Another Enterprise Connect has come and gone. There may not have been all of the excitement of previous years as there were no groundbreaking announcements or truly disruptive new offerings, but there is plenty to be happy about. It feels like we are finally getting everything we have been asking for from the collaboration industry. Instead of trying to wow us with new technology, the industry is respecting team workflows. The approach is now workflow first, technology second. No one is talking about protocols or pixel counts, but instead we are talking about productivity. Instead of giving us features we never asked for, vendors are finally addressing the PTZ camera problem with intelligent, self-framing, cameras. Instead of trying to convince us to use their one app for everything, vendors are touting all of their integrations with complementary apps. In other words, instead of trying to tell us how great their tools are and why we should use them, the industry is bending over backwards to cater to the way today’s working teams communicate and collaborate. This is the Enterprise Connect vibe I have been waiting for!
Voice control is one of the biggest new trends in collaboration. With the dominance of Alexa in the consumer space, the concept of Alexa for business seems like a pretty natural extension. It may seem like there really isn’t much to cover here. We are all more than ready to say “Alexa start my meeting,” right? But there is a lot more to it than a few business related commands. Collin Davis (GM Alexa for Business) explained how more tools were needed to manage potentially hundreds or thousands of Alexas in the workplace. He also talked about the massive potential of Alexa beyond the basic expected commands. As Alexa learns more about your workflow and how you communicate, it can grow into a true personal assistant.
Jonathan Rosenberg (CTO and VP of the Collaboration Technology Group) took the stage Tuesday morning to discuss the hot topic team collaboration. He outlined four major points that need to be addressed as team focused business collaboration tools become more pervasive:
- Stop data breaches
- Enable ad-hoc meetings
- Make remote work, work
- Facilitate true multi-vendor environments
It’s well known that the cloud has changed the face of business, and has created unique vulnerabilities when it comes data breaches and encryption. To that point, Rosenberg announced a re-branded service by Cisco, Breach Lock, an end-to-end encryption function that works as information is in transit, and at rest. Rosenberg demonstrated the service in a faux breach on Cisco Spark, and the result was a useless string data. Another re-branded announcement from the company was Video Mesh, which gives enterprises the ability to deploy servers in the cloud and on prem, providing cascading, and worldwide coverage. Rosenberg also highlighted the company’s efforts to further support interoperability, specifically with Microsoft. He ended his keynote asserting “this is the age of teams” and teased an announcement next month. We’ll be keeping our ears out for that one.
Let’s be honest. It’s kind of weird having Facebook in our space. It does make sense on paper. People are very familiar with the Facebook workflow, and it does all the basic things we need from a business communications tool (chat, share file, group messaging, video, etc). It’s just hard to get over the idea of using a productivity tool produced by the same company that hosts the biggest productivity killer since the invention of television. We just need to remember that Workplace for Facebook, is not consumer Facebook. Frerk-Malte Feller (Director of Workplace Ecosystem Partnerships at Facebook) helped us to understand that difference with a keynote that was heavy on actual business users and uses cases and no talk of the bigger Facebook picture. I’ve talked to users at organizations that have switched to Workplace and they really like it. I will have to get over my misgivings about Facebook in general so that I can give Workplace a fair chance.
Bob Davis (Corp VP Office 365 Engineering) and his team took us through the latest with Microsoft Teams. We all know that Microsoft could simply create a “we have this too” offering in the team messaging space and as long as it is bundled in with Office 365 it will see some adoption. Fortunately for Office 365 users, Microsoft is not taking this approach to business communications. They are all in for MS Teams and it will be one of the more competitive and feature rich options on the market. In fact, it won “Best of Show” at EC this year! Bob Davis talked about how Microsoft is adding intelligence behind the scenes, and tons of app integrations, to make MS Teams even more powerful. Features like the ability to use your apps “in-line” on MS Teams without having to switch to the other app, real time chat translation, and transcribed video meetings got a big reaction from the crowd.
