Of the growing number of shows starring geeks (Big Bang Theory, The IT Crowd, Halt and Catch Fire) none epitomize the pain points of unified communications (UC) as profoundly as the recent TeleHuman sketch from HBO’s Silicon Valley.
If you haven’t watched Mike Judge’s new show yet, it’s a satire of Silicon Valley’s high-tech glamour. And while it portrays IT companies at work, its sexual humor and irreverent language make it decidedly unsuitable to watch at work. With that disclaimer, this hilarious clip between characters Big head and Hooli CIO Gavin Belson perfectly illustrates five UC pain points in three minutes.
Before I hash out each pain point, for those more interested in the show than the technology, I invite you to “tune out” the tech talk as figuratively or literally as you like (a la the electric guitarist lawyer in Episode 4).
Enter UC pain point No. 1—cost—where a translucent Belson materializes in a body-size tube, dubbed the TeleHuman, in front of Big Head.
In disbelief, Big Head exclaims “Wow! Cool, am I a TeleHuman over there, too?”
Belson scoffs, “What? No, of course not.”
For years, the cost of cutting edge telepresence technology, like holographic telepresence, has prohibited all but the rich and famous from using it. Big Head, like the vast majority, is one of the honored few to witness such exclusive technology. Despite a promising start to the telepresence industry, in 2014 more businesses are leaning toward cloud-based video conferencing than deploying full-fledged holograms—though a telepresence business case still stands for certain verticals, like medicine.
When the TeleHuman breaks down and distorts Belson, we’re taken to UC pain point No. 2: reliability. Nothing is more frustrating than spending boat loads of money on a product that isn’t working right. If UC tech were truly plug-and-play, we wouldn’t have IT engineers devoted to setting up and architecting a system smooth enough to handle the high demands of voice and video.
What’s UC pain point No. 3—you ask? Ease of use (or lack thereof). Belson illustrates this when he yells at tech support to troubleshoot a failed image projection:
Belson: Can you help me please?
Tech support: OK, I think what happened was when you set it up you forgot to –
Belson: I didn’t set it up. I paid one of you people to set it up.
For pain point No. 4, I’d like to point out the lack of unified UC solutions. When the TeleHuman breaks down, Big Head and the team are forced to break open a laptop and call Belson back using Hooli chat, which is subsequently downgraded to a cell phone conversation. That degradation doesn’t come from network-aware technology, however. Employees still need to go to a laptop, open an application and find the person to communicate with (or resort to their cell phones to find the appropriate contact). With true unified communications, the technology can move seamlessly between one communication mode to the next. While vendors are working their way toward unifying solutions—much of today’s UC technology exists in disparate environments that beg to be connected.
Which brings us to the last UC pain point: No. 5, the network. UC technology like video is only as good as the network it runs on. Arguably my favorite line from this Silicon Valley scene is the one in which a polite Gavin Belson appears on Hooli chat to say “The TeleHuman is a great piece of technology. Unfortunately, the broadband isn’t that great out here in rural Wyoming. That presents a great business opportunity.” This scene repeats almost verbatim a conversation I had with RingCentral’s VP of operations. He harped on needing broadband in order to move dynamically between modes of communication. As far as broadband accessibility, he said; “I think the U.S. is doing a lot to be there. If you live in a major city, you’re fine; but in rural areas, we’re still lagging behind.”
While UC technology has matured a great deal over the course of decades, the industry still has a ways to go. Scenes like Silicon Valley’s UC sketch are funny because we’ve all been there—we’ve all cursed at the Godforsaken technology that’s meant to make lives easier. But IT pros can be the heroes/heroines at the end of the day. While broadband availability and UC unification may not be in your hands, the network is. For more advice, Ovum Principal Analyst Mike Sapien offers his take on how to keep your UC deployment from failing.
Photo: Gavin Belson materializes in the TeleHuman
We’re living in a world of “dual-mode communications.” This was an argument made by Neil Schubert at the Mobile & Wireless World conference seven years ago. We have to have two of everything in order to separate our work and personal lives: a work laptop and a personal laptop; a work phone and a personal phone.
