David J. Danto
Principal Consultant, Collaboration / AV / Multimedia / Video / UC
Director of Emerging Technology
Interactive Multimedia & Collaborative Communications Alliance
A View From The Road Volume 9, Number 2
InfoComm Connections & Enterprise Connect
In This Edition:
· Surging Interest In Collaboration
· Collaboration Keynote
· Enterprise Connect Keynotes
· Deceptions & Misperceptions
I attended two industry events in March and both led me to the same conclusion…
Having given the keynote presentation at InfoComm Connections in San Jose and then being a panelist at the just concluded Enterprise Connect, I can report with assurance that interest in collaboration is at the highest level I’ve ever seen.
InfoComm Connections was intended to be a small, regional expo – but the few hundred expected attendees turned into nearly two thousand once the doors opened. Enterprise Connect (formerly VoiceCon) has typically been an insular event, with the same few thousand analysts and industry people milling about the handful of customers that show up. Not this year. Both events brought out a huge number of knowledgeable, savvy, interested end-users trying to come to their own conclusions about the various technology choices. This doesn’t speak to either event as much as it speaks to the changing user population. The days where a stodgy firm manager needs to see everyone at their desk in a 1980s style office – just to know they are working - have thankfully disappeared. Even the widely covered comments just a few years ago from leaders of firms such as Yahoo, HP and Google that disparage remote and smarter working wouldn’t fly in today’s environment. We’ve seen the world is actually round and there’s no going back to the flat-earth doctrine now. Today’s communication and collaboration technologist, manager and professional is younger, comfortable with mobility, more curious, willing to try new things and learn from peers – and they’re coming out to industry conferences in droves. It’s a brave new world.
InfoComm Connections took place March 4th and 5th at the San Jose convention center. It was a brief AV and collaboration show for the tech manager in the Silicon Valley area. Exhibitors included manufacturers of collaboration systems, audio and video processors, control systems, displays, accessories and similar products, and some integrators who install them.
I was honored to be asked to give the opening keynote presentation at this inaugural event. The theme of my presentation – and the theme of the entire event – was the changing face of AV/IT. A few years ago the “convergence” of AV and IT meant finding integrators that could handle network cables and speak enough buzzwords to communicate with a CIO. It now has a completely different meaning. Convergence is now a conversation about how users’ needs have changed. IT influences on AV have driven the demand for simple, repeatable, manageable, reliable, self-service solutions – traditionally the opposite of the customized “perfect” installations that AV integrators have advocated for years. The key points I covered were:
· Best Practices for collaboration rooms hadn’t changed much in thirty years
· Those old-style rooms are underutilized and inappropriate to meet today’s needs
· Good “off-the-shelf” systems exist and compare very favorably to custom installations in most circumstances
· Bad “off-the-shelf” systems exist and end users need to be educated on how and why to avoid them
· Bad integrators exist and there is no mechanism in place for the industry to weed them out
· Integrated AV rooms are a network security nightmare, as using components from 10-20 manufacturers in a room opens-up all sorts of vulnerabilities
On that last point, I made the prediction that sometime this year one of the sadly frequent huge data breaches we see in the news will be caused by a poorly protected AV system, and that event will likely change the mostly unprepared AV industry for all time. I encourage everyone to see and hear this presentation for themselves and come to their own conclusions. With support from The IMCCA and Compass Business Solutions, an on-line version of the presentation is available at no cost. Anyone interested can go to this sign-up page and register for access. It is not an instant admission. Compass will process the request in one business day and email a link and password.
Switching coasts, Enterprise Connect took place March 16th to 19th at the Gaylord Palms convention center in Orlando. (It always fascinates me that a conference about communication and connectivity takes place annually at a property that has such dreadfully poor internet connections in the hotel rooms. Dozens of exhibitors and attendees complained again this year.)
(I hesitated providing coverage of the event this year as my overly busy schedule there prevented me from seeing all the presentations and spending substantial time on the floor. I’m including my thoughts below at the request of a number of individuals, but please don’t interpret them as the complete story.)
This event serves as an opportunity for manufacturers and service providers to set the tone for their approach to the collaboration market for the following year – and each one came with a different perspective.
