Imagine a new secure P2P (Skype like) offer that also supported SIP in the client. You could use the client software on it’s own (just like Skype) or attach it to just about any VoIP service or phone system for free.
Does it make sense for consumers?
Does it make sense for business users?
Is there room in the market?
Would you use it?
Martyn Davies chimes in…
I would use it, but as a telecom industry insider, I know that I’m not the average business user or consumer. As to whether there is room in the market, I think that depends a lot on what Microsoft do with Skype now that they own it. From a business point-of-view, their efforts are focused around OCS/Lync (and software licenses), so Skype there is not adding to their central proposition. Skype has a lot of users, but produces very little revenue, since the majority just use the free services. As a Skype competitor you would have the same problems getting to the cash.
Skype was really the first company to take VoIP and make it completely trivial to install and use. To do that, they had to take some liberties and deviate from standards (like SIP), so that they could add the magic that made it work from behind firewalls, add security and self-configuration, and integrate video so seamlessly. Like Facebook, once it is clearly the biggest of its kind of services, it becomes the community that everyone must join. I can’t see that another Skype-alike has a way in, unless Microsoft significantly change the rules now.
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.
On February 10th, Avaya launched a new on-demand, cloud-based option of its immersive web collaboration platform Avaya web.alive. The platform is available both as a premises-based solution and a SaaS offering, the latter being the focus of the new announcement, along with some new features and capabilities.
This new solution presents a virtual reality, which, in some ways, resembles the virtual event platforms (such as those offered by ON24, InXpo and Unisfair) but uses avatars and game-like tools and experiences, more similar to Second Life. I’ve heard some define the “traditional” (only in the context of this fast-evolving space) virtual platforms as virtual events and the likes of Second Life – as virtual environments. The monikers don’t matter much, but there are some differences, which we intend to tackle in more detail in a forthcoming study.
It’s great that Avaya is offering a free web-based demo. Anyone can try the environment at http://avayalive.com/tryit. It will be beneficial for end users to experience this unique, advanced technology first-hand before considering a full-fledged deployment or even a serious pilot. As an analyst, I was privileged to have several sessions with the Avaya team, but I am hearing that there is almost always someone in there who can help random visitors find their way through the different tools and functionalities.
For me, who’s never (NEVER) played any computer games or experienced 3D, doesn’t like Sci-Fi (didn’t even fully appreciate Avatar or The Matrix),… (the list goes on, but you get the idea) … this was both a thrilling and somewhat distracting experience. I did not take the time to test the environment before the pre-launch and ventured into it with a male avatar. Of course, I heard little from the presentation in the first few minutes because I was busy changing my gender and choosing my facial features and clothes to wear.
The next challenge was finding my way around the environment and learning how to control my avatar using the mouse and keypad. Eventually, I found myself standing all by myself in front of the speaker with my head spinning in different directions trying to find the best viewpoint. Somehow, using a 3-rd person view, with my avatar still proudly standing in front of the whole crowd, I managed to get my eyesight so low that I was staring upwards into people’s … well, lower backs. Toward the end of the event, though, I was boldly strolling around the environment, magically walking through people and furniture. And shouting. Until I realized it was not a good idea, because others could hear me without me noticing they were there.
I’ll end the story here and just briefly summarize what I liked and what I would wish to see improved going forward.
The things I liked:
- Such virtual environments are fun! It makes you giddy to design your persona (without the help of cosmetic surgery) and watch yourself from a third person point of view (there must be a split-personality tendency in all of us).
- You do get the impression that you are “meeting” with people in a quasi-realistic social environment, unlike the sensation one gets using more “traditional” conferencing tools.
- I liked seeing the pictures of the people I was close by or talking to, in addition to their oversexed avatars.
- I really liked the presentation and collaboration capabilities. I was able to easily share my desktop and saw demonstrations of video feeds and slide presentations.
- I like the fact that there are private rooms and people can have meetings behind closed doors. Only authenticated users have access to these rooms, but they can authenticate others. Once you are inside the room and the door is closed, no one else can hear the conversation OR see into the room.
