Let’s Do Video is pleased to bring you our coverage of the 2015 Enterprise Connect Show.
What a fun time to be covering this industry! I thought things were getting exciting a few years ago, when video technology was finally reliable, affordable, and user friendly enough for basic meeting room usage. But we are approaching true video nirvana, as the technology has become flexible enough to be implemented as a feature into larger solutions. Whether we talk about banking, healthcare, agile working teams, or video contact centers, we are seeing video implementations transition from pilot cases to GA platforms. In other words, we are actually starting to do some fun stuff with video. We’ve already gone “Beyond the Boardroom” as we adopted BYOD and desktop video, but now we are going beyond typical meetings and into completely new uses for video.
Between the sessions and booth briefings, it was a really great show. The best part may have taken place in the hallways, where private conversations with my fellow analysts and friends in the industry have helped to shape my opinions on much of what is to follow here. Let’s start with the keynote sessions.
I covered Cisco’s EC announcements at the time of the keynote. Please see my previous article for the beef of the presentation (Cisco Spark, Context Service, and the MX800 Dual). However, Rowan Trollope did cover a few items that I had missed.
First of all, Rowan started the presentation by sharing some impressive sales states from the Cisco Collaboration team. Remember when everyone was predicting that Cisco Collab was in trouble because hardware was dead and they were too big and slow to shift to software? Did anyone predict that in 2015 not only would revenue be growing, but even hardware sales would start to grow again? I liked the new endpoints, but I certainly didn’t expect them to be this well received.
I was also surprised to see Rowan making a call from the new MX800 Dual into a Spark video session. While this feature is still under development, it says a lot about Cisco’s future plans for Spark’s role in the Cisco video space. You will be hearing a lot more from me about both Spark, and the whole persistent team messaging dynamic. They are on to something here in a big way.
Microsoft (and Polycom)
Ever since Microsoft bought Skype, people have asked for my opinion and I always say the same thing. They didn’t buy a video service, they bought a massive directory (over 300 million users per month, with far more registered) including a large number of video friendly users. The question for me has never been about what Microsoft will do with Skype technology, the question was when, and how, would they leverage that incredible directory.
The time is now, and they have leveraged it by making it searchable. During the presentation, Zig Serafin, Corporate VP for Skype for Business, was able to “find” Rowan Trollope on Skype (to the absolute delight of the audience) by simply putting “Trollope San Jose” in the search bar (he first tried “Trollope” and then “Trollope California” but there are a surprising number of Trollopes out there). No dropdown fields for city or state, no weird filters. He just typed what he knew about Rowan and it found him. Everyone is on Skype, and you can now find them all with a natural search. Skype4B isn’t just a rebranding of Lync, it is the closest thing we have to a video yellow pages.
Zig was then joined on stage by Polycom CEO Peter Leav to share the new RoundTable 100. There is a lot to like about the device, starting with the fact that there is no remote. You control it with your smartphone.
This is a huge win for Polycom. There are a number of interesting options and approaches to bringing a Skype4B experience to a meeting room setting, but Polycom arguably has the closest relationship with MS in the video collab field, and Peter was the only CEO showing off the results of his MS partnership on stage with Zig. The Roundtable 100 is now the default and all the other Skype4B implementations will be measuring up to it.
The device itself is a small form-factor codec. In other words, it is a little square box. It is shown above with a Logitech C930e webcam (retail $129.99), and a Plantronics Calisto 610-M speakerphone (retail $99.95). It is unclear if those peripherals are included in the estimated sub $1,000 price, or if you just buy the codec and bring your own peripherals. Considering the shortcomings of using a webcam in a meeting room, I would hope it integrates well with the new lines of affordable USB PTZ cameras on the market. I think this product is good for the market. It provides a focal point for service sales guys, so they can explain and demo the new Skype4B, and it will provide a good enough experience (depending upon camera used and a number of other factors) to encourage reasonable usage, while leaving room for competitors to provide creative and interesting alternatives.
