Guest post from Interop: Is video really ready to take off? I mean, REALLY?

John Stepp has graciously agreed to share with InsideCTI readers his insights into the latest and greatest from Interop in Las Vegas. John is a full spectrum communications consultant and an expert on free and open source communications technologies. You can learn more about him and his services at Free Tech Consultants.

The Interop 2010 trade show floor opened Tuesday to a packed crowd flooding in to pick up the latest information on all things IT.  I am not sure if everyone learned what they needed, but at least they got a t-shirt and hat from HP who had a large presence at the Las Vegas show.

My quest for the holy grail of videoconference interoperability was still met with some stiff resistance, but I was glad to hear LifeSize’s insistence that interoperability with Skype video was definitely on their near term product roadmap.   LifeSize currently is working with Skype voice, so their claims are credible.  There is no question that interoperability with Skype video will allow the videoconferencing segment to take off huge, pulling the rest of enterprise communications with it.  How else will B2C video ever take off?    For that matter, how else will B2B get traction and take off like it should?  The most important application for video is to get closer to customers and business partners.

I am sure that once the dam is broken, others will follow.  After all Skype and Avaya are in the same ownership family and it makes sense to create some synergy there.  I believe Avaya is cognizant of that, but it remains to be seen what their video future is.  The Cisco-Tandberg combo looms large as a competitive threat, especially if they lower their costs for individual users and get that human network thing going, which is probably what they will do.  Polycom’s great technology will become more and more valuable if that happens.

A new entrant into the videoconferencing space is Vu Telepresence.   They have a very low cost 720p offering that includes the HDTV and pan tilt zoom camera.  They are selling it for what some companies are selling their low end products for.  Vu Telepresence is also offering the system for 24 or 36 months with a 60 day money back guarantee.  It might not be quite as good as the market leaders, but offers a good low cost alternative for companies wanting to test the videoconferencing waters. However, like most everyone else, they do not seem interested in Skype interoperability.

The videoconferencing market needs to be truly interoperable to make video the number one communications platform.  With price points for great HD video now well within the grasp of enterprise customers, there is no excuse for not taking the plunge.  How do you get customers and business partners to communicate with your videoconferencing system?  Make it free!  Judging from the many videoconference systems gathering dust and cobwebs in offices around the country, do companies really need videoconferencing to talk to each other?  I have a low cost alternative – it’s called a phone.

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An IPO flops and a merger doomed

The telecom sector started the day with two big news: Mitel’s IPO and Qwest’s acquisition by CenturyTel. Unfortunately, the IPO flopped and I think the CenturyTel-Qwest merger is doomed in the long term.

Ottawa-based Mitel was hoping for a $18-20 public offering per share, but investors got ’em for $14 apiece. Yikes. The company wanted a cash infusion to pay off some debts as well as leverage for acquisitions to fend off top-tier competitors like Avaya and Cisco. But this Canadian company has reported net losses every year since inception in 2001 except 2008 and postponed its first IPO effort in 2006 because of the Inter-Tel acquisition. Just something about Canadian telecom companies that make investors queasy?

A friend’s first reaction this morning upon learning about the CenturyTel-Qwest merger was “WTF?” Then he alluded to the infamous marriage of MCI and Worldcom. “Two wrongs don’t make a right” was another friend’s take on the merger (he works in the telecom industry). An all-stock swap between these two major landline players — “all-stock” and “landline” worry me already. Landline subscribers are on the decline in recent years as people move to mobile and VoIP products. The new merged company will have to do something drastic and exceptional in order to keep up with competitors… Best luck to them.

Calabrio One to be available for Avaya customers soon

Calabrio has long been a Cisco partner, but now its new Calabrio One workforce optimization software will soon work with Avaya equipment. According to its latest press release, field trials of its Call Recording and Quality Management software on Avaya are to begin this summer:

Minneapolis, Minn., – April 19, 2010 – Calabrio, Inc., a leading provider of contact center management and customer interaction software, today announced it will make its new Calabrio One™ workforce optimization suite available to Avaya customers this year.