- Also, a group engaged in a more private conversation in the public area can use a whisper mode, which is not audible to those at a greater distance but does not degrade the quality of the conversation for the main parties.
- Regardless of my “mishaps” facetiously recounted above, the environment is fairly intuitive and does not take a whole lot of learning to be able to navigate through it.
- I have to give credit to the Avaya people, too – they offered help and were prepared to patiently address all kinds of questions.
- From a business point of view, this solution has tremendous advantages as a web-based, on-demand platform. It is easy to deploy and use, even for small businesses, and is quite cost-effective at $49/month for a single account holder and up to 8 people attending at any given time.
- The platform also offers analytics tools that can help businesses assess the value they are receiving from enhanced collaboration.
What I would want to see improved:
- These visual environments can be very distracting. I heard people saying the virtual experience helped them avoid multi-tasking. In fact, I noticed I was more focused on what was taking place on the screen, but was it really the RIGHT thing on the screen I was watching/doing? I found myself checking people out (some were wearing funky outfits), rather than watching the slides. Maybe there should be a way for the speaker or person managing the event to help/force attendees to focus on the presentation screens whenever appropriate? I would not propose a dress code – that would be taking it too far J
- There need to be some additional privacy options. I discussed the private rooms in the section above, but I believe there should be a way to “encapsulate” people who wish to have a more private conversation in the public area. I imagine, visually it could be something like the Avaya Flare spotlight. In a real-life environment, such as in a typical conference facility, people always complain there aren’t enough meeting rooms and end up looking for these two-armchairs-and-a-table isolated areas in the hotel corridors to have a private chat. At a cocktail party, people use facial expressions and body language to keep unwanted parties out of their private conversation. But the virtual environment needs different tools. I am told that users can see who’s within listening area by watching the number next to an ear icon at the bottom of the screen. But people tend to get distracted or too engaged in a conversation to pay attention. So they need to be able to take precautions.
- Changing your voice, gesturing and other functions are only a right-click away. But I would want to see them in a menu bar – similar to a browser or Microsoft Office experience. It’s all about familiar, user-friendly interfaces, right?
- There needs to be an option to mute everybody (for both the organizers and the attendees), except the speaker. It is distracting when people are chatting around you. Is it like real life? Yes, but we always try to improve real life, don’t we?
- You have to hit Escape to be able to use some of the Options and to do other things on your desktop. It becomes bothersome, if you still want to do some multi-tasking.
- If you have a slow DSL or cable connection, the audio can get garbled. (I had the rare luck to have my Internet service switched to a new provider right in the middle of the launch!)
- Training, training, training!! Yes, it is intuitive; yes, younger generations will figure it out quickly and enjoy it. But for effective business use across different generations and types of users, organizations adopting this tool will need to strongly encourage employees to attend demos and brief training sessions. I have been told that Avaya does offer training. I think customers should not underestimate the value of a proper introduction to the new tool and ensure employees become familiar with key features and functionalities to avoid disappointment and misuse.
Go ahead and try it and let me know what you think. But don’t forget to mute yourself (press M on your keyboard) as you enter the environment or else someone can overhear your business conversations, kids shouting or dogs barking.
Are there other similar platforms you like better? Why?
The faster technologies evolve, the more overwhelmed we become with acronyms and technology terms we can hardly understand and pronounce, let alone remember, evaluate and properly implement. CEBP is one of those terms that has been around for a while and is frequently part of UC discussions, but is still poorly understood.
My colleagues Melanie Turek and Robert Arnold took it upon themselves to take a closer look at current vendor CEBP strategies and assess the market potential for CEBP solutions. They defined CEBP as follows:
“Communications Enabled Business Processes (CEBP) connect people, processes and information with the objective of reducing inefficiencies within business processes. CEBP solutions automate and optimize business processes by bridging the silos that exist between various business applications, and between communications and business software. These connections make information from multiple sources accessible, manageable and actionable to users within the context of workflows. By embedding communications capabilities into business applications that are part of the workflow, CEBP automates the connection of people to processes and information. The embedded communications functionality empowers users to take action and make decisions based on information provided within the context of their business processes.
