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gdpr

Open and secure alternative to Skype

Imagine a new secure P2P (Skype like) offer that also supported SIP in the client. You could use the client software on it’s own (just like Skype) or attach it to just about any VoIP service or phone system for free.

Does it make sense for consumers?
Does it make sense for business users?
Is there room in the market?
Would you use it?

Martyn Davies chimes in…

I would use it, but as a telecom industry insider, I know that I’m not the average business user or consumer. As to whether there is room in the market, I think that depends a lot on what Microsoft do with Skype now that they own it. From a business point-of-view, their efforts are focused around OCS/Lync (and software licenses), so Skype there is not adding to their central proposition. Skype has a lot of users, but produces very little revenue, since the majority just use the free services. As a Skype competitor you would have the same problems getting to the cash.

Skype was really the first company to take VoIP and make it completely trivial to install and use. To do that, they had to take some liberties and deviate from standards (like SIP), so that they could add the magic that made it work from behind firewalls, add security and self-configuration, and integrate video so seamlessly. Like Facebook, once it is clearly the biggest of its kind of services, it becomes the community that everyone must join. I can’t see that another Skype-alike has a way in, unless Microsoft significantly change the rules now.

What do you think?

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.

WebRTC

Avaya Ventures into a Virtual Reality

On February 10th, Avaya launched a new on-demand, cloud-based option of its immersive web collaboration platform Avaya web.alive. The platform is available both as a premises-based solution and a SaaS offering, the latter being the focus of the new announcement, along with some new features and capabilities.

This new solution presents a virtual reality, which, in some ways, resembles the virtual event platforms (such as those offered by ON24, InXpo and Unisfair) but uses avatars and game-like tools and experiences, more similar to Second Life. I’ve heard some define the “traditional” (only in the context of this fast-evolving space) virtual platforms as virtual events and the likes of Second Life – as virtual environments. The monikers don’t matter much, but there are some differences, which we intend to tackle in more detail in a forthcoming study.

It’s great that Avaya is offering a free web-based demo. Anyone can try the environment at  http://avayalive.com/tryit. It will be beneficial for end users to experience this unique, advanced technology first-hand before considering a full-fledged deployment or even a serious pilot. As an analyst, I was privileged to have several sessions with the Avaya team, but I am hearing that there is almost always someone in there who can help random visitors find their way through the different tools and functionalities.

For me, who’s never (NEVER) played any computer games or experienced 3D, doesn’t like Sci-Fi (didn’t even fully appreciate Avatar or The Matrix),… (the list goes on, but you get the idea) … this was both a thrilling and somewhat distracting experience. I did not take the time to test the environment before the pre-launch and ventured into it with a male avatar. Of course, I heard little from the presentation in the first few minutes because I was busy changing my gender and choosing my facial features and clothes to wear.

The next challenge was finding my way around the environment and learning how to control my avatar using the mouse and keypad. Eventually, I found myself standing all by myself in front of the speaker with my head spinning in different directions trying to find the best viewpoint. Somehow, using a 3-rd person view, with my avatar still proudly standing in front of the whole crowd, I managed to get my eyesight so low that I was staring upwards into people’s … well, lower backs. Toward the end of the event, though, I was boldly strolling around the environment, magically walking through people and furniture. And shouting. Until I realized it was not a good idea, because others could hear me without me noticing they were there.

I’ll end the story here and just briefly summarize what I liked and what I would wish to see improved going forward.

The things I liked:

  • Such virtual environments are fun! It makes you giddy to design your persona (without the help of cosmetic surgery) and watch yourself from a third person point of view (there must be a split-personality tendency in all of us).
  • You do get the impression that you are “meeting” with people in a quasi-realistic social environment, unlike the sensation one gets using more “traditional” conferencing tools.
  • I liked seeing the pictures of the people I was close by or talking to, in addition to their oversexed avatars.
  • I really liked the presentation and collaboration capabilities. I was able to easily share my desktop and saw demonstrations of video feeds and slide presentations.
  • I like the fact that there are private rooms and people can have meetings behind closed doors. Only authenticated users have access to these rooms, but they can authenticate others. Once you are inside the room and the door is closed, no one else can hear the conversation OR see into the room.
  • Also, a group engaged in a more private conversation in the public area can use a whisper mode, which is not audible to those at a greater distance but does not degrade the quality of the conversation for the main parties.
  • Regardless of my “mishaps” facetiously recounted above, the environment is fairly intuitive and does not take a whole lot of learning to be able to navigate through it.
  • I have to give credit to the Avaya people, too – they offered help and were prepared to patiently address all kinds of questions.
  • From a business point of view, this solution has tremendous advantages as a web-based, on-demand platform. It is easy to deploy and use, even for small businesses, and is quite cost-effective at $49/month for a single account holder and up to 8 people attending at any given time.
  • The platform also offers analytics tools that can help businesses assess the value they are receiving from enhanced collaboration.

