I left this year’s Enterprise Connect show with a great, positive, feeling about the current direction of the business communications industry. Workflow isn’t just being given lip service, it is pushing the direction of development. Long standing experience problems are being aggressively attacked. Solutions are easier to purchase and deploy. Perhaps most exciting, culturally workers are more accepting of video and new collaboration approaches.
The market is still expanding and the pace of development to serve that market has never been faster. That makes these events more and more fun to cover, as the vendors race to bring new workflow based capabilities and flexibility to the table. I liked what I had to see at the show, and I fully expect that the rest of 2017 will be even more exciting.
Keynotes and Sessions
My fellow analysts seem to be in agreement that Jens Meggers did a great job presenting the Cisco keynote. His use of the Spark Board really was natural and masterful. It didn’t feel like a typical product demo. It felt like Jens was simply sharing how he normally works with his team using the Spark Board. In other words, it wasn’t a “you could use this product to do A, B, and C” presentation, it was like he was using it for real. The new Spark Room Kit and the VR demo (more on those, below) also got a lot of positive buzz from the audience.
Ron Markezich (CVP of Office 365 at Microsoft) and his team gave us a closer look at the new Microsoft persistent team messaging solution (aptly named MS Teams), as well as some newer Skype for Business capabilities, including interoperability (powered by Polycom) with traditional H.264/SIP (i.e. Cisco, Polycom, etc.) endpoints. As expected, MS Teams looks like a solid, competitive, addition to our current lineup of team messaging solutions, but its real differentiator is its deep integration with the rest of the Office 365 suite. The momentum of Office 365 and Skype could make MS Teams a market leader.
Everyone seemed very interested in learning more about Amazon Chime. When something new hits our space, especially from a company like Amazon with a penchant for disruption, things can get fun. Unfortunately, this keynote brushed over Chime to spend most of the time covering the Amazon Connect contact center solution. To be fair, Gene Farrel’s (VP of Enterprise Applications), presentation of the contact center solution was impressive, but just not what some of us were hoping to hear.
Apparently Google heard our feedback from last year’s EC where we complained about the general nature of their keynote, and lack of specifics about the Google suite of collaboration tools. This year, Scott Johnston (Director for Real Time Communications, G Suite), dug into the details and vision for Hangouts Meet, Hangouts Chat, and the Google Jamboard. The rumor is that Hangouts was originally created for Google’s internal use, not with the intention of being a marketable product. While they may have entered our space by accident, they do appear to be pulling their various tools into a cohesive business collaboration suite.
This keynote gave me the best “Ah ha!” moment of the show. I am well aware of Twilio and how it provides the engine for a lot of today’s API driven services. However, I was a little fuzzy on how it actually works in practice. In other words, how does one Twilio something? Jeff Lawson (Founder, CEO & Chairman), took us through the process of using Twilio in a live demo. He just brought up an account and started coding right in front of us. I really loved the fact that it wasn’t intimidating at all. I’m not a coder, and watching people code can be pretty intimidating, but I felt like I could learn to do what Jeff was demoing pretty quickly. It just wasn’t that scary. In about 2 minutes, and about 5 lines of code, he had created a little app to take dinner orders. He then tested it live by having hundreds of us in the room text our hypothetical dinner orders to a number he provided. The app then was able to show us exactly who ordered what, and it was able to call us all back and place us in massive conference calls with everyone who shared our order. It was chaos, but it was a powerful demo of how quickly you can use Twilio to create just about anything.
This year’s sessions were generally well attended, with at least two that I attended reaching full capacity and turning people away at the door. The sessions covered a number of recurring trends and themes which are currently affecting the business communications industry. Here are some quick thoughts on these trends.
Attack on the Manual PTZ Camera
I’m not ready to declare that 2017 will see the death of the old pan/tilt/zoom camera, but it is certainly under heavy fire. When we sit on desktop video, a few feet in front of a typical webcam, we provide a perfect videoconferencing experience as we are nicely framed by the video window. The basic “talking head” or newscaster view is pretty ideal for most video applications. The trick is to properly capture and frame speakers in meeting rooms. Typically, meeting room video cameras are just panned all the way out, to capture as much of the room as possible. As a result, individual speakers can be small and lose impact. Since people fail to use the remote controls to properly adjust the camera, we need to automate it. I’m pleased to see not just a number of vendors working to solve this problem, but a number of different approaches to solving it.
