Friday, September 27, 2013

Fonolo's Take on Top Contact Center Analysts

Fonolo has long been one of the more interesting Toronto tech startups, and they continue doing good work in the contact center space. I'll tell you off the top that I'm an Advisor to Fonolo, but that's not material to what I'm sharing here.

Yesterday, they published their 2013 list of the top analysts covering the contact center space. I'm pleased to be on that list and have maintained my good graces from last year as well. I'm just 1 of 14 analysts, so my bigger message here is that this is a pretty solid group of thought leaders you should be following if this space is on your radar.

Shai Berger and his team rely a lot on reaching the right people to get their message across, and I know how hard they work at building up these relationships. Fonolo may be a small player, but they're pretty plugged in, and I'd put more stock in their brain trust community than relying on what a PR shop or a digital media agency will tell you. As with anything else, "know your source" is my mantra for credibility, and Shai knows of what he speaks. Oh, and I'd be remiss not to say thanks for considering me again for 2013!

Without further ado, here's the list, and if you care to comment further, am sure Shai would be happy to hear from you.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Webinar Next Week with Jabra - Shifting to UC for SMBs - Join Us!

It's never dull around here, and it seems if I'm not writing, I'm doing webinars or going to industry events. Next week is no exception, and on Thursday, October 3, I'm the featured guest on a webinar sponsored by Jabra, and we're on at 2pm ET. It's more of a fireside chat, really, and I'll be sharing my views with Jabra on various trends and drivers that are making this a good time for SMBs to consider UC.

I think it says a lot about where UC is going for Jabra to be doing thought leadership events like this. They're not a company that would be top of mind in this space, but when you think about the varying forms UC can take these days, they absolutely belong. Jabra sure has an interesting history and I've been using their products for a while - both headset and speaker peripherals. If you think about the all-important "end user experience", along with the PC's growing role as the desk phone's eventual successor, these products can add a lot of value for any UC solution.

If you're nodding your head to this, then you really should join us next week. Registration is free, and we'll be done by 2:45 - not even an hour. All the details are here, and if you know anyone else who might be interested, please pass this along - thanks!

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Collaboration vs. Connectivity - my updated view of the video conferencing space on UCStrategies

Regular followers will know that I attended the LifeSize Tech Day last week in Austin, TX. I learned a lot there, not just about what LifeSize is doing in the space, but also about how the overall vendor landscape is shaping up.There are a lot of ways to look at the market, but for me, two value drivers say it best - connectivity vs. collaboration. Most vendors do one of these very well, and in terms of delivering the right mix of price/performance, they generally fall on either end of this spectrum.

LifeSize stands out for me since they seem to be going for the middle ground here, and while I think the opportunity is attractive, the market first needs to "get it". That's not so easy to do, especially with cloud and WebRTC nown starting to change the rules of the game in a big way. There's a lot of evolution coming for this space, and based on my takeaways from Austin, I've put together an overview of how I see the landscape today. Since video is a key component of UC, I thought it best to do this on the UCStrategies portal for my September contribution there. My post is running there now, and I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Microsoft Technology Centre/Lync Love Day - Toronto

Am trying to keep pace here, and a headcold right now isn't helping.

This post is a bit belated, but definitely worth sharing. Last Wednesday, as part of Microsoft Canada's Lync advisory group, I was invited to attend to attend Lync Love Day, along with a tour of their newly-opened MTC - Microsoft Technology Centre. The timing was good, since the day after I was on the analyst concall where the U.S. Lync team gave their update on things. So, I've had a full dose of MSFT lately, and feeling pretty in tune with where they're going.

The MTC, btw, is their first in Canada, so I'm in the early cohort of people to see it. If you've been there or to any of their other MTCs outside of Canada, am sure you'd agree they've done a great job. These days, all the vendors are trying to get/stay close to technology buyers/influencers/decision-makers, not just because the market is so competitive, but also because their new technologies are complex and the stakes are getting really high for IT folks to make the right bets.

I've got some MTC photos below, but most of our time was spent getting updates on Lync. Overall, the message there is about "delivering an experience - and not just communicating". Key areas we heard about included how Skype and Lync will be integrated, extending Lync to the mobile space and driving more enterprise voice adoption via the cloud.

It's still not clear if they know how to monetize Skype, especially when talking to enterprises. Skype definitely has a play with SMBs and SOHOs, but my concern is that enterprises will associate Skype with being consumer-grade and PC-based, both of which run counter to Lync's value proposition for this end of the business market. To me, whatever they do with Skype will be a bonus, and with RIM imploding, I'm sure moving into enterprise mobility space is a higher, more lucrative opportunity.