What I would want to see improved:

  • These visual environments can be very distracting. I heard people saying the virtual experience helped them avoid multi-tasking. In fact, I noticed I was more focused on what was taking place on the screen, but was it really the RIGHT thing on the screen I was watching/doing? I found myself checking people out (some were wearing funky outfits), rather than watching the slides. Maybe there should be a way for the speaker or person managing the event to help/force attendees to focus on the presentation screens whenever appropriate? I would not propose a dress code – that would be taking it too far J
  • There need to be some additional privacy options. I discussed the private rooms in the section above, but I believe there should be a way to “encapsulate” people who wish to have a more private conversation in the public area. I imagine, visually it could be something like the Avaya Flare spotlight. In a real-life environment, such as in a typical conference facility, people always complain there aren’t enough meeting rooms and end up looking for these two-armchairs-and-a-table isolated areas in the hotel corridors to have a private chat. At a cocktail party, people use facial expressions and body language to keep unwanted parties out of their private conversation. But the virtual environment needs different tools. I am told that users can see who’s within listening area by watching the number next to an ear icon at the bottom of the screen. But people tend to get distracted or too engaged in a conversation to pay attention. So they need to be able to take precautions.
  • Changing your voice, gesturing and other functions are only a right-click away. But I would want to see them in a menu bar – similar to a browser or Microsoft Office experience. It’s all about familiar, user-friendly interfaces, right?
  • There needs to be an option to mute everybody (for both the organizers and the attendees), except the speaker. It is distracting when people are chatting around you. Is it like real life? Yes, but we always try to improve real life, don’t we?
  • You have to hit Escape to be able to use some of the Options and to do other things on your desktop. It becomes bothersome, if you still want to do some multi-tasking.
  • If you have a slow DSL or cable connection, the audio can get garbled. (I had the rare luck to have my Internet service switched to a new provider right in the middle of the launch!)
  • Training, training, training!! Yes, it is intuitive; yes, younger generations will figure it out quickly and enjoy it. But for effective business use across different generations and types of users, organizations adopting this tool will need to strongly encourage employees to attend demos and brief training sessions. I have been told that Avaya does offer training. I think customers should not underestimate the value of a proper introduction to the new tool and ensure employees become familiar with key features and functionalities to avoid disappointment and misuse.

Go ahead and try it and let me know what you think. But don’t forget to mute yourself (press M on your keyboard) as you enter the environment or else someone can overhear your business conversations, kids shouting or dogs barking.

Are there other similar platforms you like better? Why?

WebRTC

CEBP: What Does it Mean to You?

The faster technologies evolve, the more overwhelmed we become with acronyms and technology terms we can hardly understand and pronounce, let alone remember, evaluate and properly implement. CEBP is one of those terms that has been around for a while and is frequently part of UC discussions, but is still poorly understood.

My colleagues Melanie Turek and Robert Arnold took it upon themselves to take a closer look at current vendor CEBP strategies and assess the market potential for CEBP solutions. They defined CEBP as follows:

“Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP) connect people, processes and information with the objective of reducing inefficiencies within business processes. CEBP solutions automate and optimize business processes by bridging the silos that exist between various business applications, and between communications and business software. These connections make information from multiple sources accessible, manageable and actionable to users within the context of workflows. By embedding communications capabilities into business applications that are part of the workflow, CEBP automates the connection of people to processes and information. The embedded communications functionality empowers users to take action and make decisions based on information provided within the context of their business processes.