Just like Skype for Business, the inclusion of MS Teams in Office 365 will make it the default choice. The other collaboration vendors in the market will be striving to offer differentiated alternatives, while at the same time integrating their services with MS Teams to fill any gaps in that service. Cloud video vendors in particular are already promoting their MS Teams integration plans. In the keynote itself, Microsoft highlighted new MS Teams partnerships with BlueJeans, Pexip, Polycom, and Logitech. We particularly liked the demo of new intelligent framing feature of the Logitech MeetUp. No more fuddling with the remote control to pan/tilt/zoom the camera!
In the company’s debut presence at Enterprise Connect, Cal Henderson (Slack CTO) sat down for a Q&A with Alan Lepofsky from Constellation Research to discuss employee challenges in today’s enterprise, the evolution of collaboration, and the current and future state of Slack. Henderson said that the biggest thing holding back organization today is email. He notes, and I think we all agree, that email was not designed for the purpose it’s being used for today, and is creating a cognitive burden for employees, and their productivity (anxiety inducing inboxes anyone?). Cue the importance of team messaging (like Slack). Henderson did a good job of underlining the value, and ultimate rise of workplace messaging, as it increases team collaboration with channel based communication, provides information transparency, and decreases information density. Henderson also shared some of his favorite customer use cases including 21st Century Fox which has implemented Slack’s Enterprise Grid to connect employees across 194 countries, and Single Thread, a Michelin Star restaurant in Napa that uses Slack to coordinate everything from vendor orders to diner’s food allergies. Another principle Slack tries to live by – be nice to your customers! Those are words for all companies to live by.
Booth Visits and Vendor Briefings
Briefing with Scott and Rebekah Allendevaux was a bit of a reality check for me. I’m aware that there are ton of new laws and regulations, domestic and international, that have been passed since the last financial meltdown which effect cloud video services. But I assumed that it could be boiled down to a few checklist items for the development teams. I couldn’t have been more wrong! The actual requirements are overwhelming. Fortunately, we now have help. The Allendevaux have successfully created and sold several startups in this space, and worked for several large firms in our space to help transition these acquisitions. They know the space inside and out and have created an expert team to work solely on security and compliance. They generate incredibly thorough and detailed reports which list and explain every aspect of a video services current status, vulnerabilities, and compliance with regulations and security guidelines. Each element is rated in terms of its severity, and an action plan for each item is included. After recommendations have been put into effect, the Allendevaux team conducts penetration testing, to see if the new security really holds up under fire. After working with the Allendevaux team, a video vendor will have a level of assurance that perhaps no other company in our space can provide. To my friends in the video industry, even if you think your company has security and compliance under control, you really should have a quick chat with Scott and Rebekah’s team to make sure.
Things are moving quickly at BlueJeans. The original industry disruptor has become an established industry player and has learned that it has to react quickly to new market trends. The disruptor has become the disruptee! BlueJeans does not appear to be backing down from the challenge as it recently announced a new user experience. The days of selling to the IT crowd and hoping they can push adoption on the users is over. BlueJeans knows that today we are seeing grassroots adoption, so the tools can’t just be usable, they have to sleek and sexy to appeal to today’s savvy video caller. The BlueJeans team is also seeing great success with their Dolby Conference Phone BlueJeans Room. Please check out my recent review of this product. The software room system market is exploding. People want affordable systems for meeting rooms and huddle spaces, but they need a lot more than laptop videoconferencing. These one-touch-join solutions really fit the need, and the Dolby partnership is helping BlueJeans stand out in the space.
Dan Kowalske filled us in as ClearOne continues to develop and score patent wins for its amazing beamforming microphone capabilities. While we tend to focus on video here, no one can deny the importance of quality audio for business meetings. Of course, they also are continuing to develop their cameras to round out the latest features in demand and integrations. While there are several quality camera and video system vendors on the market, ClearOne differentiates by pairing their solutions with their unique Spontania cloud service. Please check out this recent podcast for more information about Spontania.
We swung by Logitech’s whisper suite for a fantastic demo and briefing with Joan Vandermate, Head of Marketing, and Eric Tooley, Senior Product Marketing Manager. The briefing was under NDA, but if you caught the Microsoft Keynote, you got a sneak peak of what’s on the horizon. On the keynote stage, Bob Davis, Corporate Vice President of Engineering at Microsoft, demonstrated Logitech Meetup’s new intelligent video capability, which can scan, detect, and automatically frame participants in its field of view. This new technology will ship in a few months, and we can’t wait to try it out for ourselves. It’s great to see the Microsoft/Logitech partnership continue to grow and deliver incredibly innovative technology to the collaboration space. Also of note in the Logitech booth, the SmartDock Flex, the new PTZ Pro 2 camera, and various audio enhancement to Logitech GROUP. Logitech products were also showcased in over 15 strategic partners across the show floor.