I continue to be pleased by Avaya’s attention, integration, and support of its acquired Radvision technology. Not all vendors manage to fully leverage the true value of acquired assets. Avaya quickly sought to become a true video player, by adopting the Scopia platform for their own use first, and then weaving it into the fabric of their offering suite. VP Gary Barnett showed the latest phase, which falls along the EC15 theme of video as not just a stand-alone product, but a value add for countless workflows and applications. The customer support example was well received, and with many eyes on the space it would serve Avaya well to stake an early foothold.
There was a lot of grumbling about this keynote. It was a good presentation, but not what we were hoping for. A case of “good message, wrong audience”. Show me how to use Gmail and Google Docs as effectively as I can use Outlook and Office 365 and you will have my attention from an enterprise perspective. I know all the pieces are there in theory, but in practice it gets rough. I like Bill Haskins’ take, here on the WR Blog.
I was honored to be a judge for this year’s Innovation Showcase, along side Dave Michels and Kevin Keiller. For the full details, you should read Dave Michels article here. Here is the list and short descriptions of the winners from Dave’s article.
- Altocloud: facilitates online collaboration with customers and prospects by enabling communications and screen sharing from a Web page
- Collaboration Squared: supports interoperability of video conferencing, Web collaboration, and phone conferencing on a cloud platform
- Double Robotics: enables a physical presence for remote participants
- Fuze: consolidates real-time audio, video, and Web conferencing in unified online platform
- NextPlane: enables granular controls for federation and instant messaging across like or dissimilar UC solutions
- Phonami: offers automated CRM logging from non-enterprise phones
- Redbooth: provides task collaboration and secure real-time communications via cloud platform
The session was well attended, with many standing in the back of the room. As we listened to the details from some of the vendors, it occurred to me that we have completely moved the bar. Previously, anything that improved a basic meeting experience (higher resolution, better interop, etc), was considered innovation in collaboration. Today, we take it for granted that everyone can connect and look good. When we talk about innovation in collaboration, we are talking about tools that use this technology to change workflows and upgrade from meetings to working sessions.
It was great to catch up with Daryl Hutchings from Collaboration Squared. His latest move was to leverage the flexibility of the Acano platform to provide a new level of public/private hybrid flexibility to his customers. Without getting into the weeds, people want to use the cloud in different ways, and sometimes not at all.
I also enjoyed chatting with Justin Beatty from Double Robotics. The backlash against robotic presence is very interesting, and should be addressed more thoroughly than I can do here. But is there any other technology that makes people want to immediately talk about the worst possible use cases? You can’t bring up robots without someone immediately mentioning elevators. When I talk about video cameras, people don’t immediately ask how well they work in pitch black rooms. When I talk about forks, people don’t immediately ask how well they work with soup.
Of course there are ridiculous and amusing scenarios to imagine a hapless robot, and some of our favorite sitcoms have already used video robots in the role of the techno-clown. But none of that takes away from the value when applied to its real use case. You can’t argue with the fact that it allows you to look around during a video call, with more mobility than panning an in-situ camera. I like being able to look around during an in-person meeting, so it isn’t surprising that it can result in a more engaging experience for video meetings.
I spoke with Eran Shtiegman and Kevin Young from Fuze, but unfortunately all the good stuff was under a NDA. While I can’t talk about it, I want to go on the record early as being particularly excited about it.
Booth Visits and Briefings
The new Blue Jeans Relay app was not at all what I expected next from the cloud video pioneers, but I am extremely pleased with both the app and what it says about the company’s direction and focus. I’ve been hearing for years that vendors finally understand that adoption is being blocked because we need better ease of use in our video solutions. Every product and release touts its ease of use, but it is often an afterthought to the main functionality of any particular release. On the other hand, Blue Jeans Relay is purely 100% about adding ease of use to a Blue Jeans environment. All it really does is simplify the process of adding a meeting room to a Blue Jeans call.
Calling into a Blue Jeans cloud room from your desktop or mobile device is simple, you click a link. But connecting to ANYTHING from a traditional room system can be complicated. While some hardware vendors (StarLeaf and Lifesize in particular) have developed room systems with pleasing UIs and call flows, the typical room system dialing process can involve confusing remote controls and long dial chains. By “App-ifying” the dial experience, Blue Jeans Relay makes it drop dead easy. The mobile app pulls your calendar, and lists any appointments that include a Blue Jeans meeting. Touch the right meeting on the app, and it directs the Blue Jeans service to bring that room system into the call. Product Marketing Manager, Eric Tooley, gave me a quick booth demo, and it was as simple and easy as it sounds.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about Blue Jeans Relay is that it is just the first app from the Blue Jeans dev team. We should expect more from Blue Jeans, and perhaps even more from the development community due to the availability of their APIs.
