The biggest ships turn the slowest. As visual collaboration has undergone the massive tidal change of hardware to software, our industry leaders have somehow become the industry schlemiels, as far as analysts are concerned. While they continue to move forward with development, and continue to bring in hundreds of million dollars of revenue, they somehow appear to be dismissed as the analogous equivalent to Charlie Brown., with all the new upstart cloud companies playing the role of Lucy pulling away the football.
But things aren’t as simple as they seem. Personnel changes, strategy changes, product changes are to be expected during times like these, but that doesn’t mean everything is doom and gloom. When well respected, and well liked, people are suddenly no longer wearing the company t-shirt, rumors start flying. But this is part of the business, big companies like these are always losing some talent to the upstarts, but they are still the industry leaders, and they have the knowledge and experience to see what is happening, and what needs to be done to adjust.
I spoke first with Joe Laezza at AVI-SPL. The real story is their current strategy, which mirrors one of my big InfoComm trends. They are retraining their sales team from the ground up to ensure that rather than focusing on selling the latest hot appliance, they focus on customer needs and building a full formed solution to address their problems. AVI-SPL does, in fact, have things to talk about on the product/service side. I checked out the latest version of their VMR cloud solution (powered by Pexip) and did not even recognize it from the version I saw a few months ago. But Joe, while proud of the VMR, gave me the impression that it is secondary in his mind to AVI-SPL’s new customer needs driven strategy. He made it clear that this isn’t soft plan for the future, this is happening now.
Next I spoke with Laura Shay from Polycom, who had a similar vision, albeit from the vendor, rather than service provider, perspective. Polycom always has a few cool new products or features to show off at these events. I took a close look at their streaming server, which was miles ahead of the last time I tested it, in both functionality and (more importantly) usability. It has grown from an IT tool to a user friendly video content solution. They also had updates to their cloud services and a new “Acoustic Fence” technology that completely eliminates background noise during video meetings. The demo was really impressive, as the gentleman on the far end of the video walked around the room shaking maracas, the sound just completely stopped when he would cross the invisible fence.
But again, something was different this year. The products and features were secondary to the big story. Polycom sees the way the industry is heading and knows the score. They are also working on a ground up retraining of their sales team. Instead of leading with their latest pixel count, they are leading by asking the customers what problems need to be solved.
For all the talk about hardware being dead, Rowan Trollope’s Cisco product demo was one of the highlights of the recent EC show, and the Cisco booth at InfoComm was flooded by people looking to check it out. A real full powered VC room system, with plug and play ease of use and setup is nothing to ignore. But again, talking to Cisco reps you get the impression that the products are becoming secondary to the new way of thinking. Customer needs first, products second.
The big three are all talking the right talk, and I think they mean it. If the haters and naysayers want to just dismiss the massive amount of talent and resources available to these three industry giants, they could be making a big mistake. Everyone likes an underdog, and people often root for the heavyweight champ to lose. But as far as Cloud VC is concerned, we are still in the early rounds.