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hookflash ~ for the way we work

Wow! The last few weeks have been incredibly stressful, and it all paid off at DEMO FAll 2011. Here is the video:

Go to hookflash.com to sign up for the early preview of hookflash for the iPad.

Going Mobile? Have a Strategy!

There is no doubt that today’s workforce is much more mobile than it used to be years ago. It’s become even hard to define mobility and mobile workers – do we only refer to people frequently on the road, or also commuters and remote workers? And then where do you draw the line between mobile and deskbound workers – more specifically, how mobile are mobile workers? Are they away from their desks 20 percent of the time, 50 percent of the time, more, less? But strict classifications only matter when you are actually designing a strategy and selecting the most appropriate solutions for your workforce. The fact that everyone is becoming increasingly mobile cannot be denied.

As customer demands evolve, so do vendor strategies and solutions. In fact, one may say that mobile technologies (devices, apps, etc.) are proliferating even faster than mobile workers. With that, choices are harder to make. Which is the right solution for your business and your workforce? With mobility solutions being so diverse, they are even hard to compare, so how do you choose the solution that’s best for you?

A good starting point may be to consider what mobile solutions your employees are bringing into the enterprise. We talk a lot about “consumerization of IT” and most of the time we are referring to professionals using their mobile devices or some consumer apps (such as Skype, Facebook or Twitter) to conduct business more efficiently. In fact, consumerization has redefined mobility. An increasing number of workers are bringing their high-end smartphones and tablets to their workplace and using them for storing company information, leveraging the enterprise WLAN  for communication or Web browsing, using social networking tools to communicate, and accessing embedded multimedia tools. Due to this phenomenon, an increasing number of employees are beginning to request some level of technology and application support from their IT departments. Some facts provide further evidence of the power of this trend. In less than three years, the iPhone became mainstream in 80+ percent of the Fortune 500 companies; in less that two years, Android business users reached three million; in under a year, tablets have gone from newbie to necessity among technologists and mainstream buyers alike. As employees increasingly use their personal iPhones and iPads for business, IT needs to take note.

But the consumerization of  IT and its imact on mobile business communications poses signifcant challenges to IT. A few months back, Melanie Turek, Industry Director with Frost & Sullivan wrote:

“To that end, companies have several options:

  1. Provide (i.e. buy) one standard device in each category (smart phone, tablet) for a growing number of employees. This lets the business own the hardware and software, and maintain security and control over identity, applications and network traffic—as well as what happens to access and data when the employee leaves the organization. The downside, of course, is that it will significantly increase the IT budget, and it limits choice for employees.
  2. Ask employees to use their personal tools for business, but officially support one or more devices with business applications. This keeps the budget in check, and it gives IT nominal control over the business applications employees use on their mobile devices. But it forces users to juggle multiple “identities” on a single device, and it does not give the company true security, since employees can download any applications they like on a smart phone or tablet that they own. It also doesn’t ensure that contact info stays with the business when the employee leaves.
  3. Don’t purchase or support mobile devices for the majority of employees. This keeps IT out of the mobility game, and it is the least expensive option—in the short run. In the long run it could prove costly indeed, as employees either hack their devices to run enterprise apps under the radar, or follow the company’s policy lead and don’t attempt to work from anywhere but their office PC.

Deciding on a mobile policy will be one of the biggest budget and technology-support challenges for companies in the years to come, and it will involve business decisions as much as technology ones.”

My colleagues Alaa Saayed and Francisco Rizzo will provide a perspective on enterprise mobility in an upcoming free webinar. If you are interested in attending, please follow this link to register: http://t.co/RJXEpub

 

Headsets: Cool, Ergonomic, Effective

Headsets. You probably don’t think of them as a particularly exciting conversation topic for a high-tech cocktail party. But they are quickly becoming a key integral part of a knowledge worker’s communications endpoint set. The newest models look snazzy and they help users work in an ergonomic way, while being more efficient and taking better advantage of their communications tools.

I cannot imagine my life without a headset. I think, going forward, as we become an increasingly services-based society with a larger portion of the workforce spending significant amounts of time communicating and collaborating using various forms of voice communication (desktop phones, web-based or thick clients, mobile devices, etc.), headsets will gain even greater popularity.

