Enterprise Connect: Innovation Showcase winner ProtonMedia impresses with virtual collaboration

This year the folks at Enterprise Connect decided to pilot a new program called the Innovation Showcase, hosted by Pin Drop Soup‘s Dave Michels, to feature young companies with actual customers in the enterprise communication space. ProtonMedia was one of the winners and got to exhibit at the show, along with three other peers. Unfortunately, these four innovative companies got stuck in booths toward the back corner of the exhibit floor.

Ahem, that’s no way to treat these entrepreneurs, especially when the goal of the new program is to attract more young companies to the show. Hopefully next year’s winners (if the Showcase is to become a regular part of future shows) will be treated with much better booth locales.

But thanks to the debut of Innovative Showcase, I got to learn about and see in action the ProtonMedia ProtoSphere. CEO Ron Burns had fascinating insights into virtual environments and their impact on productivity. His take on the market place trend is unique because of years of experience after ProtonMedia started out as an e-learning software firm. Yes, e-learning. Not very exciting considering most other Enterprise Connect exhibitors started out straight into the red hot tech/telecom sector.

Innovation Showcase winners in their corner

Burns shared that because of the company’s e-learning roots, he and his team of engineers understood very well the use of computer-generated environments on human knowledge transfer and productivity. He’s not a believer in the “video is the new voice” gospel. Even if over 50% of Internet traffic is video, how much is actually in the work setting? (Personally, I would Skype with my parents more often than Skype with my colleagues.) In fact, it took several years to develop ProtoSphere and through real-life use cases the company discovered that lots of people aren’t comfortable with workplace video for a variety of reasons.

Yes, read that last sentence again. Avaya, Cisco, Polycom, Skype, etc. are almost fanatical in hammering into our heads the idea that video is going to take over enterprise communications. Just look at their demos and brochures. But if you’re a teleworker, how many times do you wake up and go to work in your homey (ahem, pajamas) clothes? With messy hair, unshaven face? No makeup? You can still be a productive employee, but you’re not a productive employee that looks pretty. And getting on a video conference would certainly ruin your day.

Or if you have a video conference with a supervisor or executive. You get all dressed up ready for the video, but when the session starts you find yourself a bit intimidated. It’s human nature. It happens all the time in face-to-face interactions.

Sims at work

That’s why ProtonMedia has already signed up high-profile customers such as AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Merck, Bristol-Squibb, American Express, BP, Chevron, Duke University, Lockheed Martin, and Boeing. These companies use ProtoSphere a lot in R&D and life sciences collaboration. Users have said that avatars give a much more personable interaction and unsurprisingly, the virtual environment made collaboration a lot of fun. It’s like Sims for the workplace.

Previously I only knew of Avaya web.alive in this niche. Avaya, of course, is trying to sell you their gear. ProtoSphere, on the other hand, is all software based on Microsoft technology and seamlessly extends the typical Active Directory, SharePoint, OCS, and Office into the virtual realm.

With the debut of the Innovation Showcase, the spotlight over Avaya web.alive just dimmed a little bit. It will be very interesting to see where Avaya takes web.alive (bullish on video or avatars?), but for ProtonMedia it’s clear video will take a back seat.


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