Posts categorized "Unified Communications"

The EComm 2008 Interview with Skype's Jonathan Christensen should be required reading...

42F19C6B-67C5-433E-91B4-641B9323CD48.jpgAs we enter into the final month before eComm 2008, I would suggest that the interview with Jonathan Christensen, Skype's general manager of audio and video, should be required reading for anyone seriously interested in this space. Why? Well, in part because Jonathan Christensen does provide some good information about what Skype has done and is doing but also because it provides some good insight into what one of the people driving Skype's agenda is thinking about this space. Take one of the final paragraphs where he answered Lee Dryburgh's question about what he saw as the the future of communications (bold emphasis added by me):
Well, a big question I guess and, having worked on the space for quite a while, I think that it's only going to get more interesting over the coming years since, well, like this open spectrum for example. You know, I just have to reiterate, I think that anybody who has not figured out that the Internet is the platform and that there isn't any such thing as walled gardens that will survive, or sub-networks [such as AOL tried] that are going to survive, those people are doomed. The intersection of these worlds is going to be chaotic. It's going to be violent. It's going to be messy for a while but it is going to happen, and the Internet will survive as the one open platform. You are going to see a trend towards extreme innovation at the edges - on the devices, in the PC platform, in software, all around the edge of the Internet.

I think that you are only going to see further disruption of the telecom industry and the emergence of totally new businesses that we can't imagine today. I think that [the] net result, that drives me every day, is that we're going to have this very rich, open, cheap and accessible communications. This is going to be not just a game changer for the telecom industry, but will be a change agent for all of humanity. So, a platform that allows us all to see each other and hear each other more clearly maybe makes us a little bit less crazy, less polarized and more open as a world society.

Good stuff... and the whole interview is worth a read. Given my recent criticism of Skype, I'm particularly pleased to read the comments I emphasized in bold. Jonathan Christensen will be giving one of the keynotes at eComm 2008, March 12-14 in Silicon Valley and if you haven't considered going, I would encourage you to do so. It should be a great event!

P.S. I also wrote about this interview in relation to SIP over on Voxeo's "Speaking of Standards" blog.

Technorati Tags: , , , ,

Another print pub bites the dust... say goodbye to "Business Communications Review" / BCR

200801021114In learning about the new "" blog recently, I also learned from Eric Krapf that Business Communications Review, commonly known simply as "BCR", was joining the ongoing exodus from the print publication business. Effective January 1, it will no longer be published in print form and, in fact, the name will retired for publishing purposes. They will continue to use the name for their training business, which is apparently going very well. The publishing focus for the BCR team will apparently be this new NoJitter blog, which I mentioned in my last post.

Personally, I'm sorry to see them go. I definitely do understand that the economics of print publishing today are quite difficult, but I did value the work that BCR did, particularly in their comparisons of products and services. It will be interesting to see, too, how well their current readership makes the switch with them. I know personally that once InfoWorld folded its print edition, I know longer paid as much attention to their writing as I once did... except when it randomly came up in searches. I'm not currently a BCR subscriber, so if anything this move may mean that I see more of their writing.

In any event, I wish them all the best with moving to the online world with and look forward to seeing how that site evolves.

Technorati Tags: , ,

Welcome to "", a new VoIP blog by the editors of Business Communications Review...

Back in mid December when I received the latest copy of the "VoiceCon ENews" email newsletter, I noticed that Eric Krapf had a new signature to his post:

Eric H. Krapf
Editor & Lead Blogger,
VoiceCon Program Chair

Naturally, I had to see what was about...

200801021103It turns out that is a new site launched by CMP to provide a focus on IP Communications/IP Telephony/Unified Communications/VoIP/whatever-we-are-calling-this-space-today. Eric, will, in fact, be the "lead blogger". I've had the opportunity to work with Eric in a few small ways (such as a VoIP security panel at Interop/VoiceCon New York in October) and look forward to seeing what he and the others there will be doing with this new site. (Hey, he already gets a "+1" from me for having "VoIP Security" as one of the navigation categories in his navbar!)

Welcome, Eric and the NoJitter team, to the VoIP part of the blogosphere!

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,

A simple answer to why I've done more videoconferencing in the past 3 weeks than I have in the past 3 *years*...

200711051704In the past three weeks I have done more videoconferencing than I have in the past three years...including my year or so as the product manager for Mitel's video collaboration products.


