Thursday, March 5, 2015

Will UC Become a Loss Leader?

Good question, huh?I think it will, and in light of this week's surprise move from Mitel to acquire Mavenir, this may not seem so far-fetched. If their move pays off, it might also indicate that UC vendors aren't necessarily selling to the right customers.

It's always good to question the status quo, especially with UC, where nothing is really on firm ground. I hope that's enough to steer you now to my current posting on UCStrategies. As a UC Expert, I contribute regualrly there, and I encourage you to spend more time on the portal - I'm just one of many analysts and consultants following UC, and this is where we speak our minds.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Collaboration Insights – Getting Work Done – New Series

The term collaboration is a bit of a loaded word, but it’s become central to any conversation now around workplace productivity and communications technology. To help decision-makers get better value from collaboration initiatives, this marks the start of a new series based on my ongoing industry research.
For clarity, I will state upfront that this series is sponsored by Cisco Canada, but the content is mine. My analysis is independent and vendor-neutral, so you won’t be reading much here about Cisco’s collaboration offerings or their competitors for that matter.
It’s about getting work done
To set the stage for these posts, I’d like to begin with the fundamental need for “getting work done”. You would think that with all the technology and communications tools at our disposal, businesses would run like well-oiled machines, but the exact opposite is closer to reality. If anything, we have too many tools, and more specifically, they tend to be used in a standalone manner. While this can be effective for one-to-one interactions, team-based scenarios are far more challenging.
Increasingly, employees need to work in teams, and it’s the exception when everyone is in the same physical space at the same time. Since teams also need to function over time, it should be expected that while working on a project together, people will at various times be in different locations. Not to mention that each employee is typically part of multiple teams, with each having their own distribution of members.
These are just a few examples as to why collaboration is a fluid concept, along with why getting work done can be so challenging. Ideally, communications technologies should be transparent, seamlessly enabling people to collaborate under all conditions, but this is harder to do than it looks. However, it doesn’t have to be that way.
To some extent, all organizations have cultural issues that impede effective collaboration, and the same can be said for arcane business processes that cannot benefit from today’s tools to make workflows more efficient. Those are likely beyond your control, so I would advocate focusing inward on things you can control. A good starting point is getting a better understanding of how today’s collaboration technologies can dovetail with how work gets done now.
What does collaboration mean to you?
A lot of this actually has to do with how you think about collaboration. When it comes to getting work done, do you view collaboration as drawing from a set of standalone applications to facilitate communication? Or, do you see it as a dynamic process based on a set of communications applications that are highly integrated, not just with each other, but throughout your network, tied into business applications that drive workflows?
If you are steeped in what Unified Communications has to offer, you’ll know there are solutions out there to support the latter. However, even these offerings can come up short, simply because the expectations of employees are being driven more by their consumer experiences than what’s available in the office. The “consumerization of IT” trend is real, and the pace of innovation is simply faster and more accessible on the home front. UC offerings tend to lag here, making them followers rather than leaders, and this is where the getting work done challenge is magnified.
When employees come to the office with consumer-based expectations for getting work done, the challenges become clear. They get frustrated because IT either cannot or will not support the applications they use so comfortably in their personal lives. Some will find workarounds to use those tools outside the realm of IT, but most end up taking a step back and making do with what’s available.
Think about how many phone calls end up in voicemail. Think about how often employees don’t even bother to listen to VM. Think about how much time is wasted with tedious close-the-loop and CYA emails. Think about how difficult it is for employees to use video, especially with contacts outside the business. Think about hard it is to use collaboration tools across fixed and mobile environments.
No doubt you can add to this list, and it should be clear how real these problems are and the obstacles they present to effective collaboration. If you think of them as isolated issues that can be addressed on an as-needed basis, you’re missing the bigger picture. Employees don’t just need multiple tools and modes to collaborate when working in disparate groups; they also need them to interwork amongst themselves to create an experience that mirrors in-person engagement. Not only that, but to get that experience, they need to interwork across multiple devices, operating systems, and networks.
Rethinking collaboration
This sounds like a tall order, but if you think along these lines, you’ll look at communications technology differently. Unified Communications represents an entry point for what collaboration needs to be today, but these are just tools for IT to provide. You need to drive that with a vision – one that speaks to the outcomes demanded by the business and your customers, along with what collaboration means to employees, especially those from the Internet generation. Whether or not IT is rooted in that generation, this is the way forward, and is where the rethinking needs to happen.
I’ll frame that rethinking as this series continues, especially regarding the complexity associated with collaboration, the challenges posed by a lack of vendor interoperability, and how IT needs to approach getting buy-in for collaboration throughout the organization. There’s a lot of ground to cover, and my intention is for you to see collaboration not just as a set of applications, but as an enabler of business transformation.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