Cloud is King
This is not a new story, as we have been covering the cloud revolution for 3-5 years now. However, it is notable that the tone of the discussion has changed. We used to see sessions on the benefits of cloud. Now these benefits are well established and cloud has become the preference for collaboration infrastructure, unless you have a real specific need for an on-premise set-up. Now, our sessions on cloud are about optimizing your cloud strategy and understanding your cloud options.
Persistent Team Messaging is the New UC
There was an entire track of sessions on this new trend in our industry. While there are still a few doubters and naysayers, for the most part we have accepted this as the preferred workflow for a significant segment of the business communications market. The number of new solutions in this space in the last 12 months, many from very well established UC vendors, is just amazing. The sessions were very interesting, as this is such a new space for us. The analysts’ takes on everything from the key differentiators, to how to categorize the different solutions, to even what we should call these solutions (Team Messaging, Workstream Communications, Group Collaboration, etc.), were novel and varying. I’m sure we will come to a consensus on much of this over the next year, but for now it’s all we can do to keep up with the latest additions in the space.
Video Has Moved From Product to Feature
Several sessions featured panel members from the user community. While, for the most part, our standard verticals were represented (Health, Finance, etc.), the use cases are more creative and innovative than previous years. Video is no longer a locked down, meeting room to meeting room, replacement for travel. It is being incorporated into our workflows in both obvious, and creative ways, to provide a richer experience to a greater and greater number of business applications.
Booth Visits and Vendor Briefings
I enjoyed a special demo of the new BlueJeans experience powered by Dolby audio. At first I thought the partnership was limited to including the Dolby Conference Phone in the BlueJeans Huddle package. This device supports spatial audio, which means it uses your stereo audio to make each remote speaker sound as if they are in a particular location. It’s hard to explain, but you get it immediately when you try it out. If someone on the far end walks to the left side of the room, it sounds like they moved to your left (or right, or closer, or further). This makes it much easier to focus on individual speakers and just improves the overall experience. The bigger story is that the partnership goes beyond the bundled device. All BlueJeans calls are now powered by Dolby Voice, regardless of what hardware you use. Decades of Dolby audio technology are now providing multiple benefits for each and every BlueJeans user. People may not complain about poor audio, but studies show higher quality audio results in longer periods of attention and more productive meetings.
While ClearOne offers a number of audio and video peripherals, I was most interested in taking a look at their Spontania cloud video solution. While it is hard to differentiate in today’s crowded cloud video space, I did note that Spontania has the ability to support up to four cameras per participant. This is yet another approach to solving the pan/tilt/zoom problem. If, for example, a classroom has one camera on the professor, another on the whiteboard, and two more on the students, a remote student would be able to flip between the views, or put them all on his/her screen at once, to effectively be able to look around the classroom. I look forward to spending some more time with this solution.
I finally got my hands on the Logitech Smart Dock. I settled in and got ready to take notes as Joan Vandermate (Head of Marketing, Collaboration Business Unit) and Robin Raulf-Sager (Head of Global Communications), gave me a full demo of the workflow. I was a little surprised at the fact that the entire demo took about one minute. It’s just that easy to launch a Skype for Business call in the meeting room, or to use the device for local content share. The team was also able to share that their new BRIO 4K webcam is seeing enormous initial success. In fact, they were in use in many of the booths at the show. Stay tuned for my review of the BRIO.
I caught up with Jordan Owens (VP, Americans) and Anders Løkke (Head of Marketing) at Pexip and was not surprised to see they are continuing to rapidly develop their platform and add new partnerships. They are now on a full version 15 of the Infinity platform, which makes it hard to keep up with their feature list. I will have to touch base with them soon to take a deeper dive. I was also shown an impressive visualization of the reliability/redundancy of a typical Pexip cloud network. When you see, in real time, video call signals routing through multiple options for hosting support in order to find the most efficient path, you start to understand the power of a truly scalable, pure software, video platform.