Always good to catch up with Dan Freeman, Founder and CEO of VDO360. The big news from this company is that they are now offering intelligent framing, starting with one of the camera models. This new capability won them the Best New VC Accessory award at ISE this year. This company is known for affordable, high quality, cameras that generally push the latest feature sets. Their one weakness is the weakness of all current model PTZ cameras. People don’t like using the remote control. By making the framing automatic, VDO360 is taking their offerings to the next level. They also are seeing great success with their TeamCam model. It is really hard to match the capabilities of this camera at this price point. Definitely should be on your short list as you look to equip today’s huddle spaces.
It’s always great to catch up with the team at Videxio. This year we sat down again with Tom-Eric Lia, CEO, and Karl Hantho, President, Americas, to get a company update, and a sneak peak on what’s ahead. It’s clear Videxio is making strides to better serve the enterprise, first and foremost with the release of Connect Skype for Business and Video Units, a Gateway-as-a-Service that connects large scale business users to video conferencing platforms. Also launched at the show were usability updates that make connecting and scheduling meetings more streamlined, a live 1080p content share, single sign-on authentication, and enhanced network coverage in Africa and Asia. Be on the look-out for more news from Videxio later this year as they continue to make video conferencing easy for any enterprise.
Is everyone who works for Zoom so happy because the company is doing so well, or is the company doing so well because everyone who works there is so happy? All I know is that it’s always good news when I catch up with Janelle Raney (Product Marketing). Of course, the central feature of Zoom’s booth was a Zoom Room. Organizations are ready for the next generation of room systems. The codecs of yesterday are being replaced with one-touch, user friendly systems with an actual workflow designed around group meetings. Hardware vendors are beating down Zoom’s door looking for partnerships for these Zoom Rooms. While any peripheral based DIY kit will work, Zoom is seeking partnerships with sexy, sleek, cool looking and highly capable devices. After all, their customers will associate Zoom with whatever hardware they use to make Zoom calls, and Zoom does not want to be associated with mediocre video experiences. AVer, DTEN, Logitech, Revolabs, Suirui, and other partners were on display. There are plenty of developments on the software side of Zoom as well, stay tuned until the NDAs all expire!
I still can’t get over the digital signage capability of Zoom Rooms. It bothers many organizations that so many displays are wasted during the day. They are hanging in meeting rooms and hallways, and not displaying anything. Everyone agrees that digital signage is the obvious solution, but when they see the complexity and cost they pass on it. I finally got my hands on the admin engine for Zoom’s digital signage and I was blown away. It is so easy and intuitive. This is not an IT tool, but a regular user tool. It’s easier to upload, manage, and control digital signage on Zoom than it was to post this article on WordPress. The real disruptor here is the price. It’s free with your Zoom Room account. Every Zoom Room in existence is already enabled for digital signage. Why am I the only one freaking out about this!?
Avaya is in the team messaging game with the latest addition to their Equinox Experience. While Avaya has been in the UC space for some time, we generally hear about their traction in the Contact Center space and other verticals. With their rich collaboration history (going back at least as far as the Radvision aquisition), it is great to see them putting resources into the team collaboration space.
This Minnesota based integrator has been making a lot of noise, and enjoying a lot of growth and geographical expansion, in the last few years. Please check out my recent coverage of their annual sales event to get a sense of how innovative and fun this company has become. I chatted with CTO Brad Sousa and VP Sales Don Mastro to get the inside scoop. While they have a multi-level strategy for serving their customers, their new secret weapon is AVI Insight, a new analytics and management platform developed in-house by AVI Systems. As it is vendor neutral, it can manage just about everything on their customers’ premises. Expect big moves from this company. They in a unique position to really transform and grow in the next few years.