New Article - Five Considerations for Buying SIP Phones

Earlier this week, I posted about my new White Paper about what to look for when buying IP/SIP phones for your business. The post also explained the back story for the research, which was sponsored by VTech.

The White Paper is getting a lot of attention, which is good for me, and hopefully good for VTech. As explained earlier, I also wrote two articles complementing the paper, and one of them has recently been published. Titled "Five Considerations for Buying SIP Phones", the article is running now in CIO Review, and explores key buying factors that were touched on in the paper. Here's the link to the article, and if you like it, I hope you share it on social meda. That won't just make me happy, but VTech and the publisher too!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Key Considerations for Choosing SIP Phones - my new White Paper

I've been on a steady run of projects, and the past while, one has been with VTech. You may know them as a leading brand for cordless phones in the consumer space, but they also have a full product line for businesses. They're not as well known as the more established vendors, but feel they have some differentiators to change that. To that end, they engaged me for some thought leadership deliverables.

The main piece is a white paper, and that's what I'm blogging about here. I also produced articles for two different publications; one I'll be blogging about shortly and the other one will run next month. After conducting my research, it was clear to me that VTech has a good story, but more importantly, that businesses are not well informed when it comes to making buying decisions around IP or SIP-based phones.

My deliverables have focused mainly on the latter, and the white paper can be downloaded here from VTech's Business Phones website. The paper has been written primarily for SMBs, and my intention is to provide a foundation for understanding how best to derive value from IP phones, especially when adopting a hosted VoIP service. I hope you find it helpful, and welcome your feedback or comments.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Why BYOD Matters and Success Strategies for UC - my next Webinar

Just doing another posting for my upcoming Ziff Davis B2B webinar on BYOD and UC. It's next Tuesday at 2pm ET, and it's been getting really strong response so far. There is no easy answer for BYOD, and it's not easy to avoid the challenges that come when employees bring their smart devices to work and expect to use them like any other endpoint.

As far as I know, there isn't a cap on registration, so it shouldn't be a problem to particpate. All the details are here on the landing page, and I hope you can join us on the 24th.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Yorktel case study - the right way to sell video

Video is a great collaboration tool, and I've written about it often. Unlike telephony, it's not a one-size-fits-all application, and there are many natural barriers to adoption. Cost has long been one of them, but that is definitely going away, but the same cannot be said for things like network complexity and vendor interoperability.

In most cases, video is not out-of-the-box, and that's where companies like Yorktel come into play. Don't let the name fool you - they're solely focused on helping businesses deploy video effectively, and they know very well how to address these barriers to adoption. Complexity is to be expected with today's technologies, but in the right hands this shouldn't be a deal-breaker, and that's good news for SMBs, who typically have limited IT capabilities.

I've been briefing with Yorktel on a regular basis, most recently at the ITExpo event, and it was great to hear about their continued success. While I'm not doing this toot their horn, I'd like to share a case study they recently produced for their website. The focus is on a healthcare client, and it does a great job laying out the full process, starting with the discovery phase to identify the problems. From there, a solution is developed based on a comprehensive review of needs and objectives. This is key, and the case study shows how this process truly adds value.