Communications integrated into business applications is not synonymous with CEBP. The former usually consists of click-to-communicate or displaying user presence/ availability status within an application (i.e., word processing, email, CRM, ERP, etc). Such applications are commonly utilized in ad-hoc, unstructured ways that lack the ability to create contextual links between business processes and communications. CEBP is also not the same as BPA, BPO, BPM, self service or outbound messaging. Rather, any and all of these can be incorporated as part of overall CEBP solutions which enhance well-defined, structured workflows by providing users with contextual access to communications and information.”
However, as Rob points out in his blog post, “Our most immediate discovery was that CEBP continues to be ill-defined. In a sense the concept and terminology has become like UC, a catch-all marketing term that has been overly used and in many cases abused. It has become watered down to the extent that it now describes a very loose and broad array of solutions and capabilities.”
The key value of CEBP is in accelerating decision making, reducing human latency, increasing worker accountability, and meeting compliance regulations. Therefore, it is considered most appropriate for people-centric, heavily regulated industries such as healthcare, financial services, government and education.
However, to make CEBP most effective for their organization, businesses need to gain good visibility into their business processes and identify process bottlenecks and inefficiencies. Unfortunately, many businesses skip this very important step in assessing and deploying advanced technologies. In a recent conversation with Bill Vass, former CIO of Sun Microsystems, he shared the following:
“You need to spend a bit of time on the business architecture. I can’t tell you how many companies don’t understand it. I go to so many places, where I hear “Our IT systems don’t do what we need them to do”; and every time it turns out they have not taken the time to understand their business architecture and what their business is. So you start with the business architecture, and then you do a system architecture, and then you do a technical architecture. What most businesses try to do is jump right into the technical architecture, because that’s what they understand and they leave their business hanging around, and they claim their systems don’t do what they need them to do, and they are totally mis-communicating.”
Rob and Melanie identified some additional factors deterring CEBP adoption, such as the lack of formalized CEBP offerings and programs from the leading communications and collaboration vendors, complex marketing messaging, lack of interoperability and pre-built product integrations, and the need for extensive (and expensive) professional services.
Yet, they recommend that businesses leverage CEBP to gain a competitive edge. There is a significant opportunity for a first-mover advantage with CEBP, since few companies are doing it. Further, businesses need to think strategically when developing communications and IT investment plans and seek to improve internal communications and collaboration, employee productivity and efficiency, and customer relationships through investments in advanced communications and collaboration technologies.
Vendors are engaged in a more fierce competition than ever before. Customers can exploit this opportunity to require exceptional value for their money. They need to explore various packages and bundles that can provide them with a broad set of features and capabilities at a very reasonable cost. A free trial, a small-scale pilot, etc. could be helpful in making a final decision.
Businesses should look to their current providers first when investigating CEBP. Through the existing relationship the incumbent is likely to have greater insight into the customers business culture, cycles, processes, budgets, staffing resources as well as longer term plans with respect to communications and IT tools. Such a foundation can allow solutions to be planned, implemented and expanded/modified over time at a measured pace. Additionally, customers should request references of other businesses that have implemented CEBP solutions to address similar pain points. Certifications and qualifications for providers should also be checked out.
For further insight into CEBP strategies and solutions offered by Avaya, BT Global Services, IBM, Interactive Intelligence, and NEC Corporation of America, please check out our recent study titled: “CEBP Takes Shape to Address an Emerging Opportunity.”
On September 15th, Avaya announced several new products that nicely round up its Unified Communications (UC) applications and endpoints portfolio. The product launch focused mostly on video conferencing and video collaboration. Unlike its arch rival Cisco, Avaya has been lacking strong video capabilities, though it has been working closely with partners such as Polycom to provide end-to-end UC solutions to its business customers.