Cisco’s story was that their share of the market was continuing to grow at the fastest rate ever (a claim bolstered by an analysis released by Synergy Research during the week - Microsoft Again Trails Cisco as UC Collaboration Market Hits All-Time High.) In his keynote presentation, Cisco’s Rowan Trollope spoke about these successes in the market and then made a couple of announcements.
Firstly he showed off Cisco’s new dual screen MX800. This 70” screen system was only available in a single screen version until now. He then explained that “Project Squared” was being renamed to “Spark.” (This is Cisco’s entry into the nascent space of virtual persistent rooms.) He ended his keynote with a request to reach out to him personally with feedback on any of his collaboration products. My personal opinion of Cisco’s messaging this year is mixed. They have undeniably developed the best endpoints ever seen in the collaboration space, but their infrastructure story is still far short of industry expectations. Scotch-taping a cloud based MSE onto WebEx and calling it CMR is not showing the same kind of industry leadership that their endpoints are. Spark is very interesting, but not nearly ready to take the place of a solid, interoperable collaboration foundation – one that they’ve promised “is coming” for quite some time. If you believe what most attendees were whispering, Cisco may want to consider an acquisition here to make up ground.
Microsoft used the opportunity to have a coming out party for Skype For Business. This represents the very controversial rebranding of their enterprise product (Lync) with their consumer brand (Skype.) Industry people either really love the idea or positively hate it.
Microsoft’s Zig Serafin used his keynote to explain how the rebranding and modifications to the enterprise product allow for features that people have been asking for - like enterprise dialing from the consumer Skype directory. He emphasized this point by finding Cisco’s Rowan Trollope in the directory and pretending to dial his Skype address. He was then joined by Polycom’s CEO Peter Leav as they both demonstrated their new Microsoft Roundtable 100 video system by placing the call from a smartphone (like Cisco showed last year.) My personal opinion of Microsoft’s changes here are not good. Yes, Skype For Business is just a rebranding of what is essentially the next generation of Lync (which has deservedly become a powerful and respected name in the enterprise UC market) but that rebranding connotes many things for many people that will not help Microsoft in the enterprise marketplace. Already attendees were worried about security policies that come with “free Skype” – and that was before Zig unwisely showed everyone how easily one could look up and dial anyone in the Skype directory….Rowan wasn’t the only Trollope that came up in the listing. One would assume that the other Trollopes that came up were relatives…possibly minor children…which raised all sorts of questions in the minds of attendees. Then - to demonstrate a call on the new system and show a picture that it can’t possibly make - was honestly nothing short of deceptive. The webcam included in the system when placed in a room would never produce the full “head and shoulders” close-up shown on the screen (above lower left) unless the user was standing right in front of it. I illustrated this type of deceptive marketing in the slide below when it has happened before (most notably with the Google Chromebox for Meetings – which other than its remote - presents eerily similar to the components of the Roundtable 100.)
My widely quoted and tweeted statement on webcams at Enterprise Connect was “Webcams in conference rooms are about as useful as paper towels in the ocean – overwhelmed & unsatisfying.”
The other interesting device that Microsoft demonstrated at the conference was their new Surface Hub.
It is an interesting product. A
fixed focal length camera at either end (that is automatically switched via
audio / video algorithm) can be used to send live video to
Lync – excuse me – Skype for Business
users. Its formidable multi-touch
capabilities supported by Ink in Windows 10 make it a pretty powerful product
for collaborative design. Unfortunately,
the demo I saw above was frustrating the person giving it, as each time he had
to press the screen multiple times before it would respond to his touch (which
honestly has always been my experience of the PPI screens Microsoft purchased
and used for this product.) Giving Microsoft the benefit of the doubt on
pre-production code, the system would be very useful for design engineers
collaborating on intricate work over distances.
It absolutely isn’t a videoconference room or huddle room system – it
has way too many complex features for the typical enterprise user to just walk-up
and start using. Honestly, I just don’t
understand what Microsoft hoped to gain by producing such a product instead of
supporting their partner Smart’s product that had the very same features when
Microsoft demonstrated them in their keynote two years ago (shown below.)