At the end of the day, we're really talking about solutions selling rather providing a collection of point products to address specific technology problems. This approach is very much in line with what I often write about in terms of focusing on the business needs instead of what IT wants - or thinks they want.

Clearly, one-size-fits-all doesn't work for video, and when you look at the details of what they came up with for this particular vertical market - healthcare - it's not hard to see why the customer went with Yorktel. If everyone sold video this way, it would be far more pervasive, so if you're struggling to get your customers down this path, I think you'll enjoy their case study.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Cisco Canada's New HQ - Hard Hat Tour

Last Friday, I was part of group of analysts/media invited for a hard hat tour of Cisco Canada's new HQ here in Toronto. Their current offices don't lack for anything - and have a great view - but this isn't about moving into a new space. This is about the future of work and what it takes to create the right environment to support it.

Cisco doesn't do things in half measures, and when it comes to building a foundation for the future, they're doing this figuratively and literally. Some businesses move to save money or to find a more suitable space or a better location. These are all good reasons, but pretty superficial when it comes to the big picture. Cisco isn't interested in just moving to a better space - they're interesting in creating a better space - one that suits their vision of how the workplace is evolving.

Of course, this is about showcasing Cisco's technology, and if you buy into this vision, you'll have a very cool workspace. Technology can sure do wonderful things, but to get those results, it needs to be properly supported. To that end, the hard hat tour was to show us what goes into a smart building, and what can happen when factoring the end result into the construction plans.

We got a taste of that by hearing not just from Cisco, but from the property managers and construction teams. This really is a special type of partnership, and it's a rare opportunity for a tenant to have this much input in the design and construction process. I found this really fascinating, especially since I straddle both worlds of coumunications technology and smart grid/energy. There's a lot to take away from getting this sneak preview of the finished product, and I'll explore that in future posts.

Needless to say, you might wonder if the investment in this design/build plan - along with all the technology to make an office function - will become the driving force for businesses and making employees more dispensible in terms of fitting into this new model of working. This is a pretty expensive roadmap, and I hope that doesn't translate in lower pay for employees who are increasingly contract-based. That's a gloomy topic for another day, and for now I'll stick to the story.

On that upbeat note, I want to you keep my photos in mind, as this shows you what these spaces look like today. Cisco is scheduled to move in this May, and I'm looking forward to updating what the finished product looks like.

If you follow my work, you'll know this is very much an Internet of Things story, and Cisco is at the forefront of showing how this will transform everything we do. In this case, they're showing us how IoT/IoE will transform the workplace, and we heard a lot about how Cisco's employees will be working this spring. In short, there are no offices - just open spaces to foster all forms of collaboration and social interaction. It's all about video, mobility and persistent engagement, and I have no doubt this is the shape of things to come.

I should also note that there are actually two Cisco intiatives happening here. One is the office move, but that's actually the side story. The main event is their "IoE Innovation Hub", which is elsewhere in the building. This was announced a few months back, and is just one of four Cisco will have world-wide, and the only one in North America. Lucky us!

Much like the Tesla stores or Apple stores you see in malls, this space will be used to demonstrate what's possible with today's technology to transform work. I'm sure it will help sell a lot of Cisco technology, but the bigger payoff will be making all this high-end technology real for everyone to see and touch - not just businesses, but their employees, designers, developers, construction companies, urban planners, energy providers, etc.

 Cisco Canada president, Bernadette Wightman
 I kinda like this raw, industrial look - maybe just for five minutes, then it feels cold and drafty!
 PoE LED lighting - doesn't give off heat, and centrally managed from the network
 Don't be fooled - this isn't your new office. It's really just a quiet space where anyone can work. Leave your baby and pet pictures at home - all you need is a smart device and you are where you work. We're not all wired this way - at least yet - but I'm sure there's app coming to retrain us for IoE.
 Cut-outs between the floors to bring in more light and make the environment more open and social