Video, of course, is another piece of the puzzle, and having been at the LifeSize event earlier last week, I wanted to address this separately. As a sidebar, for both of these events, I was the only analyst in attendance, so you won't likely get this type of perspective from anyone else unless you follow a pretty broad circle of people like me.

Since Cisco staked their claim on video and telepresence being about collaboration, all the other vendors have fallen into line for this to be the main driver. I've now seen how LifeSize is delivering their take on collaboration, and MSFT gave us a great demo for theirs. Of course, the big advantage with Lync is the natural integration with Office and everything else MSFT, and so as long as they can provide an easy-to-use high-touch environment, they have a great solution.

We saw that in spades, and there's a photo below to give you a taste. Their approach to collaboration is different, as instead of fixating on a passive video screen to watch other people or share content, there is also an interactive element via whiteboarding. It's a very natural, cool way to work, especially since the work can be shared and edited in real-time and then saved for sharing later. Nothing new here, but collectively all the pieces are offered as the LRS - Lync Room System, and it's a pretty compelling mix of collaboration, content sharing and live interaction for anyone connected to the session. And, yes, it works across most mobile devices, so you can join a LRS meeting pretty much from anywhere.

As with any other UC vendor, video is a big part of the story, but just as important is how seamlessly it works across all the tools and applications we use every day. Yes, it costs money, but it's a lot less than immersive TP, and a far richer experience than desktop, cloud-based video conferencing services. This should be a great way to enhance the Lync value proposition, and since there's hardware involved, LRS looks to be pretty channel-friendly. We saw pieces from SMART Technologies and Crestron - hardly household names, so there's a lot riding on them are partners. Polycom is also a LRS partner, but we were told they're not ready for market yet. Hmm - should that be a concern? I'll leave that out there for consideration - time for some pictures....

Mark Hickson demo'ing LRS - behind him is the whiteboard, left; and on the right screen are 3 live video panels - 1 for him, 1 for a remote attendee, and a hard-to-see panorama showing each of us there in the room with him. He's holding up a tablet to show the video there as well, and later he did the same with the other mobile device on the table in front of him.
One of the testing/interop rooms during the MTC tour
Fellow UCStrategies colleague, Roberta Fox, checking out the gigantic touch screen in the MTC lobby - this was pretty impressive.
Last stop on the MTC tour - the Envisioning Centre. Very cool - theater setting where they simulate various work environments to show us just how seamlessly their technology works across the spectrum of settings.

Smart Grid Webinar Reminder - Tomorrow at 4 ET - Smart Metering Programs

Just doing a last call to join us for tomorrow's Zpryme webinar on smart metering programs.

First off, a correction on the time from my previous post - it's at 4pm ET / 1pm PT. Sorry for any confusion, but it's a late start, and goes for 90 minutes.

We've got another first rate group of speakers, and joining me will be Tim Wolf of Itron, Lee Krevat of SDG&E, and Matthew Crosby of Pecan Street Inc. Registration is free, and you can get all the details here. Hope to see you there!

Friday, September 20, 2013

LifeSize Tech Day - Quick Thoughts and Cool Photos

Earlier this week, I attended a Tech Day with LifeSize at their Austin, TX HQ. Technically it was a day and a half, but y'know, everything is bigger in Texas, right?

I love Austin - just search my posts here to see why - and this being my first in-depth exposure to LifeSize, I wasn't sure what to expect. As a rule of thumb, I don't love too many companies, but I sure came away liking this bunch a whole lot. I was part of a small group of "influencers" at this event, and we got a pretty good close-up of their products, their people and their roadmap.

My week has been pretty jammed and only have time here for some flash impressions and photos that I think tell an interesting story. I'll have more to say in the next week or so, including my thoughts on how I now see the video conferencing vendor landscape shaping up. That piece will run as my monthly column on UCStrategies, and in light of yesterday's funding news for BlueJeans, this space won't stay still for long.

This brings me to my elevator pitch takeaways. As you may know, Logitech is the parent company of LifeSize, and as we learned, having a B2B company owned by a consumer-focused company cuts both ways. When you're a Tier 2 player, the pedigree and financial heft of a big name like Logitech does come into play when trying to win those bigger deals. On the other hand, there can be some challenges getting them to understand the realities of your business, and it's not so easy to create magical synergies - just ask Microsoft about that with Skype.

As a sidebar, LifeSize isn't Logitech's first foray into this space. I've been following the comms market for a while now, and about 5 years ago, they acquired SightSpeed for $30 million, and I'm told it's still in the mix somewhere. I don't expect you to know or remember that, but I was an early follower of SightSpeed, and if you care to know more, here's one of my posts about them. There's a reason why companies are acquired, and clearly, Logitech sees a long-term play here.

