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Several UCStrategies colleagues attended ITExpo in Austin and offered their comments post-conference (Blair Pleasant, Jon Arnold, and Phil Edholm).
Blair Pleasant: Hi, this is Blair Pleasant. Several of us were in Austin last week for ITExpo. ITExpo is kind of different from Enterprise Connect that focuses on the big enterprises. ITExpo focuses more on the SMBs and the littler guys. It was a very interesting mix of people in attendance. There were quite a few keynotes and I can talk about a couple that I went to.
The first one was ShoreTel. The CEO, Peter Blackmore, kicked off the event with a keynote. He talked about some of the changes in the industry and some of the changes our industry is going through, and that we are going to see more changes in the next 24 months.
What he said is causing the changes are basically new technologies, changes in the business model, and outside influences. Just like the sales force automation industry changed when Salesforce.com came along, Peter sees the same type of thing happening in the voiceover IP space in the communication space creating a completely different type of business model using the cloud. He said that there is going to be a shake out because right now there are about 80 cloud vendors and obviously, that many cannot co-exist.
He mentioned three keys to success. The first is user focus, looking at the graphical user interface and intuitive ways of working, and also how video is now a part of the UC paradigm, and connecting video is getting better, but still not as simple as it should be.
The second key is mobility and the concept of having a desk phone in your pocket with all the collaboration tools you need to enable the end user to be able to be more productive while they are mobile. He said while the GUI and simplicity for the user are important, provisioning also has to be simple and that’s something that ShoreTel has been working on.
The third key is the cloud, of course. Peter noted that there is a role for premise and it won’t go away but there is also a much larger role for the cloud and it’s important for the UC industry to embrace and provide both. So it’s really not an either/or. It’s not cloud or premise. It’s really how they are going to work together.
Another keynote I went to was Chris Hummel of Siemens Enterprise Communications. He talked about some of the obstacles that we are seeing right now that have been blocking the growth of unified communications – things like having stovepipes and incomplete offerings, the lack of integration, the lack of interoperability, the need for change management and growing user demands.
Most of these challenges are due to some of the trends that have been going on right now; he talked about how work is mobile and distributed and consumer devices are leading. He mentioned something that I thought was really interesting. He said the “joy of use” is expected. And I really like that term – the joy of use – focusing on what users are expecting. Also, conversations are multi-modal and global.
He mentioned that vendors haven’t been able to deliver a unified user experience that drives adoption, and it’s really been too hard to combine everything together. Things haven’t been integrated into the way that we work. He noted that e-mail took off when it became part of the work flow, so that’s really what is needed for unified communications. Obviously, that’s something that we at UCStrategies have been talking about for a long time.
Chris mentioned that the way to deliver on the promise of UC is to start with a unifying software platform, align the user experience with new work lifestyles and to embed UC in the way that your business works. Again, those are things that we have been talking about at UCStrategies so it was really nice to hear Chris mention them.
I also met with quite a few vendors and had one-on-one briefings and demos from a lot of the vendors. Some of the ones that I met with were Magor, a video conferencing company. They’ve really been making a lot of headway in the past 12 months as far as getting use cases. Ken Davidson, whom I met with, said that the use cases are really helping them to do things that they couldn’t do before. A lot of people haven’t heard of Magor, but I think we are going to hear a lot more of them in the next couple of years.
Another company I met with was Vertical Communications. I did a write-up about them this summer when I met with them at their analyst briefing. They continue to talk about their focus on verticals like retail, education, healthcare in public sector. They are doing a really good job of focusing on these verticals and coming up with new applications and customizing devices and applications to help work in these verticals.
Another company is Fonality. They’re a cloud-based company. Well, they are premise and cloud-based. They have a great new web-based user interface that will be coming out in a few months. And from the demo that I saw, it is really innovative and very powerful. I am looking forward to seeing more about that.