There's a simple answer, really. And it speaks to the heart of why I think it has taken so long for videoconferencing to take off... I mean, we've have been talking about videophones for what? 40 years or so?

200711060757The answer is... duh!... I have a camera always available!

It is always there, sitting at the top of my MacBook Pro screen, just waiting to be used. Whenever I am in a Skype call, or using Sightspeed or iChat... or any other communication program that supports video... moving into video is as simple as pressing a button in the GUI and... ta da... we're in a video conversation.

Contrast that to the situation a few years back where moving into video involved making sure your camera was connected first. In fact, some of the various programs required a restart after you connected a camera, which meant that you couldn't just escalate into video while you were in the midst of a call. Back when I was the product manager for Mitel's collaboration software, it was often a challenge to find people to test the software with because it required people to have a camera connected... and in the days of laptops and people moving around that required them to carry their camera with them. Once I started working remotely in 2005, there were many times when I wanted to have a video call to see the person or room on the other end. I'd often ask "Can we go to video?" and the answer was almost inevitably "Darn! I left my camera back in the office."

Today the story would be different. We're moving rapidly to an era of ubiquitous cameras embedded in laptops. I don't know if Apple started the trend, but with the MacBook's they certainly propelled the trend along the way. I've seen most other vendors follow suit. A quick tour of the laptop aisle in Best Buy recently showed that most all vendors at this point are including embedded webcams in many if not most of their laptops.

So maybe, just maybe, with ubiquitous cameras we'll finally reach the point where video can truly be just another modality of communication that we can easily move to and from during a call. It's certainly been a great addition to my communication over the past few weeks... and I see myself continuing to use more and more.

How about you? Do you have an embedded webcam? If you do, do you find yourself using video more now that you can do so very easily?

P.S. The captured screenshot at the top of the article is a call yesterday with Dameon Welch-Abernathy, a.k.a. Phone Boy.

Technorati Tags: , , ,

It's the (app) platform, stupid!

"Phone systems" are dead. PBXs are dead. IP-PBXs are dead.

Well, okay, not really... people will still be buying "PBXs" for quite some time. Just as there are certain communities out there who still buy horse-drawn wagons. But the reality is this:

"Phone systems", PBXs and IP-PBXs without easy application programming interfaces (APIs) are a dead branch on the evolutionary tree.

The future of communication belongs to mashups. To quick and easy ways to interconnect disparate systems. To integration of communication systems with business processes and other applications. In a world where voice is no longer always the primary mode of communication, we have to stop thinking about "phone systems" and take a larger look at how "communication" in general fits into our infrastructure. More than just how we use the system, we have to look at how we can get data in and out of the communication system. To borrow from the 1992 Clinton campaign:

It's the platform, stupid!

As you look at communication choices, the question is really about who has the "best" APIs... whose system is easiest to integrate with.... who lets you get data out of their system easily - and also lets the data back in... who lets you control the communication experience through an external application (and does so securely, naturally).

There's a good number of players out there who "get it", and either have or are in the process of developing a strong ecosystem of application partners, but let's take a quick spin down the list of some of them:

  • Microsoft - Duh! Everything about Office Communication Server and all the other components is all a platform play. The goal is integration of communication into the rest of your IT infrastructure (which they would of course like to have you run entirely on Microsoft products).
  • IBM - They don't usually get as much mention as Microsoft, but IBM's been back there making Sametime a communication platform play similar to OCS (only it has been out there for several years). With their latest move to OEM components from Siemens to make their Universal Telephony Server to allow interconnection with many different IP-PBXs, they very clearly see the value in integration.
  • Digium/Asterisk - The name Asterisk also refers to the "*" wildcard character which in UNIX-land basically means it will match on everything. Asterisk has always been about being a platform for telephony/communication from its very beginnings.
  • Skype - With its "Extras" gallery and the developer program they have been working to promote, Skype is trying to be an applications platform and currently does have many applications now available (use the "Do More" link to get to the Extras Gallery).
  • Oracle - They don't get as much coverage, but I would watch what the folks at Oracle are doing, because they are building communication solutions that move around Oracle's database solutions.
  • Social networking sites - Facebook and MySpace don't immediately come to mind as "communication" choices, but the reality is that they are becoming that - and they both understand the need and value in an API ecosystem. How well they will execute remains to the be seen.
  • The IP-PBX vendors... to a degree - I hesitate on this one a bit. Some of the vendors get this. Avaya has been running around with their SOA toolkit. Siemens has been doing a good bit of work in this space (so much so that IBM OEM'd product from them). Cisco has been running around buying up companies. But at least to me it seems to be somewhat half-hearted. For the others I've listed, communication is a platform, while for the vendors it seems to be something else they need to do. It's a different mindset which, I think, reflects the IT focus of the ones I've listed previously.

