June was a busy travel month for UCStrategies Experts, who attended events hosted by Avaya, Mitel, and Siemens Enterprise Communications, in addition to the WebRTC Conference and Expo.
Transcript for UCStrategies Reviews June Events: Avaya, Mitel, Siemens and WebRTC Conference and Expo
Dave Michels: Hi, this is Dave Michels. Welcome to the UCStrategies podcast; today we are going to talk about last month, which was a difficult, crazy month for a lot of us who attend a lot of these conferences. We had four major events last month. Avaya had its User Group Conference, IAUG, Siemens, had an analyst and consultant session in Denver, Mitel hosted their business partner conference in Hollywood, Florida, and then we also had the WebRTC Expo taking place that same week in Atlanta.
So a number of us were at some of these events and I don’t think actually any of us were at all the events but I feel like I was – what a month. Let’s start with Avaya. The Avaya session took place in Orlando at the Gaylord Palms Hotel. It was a fairly large event. If you have ever been to Enterprise Connect, I always thought that the tunnel that went over to the exhibit hall, that was all decked out Avaya, I always thought that was just for Enterprise Connect, but it was there again for IAUG so I assume it is always there now. It’s probably just permanent fixture – a very impressive branding effort on their part. But let’s get into some of the sessions, Phil why don’t you tell us about what you did and how it went for you?
Phil Edholm: I was asked by the Board and the folks who actually run the event to come in and begin a process that they are starting which is educating the users outside of the Avaya Operational Space. In this industry there are some fundamental changes going on with the general recognition that Lync is being deployed by 60 to 80% of enterprises. You need to begin to understand convergence and what’s happening in the industry. I actually came in and did a dual session, and was really focused on directions in the industry, technology, etc. One of the users came up and made the comment that we have an Avaya system but we have also installed Lync and my management is asking why we don’t just use Lync and stop paying the maintenance fees on the Avaya system? So there are those kinds of questions that people are dealing with, and very much need to be able to understand and reconcile based on types of users, technology transitions, use to the business, how you manage this fundamentally changing world. From my perspective I think that is an exciting change for the user group itself, not so much directly for Avaya but for the concept of users being more than PBX operators. Anyway, back to you Dave, thanks.
Dave Michels: Thank you Phil, the Avaya session actually had separate tracks for consultants and analysts, and Steve you were on the consultant track. Could you share with us what you heard from that venue?
Steve Leaden: Sure Dave, yes, you know again I think like you were sharing and like Phil was sharing that there was definitely an effort here by Avaya to really ingrain the branding and to get over the legacy of Nortel blue group and Avaya red group, if you will, and showing really a consolidated congruent effort with a single Avaya or platform going forward. I definitely saw that and we definitely talked about Cloud, we talked about their Scopia Video. I actually just put an article out just over the weekend on that on UCStrategies.com (Video IS Gaining Ground – And Avaya Appears Ready With Scopia). An impressive tool, and there seems to be also an effort on their part with WebRTC and the call center. So interestingly, like in the UC/Colab space, they really want to promote and want to stress voice and video and messaging and awareness now as to who is available in a presence format and desktop sharing and video conferencing in general, which is good.
And it’s not unlike what others are saying, of course, which again, the industry is extremely competitive. My one takeaway that I thought was unique outside of the Scopia offering, was their Avaya Fabric Connect Data Product which is pretty much from my perspective a next generation product that really will consider an spanning tree free network which is probably one of the single largest issues whenever you’re having major major network anomalies on the data side, and really simplifying the whole process including BYOD and a whole bunch of security strategies built into that particularly high availability model. So even though Avaya is a little bit quieter in the data space, it was very interesting to see that they are putting a lot of R&D and investment into a product like that that really lets them focus on voice and video are obviously on the front line on the data net and at the same time if you do not have a very strong infrastructure to get to that four to five nines kind of model, you are running risks. So that was interesting, too. Overall I was impressed that we had one-on-one time and personal time with the Avaya executives including Kevin Kennedy and Brett Shockley and Gary Barnett amongst others, and where we have personal access to these executives so it was great, Dave, and we will see what happens next with Avaya as they continue to build. Back to you, Dave.
Dave Michels: Thanks Steve, I am glad you brought up their networking division, I think that’s one of the jewels within Avaya. I was really surprised that they got into networking because what people do not realize that Cisco’s biggest competitor back in the 90s was Wellfleet. Wellfleet merged with SynOptics, became Bay Networks, Bay Networks became part of Nortel and now that technology is within Avaya and they have some very compelling networking technology that deserves a good look. Roberta, I don’t think you were there directly, but you had representation there, is that right?
