Todd Landry

A SHOWGRAM can end Death by Powerpoint

No need to explain “death by powerpoint” as most of you have joined a conference where presenter after presenter gets on stage and goes through their slides.  Now – I have to say that I love Powerpoint and believe it is one the most powerful tools for delivering a message to an audience.  However, very few people use it as a tool to convey their message.  Instead it is most often used as a place to write down the notes, or the messages, that they want to say and there they are…  a giant 3X5 notecard on the screen to read from.  Okay so do this for a few hours and you are looking for a pointed objective to relieve the pain.  Well, this story is about how we recently broke up the monotony at a partner conference.

To set the stage, the audience at this conference include several hundred selling partners from all over Europe, Middle East, and Africa (EMEA).  The usual scene included a sequence of presentations – in our case presentations by some of our partners.  Just a few weeks before the event I posed a new idea –  instead of having 4 of our guests present lets change up the stage and host a talk show, with a desk, music, a dialog with the guest, blah, blah …  just like David Letterman!   Okay, a bit of apprehension at first, but theThe Smart Enterprise shown “buy in” and we all got behind it.

The local team put together an excellent intro music and video, arranged a backdrop on the stage that provided a scene overlooking Cape Town at night, and arranged the stage with crisp looking couches and a chair for the host – me!  Now, I have to warn you that I just simply love these kind of gigs.  I descr
ibe them as “show grams”  - not meetings, not power points, … “SHOWGRAMS!”

The results, in the EMEA Presidents words, “Brilliant”.  Countless attendees came to me and others afterwords to say how much they enjoyed the change up and the content.  Now, the key to me is that its all in the presentation and the management of the scene.  Letterman would be pretty boring without some levity, and even worse if he didn’t stir it up a bit with his guests.  More important, typically by this time of the day the audience is fading.  Not at this one though – people were visibly riveted to what was taking place on stage!

So, I contend – consider your next big customer or partner event not as a series of presentations, but as a SHOWGRAM!   Train you speakers to be showman (or show ladies) and make it exciting for the audience so it is memorable.  For now, I am preparing for show number 2 in the Americas!

The 10 Most Important Check List Items for UC&C Planning

1 – Addressing Demands of the New Workforce

CIOs should already understand that new communications and collaboration tools that are widely adopted by the workforce result in a more effective business that produces positive results for the bottom-line. The changing workforce is more Internet-savvy, highly mobile, and has expectations of rich applications accessible from almost anywhere, anytime. So your assessment should begin with an accurate profile of your workforce. Different users in different roles have different needs and it’s this profile that you can refer back to test whether you will be addressing their day-to-day needs. Keep in mind that you need to address their work-style, who they interact with, how they could be more efficient, etc. It’s more than looking at a replacement for their aging desk phone, in fact they may not need it at all.

2 – Alignment with virtualized IT and web architectures

First, the solution should be a highly scalable virtualized software platform that enables your business to easily grow, shrink or redistribute its communications and collaboration services as needed. It should be designed like other enterprise software, scaling as you distribute instances, etc. Its flexibility should allow for use on premises or from cloud infrastructure, or as a hybrid solution – giving you the ability to leverage a common set of UC and collaboration tools with multiple options for delivery. Web-centric architectures may use approaches such as a Java application framework and HTML page servers such that UC clients are composed under a client-server topology akin to delivering enterprise web portals. This enables server-side UCC business logic to optimize delivery of UC&C information to users of the system. Moreover, the delivery mechanism is based on standard HTTPS, where the SSL security utilizes standard user credentials and the enterprise’s certificate management. This will better align with your overall web-oriented delivery model and your internal security and networking policies.

3 – Security, reliability, traceability

Solutions should employ integral security methods that are aligned with enterprise architectures using security approaches such as SSL with HTTPS for client connectivity and SIP encryption methods based on SRTP and TLS standards. Integral archiving and recording options for text messaging, audio calls, and virtual meetings allow enterprises to address compliance and privacy/regulatory needs as well as create a new level of traceability.

4 – Accredited by Stringent Certification Agencies

Some platforms achieve accreditation from 3rd party test agencies and seeking the details of these out is good practice as it provides an independent validation. Do your best to ensure the agency has a clear practice on how they test and how the produce test results. One such agency is operated for the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). The unique set of tests enforce a well know set of industry standards, applicable to the broad enterprise industry and should be considered as an excellent reference as this validation that is not only mandatory for the DoD, but is becoming critical for markets such as healthcare, government, public service legal, finance, and others as well.