Calabrio, a gold member of the Avaya DevConnect program, is developing integration that will provide call recording for Avaya IP telephony networks and contact centers through Avaya Communications Server. This move will allow Avaya customers to take advantage of new applications in the Calabrio One suite, including Calabrio Call Recording, Calabrio Quality Management, Calabrio Speech Analytics, and associated performance management dashboards and reports.  Calabrio Workforce Management is available today for Avaya contact centers and deployed at customer locations.

Calabrio plans to leverage existing channel partners that provide solutions for both Cisco and Avaya contact centers, allowing partners to offer a consistent product suite for customers with Cisco or Avaya environments, as well as customers with hybrid Cisco and Avaya environments. Calabrio has also begun discussions with a select group of Avaya resellers about new partnerships.

“Frustration with the complexity of workforce optimization software is a theme we hear repeatedly among customers and partners, and a primary reason they choose to partner with Calabrio,” said Tom Goodmanson, President and CEO of Calabrio. “Calabrio has set a path to redefine the standard of workforce optimization that centers on the user – making the software more functional, powerful and flexible for those who use it and support it. Extending those advantages to the Avaya customer base is a logical step for us.”

Calabrio One is designed as a Web 2.0-based software suite of applications that share a look-and-feel, leverage common underlying data, minimize cross-application administration, and are easy to implement, use and manage. Views are personalized by role, providing the ability to match the work style of different types of users, including agents, supervisors and executives. Employees log into their workspace to access the tools they need to provide excellent customer service, manage effectively and keep the contact center in line with business goals.

Availability

Calabrio plans to begin field trials of Calabrio Call Recording and Calabrio Quality Management software on Avaya this summer and begin shipping the software by the end of the year.
About Calabrio, Inc.

Calabrio, Inc. develops and markets Calabrio One™, a comprehensive suite of customer interaction and contact center management software that’s easy to implement, use and maintain. Calabrio One is flexible – providing product bundles and add-ons that make it easy for customers to begin with the right set of applications and features for their business today, then build on their success with new applications and features as their business matures and their needs evolve. Calabrio One provides a modern Web 2.0-based architecture that allows the contact center to integrate new applications easily, as well as personalize and optimize the desktop toolset for each user – agents, supervisors, managers, knowledge workers, and executives. Calabrio distributes their software through channel partnerships and an OEM relationship with Cisco, and has installed software on more than 715,000 desktops. Calabrio is a member of the Cisco Developer Network (CDN), and a gold member of the Avaya DevConnect program. Find news and information at www.calabrio.com.

Follow Calabrio on Twitter at: http://www.twitter.com/calabrio or our blog at http://calabrio.wordpress.com.

Calabrio, Calabrio One and the Calabrio logo are registered trademarks or trademarks of Calabrio, Inc. All other trademarks mentioned in this document are the property of their respective owners.

Genesys G-Force: Frontier Airlines MIA, replaced by guitar-breaker United Airlines

So G-Force Chicago has ended. Here’s update for April 15 from one of my sources:

“Generate Endless Possibilities” is the theme at this year’s G-Force Chicago. The first full day started like most of G-Forces, with music and dancers and throwing out foam frisbees into the audience. Eric Entzeroth (Sr. VP Genesys) kicked off the event with the company’s welcome message and introduced Paul Segre (President AS Group, Genesys). Paul was his usual Michael Scott (à la The Office) self. He went over the theme of “Generate Endless Possibilities” and how the focus this year was on “innovation in the customer experience.” So, Genesys 8 was officially launched and the big push was to integrate iWD (intelligent Workload Distribution) and moving customers and their contact centers to add email, chat, mobile apps (virtual hold and callback) and social media into the Universal Agent queue. It was pretty cool when they talked about how agents can monitor blogs and chats and be able to “proactively” (buzzword) answer questions before the customer can call in (or email) the company.

The next few speakers also spoke about Genesys 8 and how social and mobile media will be an important to the contact center space in the years to come. The morning sessions ended with Valerie LaBarba (VP of Farmers Insurance) giving a presentation about how they are moving their contact centers into the multimedia space and will soon upgrade to Genesys 8 (I don’t think she’s been around for Genesys 7.0 or Genesys 6.0). It was a nice presentation and they are doing some cool stuff with Genesys.

