The impact of today’s global economic crisis has wrenched companies into shaping new business models merely to survive, much less thrive. But top-tier UC vendors at the recent spring VoiceCon 2009 show in Orlando are interpreting the recession (or depression) as a unique opportunity to change the old ways of doing things. The dawn of a new day. A time to rely on and trust in innovation to carry us through these dark days.
Tough times coupled with perpetual, driving need is the catalyst that has historically sparked prodigious ideas. And, as in the past, the tumultuous times we’re now experiencing paired with our insatiable thirst for new technology will be the impetus to finding more efficient ways to do what, in otherwise good times, would keep us trekking down the same path, doing things the same way. The way to survive, more over, come out ahead of the competition, is to innovate now.
In every VoiceCon keynote presentation, a single theme threaded its way through — innovation. Kevin Kennedy, president and CEO of Avaya, kicked off the keynote sessions stressing the critical importance of innovation. According to Kennedy, innovation will help us navigate these uncertain times and emerge from these times of turmoil.
Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate VP of unified communications with Microsoft, said in his keynote address that it’s the choices companies make now that will determine their viability when we’ve moved beyond the current recession.
General manager of IBM, Bob Picciano, stated simply, “We can’t afford to do things the way we did before.”
Cisco’s CTO, Padmasree Warrior, went further to say that ideas get stronger when we share them with others and social networks and collaboration are powerful in making connections stronger.
All of the keynote speakers offered sensible, reasonable reasons why companies should invest now in collaborative innovation in some capacity (irrespective of their financial status). Each presented their thoughts on the best ways in which to do so – respective to their agendas, of course.
Whether you innovate through social networking software, collaboration tools, UC technologies, CEBP, otherwise, or all of the above and more, a thoughtful strategy is imperative. Gurdeep Singh Pall rightly said that hope is not a strategy. If you want to keep your company afloat now and gain a healthy degree of competitive dominance in the future, in a sunnier financial climate, heed Pall’s simple, but wise, advice:
• Focus on innovation
• Shift away from old models
• Lay down the foundation for the future
Microsoft corporate vice president for unified communications Gurdeep Singh Pall essentially threw the contemporary desk phone in the proverbial trashcan today during his VoiceCon keynote, arguing that software-based communications is the way of the future.
Pall compared the desk phone to the Brother word processor that started filling landfills across the country in the 1980s and 1990s. Pall was merciless, saying that too many telecom vendors are stuck in the past, still insisting that their customers need to buy a desk phone for every user. His disdain for the desk phone probably stings the ears of many of these same vendors who have partnered with Microsoft on OCS, but apparently Pall thinks everyone needs to hear his message, whether friend or foe.
“Folks, we cannot afford to do the things you did before,” he said.
Pall admitted that some users still need a desk phone, but he said the softphone capabilities available from Microsoft’s Office Communications Server and the Office Communicator client promise to make employees more flexible and productive. He said OCS is a single platform and a single infrastructure, not “five infrastructures with copious amount of duct tape around it.”
Pall ended his address with a memorable image. He asked attendees to imagine that they’ve been given a $300-per-user budget to buy a device for the desktop. He held up two options: A typical desk phone, which he said would cost $300. And then a small notebook computer, which he said you could buy at Walmart for $300. Which one would you buy, he asked. Then he said, “It’s time to get rid of the Brother word processor,” and he tossed the desk phone aside.
Kraft Foods sounds like a fun place to work. During his keynote, Tom Behnke, manager of network services, global architecture and strategy for Kraft, gave VoiceCon attendees a glimpse of the future for information workers at his company. He offered details of a unified communications pilot program at Kraft’s Chicago facility.
Behnke’s pilot involves a rethinking of not only communications and collaboration technologies, but also the workspace. Kraft wants to change the collaboration culture among its employees. To do that, it did away with traditional cubicles and office, putting information workers at large work table, where they can sit side by side and face each other.
As far as technology, Behnke brought in Avaya to deliver its voice infrastructure. He also decided to go with a wireless office, so employees could move freely throughout their workspace, building a Cisco wireless LAN infrastructure that was designed by HP/EDS. And he engaged AT&T to come in and build an in-building cellular system so that he could deploy iPhones to every employee.
Behke said his goal was to change the user perception that he was providing them with technology widgets that they had to use. He was trying to create something that would focus on the individual user experience, that would help them the way they do there jobs.
One thing that really jumped out at me. He designed this new environment to be free of MAC addresses. If a user needs to move his work station, he can just get up and walk somewhere else. IT doesn’t need to reassign the employee’s phone and network profile to a new set of ports.
I’ve asked Avaya to give me a one-on-one conversation with Behnke is doing at Kraft. If they come through, I’ll write more extensively about this project for www.SearchUnifiedCommunications.com.
When Microsoft introduced its Roundtable phone 2007, it was pretty clear to me that they had a cool device on their hands. The phone has a ring of video cameras on a small turret. It is meant ti sit in a conference room, where it offers a 360-degree view of meeting participants. The phone uses directional technology to cut in real-time to whoever is speaking in a meeting.