With its new Avaya Desktop Video Device and enhanced video support through Avaya Aura 6.0, Avaya is now able to deliver more comprehensive video conferencing capabilities on its own. The new Android-based device features a small form factor, touch-screen technology, HD video and audio, bandwidth efficiency, mobility (using WiFi, Bluetooth or 3G/4G via a USB plug-in) and a competitive price in the range of $3,000 to $4,000.
One of the most fascinating aspects of the new video device is the Avaya Flare experience. Avaya Flare is a user-centric UC interface with a spotlight in the middle that highlights ongoing communications sessions (IM, audio or video calling, and so on); on the right hand side – a list of contacts arranged by source – corporate directory, Facebook, etc. – and searchable by name; and on the left-hand side – a list of applications (such as calendar, for example). The Flare interface allows users to conveniently drag contacts into the spotlight and choose a communication mode based on presence status and/or the user’s preference and purpose. With an easy click of a phone icon, for instance, all contacts in the spotlight are immediately joined into a conference call. Other possibilities include video, IM, email, social (networking) and slideshare. Web conferencing is built into Flare as well.
In essence, the Avaya Desktop Video Device is a high-end, SIP-based, multimedia endpoint that enables users to conveniently use a variety of communication modes to communicate and collaborate more effectively. While the price point is certainly high for the average phone user, for users looking for cost-effective video, the Avaya Desktop Video device offers a compelling alternative. Typical users of such videoconferencing endpoints can be found in the legal or healthcare sectors, for example. Dr. Alan Baratz demonstrated a scenario in a healthcare environment where a specialist doctor was contacted via video to properly diagnose a patient. For a busy, multi-tasking and typically mobile executive, this device can prove a highly effective communications and collaboration tool, competing with a Cisco CIUS or an iPad as well as emerging smart deskphones.
The good news for those looking for a smart interface, yet not crazy about video or unable to afford the premium price, is that Avaya plans to introduce the Flare experience on other devices as well. In the near term, Flare will be available on select Avaya 9600 series phones and eventually – on smartphones. Integration with Microsoft Outlook for contact management and ability to control voice, conferencing, IM and presence can turn the SIP deskphone into a smart device providing a single point of access to communication tools currently available on disparate endpoints (e.g. IM and presence on PCs and laptops, voice on phones, and so on).
Furthermore, Avaya one-X Communicator 6.0 will provide ad-hoc video conferencing capabilities to Aura customers looking to use their PC or laptop as their primary interface to multiple, integrated communication and collaboration tools. Presence and IM federation, tight integration with Outlook, Communicator, Microsoft Office, IBM Sametime and Lotus Notes, video interoperability across Avaya’s portfolio and third-party endpoints, and centralized management through Aura, make Avaya’s one-X Communicator UC solution an appealing option for desk-bound knowledge workers and other heavy communications users.
Avaya also announced its Avaya Aura Collaboration Server – a virtualized platform delivering all Avaya Aura 6.0 core capabilities, including the Session Manager, Presence Services, Communication Manager and System Manager, on a single server. This is a cost-effective (list priced at $27K) solution for up to 50 users that allows businesses to leverage Avaya Flare and Avaya videoconferencing while avoiding a large CAPEX commitment.
Avaya also highlighted its professional and managed video services capabilities, which will be key in complex environments and with businesses lacking sufficient in-house expertise to deploy and manage advanced video applications on their own.
Finally, Avaya launched the Avaya web.alive Experience – a cloud/SaaS-based collaboration solution featuring a 3D environment with avatars. Avaya web.alive enables users to collaborate using audio or video conferencing and sharing presentations and other content. Businesses can license a “space” within that environment and then customize it based on their needs. It is also available for on-premises implementations when security and control are key concerns (for instance, in government deployments). While the avatars create the illusion of an immersive experience, their movement on the screen may be distracting to some users. They may wish to use a 2D version and still leverage the full range of collaboration capabilities available on the platform. The web.alive Experience is being touted as particularly effective in marketing and sales scenarios (when presenting to customers and demonstrating the capabilities of specific products or solutions) and in e-learning environments. The platform provides interesting analytics tools that can be used to assess the effectiveness of collaboration and each participant’s contribution to the collaborative process.