But hold the phone. If you have a mobile device for work, you’re in the minority. In a recent article on mobile UC integration limitations, Nemertes Research co-founder Irwin Lazar found that “92% of companies implement bring your own device (BYOD) policies, allowing employees to use personal smartphones to connect to corporate applications.”
Flash forward to 2014, you won’t hear anyone talk about “mobile” without “BYOD” in the same breath. But today’s “BYOD” is more like “BYOBD – bring your own business device,” according to Curtis Peterson, vice president of operations at RingCentral, in an interview on business communication.
Peterson believes this because of the restrictions that go along with connecting personal mobile devices to corporate applications, like letting employees use only certain devices purchased at certain locations. But even if a company doesn’t make an employee add an asset sticker to the back of the phone, most enterprises — in the name of security — will remotely wipe a phone if it becomes lost. While we have moved mostly away from having to carry both a work and a personal mobile phone, employees have had to become their work persona at the expense of their personal one.
“Kudos to businesses for convincing employees to go buy their equipment for them, but it becomes a challenge down the road in terms of trust and privacy,” Peterson said.
While some companies, like DropBox, are spinning off its consumer-grade products into offerings geared towards the enterprise, others, like RingCentral, allow employees to switch between work and personal resources on mobile devices. This is called dual persona or mobile device management (MDM).
“MDM remains a vital component in monitoring key device issues and assuring configuration and compliance with organizational operating policies related to this aspect of management,” wireless expert Craig Mathias said in a tip on mobility management.
While this begins to solve the problem, it’s just one part of the dual-mode communication predicament. “We might sum up here by stating that MDM is a necessary, but not a sufficient, mobility management capability today,” Mathias said.
For a while, linking mobile devices to an overall unified communication strategy may be as complex as managing the devices themselves. Though the need is there, the market may still have some catching up to do.
ORLANDO – Imagine using your headset not just for calls, but to adjust the temperature of your conference room or pull up documents you need for your meeting. With the advancement of next-generation wearable technology, those capabilities may not be so far off.
Discussing the future of wearable technology at Enterprise Connect 2014, Plantronics CTO Joe Burton said next-generation wearable tech in the enterprise “can bend the Web to you” to perform those hypothetical capabilities.
Current wearable technology shows the potential for next-generation products to go beyond simply taking voice calls. Intelligent headsets available from Plantronics already have capabilities that detect how near or far users are from their computers and allow users to seamlessly switch calls between mobile devices and their headsets, Burton said.
“We can use a bunch of next-gen technology to begin restoring all of the fidelity of face-to-face interaction and apply that to many business workflows in a way that’s compelling,” he said.
Burton said Plantronics’ focus is on evolving intelligent headset technology to solve relevant business issues for people, from the headset determining which conference room is free to the ability send contextual information, such as a user’s non-verbal cues, through a call.
Asked whether consumer market wearable technology like Google Glass could be reconciled with enterprise wearable technology, Burton said there will be no consolidation of devices into “one device to rule them all.”
“What we have found is that for the most part, having multiple cooperative devices that do things well makes a ton of sense,” he said.
He said devices like Samsung’s smartwatches and FitBit wristbands aren’t quite there yet in terms of giving users what they need in wearable technology.
“I think it’s very early days [in wearable technology], and while we’re coming at it from a headset perspective, what we’re keenly focused on is… the problems people would love to solve that these new technologies can solve,” he said. “We’ve been a headset company for 54 years; there is a lot of room to run in making real-time communication better.”
ORLANDO – With the use of mobile devices and BYOD growing in the enterprise, will desk phones go the way of the rotary phone, or can they be reinvented for the future?
At Enterprise Connect 2014, signs appear to point toward reinvigorating the traditional desk phone. For desk phones to compete with soft phones and mobile devices, they must do more than just provide a voice service.
Of course, vendors weigh in with different points of view, which also depend on the devices their companies support.
“The hard phone right now wins, but it’s fading,” said Bill Woodall, Unify’s director of UC technology.
Microsoft Lync Product Manager Jamie Stark agreed, saying that while desk phone sales continue to increase, it isn’t a sign of the their sustainability. Instead, as enterprises trend toward mobility and BYOD, the market will start to see hard phone sales dropping, he said.