This was our first time meeting with this SaaS company that provides products and services to help manage the performance of real-time media communication. We met with Founder and CEO, Varun Singh, to learn more about how Callstats.io helps software developers quickly set-up, build, and scale communication applications. The company showcased a new AI-assisted product for WebRTC called Optimized which provides instant data to diagnose and improve media quality for real-time communications. Editor’s Note: Callstats.io was acquired by 8×8 in 2020.
This was definitely one of the highlights of the show for me. Dolby entered the video collaboration space recently, and most prominently, through their partnership with BlueJeans using the Dolby Speakerphone for BlueJeans Rooms. Apparently, Dolby sees a lot more potential in the space as they are releasing their first video product, the Dolby Voice Room. There is a lot to like about this product. First of all, they aren’t doing a disservice to their partner BlueJeans by rolling out a competitive product. In fact, the Dolby Voice Room device can be used as the hardware for a BlueJeans Room and can be configured for a very natural (one-touch-join, etc) BlueJeans Room experience. Of course, the device can also be paired with any other cloud video service with a software room offering. Check out this video for the full feature set. The capability to frame and adjust a whiteboard in the room really blew us away, but the intelligent framing is really the killer feature.
The company whose mission is to transform every meeting room with modern, beautifully designed technology that empowers workers to collaborate in the best manner possible, had two interesting announcements at the show. The one that really caught our eye was their collaboration with Dolby Laboratories to deliver a premium video meeting room. The Dolby Voice® Room features an intelligent camera with screen framing (see the Dolby write up to learn more) and the Dolby Conference Phone alongside purpose-built software from Highfive. It’s great to see Highfive continue to gain market share, and grow their partnerships within the industry. The second announcement was a new suite of enterprise upgrades that promise to deliver more efficient and effective business collaboration. Topping the list is interoperability with third-party SIP devices, new pricing options, and enhanced professional services. It was also great to hear Highfive CEO, Shan Sinha’s, insights on the panel Moving Video Conferencing to the Cloud. We’re looking forward to see what’s in store next for the company.
We caught up with the team at the Kollective booth to hear how their enterprise content delivery network solution continues to develop. Video has gone far beyond video meetings. From streaming, to recording, to creating an internal “YouTube” for enterprises we are seeing more and more content being created, and shared, on video. Kollective not only helps manage this from the user side, but does so in a way that is friendly to your network.
Masergy’s big announcement was their new provisioning tool for their UCaas offering. I originally knew Masergy for their networking and security services, but in recent years they have been putting a lot of development and focus into their cloud communications solutions. Expect to hear more from Masergy in this space.
We were excited to catch up with Barry Canty (VP of Marketing) to hear more about the company’s updates to its Skype for Business Integration. It’s no secret that enterprises are relying more and more on live streaming video platforms, like MediaPlatform, to stay connected to their employees and constituents. This updated integration will enable interactive all-hands broadcasts to audiences of over 10,000 live concurrent users, and manages recordings in a secure, searchable online portal. You may remember back in October we sat down with Barry for an in-depth conversation on the streaming revolution taking place within the enterprise today. It’s undeniable that MediaPlatform is playing a huge role in the adoption, and usefulness of this tool. Be on the lookout for some very cool upcoming announcements from the company, trust us, we got the inside scoop!
The news from NEC at the show this year was their recently announced partnership with Vidyo to bring video to their Univerge Blue offering. The buzz at their booth however, was their facial recognition demos. I scanned my driver’s license (which is very old and looks nothing like me now) looked up at a camera, and the software was able to identify me and recognize me from my license. This can then be connected to a printer for visitors badges, or any number of other potential uses. Very cool stuff!
While Nureva’s offering are a little outside of my typical video-centric coverage, I am a huge fan of their “workflow first” solutions. As LDV expands to cover team productivity in general, expect us to cover more in this category. Nureva was founded by the visionaries behind the original SMART boards, and they have learned much from the successes and struggles of SMART. The Span software powering their Nureva Walls creates a very intuitive live collaborative experience for those using the wall locally, as well as remote team members. Nureva now offers a their HDL300 speakerbar to further support remote teamwork by providing complete room mic coverage.