Some customers inquired about the possibility of Avaya delivering certain advanced features such as video call park, hold, transfer, and so on in the future. Avaya confirmed that it can eventually enhance the video capabilities using Aura. Avaya was also asked to substantiate its claims of significant hardware cost reduction compared to competitors. It responded that it had benchmarked itself against Polycom and Cisco/Tandberg and came up at a 20% to 30% cost advantage vis-à-vis Polycom and up to 70% cost advantage vis-à-vis Cisco.
During Q&A, Avaya also provided some clarifications around the deployment options for the new video solutions. All new capabilities are available with Aura 6.0; however, previous Aura versions, as well as IP Office, can be front-ended with the Collaboration Server in order to leverage existing infrastructure and take advantage of the new capabilities. Additionally, through Aura, other vendors’ telephony platforms can also be integrated with Avaya’s video solutions. Furthermore, Aura provides bridges between Avaya’s new SIP-based solutions and existing H.323 video systems.
With the new announcements Avaya once again demonstrated its commitment to innovation and continuously enhancing the value of its products and solutions. It’s made some strong claims about the cost efficiencies and productivity benefits of its solutions and it remains to be seen how those become realized in individual customer scenarios. Also, Avaya has traditionally benefited from its more partner-centric approach (vis-à-vis Cisco’s one-stop shop approach), including in the area of video collaboration, and it will be important for Avaya to continue to function effectively in a broader eco-system. While the Aura architecture enables Avaya’s customers to leverage multi-vendor technologies for best results, it is possible some of its former partners may feel threatened by the new move. However, with the growing recognition of the value of videoconferencing in replacing costly travel and helping geographically dispersed teams collaborate more effectively, Avaya has rightfully sought to enhance its video capabilities. The new video solutions are likely to help it broaden its customer reach and add new sources of revenue.
Nortel’s bankruptcy and Avaya’s acquisition of its enterprise assets has caused uncertainty and fear among Avaya and Nortel customers and partners. Avaya recently presented its vision for the evolution of the combined product portfolio. I would like to hear from businesses, VARs, SIs, etc. about their specific concerns. Did Avaya’s roadmap alleviate some of these concerns or did it raise new ones? Which choices did you think were good? Which ones were wrong? Do you trust Avaya’s commitment to both installed bases and both channels? What would you wish to hear from Avaya? What strategy direction would best serve your needs?
As a Frost & Sullivan analyst I do not endorse any particular vendor. If you email me your opinions, I will protect your privacy and will only use your insight to develop an aggregate perspective on customer and partners sentiments.
Avaya-Nortel: SIP Architecture Becomes Foundation for New Product Roadmap
As I listened to Avaya’s new roadmap announcement on January 19th and wondered if they made all the right decisions, I couldn’t help thinking about the complexity of an M&A process and its implications for everyone involved. This article is not about the specific product choices Avaya made, although I thought they did a good job taking multiple factors into consideration including product features and capabilities, customer and partner investment protection concerns, and vision for the evolution of the total portfolio and architecture. Extending the life of most Nortel products for another 18 to 30 months and continued support for Nortel’s more advanced and unique products such as Nortel’s AS5300 were good calls. I was surprised to see so many end users inquire about the fate of the Call Pilot and I am glad Avaya had some good news for these customers. I also thought Avaya’s decision to keep and evolve ACE was the right one as I believe ACE and application enablement will be key for its competitive positioning going forward.
It is only natural that Avaya intends to eventually merge and integrate all products and solutions into the Aura architecture. Aura is a technological framework (and not just packaging or a marketing term) based on SIP and SOA, and it makes sense for Avaya to look to integrate its now extended product line into the same vision or framework. It will be critical for Avaya to continue evolving this framework with an eye on new technological developments and customer and partner needs.
