and the media and with mobility, it’s too much. And people need the tools to manage it. So I think that will be a great topic for next year.
Jon Arnold: Great, I agree.
Blair Pleasant: Kevin, what were some of your key takeaways and what did you hear during the event that you thought was important?
Kevin Kieller: Yes, thanks Blair. This was my first opportunity to attend the UC Summit, and I was thrilled to be there. It was certainly different than other conferences in that it is a much more smaller collection of people. Dave pointed out no end users, but VARs, resellers, solutions integrators, consultants, along with the vendors. So a lot more kind of deep and intimate conversations – which was terrific. And as I said, very different than other conferences. With Jon Arnold, I had the opportunity to kick off the first session which was “Lync: The Elephant in the Room.” And we talked about and tried to present a balanced look at how you can make money on selling Lync, or if you choose to sell against Lync, or having Lync be part of the solution. The audience in the room, we did a show of hands, and really it turned out that about 75-80 percent of the people who self-selected to attend that first session on Sunday, were interested in selling Lync. There was one gentleman who had decided that he was going to have nothing to do with Lync. But that was one out of many.
And really, that was what I saw – the interest in Lync. People have come up to me and they have started calling me Mr. Lync, which I am not sure if that is good or bad, but they could certainly could call me worse things, I imagine. But that interest in Lync just seemed to permeate throughout the sessions from the first one. And I think that people are looking to see if Lync is a good match for part of the solution. And if you look at it from my perspective, if you have Cisco, I mean Cisco has gone quite on the offensive in terms of positioning themselves against Lync, but I think that if you are a Cisco customer, that creates some curiosity. So if you have a tendency to look at Lync, the Cisco resellers, I think, at least wanted to understand some competition or potential competition. I think a lot of the people that represent some of the other traditional telecom platforms are looking to see if Lync can be integrated into it, so they were interested in Lync, or seeing if Lync can provide incremental revenue and incremental functionality to their customers.
And then of course, if you have deployed Lync for just instant messaging and presence, both Microsoft and HP, noted that there was something around 23,000,000 Lync voice client access licenses that were grandfathered to customers when Microsoft make some changes. And so there is 23,000,000 voice CALs that are out in customers hands, but only really 3,000,000 or 4,000,000 of those have been implemented.
Dave Michels: Kevin, on those grandfather licenses, that is just a temporary thing, is it not?
Kevin Kieller: Yes, absolutely, it expires; so that was where certainly Microsoft and HP were talking up the opportunity for resellers. I think it expires at the end of Microsoft’s fiscal year, I think it is actually not this June 1, but maybe next June 1. But there is a short time horizon where those voice CALs can be activated, and you know, Microsoft would like those to be activated because they have been kind of beaten up for selling these licenses that people did not take advantage of. So they are trying to create interest in the resellers and systems integrators and consultants and helping their customers implement those. So there is a time horizon, I cannot remember the exact date, but certainly, there was a lot of talk about that.
And then in the breakout sessions, I had the opportunity to attend the SMART session. They were showing off their Lync room system and there seemed to be a strong product that people are interested in. I was in the HP session and they, of course, were talking up their ability around HP networking combined with HP resellers and consultants, driving complete Lync solutions. And then of course, Microsoft was talking up Lync, and then there was Sonus and AudioCodes, who were providing some hardware around Lync. So for me, but granted the people that approached me probably saw me do the Lync session, but that was where most of the conversations were focused. And there seemed to be a very broad-based interest and better understanding of Lync. And I think to Dave’s point, the differences are really less and less between these solutions. And a number of vendors have strong solutions, so it does become more important about what is it specifically going to do to help my business? And I certainly think that some of the vendors should spend a little more time checking out their competition, because a lot of times they tout a feature as if it is brand new, but today’s point, the differences are disappearing. And most of the features, running yourself around an iPad or an iPhone or all the different permutations and combinations, pretty much everybody can do that now. And that has become table stakes.
But a great event, I was thrilled to be part of the UCStrategies team there.
Blair Pleasant: Thanks, Kevin, we were thrilled to have you there as well. Art, you, me and Don gave a presentation on contact center trends, and I talked about the use of social media in the contact center, you talked about mobility, and Don talked about UC and the content center. So can you talk a little bit about that session and also what you thought were some of the key takeaways that you had from the event.
Art Rosenberg: Sure, first of all, bringing the contact center as a key player in a UC environment was, I think, has been delayed and this was a good event to bring it into focus. And there are a number of things that present opportunities for implementation support from the VARs and the consultants and so on. The way I like to describe it is, it’s not employee BYOD but consumer BYOD, as they all become now mobile with smart phones and tablets. But there are two things that get affected. Number one, it expands the capabilities for self-services as opposed to necessarily requiring live assistance. But you still want to have self-service that is UC enabled in terms of click for assistance, and in any form that is appropriate. The other thing that mobility brings into play in the contact center, is outbound notifications. Whether it’s in health care notifying you about appointments, or notifying you about some situation that is time sensitive. And so all of a sudden, the contact center is not necessarily about people doing this thing, but automating it in the business process, and CEBP comes into the picture.
So all of that is very doable and very practical. The only thing is, it is complex and people cannot do it by themselves, companies cannot do it by themselves, their IT staff has no experience in this, and so the audience that we were addressing, the people who are going to have to be able to use the tools and help organizations exploit that. And so I thought that was good. Now I asked the question, I said how many of you are doing something in the area of today, of self service applications like with old IVR. And only a couple of hands went up. But in looking at the survey of the responses of the people interested in our session, it was a very significant percentage, over 50 percent, that said they felt this was a very important and useful discussion. So I see things starting to change in the future with the VARs and consultants in terms of implementing UC in the environment of the contact center, and also in particular with self-service application. So I think that’s very promising.
