Cisco making a move for Skype?

TechCrunch is reporting that…

Cisco has made an offer to acquire Skype before they complete their IPO process, says one of our more reliable sources. We have not been able to confirm this rumor one way or another via other sources, which isn’t surprising. A company in lock down during the IPO process is usually even more tight lipped than normal.

All of it is unconfirmed, so lump it into the rumors category for now. I’m sure Michael Arrington will have updates soon — this would be big breaking news.

Skype has WebEx-like video features, and is already used by many companies as a must-have communications tool. What would Skype bring to Cisco?

More consumer-oriented user base? Its HD audio technology? Is there anything else that Skype has that Cisco lacks?

This week insideCTI: 8/22/10 – 8/28/10

Can you believe that summer is almost gone?! Where did the time go???

Genesys finally revealed a bit more about its social media strategy, and I was grateful to have received a briefing about it. Apparently there was no shortage of interest from readers about this as site traffic surged quite a bit during the day of that posting. Bottom line: social media is something Genesys will not ignore in its product portfolio, and with the strategy it will be something to recommend to its clients, too. While many CRM vendors have incorporated social media features early on, at least we now know CTI is catching up.

What better way to enjoy autumn days than to immerse yourself in Internet telephony and witness in person the state of communications startups? All the while in gorgeous southern California, too. Mark your calendar for October 4 — StartupCamp Communications Edition, part of TMC’s IPEXPO. According to the organizer, this event is expected to break past attendance records again features even more presenting startups than before. You wouldn’t want to miss this if you want to check the pulse of the latest developments in this space!

Google also made quite a splash by enabling voice features within Gmail. Even more amazing was the speed at which Big G rolled it out to everyone. The company made it official within hours of the blogosphere going crazy with the news tip. Free calls within the U.S. and Canada (who doesn’t like free these days?). I gave it a try a few times and found it to be a decent experience, at least from a consumer perspective. I still don’t think Google Voice is ready for reliable enterprise use yet. However, I still welcome the inclusion of GV within Gmail, the one site that I always visit daily.

And since it is Friday, let’s all take it easy with this comic from The Oatmeal titled “Why I’d rather be punched in the testicles than call customer service“… Oh yeah, feel the love, fellow contact center specialists!

In an instant, Gmail becomes one of the most used telephony clients

Internet speed. That’s how fast some of today’s tech companies operate.

For example, Google. Just yesterday morning (Eastern Time) as I started my daily routine of catching up on news from the hundreds of RSS feeds I subscribe to, the leading tech blogs all echoed the tip about Google testing voice features within Gmail — Google Voice not required, either. Then BOOM! — a few hours later, even before the electrons calmed down on the blogs, Google made it official.

Skype and Microsoft didn’t even have a chance to see what hit ’em.

Actually, maybe not quite. I’m sure Skype already has drawn a bullseye on Google’s front, and Microsoft’s drawn one on Google’s back. Who can blame them? In a matter of hours the Big G turned its popular Web-based email client into a popular Web-based telephony client. And the Interwebs went wild.

Another step toward UC? Some think so, per Dave Michels of Pin Drop Soup:

UC? Absolutely. Google is taking UC to a fairly comprehensive level with a single number integrated to email, voice mail, chat, presence, voice mail, contacts, mobility, and video – not to mention its collaboration capabilities. Google is keeping it all at a consumer level, but I contend an enterprise version is coming.

Google is putting together a comprehensive strategy unified communications. Consider all the Gmail users, all the Google Voice users (over a million), all the Android users, and it becomes pretty compelling pretty quickly that the competitive landscape in telephony can change pretty quickly.

Over at GigaOM, the thought is that Google should really make Gmail the hub of all communications — including social media:

Google should add the ability to send and receive Twitter direct messages and interoperate with Facebook messaging, so we could have a full-blown communications platform. You can start and end your day in this hub without losing it once. Gmail leverages three of Google’s mainstay strengths: infrastructure, search and simplicity of user experience. If Google were smart, it would take a boatload of money and invest in making Gmail the center of all its forays into social and the enterprise (which would mean making Google Voice work with the Google Apps version of Gmail).