While the press release will not go live until April 4th, I have been given permission to share the news about StarLeaf Medley, a free Skype Meeting Interop service. Hellene Garcia (Director, Business Development), Will MacDonald (CTO), and Jad El-Hage (Director of Product Management), showed me the workflow and it was drop dead simple. The service simply adds dial in instructions for non Skype endpoints to your standard Skype meeting invite. The StarLeaf Cloud handles all the rest behind the scenes. Ease of use and user experience are clearly priorities for the StarLeaf development team and we should expect more user facing niceties from them in the near future.
Zoom had a strong presence at this year’s show, with CEO Eric Yuan sitting on a few standing room only panel sessions. For more about Eric, check out the recent Forbes profile piece on him. I spoke briefly with Eric at the booth, and then Janelle Raney (Product Marketing) walked me through the latest feature and capabilities. I enjoyed playing with Zoom controls on an interactive whiteboard. This tighter integration with touchscreen/whiteboard products makes Zoom even more of a a true team collaboration tool as opposed to a pure communications tool. I also like the new scheduling display app. It runs on a iPad which can be placed outside the meeting room. This allows people to check room availability and book times without entering the room and disturbing ongoing meetings. Zoom has also beefed up its interoperability support by integrating into Google or Outlook calendars. This makes it possible for traditional H.323/SIP endpoints to join Zoom meetings with one touch on their standard interface. The Zoom team continues to build on success, and I expect they will have more developments to share in the upcoming months.
I spoke with Bryan Hellard, (Director of Engineering) who was a panel member on the session covering “Telepresence Performance on an SMB Budget”. Bryan told me how customers are appreciating the Array approach, which addresses the problem I described above regarding the failure of pan/tilt/zoom to provide a good meeting room experience. This unique camera solution upgrades any existing meeting room by providing a more immersive experience. Array works with your existing codecs, so no rip and replace is required. Through clever camera angles and video processing, it changes the typical “bowling alley” view of the meeting room to a more appropriate “across the table” experience. It’s one of those solutions where a demo is really required to understand the full value.
I had a great chat with Mark Castleman (VP, Corporate Strategy), and was pleased to get a nice clear understanding of Avaya’s vision in the collaboration space. Avaya is a big company with a lot of moving pieces and, as we all know, there have been some complications on the financial side. As a result, I was feeling a little lost trying to understand their current offerings and roadmap. Now I get it. Equinox is the new generation conferencing platform, eventually replacing Scopia, and Zang Spaces is their persistent team messaging play. I want to take a closer look at these two offerings. If they are compelling, they should have a future regardless of financial restructuring.
Frank Mehr (Senior Vice President of Research and Development), was onhand to demonstrate the latest capabilities of the Symphony management platform which AVI-SPL leverages to shoulder the burden of managing their clients’ collaboration environments. I also spoke with Joe Laezza (Senior VP of UCC) about vision and roadmap. Although UCC tools are becoming more accessible and “self serve” in many ways, it still takes a integrator with the experience and knowledge of AVI-SPL to pull these tools into a cohesive collaboration environment and provide ongoing support. AVI-SPL needs to stay agile right now, as the tools and needs are changing seemingly by the minute, but the demand for expert integration is only going to increase as we continue to expand the reach and use of collaboration tools.
It is amazing to note how many major service providers are actually reselling BroadSoft’s communications solutions. With these partnerships in place, BroadSoft Hub, their entry into the persistent team messaging space, becomes very interesting. I saw several differentiators during my briefing with Mark Straton (VP Content Marketing and Media Relations) and hope to take a closer look in the near future.
What can you say when you win an Enterprise Connect Award in 2016 for your Chime offering, and the next year Amazon enters the space with its Chime offering. While we wait to see how that plays out, I was happy to get a closer look at Chime Spaces. Powered by their recent acquisition of Vayyoo, this is much more than the typical persistent team messaging solution. A Chime Space can include a number of apps related to a given project. Team chat is just one element of a larger project based workflow. Sajeel Hussain (CMO) and his team gave me a full runthrough. With the award winning differentiators in their video application, now as part of a comprehensive project workflow, I expect we will be hearing a lot more from CafeX this year.
