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I thought it would be a relatively relaxing summer – no big conferences, no major announcements – boy, was I wrong! Mitel, Cisco, ShoreTel, and Avaya all had analyst conferences, and there were big product announcements from several companies, including Avaya and Alcatel-Lucent. I was remiss in writing about these announcements (they were previously NDA, and then I got distracted), so here is my belated overview of Avaya’s and ALU’s announcements.
After being a skeptic for several years, I’ve recently come to realize the value of video communications in the enterprise. I was therefore glad to see Alcatel-Lucent introduce its Visual Collaboration Solution. According to Lizardo Espinosa, Director Product Marketing, Enterprise Communications, ALU is not in the videoconferencing market, but rather the visual collaboration market. He notes, “Visual collaboration is not the same as UC + videoconferencing. Most other vendors are just doing videoconferencing and UC, but visual collaboration is different. Visual collaboration is an immersive experience, with full interactivity, and is natural and unique.”
Espinosa noted that ALU is coming from the UC side and adding video – rather than video companies that are adding UC by partnering with UC vendor, resulting in separate networks and separate call control. ALU is working with Lifesize to provide the various end points, and with Radvision for the MCU. The companies jointly developed the solution to ensure that there is a single network. By working with Lifesize, ALU can provide cost effective video conferencing and multiparty hi def video at a relatively low price.
During an analyst briefing, Espinosa pointed out that ALU is offering “high-quality cost-effective solutions for any end point, display, user or place, thus optimizing the video infrastructure and bringing new value via its OpenTouch architecture. This will enable quality real-time application delivery through ALU’s Application Fluent Networks, while enhancing the visual experience at a more affordable price point than existing telepresence solutions.”
The key element of the Visual Collaboration Suite is ALU’s new OpenTouch architecture, which includes a software media layer where the necessary components for a video session are introduced, including all the codec protocols and algorithms, and HD audio and video. The initial version will support video switching, while the next version will also have video mixing. The solution will initially will have an external MCU for continuous video presence, but the next version will eliminate the need for an external MCU. OpenTouch supports and controls the resources, which means you don't need external video components, and this “MCU-less video switching” brings simplification to the network.
Other key elements of the solution are ALU’s My Teamwork, providing the collaboration capabilities, and My IC Desktop client, which can escalate voice calls to video calls, among other things.
What most impressed me is the new Alcatel-Lucent Interactive Whiteboard Solution, which integrates ALU’s UC and collaboration solutions with Smart Technologies’ SMART interactive whiteboard. I’ve seen this demonstrated a few times, and it always blows me away. The new Alcatel-Lucent Interactive Whiteboard Solution integrates ALU’s My Teamwork, providing content sharing and workgroup collaboration, with the SMART Board 685ix interactive whiteboard system. My Teamwork can run natively on the interactive whiteboard, letting users create, review and annotate objects in real-time while sharing content among all meeting participants. Through the whiteboard, participants across conference rooms and locations can collaborate, with everyone being able to see and hear what is being said and written. These capabilities are available to remote users even if no physical whiteboard is present, so that remote participants can view on their laptops or computers what’s on the whiteboard. Capabilities include being able to annotate between local or remote users, display actions on all screens and whiteboards in real time, save notes, and more. My Teamwork becomes “pen aware,” so users can make annotations to documents and presentations on the whiteboard. Video and audio from My Teamwork are integrated in the solution, so users can see a list of participants and easily initiate conversations via IM, voice, or video directly from the SMART board.
As I mentioned earlier, I’ve recently seen the light in terms of the value that video provides, and I do believe that video will change the way we communicate in the near future. ALU is working with key partners to ensure that it stakes out a claim in the video market, and offers alternatives for customers that don’t want a full immersive telepresence solution. By integrating My Teamwork with its video solutions, ALU can provide a more complete solution that leverages the company’s UC and collaboration capabilities. However, a key component of the solution is OpenTouch, which will manage the whiteboard and all other endpoints. This means that customers interested in the video solutions will need to migrate to the new OpenTouch architecture. It will take time for most customers to do this, which means that most will not be able to take advantage of the Visual Collaboration Suite for the near term. Hopefully we’ll start seeing a large migration to OpenTouch so that companies can start using ALU’s visual collaboration solutions.