Skype may boast 590 million users, but it lacks good collaboration plugins; and mostly, it lacks cash to go head-to-head with the likes of Google and Microsoft. Hotmail and Yahoo! Mail both surpass Gmail is user base, but they both lack the rich features and simplicity of Gmail.

I can say with certainty that millions of other users startup their browsers with Gmail as the first “go to” site. My next app? Skype. Now I’m wondering if I’ll ever need to click that Skype icon again…

Where the communications startup action will be

The economy’s in the dumps. Housing market in a slump. Stock markets are like a family of bears.

But believe it or not, the entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well. See, entrepreneurs are a silly bunch. They’re risk takers, they’re great at exploiting opportunities, they’re blinded by ideas, they’re determined to eliminate the word “impossible” from the lexicon.

(Okay, so it also helps that their companies aren’t focused on the housing market…)

But startups and the entrepreneurial culture is vital to any economy. The Internet and the Web has evolved — 2.0, 3.0, whatever — all I know is that the Web waits for no one. That’s why events such as the StartupCamp Comm Edition is so important, not only for the presenting startups, not only for the tech industry, but also for our economy.

Mark your calendar: October 4 in Los Angeles, that’s where all the startup action will be.

The previous event in Miami was packed and featured startups like Close Haul, Fonolo (covered here before), Pebb.ly, and SayHired. These have already signed up for October: The 2600hz Project (covered here too), AdelaVoice, GeoGraffiti, Freespee, MedTaker, Ringio, Vokle, NumberTank, and Cloud Telecomputers. That’s more than twice the number of presenting startups than were in Miami!

Larry Lisser, founder of the event and partner of event organizer EMBRASE Business Consulting (and prominent Bay Area comm blogger), has this to share:

This is a StartupCamp exclusively focused on those innovating with communications technology. Ours efforts are all towards creating a unique opportunity for early stage companies to show off to both influencer and prospective customer audiences.

With all the excitement and activities surrounding the communications business sector, it’s great that there’s an event to showcase startups in this space. Comm startups should definitely look into attending, if not presenting, at this event!

Social media Genesys

Okay, I’m really sorry to have to write about more social media stuff, but please bear with me. After a briefing on Monday with Genesys about their latest social media strategy (announced recently during G-Force APAC), I believe this is newsworthy. So hear me out…

The latest Genesys 8 platform is said to be more open and modular. That’s a good product engineering decision, but probably came about because of market driven forces. The communications world is embracing Web technologies which are inherently more open, as well as standards such as SIP and VXML. If Genesys wants to stay ahead as the #1 CTI product vendor then it had to adapt to these trends and satisfy customer demands.

But there’s something more happening to Genesys these days. It appears to be evolving from a contact center product to a quasi enterprise communications product. The company used to talk your ear off about contact center optimization and metrics, about how GVP and T-Servers and InfoMart will make your contact center grow wings. It’ll design a system to give your contact center more horsepower — no, unicorn power — humming along inside the data center with double rainbow as the backdrop. Oh, the magic!

While the contact center basks in divine intervention, the rest of the enterprise eyes it with envy and, sometimes, with a terrible curse.

Well, the whole enterprise can now enjoy Genesys. In part thanks to the attention given to social media which is typically handled by the marketing department (or the hip intern working minimum wage). Social media demands constant monitoring of the various interaction channels, and because the results can be so dynamic and unpredictable, it’s something that various departments within the enterprise needs to be engaged in. A customer may tweet about a complaint — route that to customer service; somebody leaves a note on Facebook about a job opening — route that to human resources; or the person chooses both mediums to interact — what to do then?

In essence, the enterprise is the contact center. If the enterprise is serious about customer interaction engagement, then it needs to let everyone know that no matter which department you work in, from this point on you are also a contact center representative.