Roberta J. Fox: Yes I did, Dave. The comments that I got back that we were looking to see from the consultant track that Steven was on was that the users that we talked to were asking how do you integrate this legacy PBX’s or the Avaya PBX’s to Lync and the multiple Avaya Apps together? And then the other thing they kept hoping for was where is the real world true considerations of what it is really going to take to deploy and support and even for the users to use these next generation Avaya UC Apps? That’s what the user groups were telling us, that they were hoping to hear more about: help us get there, not just about futures and functions, Dave.
Dave Michels: Very good. The part with Lync there is really interesting, I put a post up on NoJitter about the best of breed with a twist (Lync Plus Legacy Voice: Best of Breed with a Twist), and I think that there is a very compelling argument that companies like Avaya are making where their voice on top of Lync is actually a simpler and more logical implementation than pure Lync and it’s not intuitive. It’s an interesting conversation to go down that path. Unfortunately, most of the vendors that are offering it, like Avaya, aren’t really making a big deal about it because they don’t want to introduce Lync to their customers if they are not already thinking that way. And so it is a Catch-22, but I think it’s a really interesting twist on the best of breed model. Bill MacKay, how about yourself? Were you at the Avaya conference?
Bill MacKay: I was at the Avaya conference for the consultants. I thought the agenda was a really strong one on day one. As Steven mentioned, we had really good access, and one of the things that I really appreciated was some of the frankness that we got from Kevin Kennedy in terms of the financial viability of Avaya in the long term, and it was very interesting. I also found Bret Shockley’s presentation about the Avaya vision to be useful.
A really good takeaway that I had was although it was a bit confusing because they came up with a different definition for UC – Avaya is using “Universal Collaboration” as opposed to Unified Communication, which I think just serves to confuse people, but the thing that I did like was the fact that they were talking about creating contextual information from voice by tagging and using extreme context to be stored and reviewed later.
One of the things they were talking about was a contextually aware interface that would provide interruption management, so for example if you wanted to and you were trying to reach somebody you might be asked to leave a message; it might suggest an IM or perhaps send an email or advise that when somebody would call back, etc. So I thought that that was kind of an interesting addition to the communication core, and I think Phil would appreciate this as well, that it’s going to be available in a WebRTC format by the end of the year, at least that is what they have told us at this point in time, with support in any HTML 5 browser. So if there was a key takeaway that was the one that I really enjoyed.
The one concern that I do have is that the Cloud presentation, unfortunately Joel Hackney, who did the presentation, is no longer the Senior VP now for Cloud, so I am not certain if that means a change in direction of Avaya, or whether there is going to be a continuation on what Joel had built, and there really has not been a whole lot of dialogue from Avaya since the departure so it will be interesting to see what happens. Back to you, Dave.
Dave Michels: Very good, thank you Bill. Marty Parker, please provide us your input.
Marty Parker: Thanks, Dave. I was in the analyst conference; not in the consultant conference. We heard from the same executives that have already been mentioned, and the highlight, which I’ve already posted on UCStrategies.com (Avaya Innovation – Surprise, It’s In Services), is the progress they’re making in services. Really some breakthrough methods that are delivering better customer sat, shorter times to resolve, less time spent with a service agent, and more information available on the website. All sorts of great things that they’re doing, including delivering much better margin to Avaya which flows down to the bottom line. So a great story there.
However, I’ll disagree with my peers about some of the other things. I did not find their presentation about financials satisfying at all, there was nothing they said which convinces me that’ve got a plan to turn the corner on the current decline in product revenue and overall revenue, or to reach profitability. I mean, they’ve been cash positive for the last few years, but they’ve not been profitable in any quarter in the last few years so I’d say that’s a question mark – maybe one quarter, but it’s a question mark that they didn’t answer.
The second question mark that they did not answer was their client story, their user interface story. Right now there’s at least five different user interfaces that a customer might have to use to do unified communications. A different one for mobile, than for the desktop; two different conferencing clients, the Flare Experience is different from that. It’s really not a very pretty picture and they had no roadmap for how that was going to get resolved, and now we hear that they were talking to the consultants about another WebRTC client they’re developing...not at all something I could talk to a customer about and say hey, this is well understood and you can be sure where this is going.
The third thing that was not very well done at all was the cloud-based story. They’re doing really well in hosting solutions, managed services and hosted on a specific instance. That is, here is your system in our data center. They’re doing really well with that and they’ve grown it to hundreds of millions of dollars a year in revenue. Great job. But in terms of a pure multi-tenant cloud environment, to compete with say, Office 365, or even a real well-packaged service provider offer such as Cisco Hosted Collaboration Services, I didn’t see that story in crisp detail. So I’d say there’s a lot of work to be done. Thanks for letting me share that here on the podcast.