I had a private briefing with Jens Meggars, but I pretty much wasted the opportunity by harping on how much I liked his keynote and Cisco’s overall Spark vision. I did manage to ask one key question, which it appears he (and the rest of the Cisco team) had been answering repeatedly throughout the show. That question relates to the fact that the Cisco Spark Board (which won this year’s Best of Show award) was presented to us a few months ago as an all-in-one device which will be the only thing anyone will ever need in a meeting room. If this is true, then who is going to buy this cool new Spark Room Kit you just unveiled at the show? The simple answer is that the Spark Board is an all-in-one with a fine videoconferencing experience for a collaboration session. However, the Spark Room Kit provides a superior videoconferencing experience for the typical sit-down meeting. Angie Mistretta (Sr. Director, Collaboration Solutions Marketing) gave me a full booth demo of the Spark Room Kit and there is a lot to like. It is yet another approach to solving the PTZ problem, and a compelling one at that. With no distracting moving cameras, it captures the entire room in 4k and intelligently frames the active speakers. The voice controlled UI is another killer feature. Their Spark VR demo was also very popular at the show. While I still think the typical meeting attendee isn’t going to wear a headset, the VR demo created a really cool visualization of the whole Spark concept.
I once again was invited to one of Dimension Data’s unique dinner events. Somewhere between a panel discussion and a customer appreciation dinner, these events offer a great opportunity to speak directly to end users about their collaboration experiences. The knowledge gained is crucial to help Dimension Data execs plan future strategy to meet the ever changing needs of their customers. While much of the event (including the identities of the high profile customer organizations in attendance) is under a NDA, I always learn a lot. This kind of customer focus is a big part of Dimension Data’s global success.
Shan Sinha (CEO) sat down with me to answer all of my questions about Highfive. I’ve been curious as to whether this company, which is completely new to our space, and has a very unique approach, has been able to gain market traction. Shan was able to share some impressive adoption and growth, including some notable large enterprise customers. I love to see the market accept and support a number of various, and differentiated approaches to team collaboration and video. The simplicity of the Highfive offering, from a user and administrator point of view, makes deployment and adoption a snap, which is a big part of their market acceptance and success. We even discussed the analyst community’s greatest complaint about Highfive (lack of interop with traditional video solutions). Shan shared that his team is considering addressing this concern. I hope to brief with Highfive regularly as I am so pleased to see an unconventional approach be embraced by users.
Eric Murphy (GM Americas for HRT), shared this new take on the meeting room video experience. Basically, everyone’s laptop or mobile device connects to the Huddle Hub One device, which then connects to the video call. This way, instead of everyone in the room craning their neck to look at the monitor on the wall, they can simply see the remote participant right in front of them on their own personal device. Also, the remote participant gets a perfectly framed view of the active speaker from the camera on the speaker’s device. Very clever and extremely unique, I think it is a serious improvement on many meeting room experiences, and yet another approach to solving the PTZ problem.
Casey King (CIO) spent some time with me to help me understand the use case for this unique camera. More than a webcam, this device contains some processing power and will be well positioned to serve as an “edge device” for the IoT. While the Huddly appears to be a webcam, it is actually a huddle room camera due to its ultra wide lens (150 degrees) and other high end features. It is priced between a webcam and a traditional meeting room camera, and works in rooms that require more than a webcam, but less than a traditional meeting room solution. Since it is an intelligent device, it is somewhat future proofed as new features can be added via software updates.
As we become more and more of a video culture, we can expect significantly increased use of business video. With this in mind, YouTube for business solutions, such as MediaPlatform, become more and more needed. I had a great chat with Mike Newman (CEO) and Barry Canty (VP Marketing) about the current trends in business video, the growing demand they are seeing from their customers, and the latest updates to their product line.
I spoke with Aurangzeb Khan (President & CEO) about the latest developments on the PanaCast camera. First, the big news for PanaCast in my opinion is that the market leader (Cisco) has now validated their approach with the new Cisco Spark Room Kit. Both the Spark Room Kit and the PanaCast use multiple cameras to capture the entire room in 4k, then use computer intelligence to automatically frame the active speakers. PanaCast is a more compact, portable, and affordable implementation of the concept. Aurangzeb also showed me a beta device he is building to make an even more intelligent camera with even smaller lenses. As the IoT continues to grow, smart devices that can think “on the edge” of the IoT will become more and more compelling.
