Both Acano and AVI-SPL have very interesting, and compelling, visions for their place in the video collaboration ecosystem. I think the convergence of their stories is a great example of the new opportunities enterprises now have at their disposal, to expand their videoconferencing networks, and get their employees easily turned on and making calls. To find out more, I reached out to both companies to get the scoop from their thought leaders in the space. At the same time, the LDV team has been using Acano to demo it first hand.
AVI-SPL is adding the Acano offering to its existing line of supported products and services. It will be available in a number of consumption models (on prem appliance, on prem virtualized software, private hosted installation, cloud based service), to suit the various needs of AVI-SPL’s wide customer base. The goal is not to re-label it as an AVI-SPL product, but to sell the solution under the Acano brand.
The Acano Story
I spoke with Larry Satterfield and Jean Rosauer to get the inside details from the Acano point of view. Acano is sold completely through partners. Ideally, when a customer organization is interested in Acano, they can choose to get it from one of their existing integrator/reseller/provider relationships. Considering AVI-SPL’s global reach, Microsoft Gold certification, and existing client base, this partnership certainly helps to put Acano directly in front of a number of high profile organizations who already “get” the value of videoconferencing. These customers are starting to ride the wave of video beyond the boardroom and the time is right for them to explore new value added services such as Acano.
In my opinion, there are a number of buzzworthy new entries to the cloud VC market, each with its own set of differentiators and strengths. Yet somehow Acano is always one of the first names on everyone’s lips during cloud VC discussions. What is it that makes Acano one of the analyst favorites? Why do they get so much fawning coverage? In my opinion, they have simply done a number of important things very well since day one. Let’s take a quick look.
1. Strong Interop Story
The core of the Acano solution is a video meeting room in the sky, that everyone can easily connect to from their device and client of choice. This particular subsection of the Cloud VC market is very hot right now. Regardless of whatever other differentiators and features Acano can offer, it needed to be in the top tier of interop virtual rooms with solid connections to traditional video systems, as well as browser (WebRTC), Lync, phone, and mobile support. By coming out of the gate with a strong interop story,Acano has positioned itself to be a contender for any customer focused on this piece of the puzzle.
2. More Than the Interop Meeting Room
Creating and productizing a capable video interop technology is no trivial matter. It could be temping to simply go to market with nothing more than the technology supporting the service, and rely on partners to create a product and experience around it. While these infrastructure-only solutions may be well suited for specific partnerships with existing VC providers, they will have a hard time getting any sort of groundswell from users. An Acano call has a specific feel and experience that guest and trial users can build a positive association with, and request at their own workplaces. If you are a bridge in the background, no matter how good you are, users will have a hard time understanding what you do. It was wise of Acano to go beyond a virtual, cloud room, by wrapping their own experience, and branding, around and within the service.
3. The Decision to Make the Client Unique
After making the decision to create a branded experience, Acano could have simply created a typical UI with their own branding and called it a day. We all know the basic elements of a videocall UI, right? You need your mute, share screen, end call, and the other obvious buttons. Acano deserves credit for thinking outside the box, and creating not only a unique UI experience, but enabling completely different workflows with their coSpace concept. As you use Acano, you will see what I am talking about in everything from call initiation, to chat integration, to the unique way you can use multiple devices in the same meeting (for example, you can use your phone for audio while using your desktop for video and your tablet to view a presentation, all as one caller).
4. The Appreciation of Workflow
By implementing common tools in novel ways, Acano have added productivity and project management elements to their communication platform. Simple, subtle aspects of the experience, such as the way it encourages you to name your coSpaces and use them for individual teams and projects, drive users to leverage it for much more than video calls. A more powerful example is their implementation of chat. Text chat itself, both within and apart from video calls, is obviously nothing new. However, Acano has implemented it in a unique way, by making the chat persistent, and by unifying the chat for each coSpace during and outside of calls. In other words, if during a meeting in your “Product Design Team CoSpace”, someone makes a note in chat, you will not only be able to see that after the meeting, but can add additional notes which any other member of that team can see at any time, whether within that coSpace’s video room or not. With many competitors, chat is ethereal, a temporary means of sharing links or text during a call, with no tie to any permanent workspace.
Another key aspect of workflow is call-flow. There are many ways to make a connection. I can call you, you can call me, we can both call a virtual room, the virtual room can call one of us, and either of us can be on any number of clients or devices. While I tend to think of Acano as a virtual room, it actually can also function as a direct dial client, while still supporting Acano’s interoperability. This really opens up its flexibility in terms of call-flow. For example, if you are invited to a video meeting on someone else’s video meeting room, you don’t have to close out of Acano and walk to the old meeting room system to dial in. You can use Acano to call into those traditional video meeting rooms as if it was an endpoint. With some of Acano’s interop competitors, you can connect everyone, but you need to ask them to use your room. Acano, on the other hand, empowers users as either hosts or guests.
5. The Business End
While I like to focus on the offering itself, for the benefit of my end-user readers, Acano deserves some kudos here for their business approach. They’ve made themselves an extremely attractive partner by the flexible nature of their offering (appliance, virtualized installation, private hosted, cloud). It is up to the customer whether they want to manage their own environment with the Acano Manager, or outsource it to their hosting provider. Acano also made a wise choice to not rely solely on partners to handle the marketing burden, and have created a strong program to support and provide synergy to partner marketing teams. AVI-SPL is highly leveraging this support, with their salesfolk working closely with the Acano team at “Acano Academy” to create a specialized program to specifically address the nuances of this partnership. By positioning themselves as a good partner, and as a customer identifiable solution with viral potential, Acano is covering all the bases to drive growth.
The AVI-SPL Story
I spoke with Joe Laezza, Sr VP of UCC at AVI-SPL, to get the story from the other side of this equation. Joe shared that AVI-SPL is seeing strong adoption of video technology in certain fields such as government (see video above), healthcare and education, and is paying particularly close attention to the changing uses and expectations of their customers. The idea of working with Acano originally came from one of their EDU focused specialists, Erin Minich, AVI-SPL’s Director of Education Collab Services. I spoke with Erin and she shared with me how the unique feature-set of Acano can be leveraged to provide powerful options to a learning environment. Erin and the AVI-SPL team started with that nucleus and developed it into a strategy to provide Acano in ways designed to suit and support all of AVI-SPL’s customers and verticals.
Industry pundits were questioning how this would effect the VMR currently offered in connection to AVI-SPL’s managed services. Joe explained that AVI-SPL needs to offer its customers a number of options and choices of how to consume video to ensure their needs are met and their problems are solved, so there is nothing unusual in AVI-SPL supporting multiple technologies. The key is flexibility for their customers.
Speaking of flexibility, one of the highlights of the Acano partnership is that AVI-SPL will be supporting the full range of Acano offerings. If your organizations wants to host their own appliance internally, they can buy Acano in a box or a virtualized appliance on their own server. If they want to own it, but don’t want to host it, AVI-SPL will support that as well. And finally, for those wanting an OPEX communications infrastructure, they will be selling it as a pure software service. Regardless of how Acano is deployed, AVI-SPL can then help to ensure the solution is properly integrated into your communications environment, so that the solution will actually get adopted and your team can actually enjoy the benefits and see real ROI.
With that in mind, along with the LDV’s team’s personal appreciation for the Acano solution after a few weeks of informal testing, is that this is a win for AVI-SPL, who now boasts another piece to their cloud video story, a win for Acano, who now has the global video integration leader directly helping their growth, and a big win for consumers, who can now get this exciting new technology with AVI-SPL support. It’s dangerous to make predictions in this industry, but the success of this particular partnership is a pretty safe bet.