I think Genesys got lucky with the timing. The social media tidal wave arrived just as Genesys reworked its platform into something more developer-friendly and modular. Suddenly partners are signing on left and right to create integrated applications on the G8 platform because clients are demanding a holistic customer engagement experience across all interaction channels. Old time partners like Virtual Hold Technology continue to focus on more traditional contact center applications on G8. Then there are newer partners like Lithium Technologies and InQuira which focus on online communities and knowledge management with hooks into G8.

As much as this strategy is getting tons of attention (hundreds of tweets since announcement), there are only field trials for now. Five customers have signed up to brave the new world of Genesys and social media. I don’t know who they are, but I’m very interested to see them in action. (Unfortunately, the demo video and screenshots provided by Genesys don’t offer much more technical details on how this solution comes together.)

The goal is to break down walls and dissolve silos. My next question is, Will this eat into Social CRM adoption or usage? After all, I believe CRM vendors were much quicker to tie into social media than contact center vendors.

The oldie (but goodie?) press release:

Melbourne, Australia, August 17, 2010 Alcatel-Lucent (Euronext Paris and NYSE: ALU) today unveiled the Genesys Social Media Strategy that urges companies to aggressively bring social media practices to the next level by using business tools to tie social media community interactions with customer service and marketing organizations. The unique insights as well as social media tools were shared at the Genesys G-Force Melbourne User Conference and are available online.

Consumers expect companies to engage with them via social media and while almost every company has made an attempt to establish such a presence it is typically done manually in standalone deployments and in response to consumer queries and complaints. The lack of an enterprise-wide social media strategy and engaging with consumers only, in a department-by-department basis, contribute to a poor consumer experience and ultimately undermine brand advocacy and loyalty.

“For the past few years social media has impacted the way companies communicate with consumers and their employees, resulting mainly in the leveraging of Facebook and/or Twitter as another channel to distribute press releases and other marketing material,” commented Brian Riggs, Research Director, Enterprise Software and Communications at Current Analysis.  “As enterprises approach to social media matures, it will be critical for them to invest in tools that allow them to integrate social media efforts across marketing, communications and the contact center and directly impact revenues and operational expenses.”

The Alcatel-Lucent Genesys Strategy encourages enterprises to construct an integrated social media approach that builds on four actions:

  1. Listen:  Capture and leverage community / tribal knowledge to gain valuable insight into consumer sentiments about products, services and emotional engagement with the brand
  2. Prioritize:  Define and prioritize what actions to take toward the community, individual posts or within the enterprise
  3. Engage:  Proceed with relevant actions to respond, inform and notify individuals as appropriate while focusing resources on consumers of particular value to the company
  4. Integrate:  Integrate conversations across marketing and customer service organizations and other touch points while leveraging expertise across the broader enterprise and existing IT investments

G-Force Melbourne shows social media tools

Genesys has started to integrate tools into its offerings to help enterprises begin to create a foundation for a strong cross-functional approach to social media.  A few of these will be shown at G-Force Melbourne including:

  • New upgrades that integrate with Facebook and Twitter to respond, inform and notify consumers while leveraging Genesys’ market-leading customer interaction management (CIM) platform to direct and route messages to the most appropriate resource.
  • A community building platform from Lithium Technologies’ that allows enterprises to monitor and address consumer issues outside of the traditional contact center. When combined with the Genesys Contact Center/Customer Service Software, agents are given visibility into valuable community content and consumers can easily navigate from a self-help area to a live agent.
  • Ability to integrate social monitoring through an open interface, facilitating the ability to listen to and capture content from consumers on social sites. Genesys software then manages, prioritizes, escalates, assigns service level agreements (SLAs) and routes the interactions to the best possible resource.

According to a 2010 study by the Society of New Communications Research, “72 percent of respondents said they used social media to research a company’s reputation for customer care before making a purchase, and 74 percent choose to do business with companies based on the customer care experiences shared by others online.”  With such large percentages of consumers using social media to acquire knowledge about a company to form a purchase decision, it is critical that companies integrate social media into their marketing and customer service business.

