Unified Communications Nation

April 30, 2012  9:55 AM

Polycom, a shrinking video conferencing giant?

Gina Narcisi Gina Narcisi Profile: Gina Narcisi

The video conferencing market is changing, and in any market, change typically requires the need to evolve.

While working on an article this week about video conferencing interoperability, a couple of analysts mentioned that Polycom, typically thought of as a leader in this space, was struggling. It appears that this hardware-centric vendor is noticing that the enterprise is gravitating toward software-based video-conferencing offerings.

Video-conferencing rooms are being replaced with lightweight alternatives like desktop video. And why buy video hardware when other vendors are giving it away for free? Microsoft probably had this trend in mind when it acquired Skype, which users can download onto any device they wish and use it anytime, anywhere.

Smaller players are also paying attention and taking this opportunity to break in to the video conferencing market by way of partnerships with other vendors. These partnerships aimed at delivering hosted video conferencing offerings, a solution that many enterprises have begun to favor.

Vendors should keep in mind that enterprises are looking for ease of use, something that many desktop or mobile video offerings (like Skype) provide. Hosted solutions are also growing, given the low up-front investment required by a subscription service.

The good news is, the market for video only seems to be going up and Polycom has a great reputation. With a little evolution, perhaps Polycom will see its stock rise again.

April 9, 2012  8:38 AM

Microsoft Lync saves Sprint millions…literally

Gina Narcisi Gina Narcisi Profile: Gina Narcisi

As many sessions held during Enterprise Connect 2012 pointed out, user adoption of enterprise-grade UC tools has been a point of pain for UC vendors. But sometimes when a company goes all-in with enterprise UC or collaboration technology, it can realize serious benefits.

BJ Haberkorn, Group Product Manager for Microsoft Lync told us at the conference that Sprint has experienced a big benefit with Lync–a savings of $30 million annually.

Notably, Sprint has saved $2.5 million in avoidance of PBX upgrade costs, $6.7 million in recurring circuit costs and $4 million in cost avoidance for conferencing since the installation of Lync. The company has even been able to earn some green savings–$700,000 annually because it doesn’t have to power and cool old PBXs anymore.

Sprint has over 500 locations and was looking to do more with less, Haberkorn explained, and the collaboration tool has changed the office environment. The mobile carrier’s 39,000 users are now able to work remotely more easily with voice, IM, desktop file sharing and conferencing capabilities on one platform. As a result, Sprint has changed the layout of many of its offices and even reduced the number of its campuses. “They don’t have cubicles anymore,” Haberkorn said, noting that Sprint has set up unassigned work stations in which employees can grab a spot to get work done when they come in.

“But Sprint told us their employees are in the office no more than 40% of the time, because the employees are now enabled with the tools they need wherever they are,” Haberkorn said.

And the users love being able to go to a meeting by clicking a button without dialing any numbers or searching for conference passcodes.

In addition to cost saving benefits for the enterprise, employees enjoy the ease of use that comes along with click-to-communicate capabilities. While not every company will experience Sprint’s success, Enterprises should fully embrace UC and collaboration tools in order to get their users to follow suit, and to get the most bang for their buck.

March 28, 2012  12:39 PM

Habitat for Humanity customer goes all next-gen with AvayaLive Connect

Kate Gerwig Kate Gerwig Profile: Kate Gerwig

It’s important to remember it’s not always about the large enterprise when it comes to moving to unified communications. Sometimes the small business needs UC most.


For example, Habitat for Humanity’s Kim Trainor, community relations director of the greater Lowell, Mass., area, isn’t a bleeding-edge technology adopter. She’s been more of a last-gen user using a black push-button phone with no features for the past three years. In a job where she spends time looking for corporate sponsors, writing grants and working with families that need housing, a hold button, basic voicemail and the ability to transfer calls without telling someone to call back could have changed her life.


When the opportunity to beta test Avaya’s new AvayaLive Connect public Internet UC solution presented itself, complete with new handsets, Trainor and her four office mates graduated to a plug-and-play service that include audio and video conferencing, presence, mobility, messaging, and of course voicemail that can be delivered to email. At that moment, Lowell’s Habitat for Humanity group joined the 95% of companies doing something with UC, according to Nemertes Research vice president Irwin Lazar.


Trainor’s group didn’t have to know what presence or soft clients are. They just got to use the features.


“We knew we needed a new phone system, but in the non-profit world, you just try to make do and hope that people donate stuff,” Trainor said. “We have no technology budget. But we’ve been testing it for two months, and it has made our lives much easier.”