The breakout sessions were typical. Same ol’, Same ol’!!! The last general session of the day was a presentation from United Airlines. They were last minute fill-in for Frontier Airlines. But, you can tell that the VP of IT really tried, but he had 30 slides and a video all about United and their IT initiative and nothing about Genesys. The last two slides he threw in were token Genesys mentions.

The day ended with a G-Force party at the House of Blues. It was OK, I think too many people for that size venue. It was difficult to walk around and talk with people. The music was loud and people were pushed up next to each other. So, if I were to grade the party I would give it a C+.

But, overall I think Day 1 went very well. I’m very please to see the new enhancements coming in Genesys 8 (with Composer, iWD, and iCFD). Let’s pray that the new enhancements of Genesys 8 was built on the solid 7.6 framework!!!

I’m not so sure why Genesys picked lesser-known Frontier Airlines as a customer keynote. It’s not a top-tier airline and had a history of financial troubles (went through bankruptcy in 2008). Curious also as to why Gerry Coady of Frontier Airlines canceled at the last minute. Also surprised at United Airlines being asked to fill in for Frontier. Both of these airlines have had negative publicity in recent years — and if Genesys’ focus is social media and customer service this year, Frontier and UA were poor choices. The only logical explanation is that Genesys sales dictated the selection for the customer keynote and its sales resources are probably working hard to win some deals in the air travel sector. Unfortunately things didn’t work out as planned…

By the way, I think we’ve found new fans!

Genesys G-Force: New sponsor BearPaw Software rolls out the red carpet

My sources have arrived at G-Force and ready to provide you with the latest and greatest from Genesys! First report from a source:

This year’s G-Force is at the historic Chicago Hilton hotel. The welcome reception started around 5:30pm and was sponsored by BearPaw Software. They really did a good job and it was a nice start to the next two full days of festivities. (Thanks Duane!!!)

This is noteworthy as I believe it’s the first time BearPaw Software is a sponsor? According to G-Force’s website, it is this year’s “Special Sponsor.” If anyone can find out what it means to be a “special sponsor” please contact me! BearPaw actually has a suite of contact center products tied into Genesys — something rare among third-party shops that feed off the Genesys ecosystem (most just offer augmented PS services). Definitely keep an eye on this company…

The turnout is better then last year with 700+ customers, sponsors, and employees attending. Everyone seems to be excited about this years G-Force, or maybe they are excited because their Genesys representative is taking them out for a big steak dinner. We will see!!

Increased attendance is great news, perhaps a sign of economic recovery in these uncertain times? However, I’d attribute parts of it to the location, Chicago, being in the middle of the country. Last year’s was in Orlando — way east and way south — which discouraged many west coast people from going, especially during the downturn as well. Oh yes, Chicago has better steakhouses, too! Bonus for hungry customers.

So far, the big questions from attendees are around Genesys IP/SIP and Genesys release 8. Is it reliable? Is it going to be like the other Genesys major releases (6.0, 7.0)? Will customers be  pushing for Genesys 8.5 before years end? Inquiring minds want to know!!!

Well, hopefully all of our questions will be answered tomorrow. We will continue to update our insideCTI readers on what’s happening at G-Force 2010. So, please check back.

Ah, Genesys 8.0. Consultants shudder at the thought of a “dot oh.” I have seen some demos of G8 and was impressed. But then, that’s what demos are supposed to do. It’s the on-site consultants who keep Genesys honest as they’re the ones in the field implementing the thing. As part of the marketing effort, I think Genesys 8 ought to be branded “GR8” (“Genesys Release 8”) to calm fears and stay hip!


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Countdown to Genesys G-Force 2010

This year hundreds of CTI nerds will descend upon the Windy City in search of best practices, new products, quality services, and a very good time. I was at G-Force Orlando last year and had a blast. If there’s one thing Genesys knows how to do well outside of CTI it’s throwing a great party.

