BlackBerry is out of touch

Okay, be honest: How many of you BlackBerry users have iPhone or Android (or even Palm) envy?

The BlackBerry was oh-so-cool, what? Ten years ago? It made you a lean, mean email machine. That was great when businesses get done via emails. But these days, businesses get done via applications. And the truth is, BlackBerry apps suck.

Not only that, but the BB hardware and design haven’t changed much in ages. Same ol’ keypad, same ol’ screen, same ol’ form factor. Where’s the innovation, RIM?

In a move to reinvent itself, RIM scooped up QNX Software Systems. The plan is to replace the BlackBerry OS with QNX. To generate some excitement and buzz about RIM’s future, the PlayBook tablet was announced and slated to arrive in 2011. My opinion about PlayBook fits Jon Evans’ guest blog on TechCrunch, with this intro:

Oh, Research In Motion. You never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.

Diehard BlackBerry fans can’t wait for the arrival of PlayBook. Finally, a tablet made by a business-oriented vendor. Who’d want an Apple iPad or Dell Streak (Android)?

All the while the iPad and Android tablets continue to sell like hotcakes. Enough to put a dent in netbook sales figures.

But the PlayBook will have cameras, tethering (only to a BB, silly!), and Flash support! For some reason fans argue the PlayBook’s superiority by touting its Flash capability. Even though this is marketed as a business-oriented machine? How does Flash support help a business user on a tablet device? And limiting tethering to BlackBerry? Makes no sense, except that RIM is too proud to free the PlayBook.

There’s also a video demonstrating the PlayBook’s impressive browser speed against the iPad. Just keep in mind that this video was produced by RIM. Nobody has played with a PlayBook yet.

RIM is marketing the PlayBook as the most powerful tablet device. Unfortunately, when it is sold in 2011 it will have a long way to go to become the most popular tablet device.

(And if the future of RIM is something like this BlackBerry Empathy mockup, somebody please just hand the CEO a non-BlackBerry phone so he can call somebody who cares.)

Fonolo goes for the kill

Fonolo has been on this blog’s radar a few times and recently CEO Shai Berger announced a new website and a televised appearance on “The Pitch” on Canada’s Business News Network (BNN).

The story of Fonolo is an interesting one, starting from its humble birthplace — Canada. Now how many startups do you know from Canada? Nothing against our northern neighbors, but Canada isn’t really famous for being a startup cradle. (Just read what TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington had to say about it…) Personally I am thrilled to see a Canadian company like Fonolo making news and giving its pitch for new funding to expand operations.

It’s a tough economic environment, but what better time to go for the kill.

After stealing the hearts of smartphone users who hate IVR menus, Fonolo will attempt to wow enterprises with its software-as-a-service (Saas) solution. The website redesign clearly focuses on enticing business decision makers. Virtual queuing, pre-call questions, post-call surveys, and zero integration — these are terms that I’ve heard over and over again in my contact center projects. I’ve been in the industry for over ten years, and I am still hearing about these things! So yes, there’s definitely room for disruption and innovation…

The business strategy paid off as Berger talked about a deal with a major Canadian bank. According to Berger in the video, more are in the sales pipeline, and that’s why the company also recently hired a sales executive from IBM.

I see a trend favoring services like Fonolo. Smartphone sales are rising. Text and data usage are skyrocketing. We’re spending less and less time talking on the phone. When you pick up your BlackBerry, iPhone, or Android, you’re more than likely using SMS, checking email, or interacting with an app. Fonolo, in a sense, turns that God forsaken IVR into an app which you can tap, tap, tap on your smartphone or browser.

Consumers easily understand the value Fonolo provides. There will be challenges to sell this to the enterprise, however. Companies usually stick with their telecom vendors or partners when implementing self-service IVRs. In fact, some telecom vendors will heavily discount the IVR (and maybe some basic apps) after selling a PBX solution (VOIP, of course). Companies are wary to bring in another vendor to navigate the often-complex IVR/contact center projects, even if it’s “zero integration.”