ShoreTel’s Senior Director of Product Marketing Bernard Gutnick agreed. “People do more work outside of the workplace — work is a function rather than a place,” he said. As a result, users are moving away from hard phones that require them to be tied to their desks.
But newer editions of desk phones are becoming what Craig Walker, senior director of communications business at Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise, called “multimedia devices” that offer features like instant message translation to voice or video through the hard phone.
“The concept is it isn’t just a phone number anymore, it is a single identification from a system,” Walker said.
As for hard phones going beyond voice services, Gutnick noted that ShoreTel announced a new line of desk phones, the 400 Series, that allow for integration with cloud applications.
The new deskphones designed for ShoreTel’s cloud-based PBX service will come in three versions: the IP480, IP480G and IP485G. The phones will range from basic dialing, grayscale display and speakerphone functionality in the IP480, to backlit color display options in the IP485G. All three of the new ShoreTel Sky series will allow for integration with cloud applications, the company said.
The new deskphone series will complement the vendor’s ShoreTel 400 series IP phones for premises-based deployments, which have been available since last fall. The new phone series for ShoreTel Sky is now shipping through the vendor’s channel partners, and will offer ShoreTel Sky users a more integrated experience to complement their cloud service, said Bernard Gutnick, senior director of product marketing for Sunnyvale, Calif.-based ShoreTel. “The 400 phones play an important part in reinforcing and controlling the end-to-end ShoreTel experience we want to give our resellers to offer to their cloud customers,” Gutnick said. The ShoreTel Sky service was previously sold with Cisco deskphones.
The company is also displaying the fruits of its recent integration with SalesForce.com at the conference — ShoreTel for SalesForce and ShoreTel Sky for Salesforce — two new applications that integrate Salesforce with the ShoreTel on-premises IP-PBX system, and the ShoreTel Sky cloud-based phone service. The integration will allow users to work within one application while collaborating in real-time, the company said.
Short message service (SMS) text messages have been unofficially part of the collaboration strategy for many enterprises for years. Now, new messaging services are popping up, aimed at taking advantage of this market need and filling in the security gaps left by text messaging from personal devices.
HeyWire Business, a Cambridge, Mass.-based mobile tech startup that broke out of stealth mode last year, introduced a cloud-based business messaging platform which allows users to send and receive SMS messages via their office phone number.
Once the HeyWire Business Messenger app is downloaded by the user, the cloud-based service allows users to plug their landline office phone numbers into the HeyWire Business Cloud. Text messages sent to landline numbers are routed to HeyWire’s network. Users can then read the messages on any Android or iOS mobile device in the U.S. Messages can be sent back and forth right from HeyWire’s app, which has been designed with enterprise IT requirements in mind. The HeyWire app allows users to attach an auto-reply policy, or access their company directory. The app encrypts all messages, and an enterprise can set a policy to log the communications. .
According to a recent survey of 500 business professionals conducted by HeyWire, 67% are using text messaging for business-related communications. Of this number, 64% would like to use their business phone number, rather than their personal cell phone number for business-related texting. While the main players in this market have been the smaller players so far, Avaya recently threw its hat in the ring with its Avaya Messaging Service.
But certain industries might find smaller startups more capable of catering to their needs. TigerText, a Santa Monica-based startup similar to HeyWire, has carved out a spot for itself in this space with its ability to guarantee a secure, HIPAA-compliant SMS and picture messaging service for business users. Like the HeyWire service, messages can be sent without revealing personal cell phone numbers, and the messages are encrypted and self-destruct after a designated period of time.
As more IT teams implement mobility policies, and try to regulate SMS messages sent for business purposes, they will use messaging services to help enforce security where need be. After all, business professionals may want to text, but separation is still needed between personal and professional communication.
Huddle introduces new mobile UC app, combines collaboration and social capabilities for enterprise employees
Huddle, a cloud-based collaboration and content management vendor, updated its software to address two major UC market themes — enabling mobile UC and combining social capabilities with collaboration functionality.
Huddle Note, an iOS application, will allow employees to create content in the cloud via any device. The mobile application will serve as a “mobile Microsoft Office alternative,” providing document creation and editing capabilities, in addition to feedback and approval functionality for group projects, said Alastair Mitchell, Huddle’s CEO.