Dave Michels: Thank you, Marty. Next up, Siemens Enterprise Communications had an event in Denver and it was actually a pretty well attended event. They invited a large group and they went over both their past accomplishments and introduced a glimpse into their roadmap with a new project. So why don’t we start off here with Art.
Art Rosenberg: Well, it was very obvious that they are trying to change their image; anybody in the telephony world has to do that, and that’s where they are coming from especially because they have been kind of quiet for a few years. But they have been busy doing their homework as to what they should change. I was very impressed that they had been working with WebRTC for over two years now, and they mentioned a few things of how they wanted to look at supporting not IT per se, but they are looking at getting in front of business management rather than IT and making things more visible. Overall they were very honest about things and they were looking for advice and I was approached a number of times by some of the people: what do you think about this and what do you think is important about that? So it was very open and constructive.
Dave Michels: Thanks art, I am glad that you mentioned that their marketing has not been the strongest in the past. I was really impressed with what they did with this event from a marketing perspective. It was an extremely upbeat event, and they generated a considerable amount of buzz both on Twitter and in subsequent blogs. It made me realize that they have some marketing capability that when they decide to turn it on, I think we are going to be in for an interesting show, and they are going to be turning it on both with a rebranding effort and their new project. Steve, do you want to talk a little bit about that?
Steve Leaden: Yes, absolutely – thanks, Dave. It is interesting to see that they are really getting out of the box in terms of their vision and where they are going, and how they really want to make themselves a major tier 1 brand again. Obviously in the TDM space, they were definitely in that space, and they owned a considerable amount of the Legacy market years ago and so now, they are at the point where they are being challenged, and they are a challenger in every one of Voice over IP and UC implementations that we are involved with. And it is really fresh to see them in from a new perspective. Chris Hummel, the Chairman for the U.S. base, is now back in the driver’s seat here, which is great to see. I think he has real vision for the group where things are going. They definitely have announced some interesting things. They have a new platform, their OpenScape 7.1 series, which has some very strong integration with Google for an enterprise user. They have their amplifyTEAMS product, which talks all about professional services around UC with very specific market pieces, and they also talked about towards the end of the conference which is a lot of this is under NDA so it is only at the surface at the moment, but about their project Ansible, which is going to be pretty much the fully contextual look, see, feel for UC in the next gen fashion, is the way I would describe it. So it is very interesting where things are going; they have some new endpoint products which were just announced at Enterprise Connect; 35G and a 55G. They have full screens and they showed us demos locally in terms of docking stations. So again, I think they really want to make a big splash like you were saying, and I think it was the first time in close to five years that they have had actually an analyst type consultant event so it is great to see them putting investment back into the marketing side. Dave, back to you.
Dave Michels: Excellent, yes I think probably Ansible really generated quite a bit of buzz and is a pretty aggressive vision for Siemens who has been primarily associated with voice for so long. It will be interesting to see how that unfolds. They plan to take Ansible which is the code name of the product a little more public in July which is now, so we will not have to wait too long, and I think they are going to do their rebranding effort around the fall, around October, that’s what they said. We had actually quite a few people there so let me move down the list here, let’s hear from Blair.
Blair Pleasant: Thanks, Dave. Yes, it was definitely a crazy month. It was great to hear from Siemens again. They’ve made a lot of progress in the past couple of years and have really been working diligently on this new platform; code name is Project Ansible. And I am very excited about what I heard about Project Ansible, and if it does what Siemens says it will, then it will be a game-changer. And as Art mentioned, they’ve been working with WebRTC and it is really great to see how much progress they have made.
And the company also made a lot of changes to the way they work internally, which will help them and their channel partners as they go to market. They spent a lot of time talking about working with channel partners and growing the portion of business that comes from their partners. They are doing more things to help with lead generation for partners—more segmentation, some specializations and contact center managed services, cloud and verticals; and they also have some new go-to-market initiatives.
Chris Hummel mentioned that they win around one out of every three deals they get involved in, and then when they get into a technical proof of concept, then they win four out of five deals. So obviously, the goal is to get to that stage. But it’s still hard for them to get invited to the party, as they say. Hopefully, the new branding and marketing that they are going to push this fall will help with that.
And I have always thought that Siemens Enterprise had great technology and vision, but it struggled getting the brand recognition in North America, and hopefully that will start changing this fall.