What’s glaringly missing on Fonolo’s website is a list of partners. The telecom industry is tough to crack. It’s not just the traditional Big Telecom (Avaya/Nortel, Siemens, Alcatel-Lucent, etc.) anymore. It’s also the software companies (Microsoft, Aspect, etc.), networking companies (Cisco), and even cloud companies (Google). Throw in services companies (IBM, HP, etc.) into the mix, too.

To me Fonolo does represent a disruptive technology. But to be really disruptive in the industry, Fonolo may need to make some big new friends, real fast. Big companies like to meet with big vendors to spend big money. If it’s big customers and short sales cycles that Fonolo’s after, then it only makes sense to buddy up with a partner with much greater resources.

Release the Lync!

“Release the Kraken!” exclaimed Zeus in Clash of the Titans. The people of Argos angered the gods and needed to sacrifice Andromeda to Kraken or face annihilation.

With Microsoft’s release of the eagerly anticipated Lync it is looking to be a clash of the UC titans indeed. Cisco and Avaya are certainly not thrilled. Their UC solutions may sit in many enterprises, but most of the workers probably spend more time in Outlook, Word, and Excel than on the desk phone (ugh) or softphone.

Microsoft is the slow giant that doesn’t die — it just trips and fumbles, but always gets back up. Windows is still around. Internet Explorer is still around. Office is still around. Windows Mobile rose from the ashes as Windows Phone 7. OCS evolved into Lync.

The Redmond Giant has enormous resources to leverage. People, money, brand recognition, etc. Just imagine the outcome of bundling Lync with another MS product…

There’s no shortage of partners jumping onto the Lync bandwagon: Aspect (of course), Interactive Intelligence, and even Dialogic. The list is way longer — trust me.

Lync will be pushed very aggressively by the company. The ultimate goal is to convince you to ditch that PBX and replace it with Lync instead. No need for telecom staff. It’s just another server to be administered by the IT guy. And it’ll work seamlessly with your existing Office products. Promise.

A roundup of reports are mostly giving Lync 2010 a thumbs up. You can find them using Google.

…speaking of Google. Didn’t it have plans to invade the enterprise UC&C market?

Count on it. The clash of the titans is between Microsoft and Big G. Forget that I had mentioned Cisco and Avaya. (For some reason they are too fixated on video tablets…)

(Press) release the Lync:

REDMOND, Wash. — Nov. 17, 2010 — Microsoft Corp. today announced the general availability of Microsoft Lync, the next generation of communications that connects people in new ways. Starting today, anyone can download a free trial version of Lync at http://www.lync.com, and business customers can purchase Lync beginning Dec. 1.

Lync is a single platform that integrates instant messaging, presence, audio, video, webconferencing and voice to bring people together in the ways they communicate best, with one interface that works with the applications businesses know and use today, including Microsoft Office, Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft Exchange.

“Lync delivers on our vision to unify all of the modes of modern business communication, giving people a more collaborative, ‘in person’ experience with features like HD video, conference recording, and social features like status updates and activity feeds,” said Gurdeep Singh Pall, corporate vice president of the Microsoft Lync & Speech Group. “In addition to transforming how people communicate, IT departments are also looking to Lync to evolve their infrastructure and enhance or eliminate their traditional PBX systems, saving money and saving time.”

Customers including The Estee Lauder Companies Inc., Nikon Corp., Marquette University, France Telecom and Herrenknecht AG are deploying Lync 2010 to change the way they communicate, and transforming their businesses while saving money.

Nikon, for example, uses Lync with SharePoint and Exchange to increase the company’s employee productivity. To date, Nikon has experienced a 30 percent increase in productivity in some areas.

“We want to move away from relying on a specific communication tool, like e-mail,” said Michiko Noborisaka, general manager of Information System Planning Department at Nikon Corp. “We need capabilities that free people from the constraints of time and place. Our employees should be able to choose the best communications tools for each scenario they face.”