I shot this demo of the phone at the Microsoft booth at VoiceCon Orlando 2008.
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The only aspect of the Roundtable phone that troubled me was Microsoft. It’s a software company, not a hardware company. It does Windows and lets others build the PCs. It does Windows Mobile and lets others do the smartphone. And when Microsoft does venture into hardware, it tends to do it in the consumer market, and with mixed results (see Zune, XBox). So it wasn’t clear to me why Microsoft was trying to get into this business.
Granted, the Roundtable integrates with Office Communications Server, but every phone equipment vendor under the sun is looking to integrate with OCS these days. Walk the exhibitor’s hall at this year’s VoiceCon and see that for yourself.
Apparently Microsoft agrees that it’s not the ideal vendor for a product like Roundtable. It announced at VoiceCon this week that it is transferring the Roundtable phone to Polycom, which will become the sole distributor of the device. Polycom is re-branding Roundtable as the CX5000, which integrates it into Polycom’s existing line of conference phone products. Microsoft will continue to manufacture the device, but as far as I can tell, this phone is now going to market as a Polycom product. Microsoft will continue to support customers who bought the device through it, but all subsequent support will be provided by Polycom.
According to Tim Yankey, director of voice product marketing at Polycom, said Microsoft will stop selling Roundtable on April 13 and hand over sales, marketing and distribution to Polycom. The sales price under Polycom will be $4300.
Although Microsoft will continue to manufacture the device, Yankey told me that Polycom has the right to make changes and additions to the phone in the future.
Polycom also announced at VoiceCon that it will begin offering 1080p and 720p resolution in its high definition telepresence systems. This is the broadcast quality video that competitors such as Tandberg and Cisco already offer in their telepresence systems.
During her keynote this morning, Cisco CTO Padmasree Warrior emphasized the importance of collaboration in enterprise communications, with technologies that allow users to work in the way that they want to. In this vein, she talked about the importance of delivering a consistent user experience regardless of the endpoint device.
She also noted that her boss, CEO John Chambers, likes to communicate through video while her preferred modes of communication are microblogging services like Twitter. She said enterprise IT organizations should be prepared to support these multiple working styles by treating the network as a platform for delivering services. She noted said that companies should be focusing on Quality of Experience (QoE) in addition to Quality of Service (QoS).
Warrior and Cisco executive Sean Curtis demonstrated a vertical-market Telepresence system designed for healthcare, with cameras tailored for ear, nose and throat examination, blood pressure monitors, etc. Curtis showed how the technology could allow a doctor in China to treat him for back pain, even providing him with a recorded Telepresence session with instructions on how he should take an herbal remedy.
While this was happening, I noticed that IDC research director Abner Germanow was Twittering about how he is seeing a lot of healthcare applications from vendors on VoiceCon’s showroom floor. Clearly vendors have identified healthcare as a vertical that will continue spending on communications technology in this economy.
Meanwhile, Abner’s colleague at IDC, Nora Freedman Tweet on Cisco’s demo captured perfectly what I was thinking about this healthcare Telepresence demo: “Keynote demo of health telepresence emphasizes need/relevancy of industry specific solutions.”
Avaya’s CEO Kevin Kennedy delivered the first keynote at this year’s VoiceCon Orlando, and he took the opportunity to introduce Avaya Aura, a new SIP-based session manager that ties together all of the company’s other technologies, including its IP PBX, its presence server, its messaging server, etc. Avaya also claims it will tie other vendor’s technology into a single system.
Kennedy says SIP has come of age. Clearly Avaya is placing its faith in SIP’s ability to take unified communications to the next level by allowing enterprise networks to focus on sessions rather than packets and giving users access to applications regardless of what network their on.
Kennedy and fellow Avaya executive Brett Shockley demonstrated a lab Facebook application, built on Aura, that would allow enterprise contact center to have video conferencing sessions directly with customers through Facebook. The customer service rep could see the customer’s Facebook page, have context for what the customer is interested in, and conduct a transaction through Facebook. This was pretty cool. I saw a lot of positive buzz on Twitter during the keynote. I’ll write more in depth on Aura later in the show on SearchUnifiedCommunications.com.
I don’t know how this escaped my attention last month but Gartner predicted that video telepresence will take away $3.5 billion in revenue from the airline industry by 2012. That’s got to make executives at Delta and US Air wince.
As part of its top 10 predictions for 2009, Gartner predicted that telepresence would replace 2.1 million airline seats per year by 2012. In making this prediction, Gartner declined to estimate how much telepresence is costing airlines today.
Given how ruinous telepresence promises to be for the airline industry, I’m left wondering if the Deltas and US Airs of the world are investing in telepresence themselves. Will executives at airlines try to save money by holding high level meetings via telepresence, or will they stubbornly refuse to adopt this technology and continue to fly to on-site meetings in some symbolic effort to support the business.