Hey - did you catch that? Clear. See. No? Their desktop video application - ClearSea. Nevermind. Well, Sheldon Cooper would have gotten it, and of course he would have chided me on the difference in spelling and only given me half-credit for being half-clever (how's that for a subtle homage to Texas, btw?). Bazinga!

So, LifeSize soldiers on, with great home-grown technology, and they showed us how they've been a pioneer in this market. Of course, that's no guarantee of success, but they sure know this business from the bottom up. The company is probably doing about as well as can be expected, and they're certainly not alone among video vendors trying to figure this market out. Video is the most touchy-feely of all communications technologies, and finding the right balance between price and end user experience is the Holy Grail all these vendors are after.

Complicating this is the fact that video is a hybrid of product and service, and their room-based systems fall squarely into that category. Going back to my MBA Marketing days, this is probably the biggest challenge in all of marketing - short of trying to create demand for something where none has previously existed. It's much easier to market one or the other, but products and services together is very tricky, especially where most decision makers struggle to see the business value of video.

There are lots of players making a go of just selling one or the other, and while this market is still finding its legs, I believe there's plenty of room for what LifeSize offers. We heard lots about how well they understand the opportunity, and I'm onside with their thinking. They certainly know how to make the technology work, and while their user interface needs to be more intuitive, the big challenge is getting their value proposition out there and better understood. Video has to be experienced for best effect, and it's pretty hard to sell people on the merits of a 55" HD monitor from a demo on your PC screen.

Most video vendors struggle with this, so LifeSize is hardly alone. Bigger picture, though, is the shift happening to the cloud and virtualized services which looks poised to redefine video altogether. Things have come a long way from when Polycom owned this business - something LifeSize's management team knows a lot about - and I'd say we're in the midst of another cycle of creative destruction. I'm not sure where that leaves LifeSize, but if they play their cards right, they'll be fine. That said, I don't know what the right game is to be playing right now, and that's where I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Stay tuned, more posts to come! Until then, let's shift modes as well as technologies and have a look below.

Just one of many testing areas we saw during our lab tour. Every interop permutation you can imagine is going on here, so if you want best-of-breed, LifeSize is pretty solid.

Fun, wow - the audio testing chamber - it's so quiet in here you get a headache hearing yourself think. This is a great example of doing their engineering in-house, and with lots of trial and error, this is how you build the perfect speakerbox for conferencing. R&D is definitely a core asset, but I'm pretty sure you only get these things in black. No harm in stealing a page from Apple -why not other colors?

I know - crappy picture - room was dark and my battery was on fumes. It's not a microwave oven or a TV, but let me connect the dots with the next few pix.

What's this? A PC monitor next to the mystery box above. It's hard to see, but this is a design rendering of car chassis and the wheels. Is this starting to make sense now?

Now picture Bob Barker saying... "it's a brand new carrrrrr!!!" Much smaller than a Fiat, and it doesn't come with an Italian family of 3 (if you don't know what I'm talking about, watch this brilliantly funny commercial - it's just 3 minutes - but only after you finish here, ok?).
No really, it's not a bar of soap - this tiny car has wheels that turn and pistons that go up and down!

And gears and a crankshaft underneath to make everything go - wow!

Figured this out yet? 3-D printing, yup. I want one of those. Maybe LifeSize is in the wrong business, or this is a hint of what their real roadmap is. I'm sure with all that engineering in-house, they've got some other things cooking, and I doubt that means making a 6 cylinder version or offering a metallic neon green finish.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

UCStrategies Podcast - UC Trends and News Roundup

Last week we had a good catchup podcast with the UCStrategies group. The agenda was a bit rich for one session, and I could only participate at the front end, but we covered a lot of ground. Some key items included our thoughts on Microsoft/Nokia, what Cisco's recent acquistions say about where things are going, and the same for some recent leadership changes in the space.

Since I had to drop off early, I was the first to speak, but several others had their say, and it's all here in one tidy posting. I've been away at vendor events since Sunday, so I'm behind on my postings, and the podcast was posted on Tuesday - here's the link. Phil Edholm did a great job moderating, and if listening to our thoughts is too much to bear, there's a transcript on the post as well!

We'd love to hear your thoughts along with ideas you'd like to see us address on future podcasts.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Downside of Personalization

Communications technology is becoming increasingly powerful, and alongside with this comes a new dynamic in the balance of power between IT and end users. I've written often about this, and in many ways the latter seems to have the upper hand. BYOD is one manifestation of this, but another is the growing availability of productivity applications that can be accessed beyond the LAN and outside of a UC platform.