Microsoft recently commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct a Total Economic Impact study that found that for a composite organization Lync 2010 offers a risk-adjusted ROI of 337 percent, including $6.35 million in hard cost savings over three years, with a payback period of 12 months.

Choice and Value With Partner Solutions

Today, more than 70 new devices optimized for Lync, including a variety of IP phones, headsets, speakerphones and webcams, are being announced by Polycom Inc., Aastra Technologies Ltd. and other device partners.

Polycom is announcing the industry’s first telepresence solution designed to interoperate with Lync, through the Polycom HDX Series and Polycom UC Intelligent Core. Both solutions enable individuals and groups to collaborate naturally and effortlessly across any distance.

“Through our commitment with Microsoft to deliver flexible standards-based solutions, Polycom is transforming business communications with the most comprehensive and intuitive communications experience that will deliver high-definition video, voice and content-sharing capabilities to conference rooms, classrooms and meeting spaces across the enterprise,” said Andy Miller, Polycom president and CEO.

In addition, more than 30 partners are launching applications on the Lync platform for public and private organizations of all types and sizes. Solutions include contact centers, call recording, accounting, performance monitoring services and new applications that embed communications within business processes. Partners include Aspect Software Inc., Convergent Media Systems Corp., ProtonMedia Inc. and Wortell.

Finally, several partners, such as British Telecom (BT), Dell, Dimension Data, HP and Verizon Business are offering services to help customers evaluate, deploy and manage their Lync infrastructure.

Product Availability

Microsoft Lync 2010 and Microsoft Lync Server 2010 will be available for businesses of all sizes to purchase on Dec. 1, 2010. Microsoft Lync Online will be available as part of Office 365, with voice capabilities available in 2011. Lync Online will include instant messaging, presence, audio and video conferencing, and PC-to-PC voice calls.

Microsoft Lync is the new family brand for the products formerly known as Microsoft Communications Server, Microsoft Office Communications Online and Microsoft Office Communicator, and now also includes Microsoft Lync Web App and Microsoft Lync Online. More information about Lync is athttp://www.microsoft.com/lync.

Founded in 1975, Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT”) is the worldwide leader in software, services and solutions that help people and businesses realize their full potential.

Note to editors: For more information, news and perspectives from Microsoft, please visit the Microsoft News Center at http://www.microsoft.com/news. Web links, telephone numbers and titles were correct at time of publication, but may have changed. For additional assistance, journalists and analysts may contact Microsoft’s Rapid Response Team or other appropriate contacts listed athttp://www.microsoft.com/news/contactpr.mspx.

WebForPhone joins expanding Voxeo family

WebForPhone, a service of NetXentry, is now part of the Voxeo family. The acquisition was announced November 17.

Never heard of the company? Neither have I. Another hosted IVR company. Another speech-enabled company. Seems to fit well with Voxeo’s tech philosophy.

But there’s one thing that stands out for me:

Second, companies that offer self-service by Internet can now augment it with similar telephone/speech self-service. WebForPhone has a methodology to interact automatically with clients’ websites, just as if the website interacts with an Internet station. This is offered on utility like terms. No IT involvement. No installation charge. Pay by minute or by fixed price per call or transaction. Use as much as desired; we offer large traffic capacity…

It’s an interesting proposition. Not many IVR companies care about your website, even though the website probably gets as many users if not more than the IVR. How much money is usually spent on a corporate self-service website project? Why not leverage that in the voice self-service scenario?

This is the tenth acquisition in four years for Orlando-based Voxeo. Any more before the end of 2010? Or another acquisition right before EnterpriseConnect 2011 (formerly VoiceCon), which is held annually in Voxeo’s backyard?

Press release:

Orlando, FL – November 17, 2010 — Voxeo Corporation, the leader in Unlocked Communications™, today announced it has acquired NetXentry, LLC, and its WebForPhone application hosting service. WebForPhone staff have joined Voxeo and WebForPhone customers are now covered by Voxeo’s industry-leading technology and customer support. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.