“As more consumers use social media there is an increasing desire to engage with businesses,” said Eric Tamblyn, vice president, Genesys Product Marketing at Alcatel-Lucent.  “Marketing and customer service departments are both challenged with supporting these new touch points and retaining consumer information collected if the conversation extends to other departments.  By leveraging the Genesys solution’s ability to optimize interactions across voice and non-voice touch points, businesses can proactively market and provide consistent customer service via Web applications, phone or mobile devices, delivering an exceptional experience for their consumers.”

About Society for New Communications Research

The Society for New Communications Research (www.sncr.org) is a global nonprofit 501(c)(3) research and education foundation and think tank dedicated to the advanced study of the latest developments in new media and communications, and their effect on traditional media and business models, communications, culture and society.

About Genesys software solutions

Genesys software solutions from Alcatel-Lucent manage customer interactions over phone, Web and mobile devices. The Genesys software suite handles customer conversations across multiple channels and resources – self-service, assisted-service and proactive outreach – fulfilling customer requests and optimizing customer care goals while efficiently using resources. Genesys software directs more than 100 million customer interactions every day for 4,000 companies and government agencies in 80 countries. These companies and agencies leverage their entire organization, from the contact center to the back office, while dynamically engaging their customers. For more information, go to www.genesyslab.com.

About Alcatel-Lucent

Alcatel-Lucent (Euronext Paris and NYSE: ALU) is the trusted transformation partner of service providers, enterprises, strategic industries such as defense, energy, healthcare, transportation,  and governments worldwide, providing solutions to deliver voice, data and video communication services to end-users. A leader in fixed, mobile and converged broadband networking, IP technologies, applications and services, Alcatel-Lucent leverages the unrivalled technical and scientific expertise of Bell Labs, one of the largest innovation powerhouses in the communications industry. With operations in more than 130 countries and the most experienced global services organization in the industry, Alcatel-Lucent is a local partner with a global reach. Alcatel-Lucent achieved revenues of Euro 15.2 billion in 2009 and is incorporated in France, with executive offices located in Paris. For more information, visit Alcatel-Lucent on the Internet: http://www.alcatel-lucent.com, read the latest posts on the Alcatel-Lucent’s blog http://www.alcatel-lucent.com/blog and follow us on Twitter:http://twitter.com/Alcatel_Lucent.

Alcatel-Lucent Press Contacts

Mary Ward Tel: + 1 908 582 7658 mary.ward @alcatel-lucent.com
Vicki Vaughn Tel: + 1 818 878 4906 vicki.vaughn@alcatel-lucent.com

Alcatel-Lucent Investor Relations

Rémi Thomas Tel: + 33 (0)1 40 76 50 61 remi.thomas@alcatel-lucent.com
Tom Bevilacqua Tel: + 1908-582-7998 bevilacqua@alcatel-lucent.com
Tony Lucido Tel: + 33 (0)1 40 76 49 80 alucido@alcatel-lucent.com
Don Sweeney Tel: + 1 908 582 6153 dsweeney@alcatel-lucent.com

This week insideCTI: 8/15/10 – 8/21/10

Another week, another telephony/CTI company embracing the Web… It’s a good strategy for Dialogic — that’s the only way to survive in today’s ecosystem. Everybody else is doing it!

Genesys G-Force 2010 APAC concluded this week in Melbourne, Australia. I wish I was there because I’d never visited Australia before. Oh, and to learn about how to “generate endless possibilities,” of course. There didn’t seem to be many gems that came out of this conference. There was quite a buzz about the Genesys Social Media Solution and I definitely would like to see it in action. All the big CRM vendors have this already, so it’s about time the CTI world catches up. Aside from that announcement, the Twitter stream for this G-Foce was sort of… meh.