Another interesting prediction from Gartner: By the end of 2013, 40% of enterprise knowledge workers will have abandoned or removed their desk phones. This certainly applies to me. I’d be happy to throw my desk phone in the trash if my employer agreed to subsidize part of the service plan for my iPhone. As it is, I work from home twice a week, and on those days my iPhone is my only means of telephony.
Hat Tip to John Willis
Aspect, a vendor of contact center software, published a survey of 300 European organizations about their attitudes toward unified communications. It has some of the usual banal findings (85% of respondents believe UC improves customer satisfaction and 67% believe it will deliver cost advantages within three to five years).
The interesting nugget of research is sort of tucked away in the published findings: People are sharply divided over who should be driving investment in unified communications technology for contact centers. Fifty percent say it should be handled by IT organizations while 50% said it should be driven by customer service organizations. What if the survey offered respondents a third possible answer, such as, “Investment should be driven equally by the IT organization and the customer service organization?” I imagine we’d see a lot of agreement on that option.
This week I’ve been hearing rumors that Avaya has laid off a bunch of employees this month. Avaya went private back in 2007, so I doubt they’ll release any specific information on the extent of the layoffs and where they are occurring. But I did reach out to their PR folks to ask them what was going on.
Lynn Newman, Avaya’s director of corporate communications sent me this statement.
In December, we told our employees we’d be reducing the size of our workforce in response to the global economic slowdown. The notifications about reductions are happening in different regions at different times.
Avaya’s situation isn’t unique. Plenty of companies that play in the UC market are having layoffs, just like any other industry. Microsoft and Cisco both laid people off a few months ago. No one is immune, sadly.
While flying NWA recently, as recently as January, I picked up their WorldTraveler magazine expecting to find the usual travel fodder about exotic vacation spots, spa treatments and where to find the best jambalaya in New Orleans when, to my surprise, the following title caught my eye: Taking care of Business: How social-networking sites can help you win friends/colleagues/contracts and influence people.
I was particularly interested that the words “business” and “social networking” were kindly sharing space within the same title – almost like they were meant to be there together. Hum? In my opinion, these words should rarely, if ever, be separated. Not that I’m all about business, or that I’m not a social person, but I will confess that I’ve grown quite weary of reading about who’s walking their English bulldog, or who’s finally reached that cobweb in the top corner of their office that’s been the bane of their existence for at least days, etc. Sorry mom and probably ex-best friend!
I want to see what these fantastic collaboration tools can do once the worlds of business and social networking truly collide in some fabulous cosmic wonder.
There are sites aimed at business professionals that are doing quite well, but have yet to reach their full potential. For example, in the NWA article, a woman starting a new online fashion marketplace used Facebook’s, “What’s on your mind?” box to solicit expertise from her alma mater’s alumni list, and within minutes had viable, expert offers from her friends/associates to help get her site off and running.
I have many other examples of enterprise-level companies leveraging these tools to their competitive advantage, either through successful marketing campaigns, to solicit honest feedback from customers, and resolving internal issues in a timely way. I’ll get into that in later blogs.
It’s sites like LinkedIn, Socialtext and Jive software that are offering more work-centric networks by limiting the “friends” list to customers and colleagues and even to specific projects. These are the sites that are currently holding my attention.
According the Socialtext site, Socialtext Workspace is an easy-to-use enterprise wiki that reduces by 1/3 the time your staff spends searching for information and people every day, and speeds up cycle times in every function across the organization.
1/3 of one’s time is a big number to support. I’m interested to know if any of our readers are finding themselves with that much time on their hands by using Socialtext?
From the Socialtext Workspace page:
How often do you ask yourself, “Where was it I saw that? Who sent it? When did they send it? What was the file called?” When we use e-mail and attached documents to get our work done, topics get fragmented across many places. According to IDC, employees spend up to 25% of their day looking for information. The process of getting work done involves a series of conversations – asking questions and gathering ideas and feedback. Instead of fragmenting a topic across different places, you need a single go-to place for each topic. And your conversations need to be released from the constraints of a document paradigm, so with each interaction you get the full context of the who, what and why.
A single go-place for a topic? That’s Martha-Stewart quality organization. That’s what I need. I’m guessing that’s what most of us could use. Zeus Kerravala, senior vice president with Yankee group, says they [social networking sites] allow users to self create communities for ad hoc or structured collaboration and that they are an important part of enterprise collaboration. Well, say no more, Zeus. We’re with you!
Here’s some of the cool tools Socialtext offers:
- Socialtext Workspace for group collaboration with tagging, search, notifications, and email integration, all on WYSIWYG-editable web pages.
- Socialtext People for integrated social networking, following and keeping up with others.
- Socialtext Dashboard, the personal home page that lets you focus your attention on what’s most important.
Apparently users should stay alert because there more innovative (and commonsensical) ways to incorporate social networking sites into viable collaboration tools for your business coming soon. Goody!