This is not what IT had in mind with UC, and in that regard the ability for end users to personalize their communciations experience cuts both ways. That's what I have explored in my current column in IT Telephony magazine. I'm particularly focused on how personalization can run counter to the spirit of collaboration, which really is at the heart of UC. This may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about the power of personalization, but I think it speaks to how many people relate to technology, especially Millennials.

My latest Rethinking Communications column is running now in the digital edition of IT Telephony, and you can read it here. Agree or not? Let me know!

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Meeting of the Minds, Toronto - Takeaways, Images and Pix

Had a solid day yesterday at Meeting of the Minds here in Toronto. In short, the focus is about developing sustainable plans and solutions for today's cities, and it's a great mix for my two focus areas as an analyst - communications technologies and smart grid.

Lots of big picture ideas, but if you have faith in technology, the world can and will be a better place, even as cities become impossibly crowded. Naturally, many of the big sponsors are the big vendors and manufacturers building these technologies - namely Cisco, Schneider Electric, IBM, Toyota and Bombardier. They're all doing cool things, and when you start thinking large, Big Data becomes the holy grail and that helps drive something bigger, the latest must-use acronym, IoE - the Internet of Everything. We just heard a good overview of this from Cisco's Wim Elfrink. It's a pretty powerful idea, and if you thought talking in terms of billions is big, IoE is all about trillions. Bigger can be better, but a lot has to go right to get the desired results.

As we know, technology in a vacuum doesn't do us much good, and there are three major things otherwise that have to "go right", and we heard a lot about that too. First, there is the role of the public sector - government programs, policies, regulations, etc. The conference kicked off with a short talk from Ontario's Premier, Kathleen Wynne, and she made it clear that government should - and will - have a growing role here, not a shrinking role. Add to this the huge role of education, especially in Canada where post-secondary schools are totally publicly-funded. Clearly, we need lots of public/private partnerships, and other speakers from the public sector gave us good examples in their talks.

Second is the ultimate driver, money. Cities are broke and most governments have limited means to fund the initiatives we've been hearing about here. Conversely, the financial community has tons of money, and has the will to invest in this space, but many of the elements are missing that make the business case they need to open their taps.

Finally, there is the will and inclination for us as consumers to adopt these technologies. That's a complex topic, and on a global basis, it's all over the map. Some technologies will be passive and transparent to us, but others will cause us to change how we do things. Then we have the unspoken Big Brother elements, but let's leave that aside - that's another forum for me altogether. We saw some cool examples from Toyota with autonomous technologies where cars drive themselves. This is just the tip of the iceberg for how a lot of things that define daily life will be re-invented and re-booted, especially once connectivity becomes cheaper, more ubiquitous and more intelligent.

Urbanization is an uber-trend for sure, and this has been a great conference to connect these dots on a deeper level. Ultimately, politics, money and public acceptance will dictate how successful these great technologies will become, but I'm optimistic we'll get much of this right, and it's an exciting time to make the world a better place.

Kudos, by the way, for Toronto landing this event - it's been all U.S.-based previously. Kudos again for the venue - the Evergreen Brick Works. You'd be hard pressed to find a more appropriate, eco-friendly, super-sustainable site anywhere. Great choice.

I'll leave you with a very fun wayback reference to the August 1925 issue of Popular Science magazine. This was from the Toyota presentation given by Jim Pisz, and imagines what the urban landscape will look like in 1950. Sometimes you have to look back to see where to go forward, but if you take the time to explore this, you'll see that the basic issues haven't changed at all - they're just more complex now.

The image below is just an excerpt - there's a bigger image and here's the link to view it.

May Live to See - 1925

If you know me, I'm a music guy, and will bet I wasn't the only one in the room who started humming "I.G.Y. - What a Beautiful World" when this image went up on the screen. I may be dating myself, but this is from Donald Fagan's unnderrated 1982 solo album The Nightfly - love it. If you don't have that song bouncing around in your head now, either you don't know it or you were too busy texting and not listening here at the Brick Works!

