Enterprise Connect: Avaya still

Avaya again is a Diamond Sponsor this year. In fact, turn your head in any direction in any location in the convention center and you’ll likely see a scarlet banner, be it about the Flare or something else. The walkway to the Enterprise Connect floor has Avaya signs decked out on both sides, plus a couple of giant LCDs repeatedly playing a promo video of the Flare experience. I’m dubbing that place “The Sacred Avaya Hall.” The only thing missing are marketing people standing alongside the hall chanting in unison “Flaaare, Flaaaaaare, Flaaaaaaaaaaaaaaare” as you walk by.

Flaaare, Flaaaaaaaare, Flaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaare

As much as Flare is getting most of the publicity here, Deb Kline (Sr. Manager, PR), Tara Mahoney (General Manager, ACE) and Jorge Blanco (VP Product Marketing) stayed grounded in my briefing. Because of the timing of our meeting, we weren’t able to visit the Avaya pavilion for any demos. Instead we huddled inside a room, around a conference table, where they showed me how Avaya fights “CTI fatigue” plaguing companies.

First, a core dedication to SIP. This is the foundation of everything Avaya does these days. No SIP, no talk. Aura is the underlying communications platform to extend into SIP in order to support UC and contact center solutions.

Next, advocate Web services when dealing with interfaces. This means publishing APIs that are RESTful and standardized. In today’s world everybody knows how to deal with the Web, right? The company has a product with a catchy name — Agile Communication Environment, or ACE — to address this. This layer provides the hooks into third party solutions and enables developers to customize interfaces. Blanco aptly described this approach as one with the least disruption to the enterprise.

So with all these commitments to openness and transparency, why hasn’t Avaya joined the UCIF? My question didn’t draw out many comments about this forum, except that Avaya’s still in a holding pattern to see how things develop. But it isn’t the only major company in the waiting room — Cisco and IBM have yet to endorse the cause with their membership, either.

Avaya booth at Enterprise Connect 2011

Avaya’s developer-friendly open strategy has produced fruitful results such as enabling SkypeConnect to latch onto Avaya Aura. Skype and Avaya’s love affair will create a market force worth attention. Skype and Avaya also share some private equity DNA, so having them both at the show almost seems like them ganging up on others.

Is it a fair fight? Well, all’s fair in love and UC.

Enterprise Connect: NEC UC&C architecture targets IT managers and connected workforce

This Enterprise Connect article is by John Stepp, president of Free Tech Consultants, on NEC’s unified communications and collaboration software announcement and demonstration at the show.

NEC is positioning itself for the consumerization of the enterprise with their new UC&C software slated for release later this year. The influx of smartphones and tablets is just beginning and IT managers are trying to come to grips with the ramifications of the new connected workforce. NEC seeks to simplify the integration of these devices by delivering a software architecture that creates a common interface across all platforms. Androids, iPhones and Blackberrys are supported on the smartphone side. Windows, Mac and Android are supported on the PC/laptop/tablet side. The use of Rich Internet Architecture (RIA) Flash technology should be appealing to IT professionals. Security features such as HTTPS signaling that have gained the acceptance of IT managers will allow future device to integrate to this architecture as well.

I spoke with Todd Landry, Senior VP of Product Management for NEC Sphere Communications, last week to get an in-depth analysis of today’s press release. He explained that even though NEC will be introducing proprietary NEC tablets now currently available in Japan to the US market, NEC feels that users deserve a choice between proprietary and non-proprietary devices. With UC&C, users will have a common login with HTTPS on a variety of devices. Establishing or revoking credentials on the enterprise system are the same for all user devices making things simple for IT managers. They can react to potential security breaches with lost or stolen equipment as well as employees that abruptly leave the company. So the IT manager does not have to take extra steps to handle these types of emergencies. No longer will IT managers need to worry about dealing with every single device. The simplicity of deployment and management of this architecture make it a natural fit for IT managers that need to mange everything the company delivers to its users.

