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Going Mobile? Have a Strategy!

There is no doubt that today’s workforce is much more mobile than it used to be years ago. It’s become even hard to define mobility and mobile workers – do we only refer to people frequently on the road, or also commuters and remote workers? And then where do you draw the line between mobile and deskbound workers – more specifically, how mobile are mobile workers? Are they away from their desks 20 percent of the time, 50 percent of the time, more, less? But strict classifications only matter when you are actually designing a strategy and selecting the most appropriate solutions for your workforce. The fact that everyone is becoming increasingly mobile cannot be denied.

As customer demands evolve, so do vendor strategies and solutions. In fact, one may say that mobile technologies (devices, apps, etc.) are proliferating even faster than mobile workers. With that, choices are harder to make. Which is the right solution for your business and your workforce? With mobility solutions being so diverse, they are even hard to compare, so how do you choose the solution that’s best for you?

A good starting point may be to consider what mobile solutions your employees are bringing into the enterprise. We talk a lot about “consumerization of IT” and most of the time we are referring to professionals using their mobile devices or some consumer apps (such as Skype, Facebook or Twitter) to conduct business more efficiently. In fact, consumerization has redefined mobility. An increasing number of workers are bringing their high-end smartphones and tablets to their workplace and using them for storing company information, leveraging the enterprise WLAN  for communication or Web browsing, using social networking tools to communicate, and accessing embedded multimedia tools. Due to this phenomenon, an increasing number of employees are beginning to request some level of technology and application support from their IT departments. Some facts provide further evidence of the power of this trend. In less than three years, the iPhone became mainstream in 80+ percent of the Fortune 500 companies; in less that two years, Android business users reached three million; in under a year, tablets have gone from newbie to necessity among technologists and mainstream buyers alike. As employees increasingly use their personal iPhones and iPads for business, IT needs to take note.

But the consumerization of  IT and its imact on mobile business communications poses signifcant challenges to IT. A few months back, Melanie Turek, Industry Director with Frost & Sullivan wrote:

“To that end, companies have several options:

  1. Provide (i.e. buy) one standard device in each category (smart phone, tablet) for a growing number of employees. This lets the business own the hardware and software, and maintain security and control over identity, applications and network traffic—as well as what happens to access and data when the employee leaves the organization. The downside, of course, is that it will significantly increase the IT budget, and it limits choice for employees.
  2. Ask employees to use their personal tools for business, but officially support one or more devices with business applications. This keeps the budget in check, and it gives IT nominal control over the business applications employees use on their mobile devices. But it forces users to juggle multiple “identities” on a single device, and it does not give the company true security, since employees can download any applications they like on a smart phone or tablet that they own. It also doesn’t ensure that contact info stays with the business when the employee leaves.
  3. Don’t purchase or support mobile devices for the majority of employees. This keeps IT out of the mobility game, and it is the least expensive option—in the short run. In the long run it could prove costly indeed, as employees either hack their devices to run enterprise apps under the radar, or follow the company’s policy lead and don’t attempt to work from anywhere but their office PC.

Deciding on a mobile policy will be one of the biggest budget and technology-support challenges for companies in the years to come, and it will involve business decisions as much as technology ones.”

My colleagues Alaa Saayed and Francisco Rizzo will provide a perspective on enterprise mobility in an upcoming free webinar. If you are interested in attending, please follow this link to register: http://t.co/RJXEpub

 

WebRTC

Headsets: Cool, Ergonomic, Effective

Headsets. You probably don’t think of them as a particularly exciting conversation topic for a high-tech cocktail party. But they are quickly becoming a key integral part of a knowledge worker’s communications endpoint set. The newest models look snazzy and they help users work in an ergonomic way, while being more efficient and taking better advantage of their communications tools.

I cannot imagine my life without a headset. I think, going forward, as we become an increasingly services-based society with a larger portion of the workforce spending significant amounts of time communicating and collaborating using various forms of voice communication (desktop phones, web-based or thick clients, mobile devices, etc.), headsets will gain even greater popularity.

Frost & Sullivan’s Alaa Saayed and Francisco Rizzo just finished a study titled World Professional Headset Markets. They found out that the contact center (CC) and office (O) headset market bounced back in 2010 after a few years of negative growth. Global revenue in 2010 was $788.9 million, an impressive 19.5 percent increase from 2009.  They are projecting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for professional headset revenues over the forecast period (2011-2017) of 10.7 percent. 

It appears that the increasing adoption of Unified Communications (UC) solutions is the main growth driver for headsets in the enterprise space. Headset vendors are beginning to differentiate UC headset sales from traditional headset sales. Frost & Sullivan estimates that approximately 10 percent of contact center and office (CC&O) headset revenue in 2010 came from UC headset sales.

You are probably wondering what a UC headset is. Even the authors of the study admit that “Unified Communications (UC)-enabled headsets are an emerging and evolving type of devices and, with some ambiguity surrounding UC itself, it’s easy to confuse what these devices are really offering to the end user “. Here is how they defined UC headsets:

“Simply put, UC headsets expand the communication eco-system, permitting remote work groups to efficiently collaborate in real time. Also, UC headsets are usually described as advanced endpoints that are used across devices, platforms and applications. Frost & Sullivan believes that these headsets are both fueling growth in the UC market as well as benefiting from the strong adoption of UC in the enterprise space (snow-ball effect). For a headset to be considered UC it must be able to:

·               Interact with a PC via USB dongle, USB adapter or base station.