Opening comments from Ontario Premier, Kathleen Wynne

Innovation panel - OCAD, MaRS, ON Ministry of Research and Innovation

You'd never think we're minutes away from the downtown core - pretty rustic

Ok, I know, I need a better camera, but this moment ties things together nicely. The venue used to be the brick works from which much of downtown Toronto was built. Now, it's been repurposed to promote sustainable living and greater environmental awareness for the well-being of cities. I'm looking through a kiln (the sign above saying HARROP looks more like a subway stop, huh?), and at the far end is center stage where a keynote is being given. Is there light at the end of the tunnel? Is there hope for our cities? I think so, and I hope I can attend the next MOTM.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Smart Grid Webinar - Sept. 24 - Smart Metering Programs

Time to put on my smart grid hat with Zpryme and tell you about our next webinar. If there's one thing most people generally understand about this space, it's smart meters. You know, that digital power meter your utility came by to install and replace the legacy reader that sits outside your house but you've never actually taken a look at. Well, coming from the telecom space, what VoIP did to telephony, the smart meter is doing to utilities.

The smart meter - or AMI - is the prime building block for the big picture smart grid evolution we're all going through, as it establishes two-way, real-time data flow between utilities and subscribers.Since every home and business has to have one, it's a big business and there are lots players with a vested interest to get these deployed as quickly as possible.

Hopefully, that's enough of a teaser to get you to join us on September 24 at 1pm PST - that's 4pm ET. The webinar is free, and joining me will be Tim Wolf of Itron, Lee Krevat of SDG&E, and Matthew Crosby of Pecan Street Inc. Our webinars are well attended, so I suggest you register early - here's the link.

Speaking of smart grid, just a half-step to the right, I'll be attending the Meeting of the Minds conference here in Toronto the next two days. This looks to be a great event, and if you're interested in how we build sustainable cities - I sure am! - I'll be blogging and tweeting as time allows.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Next Stop - Here - Meeting of the Minds

Been going full-out here after Labor Day with lots of new things on my plate for the fall already. One of them is a rarity for me - a conference here in Toronto - what a concept! Actually, this one has nothing to do with telecom, but everything to do with communications and other things related.

I've been invited to attend Meeting of the Minds 2013 next week, and it showcases an A-List roster of leading thinkers and players in the area of urban sustainability. Much of it has a local flavor - how will Toronto plan for its future and accommodate the ridiculous growth boom currently happening here. However, Toronto has joined the big leagues of major cities, and is a good choice to host, taking over from last year's site in San Francisco.The broader focus is on global urbanization and sustainability strategies, so these are fast becoming almost everybody's problem.

Of course, a lot of this is about infrastructure and connectivity, and that's where my dual focus on communications and smart grid brings me to attend. I'm really looking forward to the program and will be onsite next Tuesday and Wednesday, and will tweet and blog as time allows. Look for me if you're attending, and otherwise, there is a free webcast option, but I can't find the link right this minute.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Skype Just Turned 10 - Time Flies!

Last week I was at ITExpo in Las Vegas, and going into Labor Day weekend/end of summer, tech stuff just may not be top of mind, myself included. Am sure lots of interesting news items got missed then, and I wanted to quickly acknowledge one here that seems worthwhile to me.

Last Thursday, long-time Skype watcher, Stuart Henshall, wrote a nice post around Skype turning 10. I love Skype, use Skype, have a pretty distinct history with Skype, and have also been watching them closely, pretty much from the beginning. However, I didn't think about when that milestone was happening, and yeah, I guess it has been 10 years.

Wow - time sure flies, and I wanted make sure this got some new legs in case you missed it last week. I tweeted his post then, and am re-sharing here if you haven't read it yet. Others have since written about it and I agree with Stuart's take about this being a missed opportunity - "wasted" in his words. I would argue that the only things that have come close to having so much disruptive impact on telcos and consumers would be the iPhone/iPad and Android - both of which are wildly successful. We may never really understand why Skype didn't reach its business potential, but it sure has had a great run - and I think will continue to do so. I have lots of thoughts around this, but that's another series of blog posts - stay tuned!

Those of you who have known me a while will know about my oldest son, Max. He has always been the real tech authority in our family - even back when Skype started up. If you go back that far, you may recall when VON was really rocking, they had a couple of events here in Toronto. I was quite involved with them, and at the time, Skype's co-founder, Niklas Zennstrom had good reason not to set foot on U.S. soil - if you don't know the back-story, well, that's another post - but he had no problems coming to Canada.

So, in the spirit of reflecting on what made Skype so special, here's a wayback machine post of mine from the 2005 VON Canada event, and below is a photo of Niklas, Max and myself at the show. Max has grown a lot since then, and don't be fooled by his boyish looks. Am pretty sure he was the only kid in North America to get a private audience with Niklas back then, and he's been honing his knowledge ever since, including his own column he just started writing for Ziff Davis's portal. Way to go, kid! And... thanks for the post, Stuart - glad I caught it on twitter.