Avaya and Google also gave keynote presentations at the conference – actually announcing a new partnership of sorts. Avaya’s contact center technology – which everyone in the industry is now renaming “customer engagement” - will now operate out of Google’s cloud. They explained how this would make the service more scalable and secure. I was not able to attend that keynote but details on their announcement can be found here.
Google’s keynote, however, I did attend.
Adam Swidler, their Google for Work Technology Evangelist, presented a very high-level view of the changing nature of work and collaboration. He used dozens of slides to show that PCs are dying, mobile is taking over, communications are un-unifying, apps are king, and a few other concepts that honestly just shot past me in all the rambling. I and others struggled to find a point in all of it. No disrespect meant to Mr. Swidler or Google, but there was nothing new there for attendees to take away.
Some interesting things came out of the panel discussions I attended. At the Emerging Video Technologies panel, the CEO of Highfive got into a debate with the panel (and with me later on on Twitter) regarding the need for interoperability in Unified Communications and Visual Collaboration. It was his position that he’s perfectly content to be selling a product that is an island unto itself (he called it a continent) that will eventually be compatible with all browsers when the nirvana of WebRTC is reached. It was my position that no one in their right mind should be investing in technology islands anymore. An incompatible video system is just about as useful as a set of kid’s walkie-talkies. You can call people in the same building as you for playtime, but when you need to make a real call you have to put it down and use a real communications system. (I honestly don’t understand how anyone can take the Highfive product seriously considering that Tely did the same thing two years earlier with more features and at a lower price and it couldn’t penetrate the enterprise market either.) The whole conversation – in light of the Roundtable 100 announcement and some new products from other manufacturers - has me convinced that “we’re targeting the SMB market” is now code for “we know we have a product that no one in enterprise communications will take seriously, so we’ll try and sell it to people who don’t know better.”
And as far as WebRTC is concerned, I offer up the very wise quote that came from one of the panelists at the Cloud Based, Software Intensive panel. He said “WebRTC is a nice idea, but let's deploy something that actually works for the next five to ten years.” Spot-on.
My overall impression of Enterprise Connect hasn’t changed. It is a fabulous opportunity to connect with peers and analysts in the collaboration space for a few days and get a gauge of what is going on in the industry. I still think way too much focus and way too many kudos are bestowed on products that aren’t and never will be enterprise ready. Thankfully (as I mentioned above) the new breed of enterprise communications technologists are smart enough and savvy enough to separate the wheat from the chaff.
Enterprise Connect begins the season of collaboration and communication industry conferences – many of which are worth taking time to attend. (If you need justification to attend them please refer to my old blog on the subject.)
The mid-Atlantic and northeast regional rep Symco puts on a couple of free technology showcases – One coming up soon at the end of March in Washington DC, followed quickly by the other in Philadelphia.
April sees the broadcast industry coming together at NAB, and the IT world coming together at Interop Las Vegas. I’m honored to be presenting the Interop session on enterprise videoconference rooms – which turns out to be the very last session of the conference.
May includes the revised Wainhouse Research Summit in Denver and the Sapphire Marketing Roadshow in NY. Sapphire’s event in New York is also free to all, so if you’re in the area there’s no excuse not to.
Then mid-June brings the crowning event – InfoComm’s annual conference – this year in Orlando. I’ve been privileged to help author the educational track for the Unified Communications and Collaboration Solution Summit – co presented by the IMCCA. If you only go to one event this year – this one is it. On a personal note, my long time industry colleague and friend Ken Zorzi of KBZ is celebrating a special anniversary at InfoComm this year.
Ken will be at his 40th InfoComm event this year – an achievement that few others can boast. Be sure to wish him a happy anniversary if you see him there. You’ll be hard pressed to find a nicer and more universally liked person in the industry.
(Feel free to email me if you need any information on how to attend these. All except the Wainhouse event have some sort of free registration available.)
That’s it for this View From The Road. Look for the next one after NAB and Interop.
Be sure to email David to get onto the distribution list for the quarterly Danto’s Disruptors newsletter
Follow David on Twitter NJDavidD
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, develop a future-proof collaboration strategy for internal use, or if you would like his help developing solid, user-focused go-to-market strategies for your collaboration product or service.
All images and links provided above as reference under prevailing fair use statutes.