Avaya announced the latest version of its Contact Center Suite, Aura Contact Center 6.2, which highlights two trends I’ve been watching for a while. The latest release is described as a "multimedia assisted care application" integrating with Aura Session Manager, providing expanded integration with social media, which I’ve been touting for a while, as well as adding collaboration with experts, which I’ve been writing and talking about since 1999.
According to Onkar Singh Birk, GM & VP, R&D Contact Center Solutions, context is king, noting, “Without context we can’t build on the experience with the customer.” He notes that many clients don’t just invest in one technology, and there’s generally a mixed vendor environment, which means that Avaya needs to look at coordinating communications and interactions across Avaya and non-Avaya systems. To that end, the company is introducing Work Assignments – taking context from individual systems and joining them up to make them meaningful for when an agent is on the phone with the customer at the time – in conjunction with Service Orchestration, to identify what to do with the interaction. The Work Assignment engine is a general purpose tool that matches arbitrary resources. Avaya describes Work Assignment as the Match.com for the contact center – it is the matching engine that finds the right agents. The engine considers all of the work on all of the channels, as well as all of the available resources, and matches the work and the resources.
Avaya claims that the end state of this will be a fundamental change in the way interactions are handled – instead of queuing and routing, there will be matching and virtualize queues, moving from queuing to workflows. For example, instead of looking at “who is next in line,” Avaya will look at “who/what is the best 1:1 match?” We’ve been hearing about this type of capability since the old CTI days, but it’s nice to see that it’s becoming more of a reality these days.
To collaborate with experts, the agent can look on their desktop to see who are the relevant experts and their availability. Experts can be brought in when necessary, maintaining the context of the conversation with the customer, rather than transferring the customer to another agent and subsequently losing information about the customer when transferred. This keeps the customer at the center while maintaining the context. Customer account history is sent to the right agent.
The latest release brings together inbound and outbound interactions on a common platform with common service creation, making it possible to launch into applications specific for the clients’ environment for applications such as payment reminder, subscriptions, claims, scheduling, etc.
We also heard more about Avaya’s Social Media Manager, which scans social media content and analyzes the content for relevance and sentiment, enabling agents to respond to relevant tweets and Facebook comments. If a comment has a very high negative sentiment rating, agents can respond and intervene immediately to diffuse a potentially harmful situation.
As Nancy Jamison pointed out in her blog (http://blog.ucstrategies.com/index.php/2011/07/12/avaya-aura-contact-center-%E2%80%93-the-most-successful-product-in-avaya-history/), “At the core with this release Avaya is making it easier for the content/context of any interaction on any channel to be seamlessly transferred to another. So whether someone prefers chat, text, or the IVR, for example, when they want a live agent, their initial “customer service investment” is not lost in transition. This integration makes the experience consistent for the customer.”
Nancy correctly points out that customers want a seamless interaction, where the agent knows what happened before they began a particular customer interaction. Again, we’ve been talking about these kinds of things since the CTI days, but we’re inching closer to making this all a reality.
There are many other elements of Avaya’s latest contact center offerings, including the Avaya Orchestration Designer, Aura Performance Center and Avaya Aura Experience Portal. The new offerings signal the fact that Avaya is moving to make it easier for companies to best serve their customers, in any media or mode, while including context and information about the customer. Again, we’ve been talking about these things for many years – since the mid 1990s – and while I’m disappointed that the industry hasn’t made more progress in this area, it’s good to see Avaya making headway towards these goals.
I’m still concerned that Avaya may be introducing too much change for its customers that are still dealing with the merger, especially the Nortel base. Contact center customers are known to be conservative, and too much change is not a good thing. Yet Avaya and its customers need to continue moving forward. Many former Nortel customers are taking wait and see approach and not doing anything, and Avaya will need to convince them to migrate to the Avaya platform, based on Aura, which will be challenging in many cases. The good news for Avaya is that it has many happy contact center customers that have been eager for these new products and enhancements, and they should be very happy with the progress Avaya is making.
So as you can see, it’s been a busy summer, with exciting new products being introduced. Can’t wait to see what the Fall brings us.
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Communications Integrated to Optimize Business Processes.
UC integrates real-time and non-real time communications with business processes and requirements.
Uses presence capabilities for coordination, and presents a consistent unified user interface and experience across multiple devices and media types.
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