One might question the use of Flash/AIR technology on Apple products, but because of the streamlined architecture of UC&C, transition to HTML5 in the future will be simple to develop. This streamlined architecture also lends itself well to cloud and data center applications. In fact, the NEC booth will be running in a cloud environment. The show floor will have a typical office running Sphericall in the cloud from the NEC data center with UC&C software. In this typical branch office environment a user with Windows on the desktop, a phone, a WiFi-enabled device, and a cell phone running fixed-mobile convergence (FMC) will move calls between devices depending on their need. They will be running UC&C on the iPhone to demonstrate the common user interface that will be utilized across these platforms when the UC&C software is released later this year. NEC tablets and call center applications will also be on display at the booth. A cohesive architecture is NEC’s goal and they have the resources within their different divisions to continue to bring innovative communications technologies to the enterprise market.

The good news for existing NEC customers is that they will be able to keep their existing desktop phones and use UC&C. The UC&C tools easily extend into the end user environment, whether they want to migrate to a virtual or hybrid cloud environment. The appeal to the IT manager and the new workforce of NEC’s products takes a quantum leap with the introduction of the new UC&C architecture. People want choices and NEC is delivering.

I will be interviewing and filming at the NEC booth for a follow up article later this week so those not at the show can have a firsthand look at the new software architecture in action.

Enterprise Connect: Telecom geeks descend upon biodome

There’s enough telecom know-how and engineering brainpower at the Gaylord Palms biodome (come visit this place and you’ll know what I mean) to turn Taco Bell into an actual phone carrier. Forget burritos, the margins on SIP services are much better.

Things will start off slow this morning so the marketing folks can recover from their weekend golf trips and early arrivers their Oscar parties (way to go, Natalie Portman!). No keynotes today, and the expo has a late start at 4pm. Then followed by a reception party that everybody can look forward to.

I’ll have several briefings today, and in-between these meetings I’ll try to join some workshops and breakout sessions. Watch my tweets for live updates (sorry, no CoverItLive this year).

Enterprise Connect: LIVE tweets

Also check out more photos and videos on insideCTI’s Facebook page!

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Is RIM its own worst enemy? [Updated]

It’s well documented on this blog that I’ve had my doubts about RIM’s mobile strategy to fend off Apple and Google’s ever increasing market share gains. The PlayBook was announced in September 2010 to great fanfare, and now nearly six months later not one unit has shown up on store shelves. Then I thought RIM might actually have a chance against its tough competitors with the TAT acquisition.

Then I read this. Jamie Murai, an eager developer looking to write apps for the PlayBook, got so frustrated with the paperwork and unfriendly tools that he finally gave up:

So it was at this point that I decided to surrender. Knowing what a pleasure it is to use Apple and Google’s tools, there was no way I could justify continuing with Playbook development. I thought this story would end there. Unfortunately, there was one more little jab you were still able to get in, RIM. This afternoon, Google Notifier informs me that I’ve received an email from you. Naturally, I assumed that it was just a confirmation that my App World account had been approved, considering I had filled out your forms truthfully and completely, just as you had asked. However, I was surprised to find that it was, in fact, a request for more personal information. You wanted me to print off a notarized statement of identification form, fill it out, take it to notary with government issue ID to have it notarized, and then return it to you so that you could be absolutely sure with 100% accuracy that I was who I said I was. I think it goes without saying at this point, but neither Apple nor Google require you to do anything even close to that.

This is perilous for RIM and an obstacle to PlayBook’s potential success. RIM can show off a dozen PlayBooks at CES, dangle the tablet on stage in front of an audience at MWC, or demo a fantastic user interface — but without developers creating useful and fun apps, the PlayBook risks becoming an expensive paperweight.

Is this why there’s a rumor about the PlayBook being able to run Android apps? Because RIM isn’t seeing a lot of developers sign up for the PlayBook?

