Double_helix.gifIn November 2005, in a book entitled “The Pebble and The Avalanche” Moshe Yudkowsky, a physicist who now serves as Chair of the Midwest Speech Technologies Association laid out the tenets of the concept he calls “disaggregation.” Using examples like the growth of the Internet, the introduction of the personal computer and breakup of AT&T, he describes how innovation results when energy is released in busting big things into smaller, more flexible or agile pieces.


He’s right, of course, and the breaking up of monolithic companies, IT infrastructure or political systems releases levels of creative energy that fuel revolution and results in the positive disruption of current practices. Yudkowsky’s era of disaggregation coincides with the Internet-era’s prevailing trend toward “disintermediation.” This “double dis” has resulted in Internet-based communications patterns and Web-based marketplaces where “peer-to-peer” communications put prospective buyers into direct conversations with the people or businesses offering the goods or services that they seek.


Ironically, the era of disintermediation and disaggregation has created a market for new intermediaries and integrators. These are the folks that help put all the pieces back together in new, truly useful ways through a process I’m calling “recombinance.” The result is “recombinant telephony” and it is tightly connected to some major trends and memes like unified communications, collaboration and conversational access.


Reassembly = Recombinance
The word “recombinant” is most closely associated with “DNA,” describing the biochemical bi-product of gene-splicing or the repairing of pieces of DNA as part of genetic engineering. In a way, this scientific method of “recombinance” has become manifest in the second generation of Web services (Web 2.0) where adding a dash of “collective intelligence” with Web infrastructure and easy-to-use development tools or programming languages has led to the rapid development and introduction of new services and modes of communications and eventually business plans.


Twitter, of course, is the most recent example – an immediate message-handling service built loosely on the pieces of SMS, Web services, an online registry and a blogging infrastructure. It has been the inspiration to new modes of search, discovery, customer care and support (with hooks into’s CloudForce), information dissemination and general entertainment. And as creative Twitter-types develop a set of rich applications that link Twitterers to software and Internet-based services that help them find and interact with other people (or businesses) independent of time, distance and barriers, Twitter can eventually become the dominant mode of communications and commerce for an attention-deprived generation  What’s more, this communication will cross all national borders, corporate firewalls and networking constraints.

Recombinance Brings Creativity and Agility to Telecom App Development
Recombinant telephony transcends talk of unified communications and traditional contact center management methodology. In the recombinant world, customer care professionals (or volunteers) can be in their homes or on mobile devices in local coffee shops. From virtually anywhere they can monitor and reply to activity across a number of channels – email, SMS text, websites, blogs and microblogs (meaning all those tweets on Twitter).


The magic is in a well-understood API designed to give third-party developers the tools and hooks into the broadband Internet to fiercely encourage rapid-fire innovation. To point, at eComm2009, held in the Bay Area in March, a number of firms, including IfByPhone, Voxeo, Jaduka, Ribbit (now owned by BT) and Adhearsion showed off their API-support of the developer community. They distribute SDKs with sample code, hold tutorials and fund “BarCamps” or coding sessions that yield very interesting mash-ups like phone-based access to Twitter or speech-enabling Yahoo! Local.


The end-products may sometimes underwhelm, but the speed at which new applications and services are developed, tested, deployed or discarded under the new regimen is stunning. The new architectures and support infrastructures have caught the attention of incumbent carriers and infrastructure providers. BT’s purchase of Ribbit (for US$105 million) is but one example of the value that established network operators see in adding the energy and efforts of aggressive innovators to their resource mix.


Our Menus Have Changed… Really!
The pebble has been dropped. Proprietary systems have been both cracked and benignly hacked. A library of reusable programming elements grows and grows, and, in many cases, it is there to be shared in collaborative efforts. In other cases, the inner workings of systems are exposed for use by all (developers and end-users alike). A dramatic example is, a company that paid its employees to “power dial” though the IVR systems of scores of big companies so they could map all the branches in each menu.’s disaggregation efforts now allow customers to select exactly where they want to join a phone conversation with a particular company. No queues, no waiting.


What if companies voluntarily “published” their IVR interactions and made them available to The result would be shorter queue times (which equates to lower telecom costs), happier customers and more accurate renderings of the “site navigation” – which is especially important in the rare cases that “our menus have changed” is a true statement.


Recombination is inevitable. Economic and technological imperatives have blown the speech processing, call processing and application processing worlds apart. Creative forces are compelling developers to put them back together in new ways. The results, when we indeed come out of this bad economy, are bound to be beneficial.