Dave Michels: Thank you, Blair. That wraps up Siemens Enterprise. Let’s move on down to Mitel, back to Florida, where Mitel had their business partner conference. It was a fairly large event with an exhibit hall for all their dealers and then they had breakout sessions for analysts, and they gave us an update on their roadmap and their recent accomplishments. Jon, why don’t you start off the Mitel conversation.
Jon Arnold: Sure Dave thanks. Yes, it was definitely a busy month all around and I think there is a lot of value to have us all here on one call; you can hear about all these events from one group. I think we will probably all have similar takeaways. I think the good news here is that Mitel seems to be backing up their promises from last year with production. First and foremost you have to look at the financials, which are clearly pretty solid, and their CFO did a nice job giving us some comparative metrics and obviously with this space having its problems, Mitel has a lot of things to feel good about. Good news all around for us as analysts and consultants but also of course their channels.
The big takeaway for me and most of us, would be their really strong pushup for marketing with Martyn Etherington coming onboard and I wrote about this (If I was a Channel, Would I Partner with Mitel?) and others have written about this as well. They seem to have a very solid grasp now of what they need to do on that front with getting the brand better known out there. And more importantly, getting the channels supported in the right ways, using the right tools, we heard a lot about leveraging the web and digital channels, social media, hiring younger people to help generate leads and raise awareness for the company and their products. I think they are doing all the right things and I think they are doing it a little bit ahead of the curve for what most companies in this space are doing. So I think they set the bar a lot higher for how they can deliver and I think there’s a lot to look forward to here with Mitel, they really seem to have gotten the right pieces in place now and I think we are going to see some pretty interesting developments from them ahead.
You will hear more from others on this call about virtualization; maybe you could comment on that, Dave, and certainly the push to video with Vidyo, their partnership with them and of course prairieFyre – that acquisition will boost them up in the contact center space. So I will hand it off because I know a few other people want to say things, too.
Dave Michels: That’s great – Jon, thank you. Why don’t we move over to Blair and get your thoughts on Mitel.
Blair Pleasant: Thanks, Dave. I went to the Mitel Conference with relatively low expectations. They haven’t been making a splash lately and other competitors have been catching up to Mitel in terms of virtualization, which was their biggest differentiator. But I really was impressed with what I heard from the CEO on down. I was especially pleased with what we heard from the new CMO, Martyn Etherington, who has a great vision for what Mitel needs to do from a marketing perspective. And like Siemens, Mitel is another company that has always had strong technology but lacked on the marketing side, and Martyn really focused on putting customers first rather than the brand or even channel partners.
And since it was a partner conference, there was obviously a lot of focus on helping partners be more successful. Joe Vitalone, the new Executive VP for Sales to the Americas Region, got a great reception. And like most other vendors, Mitel is going to be increasing the portion of revenue that it gets from partners rather than from direct sales and plans on growing its channel business from the current 65 percent of revenues to 75 percent.
Also, Jim Davies, the CTO, spent a lot of time with the analysts and talked about some of the big areas of focus for Mitel, mainly cloud, contact center, video and Microsoft Lync integration.
Mitel’s attitude about Lync is that a lot of customers are already using it for IM and presence, so Mitel is not going to fight them on that, but it will add value by providing the voice and telephony components and is trying to make it easier to integrate Mitel’s platform with Lync.
I will let some of the others talk about what Mitel is doing in the cloud and contact center. Thanks, Dave. Back to you.
Dave Michels: Great thank you, Blair. Roberta?
Roberta J. Fox: The other thing from the Mitel conference that was worthwhile and interesting that they had… they are looking at adapting and adjusting their channels to have the channels get used to the unified communications solutions. Also, to understand about the cloud strength; yeah, this is an area where Mitel has a good position and leadership. They have already VM’d their solutions a few years ago as we know from internally using them within Fox Group. But some of the channels have had a misunderstanding of how to sell and install these kinds of offers, so this is something that they are working on from the conference.
The last thing we found interesting was the strategic relationships with Vidyo. They are one of the leaders in desktop collaborative video applications. Rather than Mitel delivering their own, they have partnered with Vidyo. We see that it as a good move. We just wish that they would continue to invest in more marketing and awareness to support the quality of their products. That’s it for me. Thank you.