5 – A common user experience, not just filling the gap

It’s common for vendors to fill the gap when they do not have technologies to meet the “check list”. Perhaps the most prominent example is the difference in the experience between Apple and Windows clients. However, in most cases the client designs of most vendors for mobile devices is also a result of acquisitions dropped into the portfolio, OEMs software, or other “fill the gap” product strategies. You should look for solutions that emphasis a consistent user experience across mobile, tablet, Windows or Mac users. Solutions that leverage web delivery frameworks are most likely to be capable of code re-use, thus a very common user experience. Moreover, they can provide a lighter-weight client design that is easier to install and manage.

6 – A *real* Unified Software Architecture

In the UC industry there is much focus on the “unified” word, but unification often ends after the feature checklist. You should look deeply into the software to validate that it has been unified itself, bringing the key unified communications, collaboration, and contact center functions together in a cohesive software architecture. A tell tale sign is the need for several back-end servers, each with different roles or functions. It should not take more than a few servers to deliver a redundant UC services to a 1000 employee organization – if it does then your red flag should go up.

Common functions that, at a minimum, you should see integrated into a single software system include call control, and ability to handle your volume of IP phone registrations, messaging, presence, media services for attending calls, voice mail, and recording, UC desktop client server (web engine), SIP trunking.

7 – Empowering Shared Workspaces

Leveraging a combination of support for standard SIP Video conferencing equipment and the option of deploying a room-based web collaboration your platform can cost effectively enable all forms of rooms, while providing a common user experience whether in a room, on the road, or in your office. More importantly this approach addresses the most common needs for workgroups that gather in shared workspaces. Look for solutions that can be used to empower all of your meeting rooms for easy enablement of voice and content sharing as a first priority. If solutions add video as an integral part of the software this is even better. Start with a plan to avoid purchasing dedicated hardware for video conferencing – unless you enjoy giving vendors you money.

8 – Common Security / Authentication Credentials

Providing a common set of enterprise <login> credentials, users can access their UC or collaborative meeting tools from any device, from anywhere, securely. Much like Internet applications, the user’s settings, contact lists, virtual meetings, and the look and feel is consistent across mobile devices (Smartphones and tablets) or PC, simplifying the user experience and delivering it virtually anywhere, anytime. Most likely you already employ policies for single sign on/ login using a common directory server. Make sure your solution ties into these systems naturally.

9 – Simplified & Agile Licensing Model

As these technologies have become mostly software their licensing should be designed to simplify your approach to enabling UC&C services within the enterprise. The right license model should allow for common services across users, such as web conferencing services capacity. A centralized licensing approach will allow you to expanding capacity as needed and redistribute (reuse) licenses as things change within the business. Additionally, a compelling this to look for is the elimination of “server” fees. This means there would be no charge to deploy multiple instances of the software, an approach that makes the decision of resiliency and load balancing easy for IT administrators.

10 – Common software services with multiple use cases

Ultimately, enterprises are focused on servicing their customers, and to the extent new communications and collaboration infrastructure can facilitate enhancement across the different roles in the business, there are intuitive gains.

As you review in-house collaboration services software (aka Web Conferencing) it should be designed to apply to different roles, enabling enterprises to utilize a common software infrastructure across different parts of the organization – gaining greater efficiencies from your investments. Consider the following examples of ways a common infrastructure can be utilized within your business:

  • Sales organizations can easily schedule or establish ad-hoc collaboration sessions to engage prospective clients.
  • Marketing can arrange webinars to promote to the broader market and to poll attendees on their specific interests.
  • Internal workgroups can arrange recurring or scheduled virtual meetings.
  • Support organizations can invoke remote control or co-browsing sessions with customers to enhance the support experience and ultimately the resolution.
  • Users across the organization can selectively utilize video, screen sharing, file sharing, and more during virtual meetings for a fully integrated multimedia experience.
  • With a single click users in organizations can easily escalate a phone call or a text-messaging dialog to a multi-media collaborative session.

As you head forward into your decision making and vendor evaluations tuck these 10 areas into your assessment criteria to ensure you get the most from your forward looking investments in unified communications and collaboration.

500px – Art is in the eye of the lens!

When 500px.com first came out I carefully loaded pictures to see how much they would get voted on, how much appreciation would show up for some of my photos. If you take one look at the site you will see immediately – there are some really unbelievable photographers out there. It you look more deeply into this site you’ll find a lot of very experienced, full time photographers – not part time hobbyists like me. If and when I post or blog its often about business or technology – but more recently I loaded up some new material to 500px and turned on their new Portfolio site. Its simplicity is quite beautiful and while it allows me to sell some of my photos that isn’t really my motivation for trying it – it’s the ease at which people can view photos form any device in as full screen as possible.