Please check out my recent review of the popular VDO360 Compass camera for the details on this affordable USB solution for smaller meeting rooms and huddle rooms. It was great to catch up with Dan Freeman and Chip Manning from the VDO360 team to see what they have been working on.
First of all, they have created a new version of the Compass, based on user feedback. It seems that many users have no use for the RS232 camera control, but would love it if the camera met that “under $1,000” checkmark. Luckily, VDO360 realized they can simply make a model without that particular feature, and it would bring their price down to that level. A win / win.
I was also pleased to see they are building on one of their strengths, their remote control. While many competitive cameras in this class have a remote control that looks like it is designed to operate a nuclear power plant, the VDO360 is clean and simple. They showed me their redesigned remote control at the show, and it is even better.
Finally, they showed me a cool product, which can be very helpful for many of their installations. We all know that USB cables are only recommended up to a certain length (I believe about 15 feet, feel free to correct me in the comments). To properly wire some meeting rooms, you might need a little more than that. Their new Springline consists of two dongles. The first one changes from USB to a standard CAT cable, which can then be run up to 50 meters (164 ft). The second dongle shifts us back to USB. So either end is our easy to use USB connectors, but the middle is extended via CAT.
As smaller meeting rooms and huddle rooms continue to be a driving trend in 2015, the USB camera market will continue to heat up. VDO360 will have a lot of competition, and will seek to stand out with their unique styling, small footprint, great ease of use, and leading development.
Always great to catch up with CEO Tom-Erik Lia, and President Americas Karl Hantho from Videxio. They had a few cool things to show me, two of which I am particularly happy to share (and probably should have been able to predict).
The first is their runaway success. They have been growing at an enviable pace from day one, but in the last quarter it shifted from “nice” to “wow!” They showed me a chart and it literally shifts from a nice steady incline, to a nearly “hockey stick” incline. There are a few factors at work here. One is the growth of the market in general, another is continuing success of their partners and whitelabelers, and yet another is their recent expansion into China. I should have predicted this because all the pieces were in place and they were well poised for this kind of explosive growth.
The second big announcement is their development of their own client, My Meeting Video. Many cloud video vendors start off client-less, acting as the glue in the middle to make meetings work. However, there is a downside to this approach. They must rely on partners to define their own experience. Think of it this way, if a user of a Videxio supported service connects via Jabber, and doesn’t like the Jabber experience, it may somehow reflect on the Videxio supported service, unless they can offer an alternative via their own desktop experience.
It makes perfect sense for Videxio to create their own rebrandable client. I should have predicted this for an number of reasons. The Videxio team knows videoconferencing, and they certainly see the weaknesses of various clients and endpoints (including WebRTC) and can’t help but brainstorm about how they would like to do it better. In other words, I bet Tom-Erik didn’t have to push his devs that hard to create this, they were probably wanting to do this for some time already. I look forward to playing with the new client, and even more to seeing how it will continue to develop in later rounds.
I recently chatted with Karl Hantho about trends in the industry, and it is really exciting to see how much new stuff Videxio had to share since our chat. Keep an eye on this space, Videxio is moving quickly and I expect more good news in the near future.
There are big changes underway at Vidyo. Please check out my recent, very in depth article, about Vidyo’s latest developments. It was great to spend time with the team, and to see their new integrations and partnerships in person. Vidyo has gotten the message out that the VidyoWorks platform offers the flexibility and network performance required to add quality video to any application on the growing Internet of things. Developers are lining up to add video (via Vidyo) to their offerings. From video glasses, to banking kiosks, to “dial a doctor from your desktop” applications, the Vidyo booth was chock full of cutting edge partner platforms.
I particularly enjoyed watching Dave Michels grill Vidyo Founder, Ofer Shapiro, over dessert about new protocol standard developments. A lot of NDA information, but Dave tried his best to get Ofer to share what he could. All I can say is that it is very clear that Vidyo not only has a seat at the table for video protocol standards, they are particularly active and involved. They are the experts at this stuff (especially when it comes to the scale-able extensions), which is why they have positioned themselves as the go-to video enablement partner for today’s developers.
