I recently touched base with Polycom for two separate briefings on topics of great interest to Polycom customers, and the collaboration community in general. The first briefing was with Laura Marx (Senior Director Alliance Marketing), who shared some insight about Polycom’s RealConnect for Lync, their unique relationship with Microsoft, and why it matters to the user. I also spoke with Alphonzo Albright (Global Director Government), about the role of technology in disaster recovery, as well as Polycom’s approach to supporting vertical markets.
If you have been to any communication related tradeshow in the last year, you know that every vendor is boasting of their Lync integration. However, few (if any) can boast of a strong partnership with Microsoft itself, on the level that Polycom has enjoyed for many years. The result for end users is a more natural experience, whether calling from Polycom or Lync. In other words, Lync users will get a native Lync experience, and Polycom RealPresence users will enjoy their native experience. Laura explained, that while Polycom and Lync have worked well together for a long time, the new RealConnect feature is what enables this native workflow, call creation, scheduling, and meeting experience, which should help increase adoption by the user base. Allowing users to make calls using their familiar tools, without compromise, is generally a winning strategy.
The technology to enable this is extremely complicated, but fortunately it is all behind the scenes. From the customer perspective, Lync and Polycom users can simply join the meeting. The technology in the background works to ensure not just basic connectivity, but maximum possible call quality and feature support (screenshare, etc).
RealConnect offers strong Outlook support for both Lync and standard VC room users. Meetings can be scheduled directly from within Outlook, and include a “click to join” link for Lync users, as well as dialing instructions for meeting room VC systems. Leveraging the industry standard calendar as the solution’s scheduling system is another example of allowing customers to use their familiar tools, rather than forcing them to learn new systems, which is a clear barrier to adoption.
This new feature is particularly relevant and timely. Connecting Lync to traditional VC is more than a “nice to have” in the enterprise. The workforce is increasingly Lync enabled and it is becoming, in many cases, their chosen communications tool. Meanwhile, many meeting rooms are already equipped with high quality, traditional video equipment. It makes no sense to open a laptop in the middle of the conference table to allow remote parties to call in on Lync, when they should be up on the existing big VC screen at the end of the table, to enjoy the better camera angle and overall superior video experience. RealConnect allows enterprises to increase the ROI of these existing systems, by making them the effective portal for all virtual meeting participants. Obviously, having remote attendees simply dial in on the phone does not allow for the same level of effective participation that can be expected when they attend on video. Maximizing the experience, by using the high quality meeting room solution, with the same ease of connection as if it were Lync to a laptop, is a win/win for Polycom customers.
Final notes on Polycom’s Lync integration. I checked back with them and confirmed that Microsoft’s recent announcement that Lync will be rebranded as Skype 4 Business will have no impact on the Polycom relationship, or RealConnect users. In addition, Polycom recently won the 2014 LDV Readers’ Choice Award for best Lync Integration.
Disaster Recovery and Vertical Market Support
In other Polycom news, I enjoyed a very interesting briefing with Alphonzo Albright, Polycom’s internal expert on government and disaster recovery issues. Alphonzo is a Harvard Alumnus (John F. Kennedy School of Government), which led to 24 year career in government culminating in roles as New York City’s CIO of the Office of IT, and the Deputy Commissioner for the Greater New York Area Office of Administration. While his organizational expertise is extensive, we focused our discussion on business continuity and disaster recovery. I shared my experiences as a Katrina evacuee (when the system completely failed), and Alphonzo shared his experience as a volunteer for the more recent Sandy disaster, where better systems and process resulted in a much quicker recovery, despite the intensity of the storm and extensive initial damage.
Despite having no power in his area for 16 days after Sandy, Alphonzo was able to drive to a nearby community that had some functional towers and touch base with his team via his iPad. For over two weeks he worked in this manner, which provides a real life example of how connectivity and communication is the first essential step to recovery and repair. While Alphonzo’s experience is based on government orgs, his expertise in disaster recovery is equally applicable to business. After all, disasters do not discriminate, and every day your business is down, you are losing money and your customers are considering other options.
While many conferencing vendors offer tools and solutions that could be helpful in a disaster recovery situation, only Polycom offers their customers the opportunity to work with Alphonzo himself, to be sure these tools are implemented and managed in a manner that maximizes their potential effectiveness. We spoke about Polycom’s interesting strategy for supporting vertical markets, like government and disaster recovery. Polycom has a number of internal experts similar to Alphonzo, but in different fields. The result is that when you work with Polycom, they will have someone from your world, who speaks your language, and can understand and address your unique needs. Rather than just dealing with a camera salesman, you are dealing with an expert in your field, ready to help you take your processes to the next level.
The visual collaboration industry is under complete disruption, as both the technology, and customer expectations, are developing and shifting at a rapid pace. Lync seems to be a lighthouse in the storm for some, as its ties to Office 365 will all but guarantee significant adoption. Polycom is wisely putting, not all, but a fair amount of eggs in the Lync basket. Polycom is also wise to devote its attention and resources to something that no amount of industry disruption will make irrelevant, their user needs. By hosting experts in various customer fields, Polycom is enabling a unique connection with their customers and providing a unique value add. No matter what happens in the world of VC tech, Polycom with the help of their vertical experts, will be ready to help their customers apply solutions to thoroughly address their specific needs.