Frost & Sullivan’s Alaa Saayed and Francisco Rizzo just finished a study titled World Professional Headset Markets. They found out that the contact center (CC) and office (O) headset market bounced back in 2010 after a few years of negative growth. Global revenue in 2010 was $788.9 million, an impressive 19.5 percent increase from 2009.  They are projecting a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) for professional headset revenues over the forecast period (2011-2017) of 10.7 percent. 

It appears that the increasing adoption of Unified Communications (UC) solutions is the main growth driver for headsets in the enterprise space. Headset vendors are beginning to differentiate UC headset sales from traditional headset sales. Frost & Sullivan estimates that approximately 10 percent of contact center and office (CC&O) headset revenue in 2010 came from UC headset sales.

You are probably wondering what a UC headset is. Even the authors of the study admit that “Unified Communications (UC)-enabled headsets are an emerging and evolving type of devices and, with some ambiguity surrounding UC itself, it’s easy to confuse what these devices are really offering to the end user “. Here is how they defined UC headsets:

“Simply put, UC headsets expand the communication eco-system, permitting remote work groups to efficiently collaborate in real time. Also, UC headsets are usually described as advanced endpoints that are used across devices, platforms and applications. Frost & Sullivan believes that these headsets are both fueling growth in the UC market as well as benefiting from the strong adoption of UC in the enterprise space (snow-ball effect). For a headset to be considered UC it must be able to:

·               Interact with a PC via USB dongle, USB adapter or base station.

·               Integrate with different UC communications servers (e.g. Microsoft, IBM, Cisco, Avaya, among others)

While many UC headsets offer superior sound quality, smart sensor technology, battery status notifications, and many other advanced features, these should not to be confused as being UC-only features. For a headset to be considered UC it must include the two aforementioned attributes.

A third criterion, headset-user presence, is also beginning to appear on the newest headset models. While not all UC headsets today include presence, Frost & Sullivan considers that this will become a standard in all UC headsets moving forward.”

The majority of headset vendors have picked up on the UC trend and are developing partnerships with UC solution providers such as Avaya, Cisco, IBM, Microsoft, among others.  They are launching UC-certified headsets that integrate directly into certain UC platforms and offer advanced functionality such as presence. 

First-generation UC deployments tend to use corded headsets and not wireless. The trend, however, has been to purchase wireless headsets once the corded headsets have completed their life cycle.

The UC opportunity is also changing the channel, with system integrators taking a more prominent role. Frost & Sullivan believes that system integrators have the largest future CC&O headset growth potential.

Overall, Frost & Sullivan believes that the UC opportunity is one of the most significant opportunities in the headset market’s history and expects this trend to significantly boost headset sales going forward.

Plantronics’ Savi Office and the newly launched Savi 440 and Savi 700, Voyager PRO UC, as well as their Blackwire 200, 420 and 600 series are examples of advanced, UC headsets, interoperable with various UC technologies.

Look at the Voyager PRO UC.  It’s a Bluetooth headset, which automatically answers calls, transfers calls between the mobile phone and the headset, and when the user is on a mobile or PC call, softphone presence is automatically updated. It also eliminates accidental dialing by locking the call button when the headset is not worn. Users also get voice alerts about remaining talk time, connection status, battery level and mute.

Source: Plantronics: http://www.plantronics.com/us/product/voyager-pro

GN Netcom’s portfolio also features a number of UC headsets in the BIZ, GN, Go and PRO series. Let’s take the Jabra Go 6470 Bluetooth Wireless headset system as an example. It is a multi-purpose headset that works with desktop, mobile and PC phones. It also features a touch screen with a smart setup wizard, automatic microphone tuning and phone compatibility settings, wideband sound (150–6,800 Hz), and the dual-microphone Noise Blackout system.