Which buzzwords will dominate the conference this year? My guesses are “SIP” and “social media.” Will there be Genesys partners who’ll come out on top to impress attendees in their latest product offerings? What new things about Alcatel-Lucent and Genesys will we learn?

Regrettably I will not be at this conference because, well, I have better uses for $1,600. Actually, it’s because I’d already booked to attend the eCommerce Summit instead. But faithful readers, fear not! I will still provide coverage thanks to others who will be on-site experiencing CTI bliss. Oooohhhhh… Genesysssssss…

Have a great G-Force!

Follow-up on Fonolo

Fonolo CEO Shai Berger was kind enough to take time from his vacation (and baby duty) to discuss in more detail about his company and its products. I’d written about Fonolo previously when its iPhone app appeared on the scene to great fanfare. The Toronto-based startup of less than 10 employees has won numerous awards and recognition, and are more than ready to roll out its Fonolo for Business enterprise product.

“Disruptive” was the word chosen by Berger to describe its product. According to Berger, Fonolo is in the middle of a pilot project for a major bank in North America. He couldn’t reveal the name of this customer, but I thought to myself, kudos to the executive(s) who realized the benefit of this technology and more importantly, realized the importance of improving the customer experience using it.

Because that is ultimately what Fonolo aims to do. For customers, allowing them to reach a company’s service representative easily, away from the tired voice interface. For enterprises, allowing them to leverage existing contact center infrastructure but provide an additional channel of customer interaction. Judging from the iTunes Store feedback, the app is commonly misunderstood. Some users have complained about having to set up an account and/or enter a phone number in order to use the service. With some input from Berger, let me see if I can explain it somewhat properly…

Fonolo for Consumers not just navigates an IVR menu for you (its “Deep Dialing” technology), it also allows you to make notes, bookmarks, and save call history. That’s why a user has to set up an account. Those are also unique features of Fonolo compared to other competing offerings which simply push out DTMF tones to get you to someone.

Yes, someone. This may not be the right person because as we know, businesses change and therefore, IVR menus also change. But Fonolo solves this problem and improves its effectiveness by regularly calling company IVRs and updating their menu mappings stored in its database. It’s much more than a DTMF generator. Berger attributed this important distinguishing feature to its home-grown “call engine,” complete with its own SIP stack and RTP library (for you techies craving TLAs).

In terms of implementation, it doesn’t take more than a Web widget embedded on the company site. There’s more good news: absolutely nothing has to be changed to the existing infrastructure. The PBX is left alone, the IVR remains untouched, and the CTI system requires no tweaks. Calls continue to arrive to the agents — screen-pops and all. IVR menu changes? Just update the widget. In a study done and published by Berger and his team, between 30-50% of contact center calls result from mis-navigation (e.g. zero-outs, vague verbiage, long menus, etc.) which cost lots of money. By presenting a visual interface Fonolo cuts down on mis-navigation and could save a company a big chunk of cash. Happy callers? How about happy contact center managers, too.

Now you may think, as I have, “Why not just implement an email routing application?” In fact, many modern contact center software have that capability. Faxes, emails, and even tweets are now being routed along with voice interactions. Email is good for a number of things, but not in dealing with customer service. Otherwise, why aren’t IVRs extinct yet in the midst of email ubiquity? Additionally, Berger pointed out that most contact centers rarely deploy both voice and email routing together; and if voice service is deployed first, they don’t normally add email routing later because of cost and technical complexities. Customers still prefer speaking to a live person, so perhaps email routing is more effective when used as a request for agent callback.

In that aspect I believe the main competitors to Fonolo aren’t other “dialing” apps, but rather products that offer “live chat” capability on a company site.

But Fonolo also has an edge in its smartphone apps. Between sending an email then waiting on a response or not being in front of a PC to initiate live chat, and actually getting to an agent via a quick tap or click on the mobile phone — which would you prefer?

Consumers will find Fonolo an app that solves a common frustration in dealing with companies. And with that, enterprises should take an honest look at themselves to see if they are doing their best to provide the most efficient method of customer service in today’s Web-centric world. Fonolo can be the bridge to that gap.