Blair Pleasant: Okay, thank you, Art. Michael Finneran, you were our Master of Ceremonies and you also gave several presentations on mobility. So assuming you still have your voice and can still talk, what were some of your key takeaways?
Michael Finneran: Well first, I don’t want to talk about my sessions; I want to talk about everyone else’s. Overall, I think it was a great meeting of the minds. This is a truly a unique event, and certainly you can see why everyone loves going. The second observation is, I went out of my way to spend time with system integrators. I know most of the vendors; I know all of the consultants, so I was going out of my way to make sure I talked to as many of the SI’s as I could, and I was extremely impressed. These guys are real businessmen and businesswomen, they know the products, they understand how to run a business, very open in sharing their thoughts. So I was impressed with the audience as much as what was on the stage.
In terms of the session, I think Kevin and Jon’s “Lync: The Elephant in the Room” was great, Phil’s too, the one on WebRTC. But I was much more interested in the one on SDN, because that is a real emerging topic, and very topical given the fact that HP is now demonstrating the ability to use or define session perimeters, identify Lync calls in an SDN format. I think that’s a major step. And also your’s Don, and Art’s on the contact center, although that’s really not in my wheelhouse. It is always good to hear what is going on.
In terms of the vendor sessions, I always like the focus sessions. I think the small intimate group lends to a lot more and freer exchange of ideas. Kevin Isaacs of Sonus did a great job. HP was a good, interactive session. They were asking us as many questions as they were telling us things. And of course Siemens did some great work as well.
In terms of the keynote, Marc Inderhees from Cisco did a swell job. He was hitting the same themes that Cisco hit at Enterprise Connect, which is the Internet of Things, which is interesting to me because most of those things won’t have wires going to them and in the mobility space, we refer to that as machine-to-machine or M-to-M communications.
The other one I really liked was David Chavez from Avaya. I got to talk to David for a while before we went home, we were sitting outside and trading stories. And it is funny, but Jon picked up his take on information overload and how to handle that, the part that really impressed me was the context. Because that is another is another area you talk about a lot about in mobility. Particularly, we talk about context, the sum total of what your customer tells you, and what you can learn from other sources, to better optimize the user experience. Whether it is situational information, time, location, speed, what’s in their calendar, preferences, what they’ve done before, attitudinal differences. So I think that context thing is big. We have certainly seen it to a degree, in UC offerings up to this point, but I think there is a ton more work that needs to be done there, particularly incorporating location information. I think that is one of the golden gems in UC. Very few of the vendors, well AVST has actually built that in their Atom system, but beyond them, we don’t see a whole lot of uptake on location. So all told, I had a great time, learned a ton, and got to spend some real quality time with some real quality minds. So back to you, Blair.
Blair Pleasant: Thanks, Michael. NEC did a really great job talking about their cloud offerings and especially about the compensation and how they are compensating their partners. They really did crack the code on that, and they are fortunate in that they have the NEC Financial Services to help them out in that area. So most of their competitors will not be able to follow and have similar compensation types of arrangements. But I think they did a really good job of explaining what they are doing in the cloud and how they are really helping partners. And there was a lot of good feedback on their session as well.
Steve Leaden, you also did a presentation and were at the event. And I think you were there all five years. What did you have to say about the event this year?
Steve Leaden: Thanks, Blair. It was an excellent conference. It was large enough to meet key management from the major manufacturer and development communities, and yet small enough to get quality time with channel partners and to get feedback on their opportunities and their challenges. From my perspective, this year’s conference really brought many of the manufacturers back who had been here before, including Siemens, Cisco, Avaya, NEC, Interactive Intelligence, AVST and others. And yet it brought some very interesting first-timers who really, from my perspective, indicate the changing landscape of unified communications and who is entering the space.
For example, gUnify was there providing third-party strong Google integration. IntelePeer came with their SIP Trunking offering and unique pricing models. Dolby came with their spatial audio product and revolutionizing audio codec and platform. SMART Technologies was there with their intelligent white boarding system and interaction with Unified Communications. Sonus was there with their session border controller product and integration with Microsoft Lync strategy built into their session border controller and HP came to the dance with their Layer Two and Layer Three infrastructure products and Microsoft Lync integration and distribution which I found quite interesting.
So the channel opportunities are tremendous and yet challenging at this particular time, from my takeaways at the conference. The channel needs to continue to transform their organizations with cloud strategies, good SIP trunking and SBCs and their services, and it is really a compelling time to be part of the channel if viewed that way, and really at this particular moment in history one of the most significant times to be a channel partner. So it does not mean that there will not be some bumps in the road, but it truly means that if you will look for the opportunities, especially with the changing landscapes and the new players that are entering into the space, the opportunities really can be boundless.
The success stories were excellent, and really showed the strategies that go with unified communications once deployed successfully. There was a consultant’s breakout session which really showed some of the challenges as well as the opportunities that are going on in the consulting space, and really how we can better serve the enterprise user community. Really one of the most significant trends that we saw was the need to support the strategic deployment of unified communications in the enterprise and to move beyond just implementing it in a “throw mud at the wall” kind of approach.
So all-in-all it was a very successful conference, Microsoft Lync was shared in just about every presentation to some or to a large degree so we are seeing huge changes going on in the market there and Microsoft Lync’s presence being ever more significant. Thanks to Jim Burton and the the crew for really putting together a tremendous conference, and I am looking forward to doing this again next year at this time. Back to you, thanks.
Blair Pleasant: Thank you everybody, and it was wonderful seeing everybody in La Jolla, and I think that everyone had a great time. It was one of our better conferences, and we say that every year. I think we just keep improving and getting better. And next year we will do an even better job. So thank you, and we will see you next time.