AvayaLive Connect, which is designed for small businesses, will roll out commercially in early summer.  Its aggressive pricing, we’re told (unofficially), will be $20 per user, per month, with Avaya throwing in a free month’s subscription.


Announcing the service at Enterprise Connect 2012 in Orlando this week, Avaya is betting on attracting the huge and often underserved small business market. It plans to have its channel partners heavily involved — at least those who have shown they’re good at selling services, not just boxes. The service is also available via the Avaya website.


While the service runs over the public Internet, Avaya announced a strategic relationship with Level 3 Communications to support AvayaLive Connect. It is unclear what the provider’s strategic mission is.


Cloud and/or hosted collaboration service announcements are plentiful this week, and providers (which include carriers, UC vendors and startups) are labeling them as “cloud,” “hosted” or “managed” services to avoid customer “cloud fear.” Microsoft also markets Lync Online, its Office 365 public cloud services suite, for small business customers.


Many more announcements targeted larger enterprises. For example, Sprint announced the availability of Sprint Complete Collaboration, a managed UC service bundle that integrates Cisco’s Hosted Collaboration solution (HCS) platform that provides connectivity through SIP trunking via its MPLS network. Capitalizing on its carrier background, Sprint offers class of service at no charge and integrates client- and network-based mobile integration intended to extend PBX features to mobile devices. 


UC services like Sprint’s are too big for Trainor’s needs, however, with its sweet spot of enterprises with 500 to 5,000 users. Avaya Live Connect can scale down to two users to fill a blank in the market, according to Philippe Allard, product manager for AvayaLive Connect, adding that the handsets arrive completely assembled with cords plugged in if the customer even wants to buy phones, which is not required.

March 27, 2012  8:55 AM

UC federation should actually unify — When will that happen?

Gina Narcisi Gina Narcisi Profile: Gina Narcisi
Unified Communications

ORLANDO — Whether it’s the BYOD trend, or the idea of UC federation, one theme keeps jumping out at me as I sit in sessions at Enterprise Connect in Orlando this week — the increasing focus on the user experience (what a concept).

While it may not be the most important feature vendors focus on when creating or upgrading a unified communications platform or application, “user experience” is growing in vendor mindshare. Users are making it clear that they have devices (smartphones and tablets, namely) that they love and would like to leverage to get their work done, not just to play Angry Birds.

Along with BYOD, users are asking for ease-of-use when it comes to UC offerings. A.T. Kearney’s Kevin Rice mentioned that his own enterprise uses an internal UC platform with an interface that “looks like Facebook,” so it is easier and more familiar to users. It results in employees actually using the UC platform — which is the major critical success factor for UC.

Users are also asking for communication and collaboration capabilities to be better integrated into their workflows. Most employees already use email, instant messaging and intranet platforms every day, and that’s not even counting other social media tools like LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook. Who really wants to have to remember another password and sign into another application at work?

Analysts are stressing this “no more passwords” requirement from users, and vendors have listened, as well. But challenges lay ahead. UC is already a mixed vendor environment, and most companies have different vendors for voice, video and collaboration. Everybody admits that integration is a major unsolved issue.

An interoperable inter-vendor federation for UC is a realistic goal that a panel of speakers from Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft, and Nextplane — led by Russell Bennett, principal analyst of UC insights — believe in.

While UC federation sounds like a great idea for enterprises, establishing trust between UC platforms is not something that is going to happen overnight, according to Albert Kooiman, senior product manager for Microsoft.

But Kooiman predicts that in the future, the idea of UC federation will be a thing of the past, as different companies will have the ability to work together seamlessly without dissimilar UC vendors standing in their way.

After all, isn’t it called unified communications for a reason?

March 26, 2012  1:20 PM

BTLs, not BLTs, key to successful UC and collaboration deployments

Kate Gerwig Kate Gerwig Profile: Kate Gerwig

Go ahead and knock yourself out making list upon list of the unified communications and collaboration elements you’d like to deploy in your enterprise. Lists are never a mistake, but Nemertes Research Vice President Irwin Lazar’s best advice on how to build a UCC roadmap is to forget about the technology. It’s an interesting point of view, particularly since Lazar kicked off the Enterprise Connect conference in Orlando today to a standing-room-only crowd of IT professionals wanting to know how to build a UCC roadmap at a show where UC vendors are making about a million announcements.


With backup in the form of talking to hundreds of enterprises about UCC each year, Lazar makes a good point. UCC technology in a vacuum may be cool and new, but it can cost you big money and present lots of bad surprises in terms of who’s not using it and why. He urges that instead of looking at the technology, the UC question of choice should be how to help employees do their jobs. The major measure of UC success is how often employees use the capabilities available to them.