I also enjoyed speaking with new CEO, Eran Westman, about their recent successes and near-future, revenue focused, plans. Many in the industry have doubted the role of Vidyo, saying they were too different, or faced too many challenges from the established channel. I have always thought that their long term success was inevitable. The efficiency of their patented video technology, especially at massive scale, can not be denied. With developers from all fields starting to finally add video to their various applications and platforms, things are falling into place for Vidyo.
I recently chatted with Joan Vandermate from Vidyo at length about their role as the video enabler for IoT. As you can tell, I was extremely excited by the concept, so seeing it all in action at Enterprise Connect was certainly a treat. Please stay tuned as I expect a lot more bleeding edge implementations and partnerships from Vidyo to come.
The Acano team was all smiles, and for a number of reasons. Their platform continues to develop, they had a number of high profile new partnerships in the last year, and their basic approach to collaboration continues to be validated by the market and competitors. Persistent Team Messaging (PTM) is about as hot a feature as I have seen in the UC space. The runaway success of consumer apps like Slack and Hipchat demonstrate that people like this dynamic for connecting with people. Acano is the pioneer in taking PTM and upgrading it, by upgrading the chat rooms, to video meeting rooms with impressive interop support. You can expect Acano to continue to grow and score wins in 2015, and for me to write a lot more about PTM.
It was great catching up with CEO Mark Cray and PR/Marketing Director Melissa Hudson at the AGT booth. They filled me in on the latest partner successes under NDA, and it suddenly became clear how they manage to go up against the giants in the video services arena. They have incredibly strong relationships with their customers. As they were sharing success stories, they didn’t sound like they talking to clients about meeting orders, they sounded like they were working with their partners to solve problems. It is the usual tradeoff, a giant company may have more resources, but you may get less attention. When it comes to custom integrations and managed services for specific use cases, there is a lot to be said for extra attention.
I recently wrote an in-depth article about the PanaCast solution, and its Lync integration. It was great to catch up with CEO and President, Aurangzeb Khan at EC. Unfortunately, much of what he shared was NDA, but I can tell you it will be worth checking back for.
The PanaCast offers such unique benefits, it really is in its own category of solutions. My only concern is that it is so different, that customers may have trouble seeing the full value. I think those that read my previous write-up will understand that a far end viewer can pan around, and look wherever he wants. But is it clear that 50 viewers can be looking through that same camera, each one of them panning around separately and looking wherever they want? To achieve that result with traditional cameras, you would literally have to put 50 cameras in the room, one for each remote viewer. If the market can wrap their minds around this idea, we should start seeing the PanaCast pop up in some very interesting places.
Always good to catch up with Herold Williams and crew. With the product expected to ship soon, things were very exciting at the Array booth, and they continue to generate a lot of buzz with a new form factor for their Equal-i camera and image processor. Please check out Ira Weinstein’s interview with Array for more info about this head-turning new take on the old “bowling alley” meeting room view.
I spoke with Joe Laezza (Sr VP of UC and Collaboration) about AVI-SPL’s continuing development of its cloud video offerings. As with their hardware products, their plan is strong partnerships with several platform providers, to enable their sales teams to offer the right solution for any given customer. As the collaboration market continues to rapidly change, integrators and service providers are forced to change as well. As the biggest kid on the block, all eyes are on AVI-SPL. There is still plenty of hardware to be sold, and plenty of rooms that need integration services, but the opportunity for growth may be mostly in the cloud. With that in mind, Joe’s focus appears to be well directed. I look forward to touching base with the AVI-SPL team for a deeper dive next month when I attend their Media/Analysts day in Tampa.
I wish I had more time to check out everything at the Barco booth. I was happy to get a chance to see their wireless BYOD share solution up close and was impressed by its full feature set. There is a lot more going on here than mere screen mirroring. I look forward to following up with the Barco team to learn more.
