David J. Danto
Principal Consultant, Collaboration/ AV / Multimedia / Video / UC
Director of Emerging Technology
Interactive Multimedia & Collaborative Communications Alliance
Danto’s Top 10 Disruptors - January 2014
My opinions on Trends, Unwarranted Hype, Start-Ups, and People on the Move. What you need to know in the Collaboration and Multimedia Technology Industries
With another CES behind us and the collaboration conference season just beginning here’s what I’m recommending we all keep an eye on.
1. Almost Smart: More collaboration systems will be speaking with each other. Whether discussing Polycom’s “Smart Pairing” or Cisco’s “Intelligent Proximity,” it’s clear that the next battlefield is going to involve how much your devices are aware of and speak with each other. On the horizon and announced include Cisco’s ability to detect a tablet in a videoconference room and send the shared content to it for the viewers’ personal control. Not announced are a number of firms working on Bluetooth “beacon” technologies that can identify you as soon as your smartphone enters a room and automatically set-up your meeting’s technology. Expect announcements / demos late this year.
2. WebRTC – Where’s The Beef: Don’t get on board this hype engine to nowhere. While industry conferences about WebRTC sell out the moment they’re announced and many hail these APIs as the next savior (just like SIP trunking before it) - don’t be fooled. The last meeting of the IETF’s working group was described as “testy” and accomplished nothing. Cisco’s gesture to pay the royalty fees for H.264 moved no one. Google pushed for their new VP9 codec at CES. None of the nearly 400 organizations in the W3C are any closer on agreeing to anything that isn’t solely in their best interest. Don’t hold your breath for anything to be accomplished this year…or next year for that matter. All WebRTC will be for the foreseeable future is an extension on a browser you probably don’t use that has cool potential.
3. Beware the Useless Robot Invasion: Dozens of firms selling mobile video solutions that almost no one needs. Telepresence robots – videoconference devices mounted on motorized pedestals remotely controlled from another location – have been hyped-up as the next generation of mobility. They’re not. There are a few legitimate uses for them – like helping homebound students participate in school – but there are already enough prototypes and demo units built to cover all of that need in its entirety. There are little or no other use-cases where this technology actually helps. The CBS-TV program The Good Wife appropriately pointed out the uselessness of this naked emperor earlier this season (see timecode 5:20, 8:05, 9:15 & 26:30.) Even their outtakes make the point.
4. Connecting Lync to TelePresence: Look for Third Parties to Bridge the MS Lync / Cisco Gap. The enterprise collaboration market has spoken and nearly everyone believes Lync at the desktop and Cisco for IP telephony infrastructure represents best-in-breed. Making the two work together is a boat both Microsoft and Cisco have missed - out of a combination of both obstinance and simply being too big to move quickly. Third parties are entering the space to fill the gap and meet this need - successfully glueing the two systems together. Keep an eye on Acano (which might as well be called “The New Tandberg” with the involvement of Fredrik Halvorsen, OJ Winge and a few dozen other ex-Tandberg stars.) It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that firms successfully doing this in the cloud (like BlueJeans) could quickly come-up with a secure, on-premises version if they desired. This opportunity will exist as long as Cisco and Microsoft refuse to work together on closing the gap. Both will eventually lose some market share by giving third parties this foot in the door.
5. Remote Collaboration Part 1: Follow the money. While the concept labeled Smarter Working, Teleconferencing and/or just Remote Working has been around for a while, there has always been organizational resistance to letting employees work from home. In fact, struggling organizations like Yahoo and HP still choose to scapegoat this process to distract the public from the real problems there. Despite those very public statements, the tide has finally turned for collaboration technology. Firms are realizing that less workers in the office means significantly smaller real-estate footprints, much lower costs for power, HVAC, port density, etc. Interestingly, according to a Stanford University study, the time added back to an employee’s day not spent commuting is often being used for the employer - increasing productivity. Add to that the benefits to the employee (often called work-life balance), the benefits to the environment (with less commute-produced CO2) and the simple fact that stogy senior managers are ageing out to boomers, and you have an equation for a significant upswing in remote workers. Analysts and news media have identified this benefit and will continue to report about it. In 2014 many more firms will begin to recognize this and get on board the trend.