See some of my art at the new 500px Portfolio

One of the upsides of taking really crisp, high resolution photos is when you view them on a really nice screen you actually say – WOW! So, check it out. All you need is your browser – and if you have a nice screen (that means you are using a Mac ;) ) then you’ll love the way pics look when viewing this new Portfolio interface.

All thats said, there are many good applications for viewing photos. If you are a photographer at any level and love sharing you materials check out 500px. You don’t need to have fancy gear and you don’t need to compete with the top photographers, your art will be appreciated and you will find followers and likes for your work.

500px voting, favoriting, and comments are excellent if you are into photography. You will actually find some top photographers commenting on your work. Enough ratings and you can make it into the some of their top categories. I was ecstatic when a couple of my photos made it into the ranks! Of course, if you are not into photography then you will wonder what the big deal is, but if you do own a camera (other than you mobile phone) and you take more than pictures of family you probably have an artistic interest in what is in that lens. Enjoy it!

A New York Minute? – how about an Internet Minute!

On any given day it is perhaps difficult to imagine the amount of Internet activity that is taking place. For most of us the Internet and its many Web Sites have become a virtual utility of daily life.  The attached graphic [reposted] provides an easy snapshot what happens in a single minute and if you just read the numbers they are pretty astounding.  However, its just a “minute”.. so if my math is correct lets just look at One Year:

3,153,600,000,000 Facebook views!

10,512,000,000,000 views of photos!

683,280,000 new Mobile Users!

$43 Billion in Sales on Amazon, and the last report showed overall Amazon revenue run-rate at about $68B, so it makes sense.

Another suble point in this diagram is the growing number of “Network Devices”.  The reference is the population, and some of the latest statistics published by the InternetWorldStats suggest that about 35% of the population are “Internet Users”.  What this really represents is a significant number of devices per capita and I believe this is driven by two factors: One is the average person on the Internet uses more than one device (mobile phone + PC + tablet for example) and the Second are the devices that are on the Internet as a resource.  These include everything from Thermostats to TV streaming devices to Home Security.  In the future the number of “devices” will increase substantially and they will not just be devices we add to our personal home WiFi — enter the emerging world of “The Internet of Things”… which I will now leave you to Google search and study yourself if you have not heard of this.

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A Snapshot of NEC at IP Expo in Earls Court London

A complete Information Technology (IT) event, IP Expo hosts a wide range of vendor technologies and solutions for enabling enterprises & businesses.  NEC showcased it UNIVERGE 3C UC&C, Desktop Virtualization (VPCC), and other IT infrastructure solutions at this years even in Earls Court London, presented seminars on the changing workforce and customer cases studies and also joined top analysts in the keynote theater for IT panel discussions.

Get a quick snapshot of the even in this video:

UNIVERGE 3C meets Sauber F1 Racing

Days before the Singapore F1 Grand Prix race drivers converge to prepare themselves for the night racing event of the season through the streets of Singapore.  Long before engines start many media activities occur and the teams are quite busy with pre-race events.  NEC was present this year and arranged for a global webinar with drivers Nico Hulkenberg  and Esteban Gutierrez of the NEC sponsored Sauber-Ferrari team. Nico and Esteban joined the UNIVERGE 3C Collaboration session where members from around the world could join and post questions.

I joined Nico and Esteban for an interview all the way from an NEC partner site, Gijima in Johannesburg, South Africa with a chance to ask them some questions about social interaction with their family and team members.  So it seems, perhaps not to much surprise, that their smart phones are the device of choice for communication.  Connecting from South Africa was a tough one since the infrastructure for higher-bandwidth connectivity is limited in the country, yet we were able to get connected with both audio and video during the session. UNIVERGE 3C even caught the attention of the Sauber racing family as they were quite impressed with our ability to bring so many people together so easily.  For the Johannesburg Gijima team it was an exciting break from our meetings as many of them are avid F1 racing fans.

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A Replay: Empowering Your Workforce Webcast

Looking back not long ago we prepared a webcast together with the folks at CIO.  All of these points and the transformation of enterprise work forces are still very much valid today.  Enjoy this webcast again and consider how you might empower your changing work force.