Back in August, I covered a unique, and powerful, network troubleshooting tool called SpeedSight by Firebind. I saw co-founder Dave Patterson, at EC and briefly caught up. The tool has been well received by the industry, as it continues to help existing partners, and Dave was literally surrounded by cloud vendors who could potentially benefit from a SpeedSight integration. I recommend reviewing my original piece on SightSpeed if you work for a cloud vendor, and are at the mercy of intermittent network issues effecting your users. I hope to touch base with Dave again soon, to spend more time and dig deeper into his plans and strategy for the rest of 2015.
Phoenix Audio Technologies
I expected the Phoenix Spider to be successful when I reviewed it and experienced its quality for myself. In fact, the device has been so successful that Phoenix is expanding the line to include the new Smart Spider. While the original Spider is designed for typical meeting room AV/IT connections, the Smart Spider is a designed to work with our mobile devices to accommodate the BYOD powered meeting space. I look forward to learning more about the Smart Spider, and when I chatted with Jonathan Boaz, Phoenix VP of Sales & Marketing, he hinted that he would soon have even more news to share.
I spoke with Ken Scaturro (President) and was pleased to see the success of myVRM since I last covered them. While much of their newer “Workspace of Tomorrow” meeting resource management capabilities were under NDA, he was able to privately share case studies of high profile clients, who are clearly enjoying myVRM’s constant platform enhancements. They have an updated shared workspace module, new call monitoring and analytics capabilities as well as the updated room control panel application as shown above.
It is amazing how many meetings are impacted by poor planning, and we just accept it as a cost of doing business. We don’t realize how many details can be associated with the basic logistics of hosting a meeting. Every single one of those details is a potential issue, and potential distraction from the workflow of the meeting itself. MyVRM takes care of everything from scheduling the space, the people, the room resources, even parking spaces, and makes it all easily manageable from your calendar and the rebrandable myVRM app/portal. I look forward to taking a closer look at the solution in the near future.
Jordan Owens took me through the latest updates at the booth, and what really stood out for me was their WebRTC implementation. In my mind, plugin free WebRTC, or “pure WebRTC” is a very limited experience. It is just raw, browser based videoconferencing. If you want to create a real experience around it, you either need to use plugins (which Google is rumored to be killing in Chrome), or create an app/client for your users.
When Jordan was walking me through their WebRTC client, I was surprised at how much they have done with pure WebRTC. First of all, it is a real client. It has actual features. You can log into it, it has chat and presence, and amazingly, you can receive calls on it. I believe Pexip is one of a very short list of pure WebRTC implementations that can receive (and choose to accept or reject) calls in the same manner as a client or app.
Like I said, Pexip has a lot going on. I plan on staying in close touch, so I can keep you updated as things continue to develop.
It’s been less than a year since the SMART Kapp was announced at InfoComm 2014, and it has won many analyst and media awards. But the only real thing that matters is the market reaction. I met with Jeff Lowe, VP Marketing, who let me know that they are not just flying off the shelves as expected, but they are selling so fast they don’t even get to the shelves. Customers are grabbing them as fast as SMART can make them. In response to customer demand, they are making a new 84″ version for larger spaces.
They are also announcing a “premium” upgrade for the free service behind the SMART Kapp device. While the premium option wasn’t that big of a surprise, the cost absolutely was. I expected something like $19.95 per month, but it is actually $1.99 per month (the cost of one of those angry bird games).
I have a SMART Kapp hanging on the wall behind me now, so expect some more thoughts on this unique and popular product, as I put it through its paces.
I also spent some time playing with their latest full feature SMART Board and it was exactly what I would want from SMART in 2015. The newest models look and feel more like giant tablets, as opposed to touch enabled whiteboards. No one is going to draw on these with a real marker by accident. It also felt more responsive than previous models and had all the expected bells and whistles and some new treats. It even incorporated workflow elements based on user feedback (everyone expects the back of the stylus to erase, so now it erases). There is a lot more competition and noise in this area, and the Microsoft Surface Hub has been making waves, so by staying ahead and pushing development, SMART could ride pretty high on some of those waves.