And the scary thing is that both Apple iOS and Google Android are way, way, way ahead of RIM in terms of number of apps. RIM has to face the reality that it needs to attract developers at a fast and furious pace, cheaply. If the frustration from Murai and his developer peers is not addressed quickly, then it won’t surprise me to see the PlayBook go down in flames in a hurry.

PlumVoice makes multimodal survey creation easy and fun with Floodlight

Surveys are the necessary evil in the marketplace. Back then when automation was all the rage companies wasted no time to program dialers and IVRs for surveying. Remember how annoying — hence, ineffective — that was? Somehow telemarketers knew exactly when to interrupt your nice family dinner. It’s no surprise we’ve grown to love caller ID, the Do Not Call list, and spam filters.

Naturally, the Web is a great platform for surveys. The reach is much greater and those who respond do so at their own will (opt-in), therefore producing better survey data. Better yet, if done right the Web offers a much better visual environment to create surveys.

I was invited to try out Floodlight by Plum Voice. The company claims it is “the first survey tool in the market that’s truly multimodal — phone (IVR), Web, Facebook, and mobile devices.” Plus, it costs nothing to sign up and deploy on the Web and Facebook (costs money only with phone surveys).

Okay, so you’re probably thinking what I’m thinking: Facebook is part of the Web, so what’s the difference in terms of deployment? Good question. At first I’d thought that minimally Floodlight would make it as simple as a one-button operation to “Share on Facebook” like many apps do nowadays. Especially when this screen shows up:

Makes you think that deploying onto Facebook is just one click away, right? Not so fast. Turns out that Facebook icon cannot be clicked to take you to Facebook. Rather, it’s expected that the user copy the URL and share it after logging into Facebook separately. That survey URL for Facebook is the same as the regular Web deployment URL.

So maybe the “multimodal” claim ought to be consolidated a bit? It appears Web = Facebook in this respect.

However, I must still say that designing a survey using Floodlight was an enjoyable user experience. Signup was quick and painless. The survey design screen was intuitive, responsive, and offered a wide range of input types for the designer. It’s very powerful (even allows for SOAP/XML transactions for features such as authentication and real-time updates) and highly customizable. Testing a survey was also user-friendly. Reports are also accessible online and can be exported into the popular file formats. This is a great online tool to rapidly create, deploy, and analyze surveys.

Here is the test survey I created:

URL: http://www.floodlightsurveys.com/survey/take/3228-99596579

Embedded:http://www.floodlightsurveys.com/survey/take/3228-99596579

Phone: 888-565-XXXX

Connect at Enterprise Connect

Voice communications is not going away, but it was necessary to revamp VoiceCon as Enterprise Connect to reflect the nature of communications in today’s business world. After all, traditional voice vendors have moved on to make IP a central theme in everything they offer, so why should VoiceCon remain VoiceCon, right?

The usual suspects will still descend upon Orlando for Enterprise Connect. I’m sure the conference halls will be decked out with giant banners and flags from “diamond sponsors” — so-called because of their deep pockets? — as well as keynotes featuring these company executives. Yes, I will admit that at times it seems more like a corporate conference where execs paint a flowery picture of the company’s future and marketing folks espouse the benefits of their products. In other words, there will be lots of spin.

But that’s to be expected in any industry trade show or conference. More important are the great workshops offered during the event and the opportunities to connect with organizations and people.

I also expect some talk about tablet and other mobile devices. Resistance is futile — mobile devices will be a significant part of any enterprise communication plan. Whether it’s an enterprise issuing smartphones to its employees or companies making mobile apps or offering apps as part of its product portfolio, I’m almost certain that we’ll see quite a few demos on the iPhone, iPad, or Android devices.

I’m happy to have attended the final VoiceCon and now will attend the first Enterprise Connect. What great timing to mark this historic transition. Be sure to check back next week for some live (also @insideCTI), semi-live, and always lively coverage of the event!

Will you be attending? What are you most interested in? What do you want to see covered on the blog?