Reminder: Cisco's Mike Bergelson will join me and Orange Lab's Mark Plakias in a webcast called "Recombinant Telephony: Voices from the Cloud" on Wednesday May 13th (10AM Pacific/1PM Eastern). Please join our conversation by visiting the Opus Research site to register.

In this series I want to share my perspectives on how healthcare organizations can and are leveraging collaboration technologies to drive transformation. However, before discussing specific examples of transformation I wanted to review the impact of inefficient communications & collaboration in the current environment.


Healthcare delivery inherently involves a significant amount of communication and interaction among clinicians as well as between clinicians and patients. It should come as no surprise that in a typical hospital environment there are several inefficiencies in these communications, resulting in a broad reaching impact, which goes well beyond lowering staff productivity and reducing operational efficiencies. More importantly they result in patient safety and quality of care being compromised, patient experience being less than satisfactory and staff that is less satisfied with their work life. A recent joint study by the Center for Health Information & Decision Systems (CHIDS) at the University of Maryland and the Cisco Internet Business Solutions Group (IBSG) estimated that the annual “cost” to US hospitals due to poor communications is in excess of $25 billion.


Patient safety issues were highlighted in a 2006 Joint Commission study that analyzed more than 4000 patient sentinel events (unexpected occurrence involving death or serious physical or psychological injury) over a 10 year period and found that communication lapses was the single biggest root cause and the key factor for two-thirds of the events. Also, in a recent nursing survey conducted by Zogby International and commissioned by Cisco, 77% of those surveyed said that communication lapses have a high-impact on patient safety.


My experience in working with different healthcare organizations is that, difficulties in locating and collaborating with other clinicians and staff members is one of the key challenges that most organizations face. Clinicians waste precious time each day trying to track down other available clinicians, calling multiple numbers and trying different channels of communication, waiting for people to respond to a page etc. In the nursing survey mentioned above 86% of the respondents said that “time spent chasing other people to get answers” could be as much as two hours per shift. The wasted time reduces the time that clinicians can spend on direct patient care. A 36-hospital nursing time and motion study published in 2008 found that nurses on average only spend 31% of their time on patient care in the room while almost 40% of their time is spent at the nurses’ station. Patient care is also indirectly impacted because of higher stress levels in staff that might have to work overtime. These issues only exacerbate the staffing shortage challenges that many hospitals face by reducing their ability to retain and attract the best talent.


But it doesn’t end there, communication challenges can often have a cascading effect on patient flow that affect multiple areas within a hospital and ultimately lead to higher costs, lost revenue and reduced patient satisfaction. I worked with one hospital where inefficient collaboration resulted in patients waiting 45 min each time they needed to be transported between the ED (Emergency Department) and radiology. While there were long lines of patients that were waiting to be transported, other patients were waiting to be admitted to the ED. Often, because all beds were full the ED went into divert protocol, which meant the hospital was diverting all new patients to neighboring hospitals resulting in lost revenue. Ineffective communication also resulted in delayed patient discharge and delays in getting the rooms ready for the next patient. Even after the beds were cleaned and available, patients were often waiting in the ED to be transferred to an inpatient bed because of ineffective coordination between the ED and the floors. In other areas such as surgery, I have seen examples where a significant percentage of surgeries are delayed because of delays in assembling one or more members of the surgery team.


Leading organization are integrating collaboration capabilities into healthcare workflows to address these challenges. In the next set of posts I’ll discuss some of these examples and the associated business impact.

Collaboration has been on the tip of many tongues, becoming the buzz word of the year.  There have been many versions of the definition of collaboration, and all have a component of what collaboration is, and what it can do.  I just recently saw a movie, which had to do with a football team, and its ability to work effectively as a team in order to win a championship.  It got me thinking that this is where the true definition of collaboration lies.  The true definition of collaboration really has little to do with products or solutions.  It has to do with several things, including:  culture, process and technology.  I begin with the cultural component.  This is perhaps the most critical component of making collaboration happen.  When we work in teams, it leads to a more productive and fulfilling experience, whether it is a product go-to-market project or a team strategy play.  One person doesn’t make things happen as quickly and effectively as a team of people can.  When 2 or more people come together to make something happen, this is when true collaboration occurs.   . 