6. Remote Collaboration Part 2: Collaboration plus Social equals a “better than a traditional office” equation. Remote workers have been around for a long time – but were usually comprised of the most tech-savvy amongst us. Many workers still wanted to go to the office to be around other people – socializing, sharing courtesies, etc. Three interesting phenomena have converged that change the game. Firstly, remote collaboration tools are more prevalent and better than ever before. The technology works. Secondly, the idea of integrating personal and professional lives – once anathema in the business world, is now becoming a model that is accepted and admired. Finally, as the teenagers of the world abandon Facebook, and their parents and other, more mature people more than take their place, social media is filling the need for that office socialization in a dispersed workforce. Co-workers see what each-other have been doing in their personal lives and use social platforms and remote collaboration tools to discuss it. Many remote workers in dispersed locations are reporting better relationships with co-workers than they ever had with colleagues in the same office. This trend will continue, also contributing to a significant upswing in remote workers as above.
7. Improving the In-Room Experience During Videoconferences: See each participant on a life-size, independent display. A new start-up has taken the videoconferencing on a tablet experience and mounted it onto a stand that tilts and swivels. RevolveRobotics Kubi device allows each remote person to control their view in a physical room where they are not present. The big difference here is that the people in the room can now see each remote participant face on an independent display – and these displays (tablets) can be laid-out to simulate the normal, human spatial relationships in a regular meeting. RevolveRobotics has a few additional technology challenges to overcome, but this is the first really different experience in room videoconferencing I’ve seen in years. Keep an eye on them.
8. How Much of the Pie Makes Economic Viability: Don’t get caught-up in the flood of web-based collaboration platforms that vie for crumbs. The reality in the collaboration industry is that Microsoft (Lync) and Cisco (TelePresence, WebEx, Jabber) have a huge part of the market locked-up. Add a few of the players in the next tier – like Avaya, Polycom, BlueJeans and maybe a couple of others - and most of the pie is gone. That’s why I shake my head when the dozens of web based collaboration firms remain and compete for the miniscule remaining market share – and new firms launch every day. Start-ups email me to let me know of their services in this space all the time. I just don’t get it. People must be too close to their own hype to think there is an opportunity to develop a successful business plan when the opportunity for customers just isn’t there. With Enterprise Connect coming up in a bit more than a month expect more of these new firms to be touted as up-and-comers. Oh-boy, I can’t wait to hear about these new players fighting for the chance to win .0001% of the market.
9. Curved is the new Flat: Expect the freight-train of consumizeration to continue with these new displays. Samsung, LG and others put a huge push behind curved, large format displays at this year’s CES. Expect it to only be a matter of time before organizations begin adopting them for enterprise use. I can’t wait to see my first “immersive room” that uses curved displays. I’d be stunned if that doesn’t happen this year.
10. How Important is Knowing Your Industry: Changes at Polycom follow Cisco’s lead reaching outside of the industry. Late last year the Polycom Board of Directors mercifully ended the Andy Miller era (the end of an error as some analysts called it.) Under Miller, Polycom’s stock shot-up like a rocket and plummeted back down just as dramatically. Products were announced that weren’t available and/or didn’t work yet. Industry knowledge in their people was shoved aside as unimportant. (We were told “good salespeople can sell anything.”) In December their board named a new CEO – following Cisco’s lead in reaching outside the collaboration industry to get someone to lead collaboration efforts. While these are both fine, brilliant gentlemen, I just have to shrug. Everyone asks why collaboration industry hardware sales are down and incorrectly point to the growth of software systems. The glaringly obvious reason sales are down is that there are fewer people dedicated to the sales of this specific, unique technology at both companies. In addition, many of the ones that are there (all the way up to the top) are no longer the kind of product experts that can become trusted advisors in the eyes of their clients. Here’s hoping that understanding the unique value of collaboration tools once again rises to be valued in the industry.
This is the first edition of Danto’s Top 10 Disruptors. I hope my insights prove valuable to you. I will be producing this list quarterly, but will only be sending it by email going forward. If you want to be added to the distribution list make sure you email me, specifically asking me to be added to the Top 10 distribution list. The email address is below.
This article was written by David Danto and contains solely his own, personal opinions. David has over three decades of experience providing problem solving leadership and innovation in media and unified communications technologies for various firms in the corporate, broadcasting and academic worlds including AT&T, Bloomberg LP, FNN, Morgan Stanley, NYU, Lehman Brothers and JP Morgan Chase. He now works with Dimension Data as their Principal Consultant for the collaboration, multimedia, video and AV disciplines. He is also the IMCCA’s Director of Emerging Technology. David can be reached at David.Danto@Dimensiondata.com or DDanto@imcca.org and his full bio and other blogs and articles can be seen at Danto.info. Please reach-out to David if you would like to discuss how he can help your organization solve problems or develop a future-proof collaboration strategy.
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