One of the problems that UCC brings with it is that the more ways enterprises have to collaborate, the more confusing the options have become. Despite social business tools and desktop video deployments, most employees rely on email first and foremost, Lazar says.


According to Lazar, communication of the most basic kind will guarantee greater UC success, with people inside the business talking to other people inside the business. Creating a Business Technology Liaison (BTL, not to be confused with a BLT) team is a critical success factor when designing a UC deployment that has a chance of working, he says. BTLs are preferably designated employees with IT backgrounds who are charged with explaining and socializing the UC effort to the business side of the house and finding out who really wants to use what. BTLs also need to ensure that employees in all business units are aware of new UC rollouts and know how to use them.


Recent Nemertes surveys show that 81% of companies have someone in a BTL role, even if they don’t call it that, and 63% of those BTLs have IT backgrounds, according to recent Nemertes data.


“Depending on the size of the company, one is usually not enough,” Lazar said, adding that enterprises planning UCC deployments have at least one BTL per business unit in place for the rollout and keep the team in place over time to deal with issues as they come up.


No matter how the BTLs connect — video conference, webcast, social media or actual telephone — they almost guarantee better adoption and use of UC technology. The use of social tools, for example, is exploding, but often outside of ITs’ knowledge within different business units. Lazar maintains that BTLs have a key role to play and are a must-have for any UC roadmap so business units from legal to HR to IT itself know what collaboration apps are available so the left hand can talk to the right.

March 26, 2012  1:13 PM

Move over BYOD, here comes BYOA

Gina Narcisi Gina Narcisi Profile: Gina Narcisi

ORLANDO — The mobility trend is growing by leaps and bounds within the enterprise, with BYOD taking center stage over the past couple of years. But now, BYOD is evolving into bring-your-own-applications (BYOA), Michael F. Finneran, Principal, dBrn Associates, Inc. explained at Enterprise Connect in Orlando today.

Not only do users want to use their own devices, but they want to use applications familiar to them to get work done. “Users want consumer hardware, as well as consumer-type devices,” Finneran said. While tools like Microsoft Lync are ok, LinkedIn is preferred by many users, as is Skype over other real-time video products developed specifically for the enterprise by the likes of Avaya and Polycomm he added.

BYOD is all well and good, but this is where a mobility strategy must come into play. It’s not crucial for IT to make users happy by allowing them to use their iPhones and applications they enjoy for work, Finneran said. It is critical for IT to create a balancing act with users, however, by making them accessible and enable them to easily reach the right person at the right time, while offering a certain level of support for certain devices.

“If you can’t beat them, join them — responsibly,” he said, noting that some companies have even begun offering something of an app store for its employees and their devices. Companies are learning that if the UC product or application is not easy to use or familiar to the employee, they won’t use it.

But the responsibilities of IT are not changing with the addition of the mobility component. “Their responsibilities are staying the same with a different set of tools in a different environment,” Finneran said. In developing a mobile strategy, identifying the right tools (Apple iPhones, Android and Blackberry devices, tablets and applications) appropriate for the company and user, and ensuring security without breaking the bank is where IT should begin.

From there, different use cases should be established — like what applications can/should be downloaded on the device, depending on the user’s job function, for example. IT also must consider device issues “from the cradle to the grave,” Finneran noted, explaining that the policy must address what happens when users lose or purchase a new device or leave the company, because IT can’t worry about whether or not they can wipe a device after a person has been terminated.

Since the game is always changing in mobility, a mobile policy just can’t be set and forgotten. BYOA is a major change and new struggle for IT departments, so addressing these issues early on can mitigate problems for enterprises later.

“The goal with mobility is to enable business transactions based on what tools are available, not necessarily making users smile,” Finneran said.

BYOD and BYOA are the little issues enterprises are facing now in the grand scheme of things, but the ability to improve business with available tools in a responsible fashion, all while balancing user experience will be the grand-scale concern as the need for mobility continues to grow.

March 22, 2012  3:36 PM

Managed UC services: small risk, big gains for some enterprises

Gina Narcisi Gina Narcisi Profile: Gina Narcisi

As communication and collaboration platforms and software become more advanced, enterprises are trying to find ways to keep up without having to spend a small fortune.

Avaya has recently announced a new offering –Avaya Communications Outsourcing Solutions (COS)–aimed at managing communication operations of a company. Moving into managed services is a smart move for Avaya, as many companies with aging communications infrastructures would like to make improvements but may be constricted by a budget.

In fact, Ed Nalbandian, vice president of Avaya Operations Services told me recently that these are the types of companies that are benefiting the most from this offering. By offering a managed service and charging per month, enterprises can migrate from their older infrastructure while reducing risk of performance issues and avoiding a big investment.