There are certainly others out there ... and more will undoubtedly enter the space in the time ahead. The key question I think we all in general need to be asking:

How well does your communication system provide a platform for applications? (or for integration with applications?)

P.S. And yes, my new employer is one of those who understands this... although ironically I wrote the draft of this entry about 3 weeks ago before I'd even heard of them... but more on that later today. :-)

A heck of week to choose to go dark! (Microsoft, MySpace/Skype, iPhone... )

Boy, did I choose the wrong week to go dark! Way too many amazing things going on out there this week... here is a quick view of some of the disruptions with relevant links:

All in all a rather busy week! (And it's not over yet...)

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Digium buys SwitchVox and gets presence, Web 2.0 interface, mashups to Google Maps,, SugarCRM...

200709262246Imagine you are a customer service rep (CSR) at a small/medium company and a phone call comes in from a customer. As your phone rings, up on your screen pops all the information about that customer, pulled from your CRM database in or SugarCRM, plus other information from other databases and finally a nice Google Map showing you where that customer is located and potentially other information like the locations of your nearest offices. During the call, the CSR needs to bring in a subject matter expert so the CSR consults their web panel and looks at the presence information displayed for each of the other people in the business. The CSR can then contact someone showing as available and potentially bring them into the call.

Now imagine that all that is running on top of open source telephony... specifically Asterisk.

You can now stop imagining, because Digium just bought the company that does precisely that. There will undoubtedly be much attention today (at the very least in the VoIP blogosphere) about Digium's announcement here at AstriCon today that they have acquired SwitchVox. I am going to bet that much of the reporting today will focus on angles like these:

  • Digium now has very competitive offerings (SwitchVox SOHO and SwitchVox SMB) for going after the small / medium business market.
  • Digium bought themselves a very sophisticated/simple/easy GUI/management interface that moves them forward dramatically in making Asterisk easy to use, deploy and manage.
  • Digium just got 1400 paying customers with over 65,000 endpoints.
  • Digium bought themselves parity (or more) in their ongoing competitive feud with the folks at Fonality/Trixbox.

All of that is true. The SwitchVox products offer a very seriously competitive list of features (you have to go through and expand the subsections to see all the features). The GUI is very well done and simple. The price is quite compelling for the servers and also the support. I mean, for $1200 ($995 server plus $199 support) an SMB gets an IP-PBX with a very broad range of features and an unlimited number of users! Yes, the business still has to pay for IP phones, but they can buy any of a wide range of phones at varying price points to suit their needs. Considering that almost all the mainstream IP-PBX vendors charge on a per-user basis for licenses, the unlimited user model is certainly disruptive in its own right. (Digium has also been doing this with their Asterisk Business Edition.) And yes, Digium now has an answer to the growing competitive threat of Trixbox and it's management interfaces, support, hybrid model, etc.

All that is true - but it's not the really interesting story.

200709270943To me, what is far more compelling is that Digium just bought themselves a whole group of people who "get" the world of "unified communications", business process integration, Web 2.0 mashups, etc.

Digium has had no story at all around "presence" within its core offerings. Now it does. While Asterisk has always been a platform play where you have the ability to integrate Asterisk with other apps, doing so has not exactly been for the faint-of-heart. Hire yourself some programmers and you can do pretty much anything with Asterisk... but that's not something that many businesses want to get into. SwitchVox now gives Digium a way to do easy integration with databases and web sites. The integrations to and SugarCRM are slick. The Google Maps popup is a seriously cool mashup! (And where is that on the roadmap of the mainstream vendors?)