There was a lot to check out at the Pexip booth, where we met with Jordan Owens, VP, Americas, who showed us all that is new with the video conferencing platform company. First, was a demonstration of the company’s newest interoperability service for Microsoft Teams. The new Pexip solution will allow video conferencing participants to join Teams meetings, which is an important step in the company’s Microsoft-certified status. Also on display was the new Infinity 18 platform for desktop and mobile, which boasts new usability features including: expanded participant control (granting meeting access, showing when participants have left), a live timeline that tracks meeting activity and allows you to go back and review content shared earlier in the call, and much more.
The Polycom booth was abuzz during our visit! There was a lot on display but what Jeff Giampa (VP, Americas Systems Engineering), and Jim Cullinan (VP Buzz and Brand) highlighted on our tour were the new capabilities of the Polycom Trio (dubbed the “smart phone” for the conference room) with partners Zoom, Bluejeans, Microsoft and AWS.
- Zoom’s video conferencing software is now directly embedded into the Trio, providing a speaker phone, and controller for any Zoom Room experience.
- The company also announced the Trio is certified to work with Bluejeans’ new meeting platform. Two great partnerships with today’s leading cloud services!
- Additionally, the Trio will now support Microsoft Teams so users can easily join a meeting with a press of a button.
- And, there was a technology demonstration showcasing the Trio integrated with Alexa for Business.
It will be very interesting to see the usefulness of Alexa for the enterprise. There is a lot of potential, and companies have just scratched the service of what is possible. We also saw the Trio’s ability to serve as a remote control for the EagleEye IV USB camera, allowing a pinch and zoom feature which will be available as a software download at the end of the month. Also of note, was the Eagle Eye Director II demonstration, which leverages smart camera technology to focus in on, and frame, the active speaker in a video conference.
Improving the huddle room experience was an area of focus for many at this year’s show, including Revolabs, who first showed off the Yamaha CS-700 Video Sound Bar at last year’s Enterprise Connect. Now shipping, the CS-700 provides a complete audio and video solution geared for small meeting spaces. The sound bar connects to any UC platform so it’s a useful collaboration product for any organization that relies on video. Check back soon for a demo video of the soundbar’s unique integration with Avacor and Bluescape, making it a complete collaboration solution. The company also displayed the Yamaha YVC-1000MS, a USB speakerphone certified for Skype for Business.
Sennheiser is known for its sleek, high-quality headphones and headsets. But at this year’s show, the company highlighted its business solutions portfolio including two portable audio products geared toward geographically dispersed business teams. TeamConnect Wireless is a polished, portable, turn-key audio system that can be quickly set-up and connects via Bluetooth or USB. It’s available in a stationary tray-set for dedicated meeting rooms for up to 12 or 24 participants. And there’s also a pretty cool case-set version that doubles as a charging station. It’s light and compact, perfect for an off campus meeting or huddle room. The demo was pretty impressive too – the audio quality was impeccable. Also in the booth, Sennheiser displayed the SP 220, a dual speakerphone for conferencing, and connects to any laptop, mobile phone or tablet.
Microsoft Teams was part of almost every discussion at EC this year. However, StarLeaf is the only vendor that I am aware of which was not just demoing, but is delivering, a MS Teams based meeting room video offering. Hellene Garcia (Director, Business Development) showed me how easily and intuitively it all works. StarLeaf continues to lead with these types of features and interoperabilities, while their own team messaging app continues to develop and gain adoption among their customers.
I met with Vytas Kasniunas (Director and Partner) at TetraVX to learn more about this company celebrating their first year at EC. They have a unique approach to providing custom UC solutions for their customers. Their strategy is to offer three UC services based on either Cisco, Skype for Business, or their own proprietary cloud solution. This allows them to support a vast majority of existing UC customers, while offering their own options for new UC users.
Yorktel had a very interesting theme at their booth this year. Rather than showcasing technology, they had imagery of people. This is the future of AV integration and managed services in my opinion. The technology will become invisible to the user. The projects will not be focused on installing the latest equipment, but about creating custom environments to empower working teams. Today, Yorktel is finding success with their Univago service, and their Univago Healthcare Edition (Univago HE) in particular. Telehealth remains one of the hottest verticals in the VaaS market, and it has a unique set of requirements and standards that must be met. As a result, solutions tailored for healthcare, like Univago HE, are seeing significant growth and adoption.
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!