LDV podcast viewers should know how I feel about StarLeaf. From a nuts and bolts perspective it is one of the more capable cloud video platforms, with some unique differentiators. But what it’s most known for is its unique styling, both in hardware, and UI. The ease of use and clean workflow is also notable. Although I have been covering StarLeaf for a while, I have to admit that their new take on Lync integration (I will start calling it Skype4B tomorrow…) really surprised me. Every vendor on the EC floor has some kind of Lync story, and they are all trying to stand out, but this was completely unique, and it actually took me a few seconds to wrap my mind around it.
Unlike almost every other Lync integration I have seen, this wasn’t just about connecting their service to Lync. This was the creation of a new hybrid of an endpoint. The GTm 5220 looks and feels like a StarLeaf endpoint, but in reality it is just a regular Lync call. That means you provision it just like a Lync client, as part of your normal Lync rollout. You connect to it from your Lync environment just as you would call any other Lync endpoint. But when your guests walk into your meeting room and look on the screen, they see what appears to be a StarLeaf endpoint and UI (cool touchpad and all), with its sleek styling and design. It’s Lync dressed up to look like StarLeaf.
This product is brilliant from a strategic point of view. It can be sold as a one-of, separate and apart from the StarLeaf cloud or any other StarLeaf items. In other words, you can just buy the one box for your one fancy meeting room for a high end meeting room experience running off your Lync environment. However, once you have that in place, it does become tempting to take a look at StarLeaf’s new SBC, which can be used to poke through your firewall and connect your entire Lync environment to the StarLeaf cloud. Now, not just the one room system, but your whole Lync userbase, can use the power of StarLeaf’s interop cloud to call anyone, on any device.
William MacDonald (CTO) and Hellene Garcia (GM, North America), had to be very patient with me during this briefing. I kept wanting to know how the GTm 5220 was interoping with the vanilla Lync system at their booth, and they kept having to remind me, this was not an interop call, it was Lync to Lync. Now that I get it, my only concern with the GTm 5220 is that very few analysts will cover it, because it is so unique and different that it is somewhat hard to explain in words. In fact, I haven’t seen it mentioned in any of the other EC wrap-ups despite the fact that it is one of the most unique Lync concepts at EC. I guess when it comes to learning about StarLeaf, other websites may be “kind of a risky bet.” 😉
I was pleased to see Tata leverage the Acano platform for their Jamvee UC solution. I was more pleased to see how much they have developed and customized the platform since I’ve last taken a look at it.
I was particularly impressed by their unique use of the “lobby” space in the videoconferencing world. Many virtual meetings will not allow guests to join, until the host arrives. Early guests are put in a “lobby” which is essential a screen with a message telling them to wait for the host. Tata has leveraged this space with a number of context appropriate options. Another reminder that I really need to work Jamvee into my testing rotation sometime soon.
Vaddio has done a great service to our industry. For many people, their first experience with a USB camera was a Vaddio demo. Since the Vaddio cameras are such high quality, this has helped to make the market comfortable with the entire concept of huddle room video, which is now almost reinventing the marketplace. While the market for USB huddle room cameras is getting crowded, Vaddio remains a big part of any discussion on the subject. Their RoboSHOT series is powerful and attractive. I am also a fan of their GroupStation and HuddleStation product lines, which makes it quick and easy to turn up a BYOD meeting space. I would love to see these products enjoy more press. I touched base with Hailey Klein (Marketing Communications Manager, follow her @Vaddio_Hailey on Twitter) and look forward to briefing with them soon to learn about their big plans for InfoComm, where they always have one of the most fun booths at the show.
I had a great chat with Greg Douglas, Exec VP of Sales, about Yorktel’s current position in the space. As another integrator / service provider competing against the 800 lb gorilla, they also have to work hard to maintain tight relationships with their customers. But the real buzz around Yorktel’s booth is all the cool stuff they are doing in some of our hotter vertical markets (healthcare and financial services in particular). We have all waited for the day when we got adept enough with our video technology, to apply it to vertical specific applications for maximum targeted ROI. While Yorktel has a well rounded offering, including the entire UC and VC integration and management area, they have been doing an excellent job over the last few quarters of associating their brand with successful vertical applications.
Full Disclosure: A few Let’s Do Video sponsors were exhibiting at EC 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 “Booth Briefings” section above, but everyone that we found interesting (and had time to brief with) was covered. Apologies to those I missed. Let’s set up those InfoComm briefings early!