Communications integrated into business applications is not synonymous with CEBP. The former usually consists of click-to-communicate or displaying user presence/ availability status within an application (i.e., word processing, email, CRM, ERP, etc). Such applications are commonly utilized in ad-hoc, unstructured ways that lack the ability to create contextual links between business processes and communications. CEBP is also not the same as BPA, BPO, BPM, self service or outbound messaging. Rather, any and all of these can be incorporated as part of overall CEBP solutions which enhance well-defined, structured workflows by providing users with contextual access to communications and information.”    

However, as Rob points out in his blog post, “Our most immediate discovery was that CEBP continues to be ill-defined. In a sense the concept and terminology has become like UC, a catch-all marketing term that has been overly used and in many cases abused. It has become watered down to the extent that it now describes a very loose and broad array of solutions and capabilities.”

The key value of CEBP is in accelerating decision making, reducing human latency, increasing worker accountability, and meeting compliance regulations. Therefore, it is considered most appropriate for people-centric, heavily regulated industries such as healthcare, financial services, government and education.

However, to make CEBP most effective for their organization, businesses need to gain good visibility into their business processes and identify process bottlenecks and inefficiencies. Unfortunately, many businesses skip this very important step in assessing and deploying advanced technologies. In a recent conversation with Bill Vass, former CIO of Sun Microsystems, he shared the following:

“You need to spend a bit of time on the business architecture. I can’t tell you how many companies don’t understand it. I go to so many places, where I hear “Our IT systems don’t do what we need them to do”; and every time it turns out they have not taken the time to understand their business architecture and what their business is. So you start with the business architecture, and then you do a system architecture, and then you do a technical architecture. What most businesses try to do is jump right into the technical architecture, because that’s what they understand and they leave their business hanging around, and they claim their systems don’t do what they need them to do, and they are totally mis-communicating.”

Rob and Melanie identified some additional factors deterring CEBP adoption, such as the lack of formalized CEBP offerings and programs from the leading communications and collaboration vendors, complex marketing messaging, lack of interoperability and pre-built product integrations, and the need for extensive (and expensive) professional services.

Yet, they recommend that businesses leverage CEBP to gain a competitive edge. There is a significant opportunity for a first-mover advantage with CEBP, since few companies are doing it. Further, businesses need to think strategically when developing communications and IT investment plans and seek to improve internal communications and collaboration, employee productivity and efficiency, and customer relationships through investments in advanced communications and collaboration technologies.

Vendors are engaged in a more fierce competition than ever before. Customers can exploit this opportunity to require exceptional value for their money. They need to explore various packages and bundles that can provide them with a broad set of features and capabilities at a very reasonable cost. A free trial, a small-scale pilot, etc. could be helpful in making a final decision.

Businesses should look to their current providers first when investigating CEBP. Through the existing relationship the incumbent is likely to have greater insight into the customers business culture, cycles, processes, budgets, staffing resources as well as longer term plans with respect to communications and IT tools. Such a foundation can allow solutions to be planned, implemented and expanded/modified over time at a measured pace. Additionally, customers should request references of other businesses that have implemented CEBP solutions to address similar pain points. Certifications and qualifications for providers should also be checked out.

For further insight into CEBP strategies and solutions offered by Avaya, BT Global Services, IBM, Interactive Intelligence, and NEC Corporation of America, please check out our recent study titled: “CEBP Takes Shape to Address an Emerging Opportunity.”

WebRTC

Let me know what you think

Nortel’s bankruptcy and Avaya’s acquisition of its enterprise assets has caused uncertainty and fear among Avaya and Nortel customers and partners. Avaya recently presented its vision for the evolution of the combined product portfolio. I would like to hear from businesses, VARs, SIs, etc. about their specific concerns. Did Avaya’s roadmap alleviate some of these concerns or did it raise new ones? Which choices did you think were good? Which ones were wrong? Do you trust Avaya’s commitment to both installed bases and both channels? What would you wish to hear from Avaya? What strategy direction would best serve your needs?

As a Frost & Sullivan analyst I do not endorse any particular vendor. If you email me your opinions, I will protect your privacy and will only use your insight to develop an aggregate perspective on customer and partners sentiments.

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