Huddle Note allows mobile users to share files, collaborate on content, and manage people, tasks and workflow with enterprise-level security in the cloud, Mitchell said. “Employees are used to going to Microsoft Word, creating and saving content locally, and then sending along [via] email. This is changing dramatically,” he said. “[Users] are creating all sorts of new content, and that traditional Microsoft Office Stack paradigm is completely breaking down.”
One of the biggest trends in the UC market for 2013 was the realization that successful use of social software required integration with the UC and collaboration tools that people were already using. The last thing users want is another platform to sign into that requires them to toggle back and forth throughout the day. Huddle recently announced its decision to partner with Tibbr, an enterprise social vendor, to bring social networking to collaboration environments.
The partnership will allow Huddle customers to share and manage their content in the cloud while socializing with colleagues. At the same time, it will also allow Tibbr users to have full use of Huddle’s content collaboration service, with the ability to attach Huddle files to their status updates.
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Much like Unify’s (formerly Siemens Enterprise) “new way to work” mantra, Logitech is adopting “the new office” tagline. This new office supports mobile workers who are working from home, on the road or even in the office with their own devices.
Mobile UC market on the rise?
While traditional hardware vendors like Cisco are becoming increasingly software-centric this year, unified communications vendors like Logitech are hanging onto their hardware roots and capitalizing on the computer peripheral market, particularly mobile device peripherals.
A few years ago, HP and a few others struggled with making tablets work. However, today’s Gartner statistics see a spike in tablet shipments. In addition, ComputerWeekly reports 31% of companies are adopting choose-your-own-device policies (CYOD), compared with 17% of companies with complete bring-your-own-device (BYOD) policies. Logitech hopes to translate this renewed mobile UC market focus into bring-your-own-peripheral (BYOP) market sales.
“Our keyboard case for iPads is our largest seller,” said Alan Smith, senior global product manager for audio products at Logitech for Business.
Logitech improves mobile user experience
Since mobile devices have notoriously poor audio quality, especially on speaker, a mobile speakerphone may be desirable for employees looking to conference on the go. The speakerphone has a noise cancelling microphone and dual EQ. It also acts as a docking station for all USB- or Bluetooth-enabled devices. It can maintain two active devices and pair up to eight devices at a time using Near Field Communication (NFC) pairing.
“It provides a steady place to put your device for better user experience for the person on the other end of the call,” Smith said.
While audio quality is the main focus of the portable speakerphone, the added benefit of a docking station might be a huge sell for anyone who has ever tried to hold a mobile phone through the duration of a video conference. Not only would your arm thank you for an alternative resting place, but your coworkers would be grateful for not making them dizzy.
To make the speakerphone mobile friendly, the device comes with a carrying case and 15 hours of battery life — suitable for a two-day trip or a manager’s longest conference-call-filled work day.
The Logitech Mobile Speakerphone P710e ships next month for a suggested price of $169.99.
Canadian collaboration software and technology provider Smart Technologies has finally unveiled its SMART Room System — a hardware and software-integrated offering qualified and interoperable with Microsoft’s Lync Server 2013 — that was announced earlier this year at Enterprise Connect in Orlando, Florida. The new offering will help bring Lync real-time communication tools into any enterprise conference room or meeting space.
The SMART Room will combine the vendor’s well-known interactive touch display technology for visual collaboration — with Lync’s unified communication features. The system will give Microsoft users access to enhanced collaboration capabilities during meetings — such as audio, video and data presentation — regardless of whether they are having a face-to-face meeting or virtual collaboration sessions, said Smart.
In addition, users won’t have to waste precious meeting time firing up a room system. Launching a meeting can be done in one touch of the slick, glass display screen, the company said.
The SMART Room Systems, which will range in size to support 2-16 room-based participants, will include a wide-angle, high definition camera offering 109-degree field of view, echo-cancelling speakers and microphones that can be daisy chained to reach all users, and a desktop room control console. The interactive display screens range in size from 1 x 70 inches, 1 x 84inches, or 2 x 70 inches. Smart Room Systems are now available and shipping worldwide.