200709270953Throw in a "click to call" add-in for Firefox to let you dial any number you see on any web page, plus a plug-in for Outlook, and you've got a very compelling offering. For a very nice price. My only knock (other than the fact that I can't find a picture of their Google Maps mashup anywhere on their website) is that it doesn't seem like their presence capability is yet integrated with existing instant messaging services. Given Asterisk's XMPP (Jabber) capabilities, this seems an obvious path that could get them connected to Jabber and GoogleTalk presence information. If they don't have that yet, I hope they add it soon, as we really do NOT need yet another place to change/update our presence info.

Regardless, this integration capability is, to me, the real story. Phones are being commoditized. I have to believe call servers/IP-PBXs are on their way to being commoditized. (Folks like Microsoft are going to help in pushing those prices down.) The money will ultimately go away from those areas.

The future of "unified communications" is about platforms. About mashups. About web services. About exposing APIs. About making it easy to combine different sources of data into interfaces that make people more productive. Microsoft gets that. Some of the traditional IP-PBX vendors get that. Digium has always known that, but this acquisition gives them a far better ability to make it happen.

Congrats to the folks at both Digium and SwitchVox for making this happen... I very much look forward to seeing where it evolves! (And in the meantime, I'm going to have to go down to the AstriCon exhibit hall and get some video of the Google Maps mashup to show how very cool it is...)

Read more:

Technorati Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Telephony is disrupted because voice no longer matters... (as much)

200709240820Does "voice" communication really matter as much today in business communications?

Think about it. When you need to reach someone today, what do you do? Do you call them on the phone? Or do you send them email? Or a text message? or IM?

I know personally that my normal communication flow usually goes something like this:

  1. Instant Messaging - I check first to see if I can reach the person on some form of IM. For me, I usually use Skype, GoogleTalk or WLM/MSN, although I do have accounts on other services as well. I use IM because I can see the presence of the other person. If they are online and available, I'll shoot them a message. Sometimes the question may be dealt with entirely within an IM exchange. Other times I use the IM chat as the precursor to initiating a voice call, i.e. "Ping... do you have time for a call?"
  2. SMS - If the matter is relatively important and I want to talk to someone, I might send an SMS next to their cell phone, again often to see
  3. E-mail/Facebook/Twitter/other - Unless the matter is really urgent, the next mode I'll use is some form of "asynchronous" communication. Previously that would have just been email, but these days I find myself very often sending messages via Facebook or Twitter.
  4. Phone Call - If I can't reach someone any other way I'll pick up the phone and call someone... and typically wind up leaving a voicemail message

Now, this flow changes if something is urgent. I believe voice is still critical when you have something to convey that might have emotional undertones (ex. negative feedback on a project that might be misconstrued in email) or when you really need answers right now on some matter. If I have to urgently get in touch with someone, the flow is usually more like:

  1. IM - Check the person's presence and try to get in touch with them.
  2. Phone call - Call the person via cell phone or a service like Skype.
  3. SMS - If, as usual, I had to leave a message, I may send an SMS to the person's cell phone.
  4. E-mail/Facebook/Twitter/other - I may followup with an email asking the person to call me.

Why don't I just start out using the phone? Really for the reason I mentioned above:

whenever I call someone I almost inevitably wind up leaving a voicemail message.

I don't remember the statistic from the messaging presentations I attended, but I seem to recall the stat being that something like 80% of phone calls wind up going to voicemail. The reality is that most of us aren't usually available to take phone calls.

Presence can help us with this. Many of the "unified communications" solutions out there have the ability to give you "telephony presence" information, i.e. is the person on the phone or not. This can help avoid the case of your phone call going to voicemail because the person is busy on the phone. (It does not help with case of the person sitting there at his/her desk not on the phone but not wanting to take the phone call.) So we can know not to initiate the call and to use some other mechanism. (such as IM'ing them "can you call me when you are done?")

Now I recognize that I'm often in the early-adopter/bright-shiny-object-chaser category, but in watching colleagues at work and how they communicated, I saw the same pattern play out. IM or Email ruled for most all communication, with IM taking an increasingly larger role. Voice was somewhere farther down in the list of communication modes.