Ten areas to consider before moving communications to the cloud

cloudheaderAs the consideration of eliminating capital cost outlays for new-age communications tools and reducing on-going costs to administer and maintain in-house systems many businesses are making the leap to communications offered as a service. Hosted, Cloud, and UC as-a-Service (UCaaS) are among the labels used for these offerings. However, not all are the same and the exact set of capabilities you can get from each service provider varies widely.

Regardless of which provider you choose you must consider several key factors that will ensure when you make the switch you get what is expected for your business. There are many stories of disenchanted customers with experiences that put them back on the drawing board. The most fundamental can be a realization that the cost savings did not outweigh the fact that you couldn’t hear the person on the other end of a phone call when it comes to doing day-to-day business.

For those organizations considering moving to UC-as-a Service for their communications there are several key factors that should be considered in your service provide review. The following Top Ten provide organizations with some guidance of punch-list of items to consider in their selection process:

1 – Voice Termination & Origination

If you are planning to move to UCaaS you should consider moving all of your PSTN arrangements to your new provider. As a result you should consider the following:

  • Is support for voice call termination and origination part of their offering?
  • Can they port all of your existing numbers over?
  • Ensure that you include all voice services, including any 800-services, long distance /international termination services, etc.
  • Check to see that your provider has multiple carrier relationships to enable alternative call routes and best-price services.

2 – End-user and Phone Service Tiers & Options

One of the reasons to move to a cloud-based service is to take advantage of newer unified communications capabilities.  You should evaluate the various feature and pricing tiers that the provider offers and consider how they map to your end-user needs.  You should also take inventory of all analog lines or other specialty communications you utilize and ensure the provider can accommodate these.  Then, make sure you review their UC Client offerings for a match against your inventory of PCs, MACs, Mobile and Tablet devices. Some examples of key services to review include:

  • Basic services typically used as a voice-only service for basic users or phones in locations such as a voice phone for a lobby or conference room.
  • Analog services may be needed if you intend to reuse certain analog devices such as older conference phones, modem lines, or fax machines.
  • Advanced phones and related phone features should be considered – take inventory of users that may utilize more advanced features on existing phones such as “Boss-Secretary”, multi-line, etc.  Contrast these with available devices and pricing from your provider or review alternative work styles you will enable using the UC Clients.
  • Voice-mail will more than likely change if it will be part of your new service by your new provider.  Be sure the transition planning and the training on the differences are included.  This may also be an opportunity to move to unified-messaging and therefor you need to consider how the provider will link messages into your email system.
  • Unified communications services such as desktop applications that provide instant messaging, presence state information, and easy to add contact lists can enhance collaboration in your business. Be sure to evaluate how these services will tie in to your existing directories, email calendars, and other systems.  You should also plan for desktop client deployment and administration of these new clients to your employee desktops.
  • Email may also be a consideration and you need to evaluate how this transition to a hosted email will occur with the least interruption to your business.  If moving your email to the provider make sure they have a well defined continuity plan and clear security methods to protect your business information that will now be in their data center.
  • Web Conferencing and Audio-bridges may also be a service option. If you utilize a service today this may be an opportunity to optimize the costs and the ease of use for your business.  Often service providers can provide a more integrated user experience for these services. Be sure to evaluate the web conferencing services for how well they replace existing services and meet your business needs.
  • Contact Center, if you have a customer support center that utilizes a Contact Center application you should review how connectivity into this center is maintained, or if you are also switching to the providers contact center service then a very detailed review of you customer support workflows and tool comparison need to be considered.
  • Wireless Phones may be used in your internal areas such as factory floors and while these may be analog you should review the options to support WiFi or DECT based wireless devices as part of your new service as it may provide you with additional benefits.
  • Soft Phones are becoming a way in which mobile users can save money and connect with better voice quality back into others in your organization.
  • Optional Services should be evaluated for how well these fit into special needs you have in your business. You may wish to phase some of these services in as you transition, however you should be aware of what is available.

3 – Deployment Service Capabilities

The transition to your service-provider will no doubt include an evaluation of your existing internal networking environment and the deployment of new equipment on-premises to support the service.  You should ensure that your new provider is experienced in such evaluations and offers assistance in deployment of on-premise equipment. Be clear on who will do handle all on-premises deployments.

  • Check premises termination points and be sure you know what gear will provide what level of connectivity and for IP devices and validate all routing policies to ensure private-to-public handling of addresses are planned for.
  • Validate that all external connected devices used have a security policy associated with them and check for how will that align with your existing policies.
  • A transition to IP telephones will require new power considerations, be sure you know how these phones will be powered, including during power outage scenarios.
  • You should include a request to understand the premise deployment skills from your provider, even including any new rewiring that you may need to complete the service enablement.
  • Be clear on who will manage which devices – where is the “demark” between you providers responsibility and yours.