Another company I met with was Voice4Net. They’re a contact center vendor. They were basically relying on some partner’s channel programs but now they have introduced their own channel program. We are going to be seeing a lot more of them in that area.
Jon Arnold: As far as my impressions from IT Expo in Austin, this is the second year running at that location for TMC, and I thought they've done a nice job transitioning away from Los Angeles, which has its own ecosystem to consider. I was only at the conference about half the time I normally am, so I have limited perspective, but what I do think it was awesome was the focus on the hosted space for UC. I thought 8x8, in particular, has done a really good job of bringing a solution to market that small businesses can understand. Of course, you've got to remember, this audience is a little different than the Enterprise Connect cloud. We're talking to a space where the sophistication isn't quite as high. You don't see as many tier one vendors at this show. So the focus is a little smaller scale. But still, there was definitely interest in the UC applications.
Another thing from the ecosystem I thought was relevant – I enjoyed seeing Sonus, having their presence at the show specifically with their launch of enterprise solutions for session border control, which, of course, is a pretty key enabler now for some of the higher value added applications in UC. It certainly ties in nicely to SIP trunking, which has been a very strong theme at the Expo for a couple of years, and it's good to see that that is continuing. I think a foundation is there for a good UC story.
Another parallel to that, of course, would be the contact center. I moderated a panel in this track. Again, this is a market space that is not quite leading edge, but still a lot of interesting companies there. In my session we had a lot of talk about the value of speech recognition in supporting multi-channel, and, of course, the ability to support mobility, which is a challenge into itself. But clearly, there was a lot of interest there from the audience in terms of what these possibilities represent and I certainly think TMC has got a pretty good mix of content there for people to come away with a good understanding of what UC has to offer.
Chris Hummel, in particular, from Siemens Enterprise Communications had a very strong message from their point of view. Of course, they have been rebranding themselves lately, and it was good to see them get their story out there for this audience. I think that that also speaks to the fact that there is a growing recognition that this SMB space is really starting to mature as an end market for UC. Of course, that's not the core focus of the conference, but still, when those kinds of companies are starting to amplify their message, you know that there is a good story waiting. There is still a lot of premise out there, of course, but the cloud story is pretty strong from this audience. So I'm glad to see that that's continuing.
The other thing I wanted to mention is one of the unique things about the TMC event: start-up camp. You don't see this too often at the other shows, but it's a great opportunity for smaller entries to come to the market and get their story out in front of a very large audience. It's probably the best attended segment of that whole conference, and I think they've done a great job, particularly Larry and Phillip from Embrace in Montreal. They have been spearheading this initiative for a while. And I really do think it's a value add for anyone going to that show. There were start-ups there that can play at the UC space, and I think we'll see more of that as the show keeps doing that particular special event.
Phil Edholm: Hi, I want to talk a little bit about ITExpo and how exciting it was as a conference and really an opportunity here, towards the end of the year, to see really what is happening in the IT industry, especially the communications industry.
In many ways, I think it was a very exciting conference. Overall, some changes from the past. Obviously, ITExpo West has traditionally been in Los Angeles. This year it was in Austin. Austin is obviously a great town for having it though I think it did reflect a slightly different attendance being where the overall metropolitan area where the conference was is smaller. For most of us (this is) a two-hop airport, but still seemed to be well attended. I saw very good attendance across the show floor. The vendors I talked to there seemed to feel that they were getting a lot of quality traffic, maybe more than in an area where you see a lot of call it for lack of a better word, casual traffic.
A few comments on the overall conference. I will start by talking about a couple of the sessions that I actually was responsible for moderating and I think were very interesting. The first was a conference session around video and how next generation systems are bringing video together outside of the enterprise where you have seen traditionally video conferencing being inside the enterprise.