NetXentry launched its WebForPhone service in 2001. With a focus on providing advanced speech application hosting, WebForPhone delivers comprehensive self-service solutions for customers in the financial, retail, and healthcare industries.

Voxeo is now providing 24-hour-a-day support to all WebForPhone customers and applications with no immediate changes. Over time Voxeo will work with customers to migrate their applications to Voxeo’s VoiceObjects On-Demand platform where they can receive the benefits of multi-channel Unified Self-Service™, deep real-time analytics and interactions with business intelligence systems. WebForPhone customers will be able to expand their interaction beyond voice to also include text messaging (SMS), instant messaging, mobile web and social networks such as Twitter. They will be able to access over 60 real-time reports and connect the report data into leading business intelligence systems including IBM Cognos, Oracle, SAP BusinessObjects and MicroStrategy. Their applications will reside on Voxeo’s global infrastructure that is optimized for real-time communications and provides the industry’s only 100% Uptime Service Level Agreement.

“Through WebForPhone we have gained a great set of technical people with deep knowledge in delivering speech solutions,” said John Amein, Senior Vice President, Mergers & Acquisitions, of Voxeo. “We look forward to their contributions as we continue to develop the world’s leading platform for communications applications. WebForPhone marks Voxeo’s 10th acquisition over the past four years and we are pleased to welcome both WebForPhone staff and customers to the Voxeo family.”

WebForPhone will also help support all of Voxeo’s existing customers in the greater Philadelphia market. More information about the WebForPhone acquisition can be found at: http://www.voxeo.com/webforphonefaq.

About Voxeo

Voxeo unlocks communications. We loathe the locks that make voice, SMS, instant messaging, Twitter, web chat, and mobile web unified communication and self-service applications difficult to create, manage, analyze, optimize and afford. Every day we work to unlock the neglected value of these communications solutions with open standards, disruptive innovation and a passion for problem solving–fueled by a company-wide obsession with customer success. We do so for more than 200,000 developers, 45,000 companies and half of the Fortune 100 from our headquarters in Orlando, Beijing, Cologne, and London. Visit us or join our conversations on the web at www.voxeo.comblogs.voxeo.com, or twitter.com/voxeo.

Voxeo Media Contact

Dan York
Voxeo Corporation
Phone: +1 (407) 455-5859
dyork@voxeo.com

Alcatel-Lucent is back in the black

The executives of Alcatel-Lucent can finally breathe a sigh of relief with the recent 3Q2010 announcement. The company, according to CEO Ben Verwaayen speaking to the NYT, has reached “a significant turning point” in its business operations.

For the third quarter its net income was 25 million euros. Okay, so they missed analyst targets. But these guys have lost so much money and traction throughout the years that they deserve a third quarter celebration. Not to mention new deals with China Mobile, China Telecom, and China Unicom, and Verizon Wireless here in the States.

Its enterprise and Genesys sales enjoyed a rebound:

The recovery in our Enterprise applications business continued in the third quarter, with revenues of Euro 299 million increasing 7.2% over the year-ago quarter. After falling in the first half, voice telephony revenues increased at a low single-digit rate, reflecting gains in the medium-large enterprise segment, while growth in both data networking and Genesys, our contact center software business, picked up from their first half rates.

Unfortunately, Anders Bylund of The Motley Fool doesn’t share the optimism, going so far as to compare ALU to Nortel:

The company is sitting on a precarious balance of cash and debt and keeps burning money quarter by quarter. With an Altman Z score that previously stood at 0.04 before these tepid earnings, Alcatel-Lucent continues to face the looming threat of bankruptcy if it can’t figure out a way to change direction in the coming quarters and years. The stock may look cheap at first glance, but you get what you pay for. This looks like the next Nortel implosion waiting to happen.

Now that’s got to hurt.