Source: Jabra: http://www.jabra.com/na-us/headsetsolutions/pages/jabrago6400.aspx

As communications tools proliferate in the workplace, users will be increasingly tempted to seek to consolidate their communications endpoints. Headsets are becoming increasingly intelligent, providing some basic call-control capabilities and a single access to multiple communications devices (desktop, PC and mobile phones). As IT looks to consolidate systems at the back end, users will increasingly demand some consolidation at the front end. And who doesn’t want to be able to communicate hands-free – not just when driving, but also while in the office? Multi-tasking is the knowledge worker’s most common MO (modus operandi) and we are no strangers to typing, filing, viewing web pages or even handling some household chores while on hours-long conference calls. I believe, in the future, headsets will become the most common device among office workers.

Is IP Communications Really for Me?

I know. You have heard enough about IP communications, unified communications, cloud communications, and any other fancy communications the industry pundits choose to talk about. But it’s still hard to make the right decisions. Vendors are sending confusing messages. Your internal stakeholders are not agreeing on what is best for your business. It may be worth for you (IT or telecom person) to sit down and think really hard (again) about your specific challenges and objectives and then make some better informed and more confident decision about your infrastructure evolution.

IP communications, VoIP, UC, etc. mean different things to different people. Benefits vary from business to business. Deployment methods vary from business to business. The more technology evolution accelerates and the more complex communications architectures become, the more important it is to go through a proper assessment and discovery process prior to make radical, or even incremental, technology changes.

But you are always too busy to strategize. There is always too much on your plate – and everything needs to be handled right here, right now. And that’s how you get trapped in a vicious cycle – having to make rash decisions to only partially resolve major operational or strategic issues.

It’s hard to do, but you need to take the time and launch a structured initiative, with all key stakeholders on board, to properly analyze your challenges and recommend sustainable, long-term solutions. This is the only way you can make your infrastructure work for you – make you more efficient and a more valuable asset within the organization.

I will be talking about the benefits of IP communications, the evolving value proposition of IP telephony and the key elements of a proper assessment and discovery process at this free webinar on June 14, at 11 am ET. To register, please follow this link. A recording will be available if you are unable to attend.

So it begins. Skype for Asterisk falls.

It looks like the first victim in the Microsoft acquisition of Skype is Digium and the open source PBX – Asterisk. The following is an email sent to existing Skype for Asterisk users…

Skype for Asterisk will not be available for sale or activation after July 26, 2011.

Skype for Asterisk was developed by Digium in cooperation with Skype. It includes proprietary software from Skype that allows Asterisk to join the Skype network as a native client. Skype has decided not to renew the agreement that permits us to package this proprietary software. Therefore Skype for Asterisk sales and activations will cease on July 26, 2011.

This change should not affect any existing users of Skype for Asterisk. Representatives of Skype have assured us that they will continue to support and maintain the Skype for Asterisk software for a period of two years thereafter, as specified in the agreement with Digium. We expect that users of Skype for Asterisk will be able to continue using their Asterisk systems on the Skype network until at least July 26, 2013. Skype may extend this at their discretion.

Skype for Asterisk remains for sale and activation until July 26, 2011. Please complete any purchases and activations before that date.

Thank you for your business.

Digium Product Management

One has to wonder what will become of Skype Connect, Skype’s answer to SIP Trunking. Will Microsoft shut off the Skype Connect vendors (Cisco, Avaya, Grandstream, etc.) as well?

Original forum post here.

SIP Trunking Helps Bridge the IP Islands

Businesses are gradually migrating to IP-based platforms and solutions. Frost & Sullivan’s research shows that most businesses that have not yet deployed IP telephony plan to do so in the next few years. But not everyone is ready to make the move. And practically no business is willing to forklift its entire existing infrastructure overnight. 

The major holdbacks in IP telephony and UC adoption are typically related to concerns over how to protect existing, unamortized assets and ensure continuity when migrating to new communications architectures. Therefore, most businesses are cautious in their implementation of VoIP and IP telephony and are only gradually migrating individual platforms and sites, thus creating “islands” of IP technologies within the company’s communications environment. SIP trunking helps bridge these islands.