If you think about it logically, the value of video is getting that real time feedback which is so helpful when you are trying to understand, did that person understand me? Do they agree with me? Are they moving forward with me in the conversation? The visual feedback, the visual clues are so important. Obviously, a significant percentage of those occur between companies, not within companies. This is true, obviously, in the western world; (but also) very true in the east as well where video has been very popular because facial expressions and reactions are very important.
If you are interested in that, there is a white paper that is on this website. It is called The Value of Video. It is a series. The first one talks about the value of video to business communications, so this session was very near and dear to my heart. We had at that session Vidtel, as well as Blue Jeans, who are both vendors of open cloud-based, video conferencing integration solutions. And then we had AVer, who is actually bringing a new kind of product to market which is a lower cost room system, really trying to enable the next generation of room systems based on standardization.
About those sessions: I think there were a couple of observations that I can make. The first is that the video interconnection market is heating up rapidly. Both Vidtel and Blue Jeans talked about both the growth in their platforms, growth in the number of customers using them, the success they are having in the marketplace as well as their view of where this was going in the future and the opportunities it presented.
Obviously, both are young companies and backed in the marketplace by capital and growing so, showing a strong position. From a technology perspective both emphasize their open support of a variety of systems and an ease of use, which I think really brings us to one of the messages I heard in the conference both in this session, but it was also reflected in some comments that were made on the main stage which was, that you really needed to have a user experience that was common across devices to the communication and easy to use. So that message really came through.
AVer, obviously, is looking at this and saying the room systems – there is another round of room system upgrades plus as businesses add on this next generation video, especially moving into the small to medium enterprise market – having a room system becomes desirable. AVer really positions a room system that is at a significantly lower price point than what you have traditionally seen from the video vendors like Polycom and Tanberg.
The other thing about that session that I think was really significant was the discussion around WebRTC. I asked the audience about WebRTC and found that of an audience of about 25 people, only a few hands went up and understood what WebRTC was.
What was interesting was that both Blue Jeans and Vidtel were strong in saying that they saw WebRTC as being significant to their overall product strategy and how they move forward in 2013. I think that reflects something that I am seeing across the industry, which is people that really are familiar with what it takes to make things work on large scales in the internet are looking at WebRTC and realizing that it has the promise to be a fundamental change.
By the way, one of the things we did announce at ITExpo was the upcoming WebRTC Expo and Conference in San Francisco at the end of November. That's November 27-29, if you are looking to learn more about WebRTC, which really has the potential of doing exactly the same kind of thing to communications that the web did to information back in the '90s. We are repeating the same thing where communication changes in very significant ways over the next five years. I would highly encourage you to go look at the WebRTC Expo and Conference and potentially attend that. I think you would learn a lot because it is going to have a huge impact on the industry on companies, enterprises, how you interact with customers, interact with partners, and how your employees work as well as companies across the industry. I think that was an exciting session.
The second session I did was a session on SIP trunking on service providers beyond the SIP trunk. And I think what came out of that session was a very interesting discussion around what are the services that a service provider can offer beyond essentially commodity pennies per minute SIP trunking.
And it really boils down to two dimensions. One dimension was cloud services. What I found was that the majority of the people were really looking at moving into cloud services offering either cloud UC or cloud contact center.
The other side was actually made to offer some additional services on top of the SIP trunk in terms of capabilities. I think it was very interesting. This is an area where we have some discussions around what happens as more and more people start using technologies that bypass the traditional PSTN, which really is where SIP trunking predominately applies. How would that affect the industry? And we had a fairly lively discussion about that.
I think from my perspective probably the most exciting product announcement I saw was the Sonus announcement. I thought that Sonus' announcement of their Harmony Session Manager, which is interestingly enough in some ways similar to the Aura Session Manager that is part of Avaya Aura, built in a much more open fashion where it can manage session interactions across different servers.
One of the things that really struck me was the capability of that platform to enable people to bring together their Lync environments and their traditional telephony environments as they begin to integrate those two together. I think that was definitely one of the products that I would keep my eye on.