Application Enablement and Openness Drive New Competitive Dynamics
I think we should, however, look at the Avaya-Nortel acquisition from another angle as well. It provides an example of portfolio integration challenges and possibilities in the context of current technology trends towards greater openness and interoperability.
The shift to open standards, SIP and SOA is now making such acquisitions less painful than they used to be in the past – for the merging vendors, the channel partners, and their business customers. It will take Avaya less time and effort to integrate the best-of-breed applications of both vendors into its Aura framework because of the greater openness and interoperability of both vendors’ advanced communications solutions. Customers can more cost-efficiently mix and match platforms and aplications, not only from these two vendors, but from other vendors as well, since communications are becoming more software-centric and standards-based. Overall, today, customer investments are better protected and less vulnerable in case of abrupt changes in competitive dynamics.
In Avaya’s case, SIP, Aura and ACE will play key roles in delivering a more flexible and cost-effective migration path to its customers. Other vendors have their own next-generation architectures and application enablement environments that allow them to integrate with competitors’ platforms and applications. The capabilities of each vendor’s application enablement technologies vary from a more limited set designed to integrate communications with messaging and presence platforms (e.g. Avaya’s AES) to a broad range of capabilities including integrations with messaging, presence, business process, Web 2.0, mobile, and contact center applications, TV and video broadcasting, etc (e.g. Nortel’s ACE).
As unified communications become further integrated with digital content, business process applications and other, non-communication technologies enabling “contextually-rich communications” and “communications-enabled business processes (CEBP)”, vendors will need to open their solutions and create tools for customers, partners or their professional services arms to develop custom solutions addressing specific customer needs. Such tools and application enablement environments can be made available to large communities in the cloud so that multiple parties can contribute to the process of creating new applications and mashups. Some of these new mashed-up applications that can be deployed out of the box can eventually become productized to provide a more cost-efficient alternative to SMBs and a new revenue stream for vendors.
Application enablement capabilities will be key for all communications vendors going forward, but they will be even more critical for vendors providing best-of-breed solutions designed to operate in multi-vendor environments.
Of course, vendors have a long way to go before standards become truly open and customers can seamlessly, quickly and easily integrate multi-vendor applications. SIP, though touted as the communications standard of the future, in its pure form offers only a limited set of features. Entirely or partially proprietary solutions still offer better features and capabilities than most open-standard ones. Therefore, although most vendors claim SIP support, the different versions of SIP used along with the proprietary enhancements are not entirely interoperable.
Most likely, the cloud and cloud-based communications will help push further the frontiers of openness and interoperability. Instead of connecting multi-vendor applications and platforms individually at each customer’s premises, vendors can integrate more economically and on a larger scale in the cloud, delivering choice and flexibility to their customers unmatched in the premises-based world. In the beginning, many of these cloud-based services will be simple and will only offer some lowest common-denominator capabilities, but will enable some integrations out of the box, sparing customers the hassle and the cost of complex integration processes taking place in premises-based installations.
Partnerships, Alliances and M&A in a More Open Communications World
Customer demand for application integration will drive vendor efforts towards greater interoperability and co-opetition. Improving standardization and openness in communications technologies, in turn, will enable vendors to more easily engage in partnerships and alliances in order to deliver greater value to their customers.
There are multiple reasons why companies wish to merge. Most often, they are looking for new revenues streams, but also – for opportunities to more tightly integrate their technologies and deliver a one-stop shop value proposition to customers. Will more open architectures reduce the appeal of complex M&A processes in favor of partnerships and alliances? Should we expect further market concentration or the proliferation of more innovative and nimble market participants providing business customers with a wide array of options?
Power in the top tier has become concentrated, but the SMB market remains quite fragmented. While it will become less appealing to go through an M&A for the purposes of ensuring technology integration, it will also become less challenging to integrate portfolios in case of an M&A. M&A will likely take place for the purposes of acquiring installed bases, skill sets and business models (e.g. professional/managed services), simply eliminating a competitor, or for geographic expansion. I believe both trends (consolidation and fragmentation) will persist, but the drivers behind vendors’ business model decisions will change. What do you think?