Technology today makes this easier to happen.  In the past, an in person meeting or a phone call was necessary to get two or more people to communicate.  Today, tools enable collaboration to happen with a slew of different modes of communications that not only include voice, but video, web conferencing, presence, social networking (i.e microblogging), etc.  I believe that when a combination of these tools is used, it is then that you can reap the many benefits of a collaboration platform, which include cost efficiencies as well as increased employee productivity.  It can empower a group of employees to be efficiently and effectively productive.  Productive employees equal successful contributions/outcomes, which foster innovation, which in turn, help an organization to succeed and maintain a competitive advantage.   And this is just the beginning. Once employees learn how to utilize collaboration tools effectively, and realize just how it easy it is to launch a video chat, or bring together a group of people and utilize document or desktop sharing, the benefits will be many. 


The Holy Grail of Collaboration is when the culture and the process come together, and are enabled by technology.  Organizations that begin to move away from that of a vertical organizational structure and more towards a flatter, horizontal structure will succeed with the ever changing landscape.  However, this mindset is also much different than what most employees are typically used to.  Change is always difficult, but necessary, and must be mandated from the top.  Employees must be motivated to accept this change and sometimes it means changing compensation structures, or teaming two or more unlikely co-workers.  Although now we see many grass roots efforts that begin within pockets of an organization, who utilize collaboration tools such as presence (public or private), video, and/or a social networking platform such as Yammer, management must make it an organizational approach, while still allowing for that grass roots feeling.  This is where the challenge lies.  Empowering your employees while still maintaining leadership is a difficult balance to strike.  Management must be willing to take a risk, foster positive change, teamwork, and innovation.  It’s important to lead by example and have employees behind the initiative.   


I’m interested in hearing about examples of how your organization is utilizing collaboration tools and changing organizational structure to take full advantage of a collaboration platform.  Have you found it to be productive?  Do you feel more empowered as an employee?  Do you have more of a connection with your co-workers?  Are your employees having a hard time with tools?  I welcome your comments and/or feedback and thoughts around how organizations can deal with the changing cultural aspects that collaboration will bring.

Last month I wrote about the two types of unified communications under the UC umbrella - UC-User (UC-U) and UC-Business Process (UC-B).
In addition to the personal productivity I discussed last month, another aspect of User Productivity is Workgroup or Team Productivity. UC-enabled workgroups can interact and collaborate more effectively, leading to faster development time, quicker time to market, and better and faster decisions – all impacting the bottom line. Collaborative UC tools, such as web conferencing with whiteboarding capabilities, and the ability to initiate ad hoc or spontaneous audio, web, or video conferences with the appropriate people simply by dragging and dropping an individual’s name into a “conference room,” or by clicking on someone’s name and selecting “video chat” from the drop down menu, make it much easier for groups to work together. Teamwork can be facilitated through effective and efficient communications such as the ability to share files during an audio, web, or videoconference. Workgroups are better able to work together as a distributed virtual team, efficiently communicating and sharing information.

UC-Business Process is where things get confusing. Some people refer to this as communication enabled business processes (CEBP), and different vendors have different terms and acronyms for it. Based on the definition of UC, “Communications integrated to optimize business processes,” UC includes both the personal productivity elements of UC, as well as the business process integration element, by which I mean integrating or embedding communication capabilities such as presence and call control (i.e.; click-to-call or click-to-conference) with applications such as CRM, ERP, or vertical applications such as claims processing or loan processing.


When tied into the business processes and applications companies use in their day-to-day business operations, the benefits of unified communications are even more significant. UC-B helps to reduce "human latency" in business processes by integrating communication functions directly into the systems and applications that people use to do their jobs. UC-B can also proactively deliver information to the right people at the right time. Decisions can be made faster, products can be brought to market sooner, customer inquiries and problems can be resolved faster – all of which impact the bottom line in terms of improved competitive business position, reduced costs of doing business, increased or faster revenue generation, and increased profitability.

While user and personal productivity benefits are important, the real ROI comes from tying UC to the company’s business processes and enterprise goals. Early adopters of UC are transforming their businesses, and as a result, are saving thousands or even millions of dollars. Enterprises need to look at how UC provides benefits to the enterprise as a whole – especially in terms of reduced costs, increased sales, and improved customer service.



According to the Chinese calendar, 2009 is the year of the ox and the ox signals prosperity through hard work. Video vendors in the past have consistently struggled to break through the cultural and corporate bias against its usage, which impeded the mainstream adoption of video in the enterprise.  Perhaps all of that grunt work to build a market for video and the use of other "oxen-like" traits employed by vendors will pay off in 2009?