4 – Data Center (DC) Capabilities

Ultimately your service provider will be operating a portion of your business within their data center facilities.  It’s important to understand their data centers and how they can provide you with an assurance of service delivery.  Some things to consider include:

  • The physical locations and the number of DCs your provider operates.  They should have a minimum of two locations providing redundancy in their service across these sites.  It is worth checking these locations for threats such as major weather trends. Be sure the sites provide sufficient geographical isolation (sometimes referred to as geo-redundancy).  Some operators will utilize another party’s data center facilities to operate their service; this can be just fine however they should have a list of credentials for these data centers as well.
  • DC connectivity is a must and you should ensure you are clear on how your provider interconnects their DCs with the appropriate bandwidth. External connectivity to your site(s) and to voice (PSTN) services from each site under failure scenarios should be included.
  • Most providers will utilize a variety of vendor components to comprise their services. You may wish to evaluate the service security and its isolation for your business. Providers can experience greater economies of scale with shared services on a single software (known as multi-tenant) but you may wish to have distinct isolation via a virtual instances (know as a virtual machine/instance or VM)
  • All connectivity should include an option to apply security. This includes options for encryption of IP connectivity, physical security of facilities the facilities, and related alerts & alarming to protect to facilities.
  • Often providers will utilize well-known accreditations and auditing of their service and facilities. One common auditing method is SAS70, which has multiple tiers, providing different levels of auditing of services delivery, reporting, etc.  You should familiarize yourself with the different accreditations of your provider and what they mean to your business.
  • All the equipment utilized to provide your service requires power and you should review the methods your provider utilizes to ensure uptime.  This will include alternate power sources, usually one consisting of a self-standing generator that can provide power for the duration of an outage. You want to understand how long your service will be available during such conditions.

5 – IP Connectivity

In most cases you are moving your entire set of voice and data services to your new provider and it is important to evaluate several factors for this connectivity:

  • Since you will have real-time IP traffic for voice and video services you need to clearly understand how the provide handles quality of service (QoS) methods for different traffic types.  Be sure you consider end-to-end flows of such traffic.
  • One of the options may be to move your Internet data service to your new provider. You should ensure that your Internet connectivity needs are considered for appropriate bandwidth. Keep in mind that you may move to a single broadband IP connection into your facilities with voice, video, and Internet services.
  • Your service package may also provide site-to-site connectivity for other on-premises data and for voice and video calling among your internal employees. Be sure to assess these calling patterns and the data-oriented applications you are running and how they might consume connectivity needs through your new provider.
  • Understand their options for connectivity, including Fiber, Ethernet, xDSL services, cable, or wireless.  What are their alternatives for backup connectivity?

6 – Premise Equipment Options

As part of the transition to UCaaS there will be several areas where you need to consider changes to premises equipment.  The most obvious may be the desktop telephones, however you will also need to consider others that should be part of your evaluation checklist:

  • Telephones should include various type of phones (phone features) needed within your business and this inventory creates the baseline for selecting new phone devices that are supported by your provider.  Don’t forget to inventory analog phones and phones that do not have people associated with them.
  • Powering IP phones can be accomplished using local AC power adapters on each phone or by deploying Power Over Ethernet (POE) switches that will provide power and IP connectivity.  The later is the most desirable and as a result you will need to consider where and how many POE switches you will need and match that against the existing wire runs to where the end-phone will be connected.
  • External Network Access – If you have connectivity for users that work outside of your organization, such as work-at-home users or mobile softphone users then you will want to evaluate your provider’s support for these users.  Typically they will operate from an unknown private network that uses Network Address Translation (NAT) as a means to interwork with public networks. To ensure that can connect easily many provides will support appropriate routing of the users connection through a Session Border Controller (SBC) that accommodates for these different IP address environments. Additionally you could support connectivity for these users back to your network via Virtual Private Network (VPN) technology, by enabling ALG functions in a firewall or by adding an appropriate device that handles this at your network edge. Be sure to include all remote users in your plan and to understand how your provider will support you.
  • Edge Routers – As part of getting your office location connected you will likely deploy edge routers on premises to terminate the service providers IP connectivity.  Most providers will provide this as part of their service deployment plan and it is this device that will be part of the QoS intelligence for your new real-time voice services.  As part of the planning you should also consider the relationship between these edge routers and your local area networks ability to provide matching QoS criteria.
  • Media Gateways – If you have analog devices on premise then these will require special gateways that provide the appropriate analog device termination.  These are readily available however you need to ensure that the device you plan to utilize is one supported (or provided by) your new provider as they must be controlled by the service to process inbound and outbound calls.