·               Integrate with different UC communications servers (e.g. Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, Avaya, among others)

While many UC headsets offer superior sound quality, smart sensor technology, battery status notifications, and many other advanced features, these should not to be confused as being UC-only features. For a headset to be considered UC it must include the two aforementioned attributes.

A third criterion, headset-user presence, is also beginning to appear on the newest headset models. While not all UC headsets today include presence, Frost & Sullivan considers that this will become a standard in all UC headsets moving forward.”

The majority of headset vendors have picked up on the UC trend and are developing partnerships with UC solution providers such as Avaya, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, among others.  They are launching UC-certified headsets that integrate directly into certain UC platforms and offer advanced functionality such as presence. 

First-generation UC deployments tend to use corded headsets and not wireless. The trend, however, has been to purchase wireless headsets once the corded headsets have completed their life cycle.

The UC opportunity is also changing the channel, with system integrators taking a more prominent role. Frost & Sullivan believes that system integrators have the largest future CC&O headset growth potential.

Overall, Frost & Sullivan believes that the UC opportunity is one of the most significant opportunities in the headset market’s history and expects this trend to significantly boost headset sales going forward.

Plantronics’ Savi Office and the newly launched Savi 440 and Savi 700, Voyager PRO UC, as well as their Blackwire 200, 420 and 600 series are examples of advanced, UC headsets, interoperable with various UC technologies.

Look at the Voyager PRO UC.  It’s a Bluetooth headset, which automatically answers calls, transfers calls between the mobile phone and the headset, and when the user is on a mobile or PC call, softphone presence is automatically updated. It also eliminates accidental dialing by locking the call button when the headset is not worn. Users also get voice alerts about remaining talk time, connection status, battery level and mute.

Source: Plantronics: http://www.plantronics.com/us/product/voyager-pro

GN Netcom’s portfolio also features a number of UC headsets in the BIZ, GN, Go and PRO series. Let’s take the Jabra Go 6470 Bluetooth Wireless headset system as an example. It is a multi-purpose headset that works with desktop, mobile and PC phones. It also features a touch screen with a smart setup wizard, automatic microphone tuning and phone compatibility settings, wideband sound (150–6,800 Hz), and the dual-microphone Noise Blackout system.

Source: Jabra: http://www.jabra.com/na-us/headsetsolutions/pages/jabrago6400.aspx

As communications tools proliferate in the workplace, users will be increasingly tempted to seek to consolidate their communications endpoints. Headsets are becoming increasingly intelligent, providing some basic call-control capabilities and a single access to multiple communications devices (desktop, PC and mobile phones). As IT looks to consolidate systems at the back end, users will increasingly demand some consolidation at the front end. And who doesn’t want to be able to communicate hands-free – not just when driving, but also while in the office? Multi-tasking is the knowledge worker’s most common MO (modus operandi) and we are no strangers to typing, filing, viewing web pages or even handling some household chores while on hours-long conference calls. I believe, in the future, headsets will become the most common device among office workers.

WebRTC

Is IP Communications Really for Me?

I know. You have heard enough about IP communications, unified communications, cloud communications, and any other fancy communications the industry pundits choose to talk about. But it’s still hard to make the right decisions. Vendors are sending confusing messages. Your internal stakeholders are not agreeing on what is best for your business. It may be worth for you (IT or telecom person) to sit down and think really hard (again) about your specific challenges and objectives and then make some better informed and more confident decision about your infrastructure evolution.

IP communications, VoIP, UC, etc. mean different things to different people. Benefits vary from business to business. Deployment methods vary from business to business. The more technology evolution accelerates and the more complex communications architectures become, the more important it is to go through a proper assessment and discovery process prior to make radical, or even incremental, technology changes.

But you are always too busy to strategize. There is always too much on your plate – and everything needs to be handled right here, right now. And that’s how you get trapped in a vicious cycle – having to make rash decisions to only partially resolve major operational or strategic issues.

It’s hard to do, but you need to take the time and launch a structured initiative, with all key stakeholders on board, to properly analyze your challenges and recommend sustainable, long-term solutions. This is the only way you can make your infrastructure work for you – make you more efficient and a more valuable asset within the organization.

I will be talking about the benefits of IP communications, the evolving value proposition of IP telephony and the key elements of a proper assessment and discovery process at this free webinar on June 14, at 11 am ET. To register, please follow this link. A recording will be available if you are unable to attend.

gdpr, WebRTC

So it begins. Skype for Asterisk falls.

It looks like the first victim in the Microsoft acquisition of Skype is Digium and the open source PBX – Asterisk. The following is an email sent to existing Skype for Asterisk users…

Skype for Asterisk will not be available for sale or activation after July 26, 2011.

Skype for Asterisk was developed by Digium in cooperation with Skype. It includes proprietary software from Skype that allows Asterisk to join the Skype network as a native client. Skype has decided not to renew the agreement that permits us to package this proprietary software. Therefore Skype for Asterisk sales and activations will cease on July 26, 2011.

This change should not affect any existing users of Skype for Asterisk. Representatives of Skype have assured us that they will continue to support and maintain the Skype for Asterisk software for a period of two years thereafter, as specified in the agreement with Digium. We expect that users of Skype for Asterisk will be able to continue using their Asterisk systems on the Skype network until at least July 26, 2013. Skype may extend this at their discretion.

Skype for Asterisk remains for sale and activation until July 26, 2011. Please complete any purchases and activations before that date.

Thank you for your business.

Digium Product Management

One has to wonder what will become of Skype Connect, Skype’s answer to SIP Trunking. Will Microsoft shut off the Skype Connect vendors (Cisco, Avaya, Grandstream, etc.) as well?

Original forum post here.

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