Thinking about transitions

I was recently in a web conference that included a physical meeting room with some 5-6 people in it whilst others in the meeting were connected to WebEx.  Whilst no issues technically, the mix of physical and virtual, in my opinion just wasn’t effective.  Now, normally in a 100% WebEx meeting there  is an indication of identity and who is speaking.  It is a great attempt to visualise physical meetings.  Nothing new there, it has been around for ages and as a platform is brilliant.

However, when a meeting room dials in and is shared between multiple people in a room, the physical to virtual is completely lost.  Yes you can see the room speaking, but identities are not prevalent and this is a problem, especially if you are not familiar with the personnel at the other end.

This leads me to believe that we are in a transition.  I believe that transitions are short periods of time that help us evolve to better methods of achieving or goal.  They also have their ups and downs until we get through it.  Do you remember the compact disc?  That was a transition.  It was a transition to where we are now with streaming media.  It was supposed to be more durable than vinyl with crystal clear clarity in digital form.  It delivered that, but in a short period, it has been superceded by music downloads and of course the mp3 player that not only offer the supberb quality in sound and vision, but also the simplicity to obtaining content.

Obviously every transition will have a start and an end.  In this case the start is a physical meeting.  Traditional in every sense, but now as we embrace and extend globalisation and boundaryless enterprises our colleagues and more importantly the knowledge pools are being pull together from far-flung places across the globe.  Technology has allowed us to do this, but we don’t always get it right.  Admittedly the physical meeting is king, but productivity can still soar using multiparty voice and the combination of both.  I think we’ve proved that as we continue to increase the usage of online conferences.

The goal however, is to emulate the physical meeting as much as possible and that’s where video has to be the answer…for now.  Not just any video but high-definition real-time video.  It is here today, but the usage is minor compared to voice and I think that is just a matter of time before video overtakes voice on the network as it becomes more affordable and the quality increases.

So, I have to keep reminding myself, not to dismiss what we have today, embrace it and accept that the transition to video is almost here.

UC in the sky with dialers

Hello again!  It’s been a while since my last post and lots has happened in between.  I won’t go into detail except to say I’ve been flirting with twitter and facebook and sadly still can’t get away from that old relic known as e-mail.

Back to this post.  I’ve been thinking about Unified Communications and Cloud services in fact UCaaS to be specific.

As we all know, UC is a collection of communication tools that historically were siloed.  The telephone, Email, Voice Mail, IM, Video Conferencing and so on.  In the last couple of years and more so this year, we have seen a massive increase in Software as a Service…services targetted at the Enterprise with some very tempting benefits.  Some have made the move successfully whilst others need time to build trust to embrace the concept.  This is particularly true in the finance sector where concerns about security and location of data referenced against local regulations makes it all the more difficult to entertain a move from on-premise to the cloud.  I’m sure this will change over time as richer and more secure services become available and of course the economies of scale kick in and make it a no brainer.

Email and IM in the cloud is nothing new, as consumers, we have been doing it for years, but what about the other services that make up the UC pie? Well this is where I get to the point of this post.  Moving telephony into the cloud… telephony as a service. Nothing new except the providers in the market today are not the traditional Telco.

Look at Cisco, Microsoft, Google and many others who want to provide UCaaS.  To provide 100% UC aren’t they going to have to provide a dialer in the sky? Today, out of the three I mention Cisco are the only one capable of providing on premise Telephony integration into their Saas (WebEx Mail/Connect), but that’s obvious as they are incumbant for Enterprise telephony.  What if an Enterprise wanted to move their PBX off premise and integrate it into their cloud based Email, IM etc?  Will the current big name UCaaS… service providers become Telcos and be regulated as such?

Will Cisco, Microsoft, Google etc now be competing with the likes of BT, Verizon, Singtel, France Telecom and so on?

Wikis – An open book.

I love this post by Mary Abraham on how wikis mess with your mind.  It’s absolutely true within an organisational culture.  I’ve experienced it and I too started off with apprehension that was quickly changed to addiction.  At my previous employer wikis took off albeit a little slowly, but nonetheless ahead of most of our competitors.  The success was simply down to sponsorship from the top down.  The benefits were immediate, the knowledge and the talent in the organisation was blown open and collaboration across teams grew organically or so it seemed.

Virtual teams were created in the content and grew over time.  The fact that people contributed through their own interests was culture changing.  We took it a stage further by integrating presence into the wiki with the goal of creating a tacit knowledge base; meaning that you had the ability to communicate in real-time with contributors to extend the collaboration.

I’m now working on creating a similar platform (or repeating the success) with presence everywhere, but the technology part is easy, the challenge now is to introduce the culture of an open book into the organisation where everyone can publish, search, consume and converse.  That sounds very similar to my old boss JP’s vision of Four Pillars.

Well of course, that’s the culture I supported.

Same old problems.

I remember back in the late 1990s I worked on a project for GE to deploy Microsoft Exchange. GE at the time made a corporate decision to deploy a single messaging platform throughout the globe to overcome what they saw as a business communication problem. They used the analogy of a representative from GE Plastics walking past the representative from GE Lighting in the corridors of General Motors or Chrysler not knowing that they were both working for the same company with the same client and not being able to share any information. They believed that working together Plastics and Lighting could benefit the customer as well as GE. The case was compelling and the sponsorship of a single messaging platform came from the top, it had Jack Welch’s buy-in!

Reading Andrew McAfee’s post today I was reminded of this age and it occurred to me that we are still trying to solve this problem but this time the technology is Enterprise 2.0 and the use of Wikis and Blogs in a bid to reduce the use of email.

His students responses, in my view, are right on the button and his dissection of the responses make perfect sense. They mention cases where Wikis and Blogs can improve the collaboration between diverse businesses and teams within many different organisations, they highlight how collaboration and knowledge sharing can improve business processes, but I still can’t help thinking that whilst technology is evolving and we have new problems to solve, we’ve not fixed the problems that existed all those years ago.

Looking at it from another point of view, maybe we are solving the problem, but in stages. Email was the first step, but we are far from finished.

Microsoft Zimbra?

I really like Zimbra’s collaboration suite.  I remember looking into Zimbra, amongst others,  a few years ago when I decided to investigate what alternatives corporate Microsoft Exchange users had if they chose not to follow the MS Exchange road map.

At the time many of the alternatives available on the market lacked mobility, archiving and Outlook integration.  These were some of the criteria at the time.

The lack of functionality is no longer the case.  Zimbra now supports true push to Blackberry devices and also incorporates archiving and discovery.  The reality of moving from a Microsoft server platform is becoming reality.

Having said all that, look a little harder at the corporate level and you’ll see that Zimbra is owned by Yahoo and there is a possibility that this could all fall under a Microsoft brand in the future.  So what will become of Zimbra or indeed Exchange (which incidental is in need of a serious overall from the ground up)?

I can’t wait, but I fear we will all have to.