I think also, the other one that I would definitely keep my eye on is AVer because I think AVer has an interesting play on the room system. That is not to say that the traditional systems are not great, but really coming at it at a lower cost point.
Some other sound bites that I came away from when the conference that I thought were very interesting and caused me some pause and some thought:
One interesting comment was when John Antanaitis of Polycom said that one billion smart phones are going to be sold in 2016, just in that year. Another quote was that there will be four billion smart devices by the end of 2016. I think if you start looking at those kinds of numbers, what you begin to realize is that there is this huge market of devices out there. There are going to be a wide variety and of a right set of types and that is why technologies like WebRTC that would allow you to rapidly reach with communication that entire group, when combined especially with LTE and 4G wireless speeds, really hold a real powerful opportunity over the next three to four years for real fundamental changes in the industry.
A couple of other interesting comments. The comment was made during the Sonus keynote that 16 percent of projects are delayed due to access to decision makers not being available at the right point in time to make the decision. I actually had a personal reaction to that. I kind of questioned whether that was, in fact, a technology issue or a decision avoidance issue; i.e. a lot of times I think executives and senior decision makers sometimes avoid being available to make decisions because having to make a decision puts you at risk.
It does, I think, bring up one of the very important value points of UC that I don’t think that we have been able to really capitalize and monetize. Which is, if the important decisions can be accelerated rapidly to the appropriate decision maker and those decisions can be made, would you, in fact, increase both effectiveness of the organization and competitiveness?
I harken back to a study I remember from years ago which was of CEOs. The study was around effective CEOs – highly effective CEOs versus average CEOs. They looked at a number of factors and the one factor that stood out as being a difference was not the number of decisions they made good or bad because those percentages were actually very similar. What was a big difference was how much information they had to have when they made the decision.
So the really great CEOs made the right number of good decisions with about 80 to 85 percent of the data where the average to mediocre CEOs needed 90 to 95 percent of the data. The time to get that additional data reflected significantly on the overall outcomes for the organization and therefore, the overall effectiveness of the CEO in terms of stock price, market leadership, growth, et cetera.
So, I wonder if that 16 percent, if you look at it as 16 percent of projects are delayed, actually represents a similar factor set to that difference between 85 and 90 to 95 percent in decision time. If it takes an additional 20 or 30 percent of time to get that additional percentage of information to make the decision, is it not exactly the same as not making the decision – because you could not get the decision maker and the person who had the information connected at the right time? So the net result is, does, in fact, UC have the potential of changing CEOs from being mediocre to being effective?
Another point that came up in the Sonus keynote that I thought was very interesting, which was made around the concept of SBCs, and SBCs as being really in the middle of your SIP communications. This came up around SIP Simple and the way that SIP Simple does updates for availability or presence in buddy lists.
What he reflected was a company that has 10,000 employees and (I think) has 10 or 15 percent of the employees using buddy lists. The average buddy list was somewhere in the 10-20 range. But it was those kinds of numbers, not ones that were actually huge and actually said that that would be 28 gigabytes per day of data transmission for the company. Actually, when you go through the math on that, 28 gigabytes really happens during the eight-hour business day.
You start going again to the prospectus that says it is 28 gigabytes, therefore, by the time you look at it as gigabits on the network you are talking about a couple hundred gigabits of traffic. You begin to realize that over the course of a day you are maybe talking about a half a gigabit of bandwidth on your core network just for presence updates. I thought that was an interesting perspective. I think it comes back to a lot of the reasons that in the architecture of solutions people are beginning to say that server-based IM solutions or server-based presence solutions where updates are actually managed through the server. Folks see more on availability which is actually only giving availability information when there is a request, versus continually lighting up lights on the screen may actually make a lot more sense as we move forward in time.
So, overall, I thought it was a very good show. I was glad I went. I had an opportunity to talk to a lot of folks that I have not seen in awhile and definitely I am looking forward to the next one and hope to see you there.
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