VoIP access and SIP trunking services involve the provision of integrated circuits using VoIP or SIP technologies to enterprises that have implemented premises-based enterprise telephony solutions (Private Branch Exchanges (PBXs)/IP PBXs or key systems). In a VoIP access or SIP trunking scenario, the service provider typically offers local dial tone, long-distance calling, and a limited set of call-management and control features such as extension dialing to intra- and inter-office locations.

VoIP access and SIP trunking services essentially direct enterprise customers toward a path of gradual transition to fully converged, IP-based networks. They allow businesses to enjoy the benefits of IP telephony while eliminating the need to forklift-upgrade their networks. VoIP access services interfacing with a legacy TDM system do require the deployment of a voice gateway at the enterprise premises, whereas SIP trunking services are typically deployed with SIP-based or SIP-enabled enterprise telephony platforms where protocol conversion is not required. Session border controllers (SBCs) may, however, be needed for protocol normalization and security purposes.  Typically, VoIP access and SIP trunking services allow enterprises to continue to utilize their existing handsets as well as other TDM voice customer premises equipment (CPE) thereby preventing significant upfront investments.

Increasingly, service providers are bundling VoIP access and SIP trunking services with various network-based communications applications and capabilities, such as hosted auto attendant, voicemail, unified messaging, mobility/FMC or some data services including web hosting, web email, managed security, and so on.

Join Frost & Sullivan and Level 3 for a presentation on sustainable business voice strategies with a key focus on SIP trunking and its benefits to small and large businesses: http://bit.ly/lXeeJw

The PBX is Dead! Long Live the PBX!

Well, maybe the PBX term is dead. Maybe, going forward, we will be referring to the platforms delivering PBX functionality as “communications systems” or “UC solutions” or something else.  But it is just funny how industry pundits frequently seek a sensational effect by using strong terms like “death” and “extinction” to refer to certain aspects of technology evolution. The reality is – market trends take a long time to mature and legacy technologies just don’t disappear over night. We were quick to “bury” the TDM PBX some ten years ago, but TDM line shipments, lo and behold, account for an impressive 25% of total line shipments today.

I was reading my colleague Alaa Saayed’s upcoming study World Enterprise Telephony Platform and Endpoint Markets and the following excerpt made me smile so I thought I would share it here.

•Just like in 2009 many observers prematurely pronounced the death of IP desktop phones, today, the same group of people is predicting the impending death of premises-based telephony platforms.

•Our findings show that the premises-based telephony platform market is still very much alive and displaying sizeable growth rates in terms of both shipments and revenue across the world.

•Although Frost & Sullivan recognizes the relentless advancements in communication technologies that are, today, allowing businesses to choose from multiple deployment and architectural options for enterprise telephony, including hosted and cloud-based technologies, premises-based solutions are still the most popular and dominant type of architecture among businesses of all sizes and verticals. The unfamiliarity with other technologies, the uncertainty about the benefits offered by the new delivery models, and the potential risks associated with decommissioning and/or replacing existing solutions are some of the main reasons why businesses continue to choose premises-based systems.

•Instead of the death of the premises-based telephony platform market, Frost & Sullivan prefers to talk about the death of the “PBX” terminology and the continuous transformation of communications architectures. In fact, since the introduction of enterprise IP telephony technologies around a decade ago, the traditional PBX platform has been completely re-designed, enhanced and re-purposed for the ultimate benefit of the customer. The multiple “boxes” required to support an enterprise-grade communications architecture in the past have been condensed into a smaller number of multi-purpose servers. The market has shifted from hardware-centric solutions to software-based, application-centric solutions. The call-control component of the PBX (practically, the heart of the PBX) has been extracted, in many cases,  and modified into a software application that can run on any third-party standard servers or treated as a virtualized application in a virtualized data-center environment. Finally, the IP PBX functionality is increasingly becoming just one of several applications in a comprehensive unified communications solution/bundle.

•While all these technological advancements have certainly transformed the communications marketplace, from large, isolated, proprietary cabinets to easily distributable low-cost, space-efficient, rack-mountable chassis equipment (servers for call control and media gateways for port interfaces), this evolution should not be misconstrued as the death of enterprise premises-based telephony.

The study will be published within the next few weeks on Frost & Sullivan’s Enterprise Communications portal.

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