As an annual research exercise for many IDC research groups, we are required to generate a Top 10 list for the major IT markets that we cover. In the 2009 version for  Enterprise  Networking,  our #8 prediction was that "The Great Video Experiment Will Begin." With current IT budgets being slashed, everyone is looking to do more with less. Video in the enterprise is heading into a phase of major experimentation with shaky business justifications in the eyes of the CIO but clear value in the eyes of executives and employees. In 2009, we expect to see a wide range of video over IP experiments such as conferencing ranging from high-end telepresence facilities to Skype and Google video at the low end. Other experiments include continued corporate intranet video on demand portals (imagine YouTube on the intranet) and live event-streaming portals for training and corporate communications. Finally, as the barriers to entry drop on IP video surveillance, the ability to monitor facilities and even analyze customer service or traffic flows through a facility will become increasingly compelling.


In our interviews with end-users, we have been able to glean interesting anecdotes about why their organizations have adopted video.  Within my own team at IDC, we have used video as a gauge for manager-subordinate relations.  On a phone call, my manager would never be able to tell if we were rolling our eyes in disapproval.  But the visual cues from video can very clearly and quickly convey our support, concern, or disgust. While travel cost reduction is a popular metric for video adoption, the cost of the non-work conducted during business hours and while in-transit can be even more expensive to the organization.  Despite the virtual erosion or disappearance of travel budgets, teams still have to meet and push products out to market.  The use of video has even improved the sense of identity among remote workers and their connections to headquarters, since "There is a reason why people say 'Out of sight, out of mind.' You'll never hear, 'out of earshot, out of mind'." When telepresence started to gain momentum in the market, analysts often compared the adoption of telepresence to the displacement of the corporate jet market.  In fact, one interviewee said: "I'm tired of putting the wrong engineers on my plane."


Despite the macroeconomic challenges that all enterprises are facing today, there are still perceived benefits of video.  According to an IDC web-based QuickPoll conducted in December 2008, many of our 341 respondents were already using video for video conferencing, employee training and certification, and video surveillance. The top three key drivers for their usage were cost savings and travel avoidance, improving team collaboration across geographies, and improving work-life balance. The most interesting data point gained from this survey was that business managers and IT have significantly different perceptions  about  the business value of video.  What is surprising is that our line-of-business respondents saw greater value in video than their IT peers and that the IT groups were perceived as the obstacles to deployments.


Many enterprises spent the start of 2009 reeling from the financial damage created in the fall of 2008. So, some of our readers were a bit leery of our prediction that the growth of video adoption might thrive this year.  However, there are new business models—such as managed video/telepresence and public video facilities—which may lower the barrier for enterprise adoption, eliminate the need for an expensive up-front capital expenditure and allow users to build an appetite for video. Yet, we still have nine more months left to see if there is still hope for the adoption of video in enterprises worldwide.  Perhaps more importantly, we still have nine months to see how much the market will recover.




Leading in Difficult Times

Posted by famous Apr 11, 2009

It's challenging out there and almost everyone is feeling the pinch.  The depressing news about the global economic situation can be tough to hear day in and day out but I try to keep a glass-half-full perspective and there are some advantages to the current environment if you look at it as an opportunity.


When faced with difficult circumstances, organizations suddenly become much more malleable.  I look at these downturns (and we've been through them before) as a chance to rethink how my team is working.  Cutting expenses can be the trigger but the opportunity is about so much more then taking x% out of your operating costs.  These situations present an opportunity for leaders to implement change.

An example of a Cisco sacred cow that's recently been changed is bottled water.  At Cisco we've always had bottled water in our break rooms, free to all employees.  This was a nice convenience but it came with a large cost in terms of expense, waste, and the environment.  I believe the estimate is that we disposed of 20,000,000 bottles of water per year.  Even with recycling, that's a huge environmental costs and oh yes it cost the company millions of dollars too.


We recently put in filtered water machines at our site.  We carry around their own cups and fill them from filtered water machines.  My wife purchased me a SIGG.  It's a little too fancy for my taste but it's a very fine vessel.  I call it the "Cadillac of water bottles".  I'm probably dating myself with that description.