7 – Monitoring, Reporting & Administrative Tools

There can be many types and levels of administration and monitoring of the service and ultimately you should seek to have your provider handle most of this while ensuring that they having it in place.  There are some areas you may still wish to have some access to or at a minimum understand the provider’s capabilities:

  • You should expect the provider to be monitoring network performance however you should request a review of their real-time media monitoring, alarming and response mechanisms that are used in their service to ensure the appropriate service levels.
  • Utilization of your new service should be transparent and allow you to adjust the service levels based on new knowledge of utilization – either reducing or expanding certain services.  To accomplish this you need to ensure your provider includes the appropriate reports, either documents they send or an online interface, that allow you to assess you utilization of the service.
  • Basic management of users, often known as Moves, Adds, and Changes (MACs) is also something you may wish to request from your provider.  Often it’s easy to allow an administrative person within your organization to handle these simple changes as opposed to making requests back to the provider. Either is a good approach, however if you will have to request changes to your provider then understand the process and the timeframes for implementing these changes.
  • If you itemize your utilization costs by department then you will want to ensure they can provide you with the appropriate call accounting information so you can parse the expenses accordingly.

8 – Support Process, Engineers and Issue Response

As part of most service provider agreements you will have a Service Level Agreement (SLA).  This is an important part of your new arrangement and you should pay particular attention to it.  In addition you may wish to inquire about the providers capabilities to truly support all elements of the written SLA they provide to you. Remember, its one things to have a legal arrangement, its another to be sure your business is running every day:

  • Ask for their documented support and escalation process.  Know how they will respond and address issues that you may experience.
  • Look for methods that provide specific tracking / ID numbers for your issues and know that you can get reports on their status.
  • Request a review of their staffing of engineers that support the service and who and how will respond to your issues. You do not need to know all of them by name or how many, but ensure they have a clear answer with staff and a plan to support you.
  • What is the engagement method in the event of an issue; do they offer 24 hour, 7 day a week support?  Is it necessary?  How will you contact them, via email, a Phone call, a web site?

9 – Integration with Other Applications

In some cases your new services may need to connect with other applications you have and operate (those not managed by the provider) and you need to be clear on how these will integrate.

  • Email infrastructure (server) integration if you wish to utilize unified messaging – this means the voice-mail capture now by your service provider needs to make its way into your own email servers.
  • Business application integration if you want users to invoke calls, web conferences, other services from within those applications.  If you are using a Contact Center application for example are the telephones for your agents connected to your existing phone system or are they isolated?  Often the relationship between an agent phone call and the contact center application is very specific and needs to be considered carefully.
  • Mail Client integration, such as Outlook, to enable your users to invoke the new services directly from within these clients. The most common is the form of an Outlook Add-in that provides certain UC, Web Conferencing, or calling services directly from within Outlook.

10 – Price

Lastly, pricing of the new service is of course often a key driver for you to move to the service provider.  When evaluating pricing be sure to evaluate all the key factors:

  • Read deeply into each cost, as some initial price points may appear very desirable until you realize they do not include all the important services you need to have a reliable and business-class set of services for your business.
  • Consider all the costs, including connectivity for the Internet, the new PSTN services, and email if you are moving to the service provider’s email, and more.  Compare these against your current service costs, reliability, or the cost for you to deploy it yourself.
  • Include manpower.  If you have to run these services yourself and want to compare apples-to-apples then you have to include your estimates for manpower in your comparisons.
  • Maintenance and software assurance fees must be considered since with a service provider you will always have these latest service (or should have) an do not have to pay to a vendor these fees.
  • Hardware devices will still be needed and of course you will need to weigh the options of purchasing versus leasing/renting devices such as telephones. Different providers offer these options and you should be sure you understand how what they offer balances with your goals.

A Few Moments of Dubai

My first ever visit to the city of Dubai, and while I wish I would of had more time to explore some other parts of it I somehow feel like it would all seem the same.  It’s a wonderful place. Very clean, high levels of service, many options for shopping and food.  Everything done just a bit more grandiose than any of its counterparts. Its hard to imagine that whole parts of a city like this night scene below didn’t exist a mere 10-12 years ago.  However, this makes everything new, like Disney new.  In fact, its almost as if its all a replica of something else. Any of you that have walked the countries reproduced in Disney could relate to the impression of Dubai.