Frost & Sullivan decided to pull Google into the UCC fight with a press release. I love and respect Big G for all its cool Web apps and technologies, but to me the company is far from ready to be a competitor in the UCC space. Maybe it will happen eventually, but until then it’s just a search giant. With that being said, it’d be an interesting business case to see how Google applies its open culture and fast tech to the offerings deemed UCC-friendly. Will it follow the footsteps of the highly successful Gmail? Or left in some sort of limbo like GrandCentral (predecessor to Google Voice)? Or face negligence by most people like Google Wave?

Have a great weekend, y’all.

Google UCC to be a reality?

Yesterday Frost & Sullivan put out a press release titled “Google Storms Unified Communications & Collaboration Market” postulating Big G’s path to become an UCC vendor. No doubt that Google has made some very interesting acquisitions in recent years, but is UCC truly on its agenda?

Earlier this year Google Enterprise President David Girouard gave an interview to eWEEK about its enterprise Apps suite. The plan was to leverage Google’s massive server infrastructure to offer enterprise apps at costs low enough to displace the likes of IBM and Microsoft. Google was, and is always about cloud computing, but that aspect of their business is no longer a distinguishing factor as competitors also embrace the cloud to offer their own off-premise UCC solutions. IBM has come up with a cloud-based version of its flagship Lotus Notes products dubbed LotusLive Notes. Microsoft has pushed for its Azure cloud computing platform.

Google is still known for its search. Okay, maybe Android too, but in the grand scheme of things that’s still about search.

These days I wouldn’t be able to do business without Gmail and “Gcal” (Google Calendar), and although I also use Google Voice, I’ve found it to be less than adequate for business communications. The voice quality of Google Voice and some of its highlighted features (such as voicemail transcription) have been unreliable from my experiences. GV, to me, is only good as a convenient forwarding service — and that’s only when it works (50/50). Again, those are based on my personal experience in using these Google services, YMMV. Google Talk, with its added video chat capability, is something I rarely use (Skype is by far the #1 choice). Google Wave, now left to die a slow death, is an interesting take on real-time collaboration, but it never caught on.

I do think that Google definitely has ambitions to enter the corporate world, but it is struggling to find good footing. The company, founded by two Stanford PhD students, has grown tremendously and dominates the tech sector, but it has a hard time duplicating the successes of HP, IBM, Microsoft, and Cisco in terms of enterprise reach. Although the Internet and the Web have helped launch notable companies like Yahoo!, Amazon.com, and Google, most of them are still very consumer oriented. Perhaps it’s in the DNA of how and why these companies were created, but they know they cannot simply thrive on consumer demand — the corporate market must be tapped.

Yahoo!, sadly, sort of gave up when it tried to seduce Microsoft. Amazon.com got creative and offered its cloud infrastructure, Amazon Web Services (AWS). Google, swimming in ridiculous amounts of cash from search revenues, had the luxury of throwing a few things out there and see which ones stick.

As successful as Google is today, don’t overlook its ability to fail. I don’t know for sure that Google is explicitly targeting the UCC segment, but its competitive advantages would post a threat to any company, if not now then in the near future:

  • Willingness to fail: Failure is always an option at Google. And sometimes it prefers to fail spectacularly. That doesn’t mean the company sucks — it just means it has more experience than its competitors.
  • Fat bank account: Obviously, having more than $40 billion in assets allows Google to initiate many projects. A few of them may turn into good products. And if it doesn’t feel like pouring manpower into a project then it’ll just write a check to buy a company.
  • Operate on Internet Time: By the time you finish reading this bullet item, Google will have revised many of its software products. This is a company that wants an updated version of its Chrome browser to come out every six weeks. That’s just for a Web browser. How often does your UCC vendor send out updates to fix bugs and implement enhancements?

Perhaps a Google UCC product won’t show up anytime soon, but if I were an UCC vendor I wouldn’t let my guard down. After all, tell me an UCC company name that’s a verb in our daily lexicon… Trying googling it, but you probably won’t find one.