Andy Cuneo (Senior Manager, Corporate Communications) gave me the walk around the booth and let me chat with a number of execs. The big news was the latest development of their partnership with Microsoft, now powering interop for Skype for Business. I also enjoyed seeing the latest capabilities of the EC Best of Show runner up, the Eagle Eye Director II (one of the earliest solutions on the market to tackle the manual PTZ problem). Polycom continues to make compelling endpoints, including the very popular Trio conferencing phone. There are rumors of more exciting announcements possibly coming soon, so I will be sure to have my ear to the ground.
I caught up with Chris Poore (Product Manager), who gave me a close look at the latest developments from his team. I am a big fan of the Prysm story. What started out as a hardware display company soon became fascinated by how customers were using their displays to collaborate. They then transformed into a software company, creating an application suite designed to support remote collaboration. Their persistent collaborative workspaces are powerful and flexible. They are all about the workflow, which is right up my alley. I look forward to looking closer at their application in the near future.
Revolabs is known for their audio peripherals, including speakerphones and wireless mics that are well suited for conferencing environments. At this show, they showed off their entry into the video space with the Yamaha CS 700. This device received a lot of positive buzz and was on display at partner booths, including Zoom. I like the soundbar form factor (similar to the new Cisco Spark Room Kit) over the traditional camera/codec/speakerphone combination.
Stephan Zschiegner (VP Product Management) walked me through ShoreTel’s new persistent team messaging solution. It seems all the big UC players are now in on the new team messaging dynamic. ShoreTel is taking it to the next level by empowering IoT connections. They had a pretty cool demo at the booth using IoT to lock and unlock a door remotely. The use cases are beyond obvious.
I spoke with Mike Baker (VP Sales) who shared that VDO360 is also working on solving the manual PTZ problem. This smaller camera vendor is known for forward thinking innovation, being perhaps the first in the space to combine their offering with an Intel NuC as a video codec. Mike is also working with HD Technology Partners, which is releasing an updated lighting product for mobile and desktop videoconferencing with an improved design. As more of us start using business video, we are going to be more and more conscious about looking good on camera, and that is all about the lighting. Stay tuned for more from VDO360 and HD Technologies soon.
Always good to touch base with Tom-Eric Lia (CEO) and Karl Hantho (President, Americas) to get the latest info on Videxio. We walked through the much improved app. I am a big fan of the new, more linear, workflow. In other news they are enjoying continued global growth, and working with their partners get increase their visibility. As they are strictly white-labeled, most Videxio users do not even know they are using the Videxio platform. Tom-Eric and Karl plan on highlighting the Videxio branding so they can be more like the “Intel Inside” for their partners’ services. This will help their partners leverage the solid reputation Videxio has built to increase sales of Videxio powered services. The was also plenty of NDA discussion, so stay tuned in the upcoming months for more developments.
Vyopta is growing rapidly, and for good reason. With more and more users of business video, there is an ever increasing need for analytics and monitoring. Vyopta is responding with more partnerships for analytics collection, and ever improving capabilities to their platform. I spoke with Katey Ferenzi (Senior Manager, Content Strategy & Customer Marketing), Teresa Zimmerman (Sr Director of Marketing), and Ivan Montoya (VP of Marketing and Business Development) and they have an extremely busy year planned, so stay tuned. Of course, I also appreciated the happy hour they co-hosted with Pexip. It was a great opportunity to talk to some key industry players, including Vyopta CEO Alfredo Ramirez, off the show floor.
I spoke with Greg Douglas (Exec VP Sales) about Yorktel’s success with the Pexip powered Univago platform. Yorktel announced a number of updates to Univago at the show. Yorktel’s customers appreciate the convenience of a one-stop-shop for integration and hosted video services, but are more and more demanding about the level of service they expect from video. Yorktel understands that they need to proactively push leading features in Univago to keep their customers happy.
Full Disclosure: A few Let’s Do Video sponsors were exhibiting at Enterprise Connect this year. LDV strives to provide neutral, third-party coverage of sponsors and non-sponsors in our day-to-day writing, as well as event coverage. Sponsors are listed at the top of the “Vendor Briefings” section above (the ones with logo headers). However, everyone that we found interesting and had time to brief with was covered. None of the content of this article has been paid for or pre-approved by any vendor or sponsor. Apologies to those I missed. Let’s set up those InfoComm briefings early!