Posts Tagged ‘unified communications’

Last week, I posted a blog that highlighted the top business reasons a company should consider a hosted UC solution. While these are important, there are also a number of benefits that are specific to the IT department. These reasons may fly under the radar of the C-level executives or line-of-business managers, but they are significant to the IT organizations.

ZK Research shows that, on average, 83% of IT budgets are used to “keep the lights on,” meaning only 17% of the budget is used for strategic initiatives. How can an IT department get more money for strategic projects? Ask for a bigger budget? That’s a nice thought, but it would be like asking AT&T to provide good customer service. You can ask, but it’s never going to happen.

It seems we’ve been talking about the rise of hosted communications services for years now, but adoption has been rather light. I think one of the main reasons is that the features and functions available from the hosted providers historically weren’t even close to what was available from the premise-based vendors.

Over the past year or so, though, this gap has closed significantly. In most cases, hosted UC solutions are on par with what one could get from a premise-based solution. As someone who used to run the phone system at a company, I can honestly say that it’s a pain in neck, and I’m not sure why anyone would want to run their own phone system when you can get most of what you need in the cloud. Sure, the biggest of the big companies will always want the control and security of doing it themselves, but most small-to-midsized companies would benefit greatly from shifting to a hosted solution.

Remember a decade ago when the softphone was supposed to be one of the killer applications for VoIP? Why use the big clunky desk phone that takes up space on your desktop when you can use a softphone that’s fully integrated into the PC that you sit at every day? Makes perfect sense, right?

However, the market didn’t exactly play out that way. Despite the wide availability of the software and the ease of deployment, my research shows that less than 10% of workers who have the choice actually prefer the softphone. There are some situations that make sense, like for road warriors. They’re rarely in a place where a wired phone could be used on a regular basis. For the rest of us, though, despite the promise, the softphone has never caught on.

The answer to the question “why hasn’t the softphone become more popular” is based on usability. The vendors have done everything they can to make the softphone more usable, to the point where it actually looks like a picture of the phone so users know where to click and what functions are available.

Despite all of that, the usability is still awkward. It’s not that it’s hard, it’s just cumbersome. For example, with a regular desk phone, putting someone on mute requires hitting a button that says “mute.” Putting someone on mute with a softphone requires moving the mouse over the mute button and clicking the mouse, but it could be as much as finding the app, bringing it up, going to the menu bar, finding the settings tab and then putting the microphone on mute. It’s this inconsistency that makes people not want to use it since the phone is the same all the time.

This week, Logitech released a keyboard called the “UC Solution for Cisco 725-C,” which is USB keyboard that includes nine keys specifically for controlling softphones and video. These functions are:

  • Voicemail retrieval
  • Call answer/ hang up
  • Volume up/down
  • Audio mute
  • Video mute
  • Speakerphone on
  • Headset on
  • Handset on

In addition to the function keys, there’s an LCD display that shows incoming caller ID making it easier to see who is calling.

I certainly don’t believe we’ll see one of these on every desk in the near future, but there are some strong uses cases for this type of device. Call centers, hot desking/hoteling environments or anywhere you see shared workspaces such as nurses stations, banking, and trader turrets.

This specific device works with Cisco solutions today, which makes sense based on Cisco’s overwhelming share, but I would expect to see a Lync and Avaya solution down the road. The keyboard is bundled with a camera and mouse for a reasonable price of $269.

Is this a game changer? Not really, but it does make the game different. The “dead simple” ease of use, as Logitech describes it, is something we’ve all grown accustomed to in the world of traditional telephony, and now we can have that with desktop-based communications as well.

Touch screens may eventually obviate the need for something like this, but it will likely be a while before we see the touch screen widely deployed and the softphones designed with touch in mind. Until then, companies looking to be more aggressive with VoIP and softphones can definitely benefit from this innovatively designed keyboard.

There’s no hotter IT initiative today than “bring your own device.” A recent survey ZK Research conducted shows that 82% of organizations now  in some way support the use of consumer devices in the workplace. This is a marked difference from just a couple of years ago, when very few organizations supported it. For those companies that do not support it yet, get ready because the heat’s going to come from above your pay grade and it will be your CEO who says “I don’t care what our corporate policy is, make this iPad work.”

This is one of the reasons mobile device management (MDM) has been such a hot market over the past few years. MDM enables the safe on-boarding of devices into the corporate workplace. It ensures that the device adheres to corporate security policies, drops certificates onto the device and configures the device automatically. Generally, a good MDM solution can reduce provisioning time from hours to mere minutes.

Session Border Controllers (SBCs) have seen unprecedented growth over the past five years from the rise of SIP trunking, IP peering, VoIP security issues and other factors related to the growth of IP-based communication services. Although the market is in a bit of a lull right now, increased penetration rate of SIP and Voice-over LTE will create another wave of growth for SBCs over the next five years. Because of this, the market for SBC vendors, or at least vendors claiming to be SBCs, has exploded accordingly.

Are all solutions equal, though? My answer to that is a resounding “no.” I think there are many vendors that claim to be an SBC to try and leverage a hot market or to gain an entry into the space, but they’re not SBCs. From the research I’ve done in this space, here’s my criteria of what makes an SBC.

The summer Olympics in London kick off with the opening ceremonies this Friday, and this year’s games will be different than the Beijing Games for a number of reasons. Back in 2008, smartphones were a rarity, “iPad” wasn’t a word heard outside of Apple, and Facebook was something just a few college kids used. This year’s Olympics is expected to attract about 4 million spectators, more than 15,000 Olympic and Paralympic athletes and countless members of the media covering the event.

Needless to say, high-quality, continuously available communications is an absolute must for the 2012 Olympic games, as the use of Twitter, Facebook, Skype, VoIP, Video and other communication services will be at an all-time high. Solving such a challenge is as difficult as beating Usain Bolt in the 100m sprint, as the network capacity is expected to be 7-10 times that of the last summer Olympic games. This is the task placed upon British Telecom (BT).

Earlier this month HP quietly announced the end-of-sale for the VCX IP PBX that was part of its portfolio from the acquisition of 3Com. The end-of-sale date is expected to be December 2012 and puts to rest any speculation that HP might try and revive that product and move into the VoIP/UC space.

The company announced it would support existing customers for the next five years, but the product is, for all intents and purposes, walking the “Green Mile” to death row.

From a personal standpoint, it’s sad to see this product get put out to pasture. Although Cisco, Microsoft and Avaya take most of the VoIP/UC headlines today, it was 3Com that was one of the early pioneers in the space. The 3Com NBX was an unbelievable product in its day. Great quality, easy to set up and helped legitimize VoIP. However, 3Com had run into some financial struggles and then CEO Bruce Claflin chose to sell off Commworks but kept the Commworks soft switch to be an enterprise-class IP PBX, which eventually became VCX.

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