Enterprise Communications

Enterprise Connect 2011 Focuses on the Connected User

by Rob Arnold 04 Mar 2011
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This week I attended Enterprise Connect in Orlando, Florida, USA. Formerly known as VoiceCon, Enterprise Connect is North America’s most important tradeshow for the enterprise communications market. The event’s name change is meant to reflect the evolving enterprise communications solutions market – from voice-centric, to converged voice and data, to increasingly unified and multimodal communications capabilities. Technologies that pervaded this year’s aptly named show, such as unified communications, social business, enterprise mobility and new architectures (i.e., virtualization and cloud) all intend to connect users to information and to people when, where and by whatever device or modality they want to connect.  

Per annual tradition, my agenda was booked solid. After arriving Monday morning it was not long before the overarching “connected user” theme pervaded all aspects of my briefings, demos and various conference sessions.

Arranged alphabetically by provider name, here are some of the things I saw, discussed and did that re-enforced the connected user positioning in my mind.

Aastra introduced BluStar 8000i, an innovative multimedia device with a 13 inch touch screen HD display and integrated full feature IP desktop phone. A differentiator for the company, BluStar demonstrates Aastra’s R&D innovation and its resourcefulness in leveraging existing technology assets to create new, unique solutions. BluStar is positioned as a business dashboard that connects users to a full range of the company’s SIP voice, video, multimedia conferencing, collaboration, contact center and productivity applications. I watched as video, voice and collaboration sessions were seamlessly created and as directories and apps menus were scrolled with the swipe of a finger. BluStar is a connected client for the connected user.

ADTRAN continues to break into adjacencies of its access equipment market to move up the software value chain. The company’s NetVanta Unified Communications solutions can now be deployed in VMware virtual environments. The development greatly expands deployment options, with customers able to benefit from low cost hosted UC services from ADTRAN partners, reduced hardware in CPE deployments, and new distribution and redundancy options with hybrid CPE/cloud configurations. With these new options as well as other initiatives centered on business process integration and multivendor interoperability, the company has stealthily become quite competitive in the SMB unified communications sector in which ADTRAN takes a straightforward approach with its value propositions and delivery of solutions that keep users connected. 

Alcatel-Lucent formally announced OpenTouch. This SIP-based multimedia architecture is born of recent organizational shifts that brought ALU’s carrier applications, Genesys and enterprise solutions divisions into closer alignment. OpenTouch leverages technologies and resources from all three divisions to facilitate flexible deployment options (cloud, CPE, hybrid), web services integration, PBX federation and to enable a wider range of user device choices. ALU also demonstrated its new Visual Communications Solutions on the expo floor. My favorite demo was the Interactive Whiteboard. With co-editing capabilities and touch-screen device support, it was easily one of the most fun demos I saw at the show. All of ALU’s efforts are designed for the connected user. The company has clearly made strides in expanding when, where and how users can communicate using its solutions.

Avaya had its Flare Experience in full display. The Flare Experience provides users with a rich experience as they access Avaya’s advanced unified communications and collaboration applications. These capabilities are most impressive when accessed from the Avaya Desktop Video Device, an Android-based touch screen tablet which supports a full array of the company’s UCC tools including desktop video, social media, multimedia conferencing, multiple directories, presence, instant messaging, and contextual history. This was the second time I’ve had my hands on an Avaya Desktop Video Device and I can clearly see how it can eliminate the need for different interfaces and different directories to communicate across various types of tools.

Cisco once again had a busy show in terms of new introductions. The company announced Cisco Jabber, its next generation client that supports a common set of rich applications (voice, video, IM and presence) across numerous types of end points (PC, Mac, smart phones and tablets) and operating systems in CPE or cloud environments. Jabber is intended to offer a consistent user experience regardless of how and where they need to access their applications.Additionally, I had another hands-on experience with the forthcomingCius tablet device. Critics continue to contend that Cisco is out of its element in the tablet market. But after multiple demos I can see why Cius may deliver a superior experience over third-party tablets (i.e., iPad) since it is built from the ground up to support Cisco multimedia applications. 

IBM has increased its presence at this particular enterprise communications event in recent years. The company’s current emphasis in UCC markets is anchored by the concept of social business. Several Frost & Sullivan analysts participated in a private roundtable with spokespeople from IBM’s Lotus and Services divisions to discuss the drivers and restraints for social business, UC and video adoption in the enterprise. It is clear that there are some solid drivers for bringing these technologies into the enterprise. However, many benefits are often soft or not well recognized. Still, with customer references (including its own deployments) and some hardened ROI results, IBM is building a strong case for the value of social business as manes to connect users and information in a contextual way.