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The Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in Dubai.  The tallest building in the world.  820 meters, over 1/2 mile into the air.  It’s an incredible building.  More importantly you can live there – what more than to have wonderful views of the desert or if you are on the water side you can use your telescope to monitor Iran!

I didn’t get a chance to go up inside the Burj but standing outside and gazing up at it was most enjoyable  I took this picture, but then added a little treatment to make it seem even more ominous.

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In the foreground is the Burj’s own lake.  Perhaps it doesn’t look like a lake, but it is 30 acres so it’s pretty big.  You quickly notice the serpent of pipes winding around the entire lake – the backbone to the largest fountain in the world.  One that spurts 22,000 gallons out during its choreographed show with water shooting some 500 feet into the air.  Yes, much like Las Vegas and developed by the same architect – but much much larger. Of course.

Surrounding the Burj’s lake are many different buildings.  I found them quite interesting and in fact I treated some of the photos I have so that these areas of building take on a bit more surreal look to them.  A painting you say?  Fake? Hmmm?

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Okay so the picture above takes on an almost painting effect.  Yes, it is a real photo I took of a real building surrounding the Burj lake.  Just to see the effect – a little Disney effect!  I’ll provide the two version of another photo below.  This just shows you the impact that effects can have on how an image looks.

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I have to include one more photo of a bridge that crossed part of the lake.  I used a software-based “Tilt-Shift” treatment on this photo to give it a bit of tiny model look to it.

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As we walked around the lake I was seeking any photo ops, but it was a lot more buildings like above and yes I do have more.  However, I was seeking some images of people, capturing some form of the local life.  Yet, at the same time I read about taking pictures of people (especially women) as being very frowned upon, so I avoided it too much.  I did catch one interesting picture of a young lady standing near this decorative stone statue with her family.  She noticed me, but luckily her family did not.

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In another part of Dubai is the famous Burj Al Arab hotel.  Claimed as the only 7 star hotel and the most luxurious in the world. My door key didn’t work there so I could not visit.  Since we were there in the evening I only had a change at a nighttime photo.

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Immediately in front of the hotel is yet another hotel called the Jumeirah Beach Hotel.  There is a huge waterpark next to it and I suppose inside of it, but since we had to walk through it to get to our beach side dinner place the center has an interesting and colorful inner tower.  These pictures give you a feel for its colors.

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Okay, now with a little more treatment to give it some depth…

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During my stay we also did a visit to a remote desert resort.  Strangely enough, among hundreds of miles of desert there is a plush resort… just in case you need a retreat from the big city!  It was a busy eve so I didn’t get to take too many pictures, but when we arrived they had a couple camels there for us – which I had no interest in mounting even though they would clean and nicely dressed with saddles. They even had a colorful muzzle to keep them from biting or spitting on us!

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I did get a moment to explore some of the edges of the resort and found, well, lots of sand!  Except for this fellow that was just hanging out with his bird.  Did he have it hunt things?  Bring special notes to guests?  I don’t know and I didn’t get to go ask him.

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One last picture.  This is our team in EMEA during our night before our partners came in to visit. A great team and a nice dinner before a very busy but successful few days doing business together! Thanks everyone for your hospitality!

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Decomposing Mobility to get the Real Story

Mobility – it’s a hot topic in the communications industry.  Every vendor has a story for it.  What does it really mean though?  What is “Mobility” other than being mobile?  Is it a buddy, IM and presence client that installs on your mobile phone?  Is it FMC (Fixed Mobile Convergence) that <for the most part> allows your mobile cellular call to roam onto a WiFi VoIP call?  Is it a set of forward rules on your PBX that ring your mobile number?  Is it all of these combined?

Then, how are these achieved in a manageable and economical manner for an enterprise?  Quite often vendors achieve these functions via add-on hardware or software, often sourced from 3rd parties that have innovated in a niche area. Does this really provide a fit solution for the enterprise or achieve a checkbox for the supplier?

Then there is still Fix Mobile Convergence (FMC). I question the real value of FMC, especially when you must purchase and manage additional hardware & software.  Because the real question is do the end users really care?  Since the most likely users are people in roles like sales I can’t imagine a single sales guy that would tolerate dropping calls with a customer in trade for saving a few mobile minutes. Yet, there-in lies the key – the users goal: get connected, stay connected, no matter where I am.  So how is this function provided in your solution?

