Enterprise Connect: Uncut

My first VoiceCon in 2010 was so much fun (oh yeah, I also learned a lot and made quite a few new acquaintances) that I knew I had to plan for Enterprise Connect 2011. It was also my first live on-site coverage for insideCTI (I’d just started the blog a month earlier), so I really didn’t know what to expect. In 2010 my family tagged along for the 8-hour road trip to Orlando to provide moral support (in the form of “We get to visit Mickey!”) and endured a few days of hotel stay with me, away from the comfort of our TV, sofas, and beds. I would go to the conference during the day, return to the hotel for a “home” cooked supper, then start organizing my notes in order to start burning the midnight oil on the blog. Thankfully the hotel WiFi offered decent speeds.

This year I flied solo, road trip and all. Driving myself for eight hours down Interstate 75 was rough — the various segments of road work made it worse — and again I was reminded that I’m not in college anymore. Still, I think eight hours was about the threshold before I’d gladly subject myself to TSA groping. Had the conference been held in Miami then the TSA would’ve had me by my… Well, you get the idea.

The Gaylord Palms Resort (commonly known as the “biodome” to returning conference goers) hadn’t changed much: the same lush plants, the humidity, the bored alligators, and lots of Avaya banners. Yep, no doubt I had arrived at the right conference when I walked in early Monday morning to pick up my media badge.

Before the trip I’d thought that Skype would be the most talked about exhibitor (and David Gurle, VP Skype Enterprise, also a featured keynote speaker). After all, everybody Skypes these days. And that’s both at home and in the office, both audio and video. Skype’s intention of moving into the enterprise market is also well known now. Some may even say that Skype’s one of the first unified communication applications.

But frankly Skype Enterprise didn’t have anything spectacular for this conference. A partnership with Citrix GoToMeeting, a pitch of 24/7 support tied to SLAs, and a closer relationship with Avaya (a sibling company also sharing Silver Lake Partners as an investor). Disappointedly, nothing too exciting, especially when details were hard to come by too. Was it being overly conservative and cautious because of the planned IPO this year?

The debut of the Innovation Showcase was awesome. Not only did I get to learn about new companies (ProtonMedia, Radish Systems, harmon.ie), but Fonolo was one of the winners and I got to catch up with CEO Shai Berger. I hope the showcase becomes a regular part of Enterprise Connect (and winning companies granted better booth locales).

Speaking of innovation, I was introduced to Hookflash CEO Trent Johnsen whose company came in second in the recent StartupCamp 3 in Miami. Always a pleasure to meet a tech entrepreneur outside of Silicon Valley (he’s from Calgary, Canada).

The always professionally dressed and equally professionally equipped Dan York, Director of Communications at Voxeo, was kind enough to meet with me to chat about his company and the conference in general. Too bad he didn’t divulge any juicy news about possible acquisitions, but he did touch upon some things such as Voxeo’s new office, growth in its Beijing office, and a new data center in Asia. He also wondered why Google or Apple — two companies representing Android and iOS, respectively — weren’t represented at any of the sessions discussing UC mobility. I shared that same sentiment. I eagerly await the year when either of those companies shows up at Enterprise Connect…

Data networking giant Cisco proved it’s not just a one trick pony with SocialMiner winning Best of Enterprise Connect 2011. This social customer care solution monitors social media networks and lets a company effectively respond to customers. (Side note: Avaya also has a similar product called the Social Media Manager, and compared to SocialMiner the UX was night and day.)

The highlight of the trip was probably the invitation-only media dinner hosted by Verizon on Monday, at a steakhouse inside the biodome. The dinner was great (had the buffalo steak and bread pudding for dessert), but even better was the opportunity to chat with folks from Verizon and Cisco, not just about UCCaaS but really having regular conversations at the dinner table. Alas, it’s good to know that marketing people are humans too and not androids programmed to divulge only corporate press releases.

Was there a low point? Unfortunately, yes. If anyone found a VirginMobile MiFi hotspot, please return it to me. It’s a blogger’s best friend and I’d lost it sometime on Tuesday, March 1.

But overall, I had a blast this year. Although I didn’t do much liveblogging (I do love liveblogging though) this time, my tweet stream was fairly consistent during the events I attended. And kudos to the good WiFi coverage at the venue this year, most of the time my iPhone 4 was able to last till the end of the day even with heavy tweeting. In fact, lots of people participated in #enterprisecon (I hope Dan’s thumbs are okay) and it made the conference even better!

Enterprise Connect 2012 is March 26-29 at the same biodome. What will next year’s hot topics be? (Please, not interoperability…)


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