Microsoft, which has also increased its presence at this show in recent years, was on hand with a keynote presentation which included demos of UC&C capabilities supported by Lync 2010 as well as demos at is expo booth. While we analysts have been privy to many of the enhancements introduced with Lync and Office 365, it was very interesting to hear from the Lync customer panel that Microsoft arranged for us. The customers were diverse, and it was notable how each met varying communications requirements (voice, video, multimedia conferencing, mobility; distributed and centralized environments) from the same Microsoft UC technologies. With the enhancements over its predecessor, OCS, Lync appears to be offering enough capabilities to satisfy the connectivity requirements of an increasingly wide variety of users.  

NEC announced and demonstrated its new UC&C Rich Internet Applications client framework. It fits into existing secure Web architectures, and utilizes Java and RIA Flash-based technology for lightweight clients that can be deployed in a consistent manner across PCs, mobile devices or tablets. NEC proved it to me with demonstrations on PC and Mac which had a nearly identical look and feel, as well as rich clients on an iPhone and a tablet. The RIA client framework is a big leap forward in NEC’s ability to provide ubiquitous access to rich communications services for connected users.  

Polycom and ShoreTel announced an expansion of their partnership that is intended to help ShoreTel gain visibility in larger accounts and Polycom to better penetrate the SMB segment. There are many synergies between these partners. They will leverage a common distributor partner, ScanSource, for joint sales and marketing. While ShoreTel reports growth in the large enterprise sector, its core customer demographic overall is still within multi-site businesses. With technology interoperability achieved some time ago, I view the ShoreTel-Polycom sales and marketing arrangement as being capable of making it easier for customers to acquire, deploy and support user connections across sites that are enriched through integrated voice and video.   

RADVISION unveiled the Scopia Gateway for Microsoft Lync. This infrastructure component connects third-party (SD or HD) video conferencing products (desktop, room or telepresence) with the proprietary video technology utilized by Microsoft’s flagship UC platform. At reportedly less cost than alternative Lync video integration solutions, the Scopia Gateway enables customers to connect and scale disparate parts of their networks, and therefore to connect more users together via video, rich presence and collaboration applications.

Skype was prominently featured at this year’s event where the company announced a new partnership with Citrix during a keynote address. In an exclusive Frost & Sullivan analyst roundtable discussion with Skype’s David Gurle’, we learned of the depth of the relationship and the envisioned plans for Skype technology integration with Citrix audio and web conferencing. In summary, Skype intends to deliver rich multimedia collaboration solutions in conjunction with Citrix, and intends to compete very heavily on price. The resulting cost effective deliverables achieved by this relationship could certainly open new opportunities for a greater number of users to get connected in ways they have previously been unable or otherwise unwilling to afford. 

Siemens Enterprise Communications has been very busy of late. The big news from the company this week was about its cloud services initiatives. I was able to demo the OpenScape OS UC Web client interface and new swipe app for Android devices. Available in conjunction with cloud services the OpenScape UC suite promises make powerful communications tools available to a broader base of users that need to improve productivity through improved reach-ability and access to information and people. For its part, the Android swipe is an intuitive and innovative way for users to easily, dynamically and seamlessly transfer multimedia communications session from one device to another. In the context of Enterprise Connect’s overarching theme, I viewed both demos as strong validation of Siemens ability to empower the connected user with device choice and ubiquitous access to rich communications services. 

Vidyo announced the availability of its VidyoReplay appliance, which enables easy-to-use webcasting and recording for Vidyo visual communications solutions. I had opportunity to demo this application that features an intuitive interface, includes a content management system and supports multiple storage options. As an add-on, VidyoReplay makes its simple for users to increase the value of their video conferencing investments. Sessions can be recorded, with the captured information tagged and stored as a resource for repeatable future references. Vidyo has now truly evolved from not only connecting people, but to also connecting people with information as well.   

With all of the talk about client innovations, it may have been easy to overlook the developers that are often called upon to make the connected user experience possible. Vendors such as Acme Packet, AudioCodes, InGate and NET provide the necessary hardware and software connectivity in both single and multivendor environments, and also in today’s heavily touted virtual and cloud-based environments. While we tend to focus on the bells and whistles available at the user level, we cannot take for granted the importance of connectivity solutions from these developers. 

Separate spotlights may have been shining on cloud, video, virtualization and mobility  solutions, however, the connected user was truly the primary focus at Enterprise Connect.

In addition to the suppliers mentioned above, I’d also like to thank the engaging and patient representatives from AVST, Digium, Dimension Data, Fonality, Global Crossing, Grandstream, HP, Interactive Intelligence, Matrix, PathSolutions, Plantronics, snom, Zeacom and other providers that I peppered with questions at every turn. Thanks also to the myriad of end users that so politely entertained my inquiries.

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