In the mobile (let’s call them AppPhones) world there are dozens of Apps from vendors that allow users to sign-on to their companies “UC” system and see their colleagues availability, instant message them, etc.  Many simply source 3rd party software to provide a mobile phone client (branded to the vendor of course).  Then, many of these clients are “soft phones” – that allow the user to make a phone call over WiFi data or now even over cellular data connections – bypassing the cellular minutes and using their data plans.

The next addition to the mix is the wave of tablets used in business, lead by the iPAD and now found in droves when you attend a conference.  It’s become the new convenient tool to carry, but it doesn’t replace the mobile phone.  What matters is that this is also becoming a business communications tool and has to be considered in the mix of devices to support, from a vendor viewpoint and from a buyer viewpoint.  Let’s not forget laptop computers – as there is still a significant case for using these in business and there are things you just cannot do as easily on a tablet.

If I add into this mix the need to consider fixed phones, regardless of weather they are IP connected phones or simply phone numbers on the public switched telephone network (which is effectively what your mobile cell phone is by the way) and the idea that users want to also do more that just chat and call from their devices – they also have a need to share content quite a lot these days and the demand for content sharing tools is significant.  I can enter video into the picture as there is still demand for video, however I always question buyers on how many thousands of dollars they spent on video equipment in conference rooms that sit idle most the time.  Nonetheless, it has its place.

So, the real story lies somewhere in the mix of all these things but the answer from a real innovators view should be to carefully and almost surgically bring these together as an integral part of an enterprise-class software platform.  The reason for this is to address the needs of the end users in a economical and manageable way.  It also has to do with creating a user experience that is easy to understand, is consistent regardless of the device you use (yes, whats happening is everyone has all three: laptop, tablet, mobile).  In addition it is best to empower users to easy control things like phone calls – allow them to have a single business number, but to see and take calls to this number on any device (including alternate PSTN numbers) and then empower them to move these calls to any other device – on-the-fly.  In addition users should be able to use a common software client, with common sign-on credentials, and see the same set of contacts, regardless of device – and they should be able to use the same clients to join content sharing meetings, voice or video calls, or simply engage in text chats. The video below provides a snapshot of how this looks when you have all three devices and engage on a dialog across devices.

The next part of the real story is to consider mobility as a need to enable end-users who are mobile to better engage in business while they are on the go.  I say these are nomadic users – users that move around and must constantly seek the right choice to stay connected to their colleagues and must also find ways to bring colleagues in the office to their clients, in a virtual way.  This is where the tools for these nomadic users must be able to easily engage colleagues and bring audio, video, and content to the customer location.  Too often we think of sending the sales person in virtually, and there is an appropriate time for that, but most often it is a face-to-face relationship world but requires the subject matter experts to be brought online as needed.  This is where the right mobility tools can really make the nomadic user on customer premises excel – addressing the customer questions and needs immediately.

Lastly, a real mobile solution wouldn’t be considered if it didn’t employ some form of security measures.  These should be considered at a few different levels, first is sign-on credentials – these should be an integral part of the enterprise credentials & directory strategy, next are methods used to provide forms of encryption of the control information and perhaps also for the payload (content), lastly is an implementation approach that keeps enterprise content off the mobile devices to every extent possible without impeding the effectiveness of the end-user.  Solutions should consider what occurs when a user has their access rights revoked. Does sign-on revocation eliminate access from all of their mobile devices (clients) simultaneously?

So, the real story is not in any one of these functions as a point solution but more as a careful assessment of your workforce and how you will enable them to be for effective.  The following checklists can be utilized as a high-level tool for evaluation of your situation and how well you supplier can fulfill your needs.  Again, the real story starts with your workforce and their needs within your business, not with technology components.

Business Use-case Assessments:

Workforce work-styles – what tools are really needed to be effective

Different needs by Role – categorize sales versus marketing, etc.

Location – where do people work and what is their connectivity

Shared Workspaces – how often do users engage F2F and what tools are needed

Operating Environments – what is the inventory of devices, is it changing

BYOD – are you willing to embrace a Bring Your Own Device strategy

Infrastructure Selection:

Enterprise Fit – is the solution a natural fit for your enterprise architecture

Premises, Cloud – Can you choose to buy as a service, or operate in your DC

Device Support – do the client offerings match your use-case needs

Governance & Policy – do the controls align with how you want to govern usage

Agility – Does the solution scale, extend, and contort itself to adapt to your business

Security – is security embedded, does it align with your enterprise security approach

In this checklist I refer to “Shared Workspaces” and in a future post I’ll argue that solutions for share workspaces (you may call them meeting or conference rooms) should be considered as an integral part of the suppliers UC solution set and should NOT <at least solely) be a separate video conferencing add-on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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