So what does that mean for those of us in the world of telephony? I'll suggest the following:

  1. Presence is critical. We want to know if we can reach someone and how: IM? voice? mobile/cell? video? Communication systems must have presence capability.
  2. Multi-modal communication is key. Communication systems should let us seamlessly flow between modes of communication. I should be able to start off in IM, move to a voice call, continuing using IM to pass along URLs, files, etc., potentially add video or web/data collaboration, and then when the voice/video/datasharing call is over, the IM channel still lives on as a way to send any follow-ups. Naturally, we need to have presence information over all those modes.
  3. Context is important. If I am in a meeting, I may only want to be reached via IM. Or may only want to be reached by certain people. I want to be able to specify who can reach me when and by which mode of communication. There are a whole number of companies playing in this space right now, trying to solve this particular beast.
  4. The bar has been lowered for new entrants. If voice is now just one of many modes of communication, and an often lower-priority one at that, it follows that newer entrants into the communication space don't need to care as much about voice. They don't need the x-hundred features of traditional telephony solutions. Due to the degree to which mobile phones have lowered our expectations around audio quality, they don't even have to be as worried about that traditional concern. (Nor even reliability - look how quickly Skype recovered after their two-day outage!)

This last point is to me why I think we are seeing so much disruption happening within the world of telephony. The fact that voice is no longer quite as critical gives us the freedom to explore how it can be used in different ways. Plus, we need to answer the question - if voice isn't the most critical way to communicate, what is? How do we integrate it all together?

What do you think? What is your communication flow? What do you use as the first way to reach someone? Do you pick up the phone? Or do you IM? or email? Do you agree that voice is less important than it once was for regular communication? What lessons do you think we need to draw from that?

Technorati Tags: , , , , ,

Skype Journal: "The Dawn of the Mashup World"

For a couple of months now, a post has been swirling around in my brain that I was tentatively titling "The Dawn of the Mashup Culture" in which I wanted to talk about "mashups" and why they are so incredibly important.  Unfortunately I just haven't had the time to put all those thoughts into the written word.

Well, in the meantime, Jim Courtney went off and wrote something very close to what I was intending to do:  "The Dawn of the Mashup World - Part 1: Challenges, Why and Expectations"  followed by "Part 1a: What is a Mashup?"

Read them.  (And the follow-on posts that Jim indicates he's writing.)

Mashups are fundamentally changing the way we can use and control services.  It's the remix culture. 

You need to understand it... because if you don't, your products and services will be left behind.

Open APIs win.  Mashups win.

A not-very-publicized change with the Blackberry 8830 unleashes the real power of unified messaging!

There's one little feature in my Blackberry 8830 that I just discovered today that I didn't see anywhere in any of the promotional materials about it.  Put simply:

Unified messaging works!

Here's the thing... given that I work for Mitel, I of course have "unified messaging" set up so that whenever someone leaves me a voicemail message, I get an email with the WAV file attached to it.  It's truly a wonderful thing because I never dial in to check to see if I have messages.  I get an email that clues me in to that fact - and generally when I am on my desktop PC, I just play the attached WAV file and listen to the message through my email program.  I don't dial into voicemail to listen.

Before, with my Blackberry 7290 or any of the other earlier models, having this unified messaging feature enabled was really only a "half solution".  Receiving the email clued you in to the fact that you now had a voicemail message... BUT...

you couldn't listen to the WAV file!

The Blackberry operating system couldn't play the WAV file, so you had to dial into the voicemail system to listen to the actual message.  So the nice part about UM was that you got the notification... but you couldn't hear it right there.

Well today a blog post by Russell Shaw over on ZDNet pointed me to this excellent 8830 FAQ over on that contains this little gem:

Q - What are the enterprise advantages of the new 4.2 OS?
A - The biggest 4.2 feature is the ability to listen to WAV files that are attached to an email by a Unified Voice Messaging service. NOTE: The customers BES server must be version 4.1.2 or later.

Naturally I had to try it out so I called my Mitel extension and left a message (a virtue of having multiple phones around). A moment or so after I hung up there was an email msg with a WAV attachment sitting in my Blackberry inbox.  I opened it, scrolled down to the attachment area and chose "Open attachment" and... ta da!  There I was listening to the voicemail message!  (And since the 8830 has a speakerphone I could listen that way which would enable me to easily write things down were it a real message.)  Nice and easy.

Of course, I would be charged for the download of that WAV file but I'm on an "Unlimited Data" plan with Verizon which does, in fact, appear to be for an unlimited amount of data (no fine print that I could see).

So to me this is a wonderful addition to the Blackberry operating system... now I can receive my voicemail messages in my email and listen to them right on my phone.  Very cool!