There was a few gumblings about the transition.  Some people are dubious of any change.  Some people felt that washing out their own cup once and a while was too much inconvenience and would hurt their productivity.  Well, I guess that's true.  I'm not sure how to argue with that other then say, "you're lazy".  Well, we've made it through the transition and the result is less wasted water (There used to be half-finished bottles of water everywhere around the office), less garbage for landfills, and there are even some unexpected benefits.  The 20 seconds it takes to fill your cup is perfect timing for the break room water-cooler interaction.  People get a chance to show off their personality with their vessel of choice.  I saw someone using a very famous Vodka bottle for their water the other least I hope that's what was in there.  So kudos to whoever suggested this change.  I know they took some heat for it but it's good for the company and good for the world.


How does this relate to you?  I'm suggesting is that you use the power created by the current economic situation to propose changes for the better in your organization.  That may be implementing a new process or leveraging a new technology to accomplish something in a slightly different but more productive and cost-efficient manner.  As a leader, this is your chance to shine and make an impact.


Specious Arguments

Posted by mcgeesmith Apr 11, 2009

Over the past few years, as the technologies and applications of Unified Communications (UC) have just about taken over the enterprise communications space, one argument is common in the presentations I see, be it from a networking, traditional PBX, or desktop software vendor.  One of the pervasive arguments for UC has been that the generation that grew up texting, My Spacing and Facebooking will refuse to work in companies that do not make exciting communications applications available to them.


As an analyst that primarily monitors the contact center space, I don’t mean to unfairly point a finger at UC marketing mavens – contact center marketers are just as guilty but come from a slightly different angle.  They claim that Gen Y and beyond customers who text and Twitter all day won’t do business with companies that don’t provide the latest and greatest technologies, from SMS updates to video chat on cell phones.   Typical is this bullet from an October 2008 presentation (from an identity-protected vendor,) “It is impossible to ignore this generation as they will form a sizeable portion of your customer base in the next 3-5 years.”


Even two to three years ago, when this kind of arguments began to emerge, I would see my millennial colleagues (you know who you are!) roll their eyes as these slides would appear at analyst meetings, user group forums and other conference events.  Fifty-something baby boomers making assumptions about what will drive recent college grads to work at or do business with an enterprise based on their social communications behavior. 


In today’s economic climate, these claims border on the ridiculous.  While careful not to use anecdotal evidence as representative, I have yet to see a headline in USA Today or my local TV news channel proclaiming, “New College Grads Turn Down Jobs at Firms that Block FaceBook” or “Millennials Flock to Cell Provider with Video Customer Service.”


My point is that business cases for technology upgrades in these hard times require solid ROI, basic save money or make money arguments.  Allusions to unhappy twenty-somethings avoiding your industry or company because it is perceived to be a technology laggard just make me LOL.

This year’s VoiceCon saw a drop in the number of sessions dedicated to contact center technology, from five to two.  This was in keeping with an overall decline in the number of sessions due to the economy.  It also helped make room for a new “conference within a conference” on Video (a topic certainly near and dear to Cisco).


I moderated both of the contact center sessions and will share some insights here.  The first session was an Executive Panel of contact center executives from five leading vendors:  Aspect, Avaya, Cisco, Genesys and Interactive Intelligence.  This was the seventh such panel run at VoiceCon and we do it the same way every time – without PowerPoint presentations.  The entire session is based on questions from the audience, questions from actual customers.


One question addressed the age-old issue of whether a particular vendor’s solution would be moving in the next release to Linux from Windows.  Aspect and Cisco addressed the question, with both essentially saying that they would be remaining on Windows, Aspect for its Unified IP solution and Cisco for Unified CC Enterprise (Express is moving to the Linux appliance model). 


Both vendors voiced surprise at the question – does OS really matter that much?  I think the question highlighted the broad range of communities of interest involved in contact center technology decisions.  While a business decision maker may not really care, the IT professional tasked with supporting the application very well may.


One thing we forgot to highlight in our discussion of operating systems was how Windows has changed over the years with respect to the failover and security issues that were concerns in the past.  Whereas the initial contact center applications on Windows did face their challenges (Nortel’s Symposium comes to mind), this issue seems to have been put to rest.


The second contact center-focused hour was what VoiceCon called an “Un-Conference session.”  These were free-form discussions, led by industry experts, with audience members participating by sharing their stories and views.  The contact center session kicked off with a major logo customer voicing his displeasure with a recent move to IP telephony in the contact center.  It was interesting to see other users chiming in to tell their stories of perhaps initial problems but eventual satisfaction with IP.


Takeaway?  As much as vendors want to have the applications of technology be the focus, and the business users the drivers, the communications industry still has a technical side and users concerned with technical issues.  We’ll see a shift to application issues over time, but techies will remain part of the equation for the foreseeable future.

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