The straight-up from F&S:

LONDON – 18 August 2010 – Google, a California-based search and advertising services giant, has been known to employ aggressive acquisitive strategies towards the domination of new markets. A recent surge of takeovers such as Android, 2Web Technologies, Marratech, GrandCentral, Gzimo5, and other innovative communications and collaboration firms, as well as recently developed and launched products, show that the Unified Communications and Collaboration (UCC) market is one of the Google’s directions. Despite being a new entrant, Google, with its proactive approach, abundant capital and human resources, will very likely become a major UCC participant in the coming years.

“Although Google has not officially announced this strategy,” says Dorota Oviedo, Industry Analyst for Frost & Sullivan Unified Communications & Collaboration group, “it is evident that, by continually adding new UCC applications to its portfolio and focusing on integrating them, the company is effectively entering the UCC market. In recent years, Google’s culture of innovation, numerous acquisitions, and openness to third party developers have resulted in a number of product launches in the UCC space, which in addition to Google Apps included a VoIP service (Google Voice), social media tool (Google Buzz), mobile services (Android) and recently abandoned online collaboration platform (Google Wave)”

At present, available features are not sufficient to make Google the UCC suite of choice for majority of large enterprises; however, the company already provides several synchronous and asynchronous UCC tools, delivered from a cloud as an integrated stack of applications. Accompanied by efficacious pricing, flexibility and ease of use, these tools are hugely appealing to businesses, particularly to small and medium businesses (SMBs). The integration of other, less critical consumer services with enterprise applications will further improve services offered and help in growing the corporate customer base.

“Until recently, Google has not been perceived by enterprise communication and collaboration vendors as serious competition,” adds Iwona Petruczynik, Research Analyst from Unified Communications & Collaboration group, Frost & Sullivan. “UCC vendors typically argue that Google services, being founded on consumer applications, are not suitable for a corporate world and do not form a complete UCC suite. However, they should recognise where Google is heading in the future and how quickly its products are evolving.”

Launched in March 2010, Google Apps Marketplace offers cloud-based applications in various business categories. This online store greatly supports wider adoption of Google Apps with new integrated utilities, offering vertically-specific customisation and expanded functionality. Such integration enables further productivity enhancements, as they leverage existing Google Apps data, such as contacts, calendar availability, and documents across multiple applications.

Moreover, Google is expected to launch the enterprise version of its Google Voice service during late 2010. Google Apps, enhanced with Google Voice and several other consumer applications, will create a very cost-effective UCC package for businesses. By the end of this year, Google Apps will have more than 90 different applications, such as Picasa and Google Reader, offering an abundance of new capabilities.

UCC vendors should closely watch Google and its ever expanding suite of UCC services. By constantly innovating and integrating all its applications and services into one powerful but cost-effective productivity-enhancing business package, the company has already positioned itself as a strong and fast-moving participant of the UCC market.

If you would like to receive more information on Frost & Sullivan Market Insight entitled “Google’s Enterprise Universe: Google Storms the Unified Communications and Collaboration Market“, or would like to learn more about UCC market, please contact Joanna Lewandowska, Corporate Communications, at Joanna.lewandowska@frost.com, with your full name, company name, job title and contact details.

About Frost & Sullivan

Frost & Sullivan, the Growth Partnership Company, enables clients to accelerate growth and achieve best-in-class positions in growth, innovation and leadership. The company’s Growth Partnership Service provides the CEO and the CEO’s Growth Team with disciplined research and best-practice models to drive the generation, evaluation, and implementation of powerful growth strategies. Frost & Sullivan leverages over 45 years of experience in partnering with Global 1000 companies, emerging businesses and the investment community from 40 offices on six continents. To join our Growth Partnership, please visit http://www.frost.com.

Contact:

Joanna Lewandowska
Corporate Communications – Europe
P: +48 22 390 41 46
E: joanna.lewandowska@frost.com

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