Dave Michels: A few other thoughts that I want to add into that – I thought that Mitel was much more focused than they have been in the past. I think that they have really got McBee’s Mitel. McBee has been there as a CEO for I don’t know, about three years, and so at this point it’s his company and everybody that reports to him is either deliberately kept or hired himself where the first part of that term was trial and trying to figure out who was going to stay and who was going to leave and getting to know each other. So I really felt the company is very focused on what they are doing, you mentioned virtualization, Jon; I heard another person mention that Mitel’s story is getting boring and hasn’t changed, I think that’s what actually makes it interesting. They have put out a vision with both virtualization and with the Cloud and they have been executing on it and building a fairly comprehensive solution set. They have a lot going on around that and they have been talking for a long time about things like single stream software, which didn’t seem to have a lot of end user benefit, in my opinion. I can see why it had benefit to Mitel, but I think that has really come into play now in how they are offering their customers the ability to move from an appliance to an independent server to a virtualized server to even in the Cloud all with the same database and same software. Very interesting...
And just one last point – I think it was interesting that they had a keynote on the big stage with everybody, from their CFO, you don’t normally see that and I was a little surprised when I saw it on the agenda, but I think Steve Spooner did an excellent job and really took us through not only Mitel financials but some of the industry financials. I thought it was very interesting and he did a great job. I walked away saying they should always have the CFO on the keynote agenda, so that was my takeaway of Mitel.
Let’s move over to WebRTC Expo, I saw a lot of news coming out of that, out of Atlanta. It sounds like a lot of startups were doing some pretty compelling demonstrations. Phil why don’t you take us through a little bit of what happened in Atlanta?
Phil Edholm: It was absolutely an exciting event. WebRTC World is the emergence of WebRTC beyond pure telecom, so there obviously were a huge number of companies there. The traditional telecom vendors who have come at this from telephony, have grown up into UC and video, and are now trying to understand how to add on functionalities where at the same time you have startups coming at it totally from the perspective of using the web and the web development environment to do things that typical vendors are taking two or three years to do. It became really obvious that the space is moving from being a place where people are playing to a space where people are actually starting to deliver.
I thought one that was very interesting, TokBox, for example, did a demo of a tongue-in-cheek site called AirCNC, so they used AirBNB, they developed a complete site around Castles and Carriages instead of Bed and Breakfast, they did the idea of renting a castle and they did it as a demo of how you could integrate their communication stack into a website to do commerce.
The interesting thing in talking to Ian Small who runs the company, is that development from start to finish was done in four weeks and including a very high-featured website that looks as commercially viable as anything you would see on the web. This brings which I think is very important for us to think about in enterprises is, what happens when video is not the focus of the conversation, of the event, of the integration and in fact is merely secondary but is always there? If we begin to think about how much of the time we are doing things where we would not make a phone call or a video call, but we could add those on as an adjunct, does that double, triple, quadruple the amount of video traffic that our networks need to be able to carry. So an exciting event, I wish to see all of you there in Santa Clara in November. Thanks Dave, back to you.
Dave Michels: So were there any of the major UC vendors there as exhibitors?
Phil Edholm: Avaya was there as an exhibitor. They actually talked about Avaya from the perspective of contact centers and was talking about a number of things that they are looking at as you talked about in terms of WebRTC for BYOD, contextual management, very much around contact centers. The other large players that were there. Cisco was there participating as a speaker, Siemens was actually there talking about where they are going, did not talk much obviously about Project Ansible, but was on a panel talking about their direction. One of the things obviously was that being an event that was in conflict of a couple of the other events was a challenge for groups. Cisco was well represented in terms of what they are doing on the standards body, Cullen talked quite a bit about their activities and where they are going and WebRTC is a big part of what they are doing. And GenBand actually being very much a large player in the enterprise space was there. Also folks like Dialogic and Digium were there both showing and demonstrating and on the conference agenda.
So I think what we are saying is a lot of the existing players are there. Myself and Tsahi obviously were there but I know Tsahi probably has some comments as well, so I will leave it at that, thanks Dave.
Dave Michels: Yes, I understand you made the trip all the way over, Tsahi. What was your perspective – was it all you wanted it to be?
Tsahi Levent-Levi: Well, I say yes and no. On one hand it was a great event seeing so many companies as Phil said with so many things, but I was missing a bit of the innovation and creativity that I wanted to see and more with development companies. Things like Peer5, PeerCDN, Sharefest, things that make a lot more use of the data channel to show us how we can do things differently.
What you saw were a lot of companies doing the things that we do today in UC and VoIP, which was great, because they do it a lot faster than what we are used to, they are more agile, they can add features, remove features and some of them have shown how you can actually marry the web with video conference or voice calling, something that is quite interesting.
But that was about it, it was mostly looking at the current state of the market and trying to copy it and do it better and optimize it. You have not seen there the things that are groundbreaking or changing the landscape. I think that will be something that we see in the next event.
Dave Michels: Alright, well with that I think we will wrap up this podcast, thank you very much; we will be back next week and talking about unified communications, thank you.