Matrix, the front-end management platform for COS customers is cloud-based, providing a private cloud-like environment for the user. Customers really want a transparent view of their infrastructure, Nalbandian said. The offering also offers multi-vendor support, which makes sense given UC is a bit of a mixed vendor environment.

While enterprises seem to be selectively outsourcing, the managed service trend appears to be growing for enterprises struggling with product upgrades and tight budgets. As vendors continue to develop and grow communications and collaboration offerings, demand for managed services for communications infrastructures from enterprises could certainly increase.

January 10, 2012  6:40 PM

The advantages of building a private enterprise app store

Guest Author Profile: Guest Author

Walk down the streets of a busy city and you’ll find people glued to their mobile devices, texting, checking their email or doing something else with their smartphones. That “something else” is nothing short of revolutionary.

Beyond playing games or interacting on social networks, people are accessing information literally on-the-go. Increasingly, what they’re accessing extends well beyond consumer-centric information into the work-related realm. Enterprises are looking to build enterprise app stores to securely deploy and manage mobile enterprise applications.

Similar to consumer-based app stores, like iTunes, the enterprise app store is a concept with which any smartphone user should be very familiar. As opposed to browsing a catalog of hundreds of thousands of apps — which may or may not have been tested and curated — “customers” (employees) are instead offered any number of mobile applications to download to improve productivity.

The benefits of creating an enterprise app store should be rather self-evident. First of all, enterprise app stores replicate public app stores by extending the familiar user-centric view of application deployment. Enterprise app stores also provide organizations with a means to deploy custom applications in a private and secure fashion, bypassing public infrastructure and approval processes to disseminate the applications.

Continued »

December 12, 2011  1:21 PM

Building and managing the enterprise app store

Guest Author Profile: Guest Author

Do you remember what you were doing on July 10, 2008? Let me jog your memory a bit by rephrasing the question: How did you react when Apple launched the iTunes App Store? You know, the marketplace that in just three years amassed over 500,000 applications for iPhones, iPods and iPads?

Research in Motion (RIM) was undoubtedly the pioneer in mobile messaging with its iconic BlackBerry devices, but Apple reinvented our perspective on smartphones by suggesting we could do almost anything with our mobile devices. How can we forget the catchphrase, “There’s an app for that”?

While we have collectively fallen in love with slaying pigs on Angry Birds, remembering a forgotten song with Shazam or checking into our favorite coffee shop with FourSquare, another mobility trend emerged — the consumerization of enterprise mobility.

Continued »

July 25, 2011  11:32 AM

Consumerization of IT reviving aim of UC

Leigha Leigha Cardwell Profile: Leigha

The hype around unified communications (UC) has been percolating for years, yet by and large there’s been a disconnect (pun intended) among enterprises to develop and execute forward-thinking, comprehensive UC strategies. Ready or not, the consumerization of IT is forcing enterprises to plug into UC, and ironically, the productivity needs of end users.

The meteoric acceleration of innovation in the mobility space and the global domination of social networking has even best-of-breed companies—or technology innovators—struggling to keep pace, let alone anticipate how mobile device types and collaborative applications are likely to evolve, and plan accordingly. Inarguably, the challenge is a formidable one. By some estimates, the speed of mobile innovation is two times faster than it was just five years ago. There are currently close to 450,000 available iPhone apps alone, which is about twice as many as there were this time last year. Prior to 2010, tablets weren’t even in the picture.

The rapid evolution of collaboration and mobility technologies took off about the same time as the economy tapered off. Year-over-year budget cuts had IT departments doing more with less, and necessitated a “triage” approach to IT needs over a strategic one. Though IT budgets are on the rise, the influx of employee-liable smart devices—a.k.a. the BYOD (bring your own device) movement—and the subsequent user demand for network access via multiple mobile operating platforms and device types, social networking and other collaboration applications like CEBP, has IT fielding requests on an ad hoc basis.

To varying degrees, many enterprise organizations are letting end-user demand steer their UC strategies, as getting ahead of the innovation curve has simply proved to be too much. This forced shift from the traditional top-down management model to a more bottom-up approach is at last giving substance to years of UC hype.

The core purpose of UC is to enhance overall productivity based in large part on the specific needs of individual end users and the applications they use day-to-day. Lack of time and budget has historically fueled the already difficult task of identifying and accurately assessing end-user need, a key element of successful UC deployment strategies. The consumerization of IT and the BYOD trend are reinforcing the original aim of enterprise UC—helping users maximize collaboration, improve operation efficiency and provide a platform for innovation that will sustain long-term viability.

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