Collaboration Solutions

7 Posts authored by: mcgeesmith

Cisco and Ireland

Posted by mcgeesmith Mar 8, 2010

With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, what better time to review a recently launched project in Ireland that Cisco is supporting with its collaboration technology.  Your Country Your Call is a 70-day competition to pick, “two truly transformational proposals so big that, when implemented, could secure prosperity and jobs for Ireland. Proposals that could help change the way we do things, allow businesses to grow, employment to be created and prosperity to flourish.”  Each of two winning ideas will receive €100,000 and a development fund of up to €500,000 is committed for the implementation of each winning proposal. 


As in many countries, economic times are hard in Ireland.  After two decades of relative prosperity, the country has fallen harder than many, with an economy that shrank in 2009 by 7.5% (compared to the US figure of a near-flat performance of 0.1% increase).  For the first time in 15 years, 2009 Irish emigration exceeded immigration, highlighted in a recent Business Week article, “The New Generation Leaving Ireland.”


Cisco’s participation in Your Country Your Call was championed internally by a Cisco account manager, Anne Marie Shaw, who participates on the YCYC steering committee.  It dovetails well with other work Cisco does to encourage innovation, including the second I-Prize initiative currently underway.  Other Irish and non-Irish global corporations, including HP, are also supporting YCYC. 


Cisco’s unique contribution comes in the form of donated collaborative technologies, including Web applications and Cisco WebEx conferencing, to help the initiative gather ideas from around the world electronically, limiting the environmental impact.  In the later phases of the competition, when a group of finalists has been chosen, Cisco technologies will be used to ensure that all proposal teams have similar accesses to the judges to present their ideas. 


Cisco’s vision to be “Best in the World, Best for the World” may seem a tad over-reaching at times, but in the case of YCYC the vision has translated into support for a constructive project whose goal is not just innovation but a positive focus for the people of Ireland.  It appears to be working.  In the first two weeks of the competition, almost 2,000 ideas have been submitted.

Originally posted on No

Typically a press release reporting that one company had joined a program that allows it to develop a solution that interworks with the solution of another company would not be worthy of much more than a quick glance.  But last week Genesys announced that it has joined the Cisco Developer Network as a registered developer.  Given that the two companies have long been rivals in the high-end, multi-site contact center space, I was intrigued enough to investigate further.


First, the Cisco Developer Network is not a come-one, come-all affair.  Companies have to be invited to the table, i.e., have “Cisco Relationship Manager approval and sponsorship.”  Next, there’s an element of pay to play; the Registered Developer level involves an annual fee of $3,500.  (Two “higher” levels, Solution Developer and Preferred Solution Developer, carry $5,000 annual fees.)


So why would competitor Genesys be invited to join?  Because joint customers, numbering in excess of 150 companies, want the applications of the two companies to work together as seamlessly as technology will allow.  While there has been a level of integration based on JTAPI for many years, customers were asking for closer cooperation between the companies.


With that in mind, in January 2009 Cisco and Genesys came to an agreement to support the following three integrations:

  • Existing JTAPI Integration:  Cisco/Genesys will continue to certify and support this integration.
  • New SIP-based Integration Certification:  Cisco has certified the Genesys SIP Server integration with Cisco UC Manager (SIP Trunk Interface).
  • New Cisco UCCE Integration:  This is a new T-Server integration to Cisco Unified Contact Center Enterprise (CCE) and Hosted (using standard CTI Server Protocol).  Development and integration testing is in progress with an expected release in the first half of 2010 and will work with Cisco Release 8.


Ross Daniels, Cisco’s Director of UC Solutions Marketing. said the joint agreement speaks to openness and the value of standards.  “If a customer is a Genesys shop, and super happy with Genesys, but wants to change infrastructure,” the SIP Server integration allows the customer to stay with Genesys contact center but move to Cisco for their communications solutions.  Likewise, if a customer has multiple sites with Genesys and wants to move one from a legacy TDM ACD to Cisco, the new UCCE integration will allow the customer to use Genesys for multi-site routing and/or CTI, but Cisco for the site-based call distribution.


According to Daniels, in a customer that is transitioning to Cisco Unified Communications Manager, “If we have a play for the contact center, we’ll try to make it.”  Once a customer has made its decision, however, the two companies have the tools in place to support that decision. 


Originally posted on No


Virtual Done Right

Posted by mcgeesmith Aug 21, 2009

Recently, I spent 90 minutes listening to the Cisco EMEA Analyst Conference (C-Scape) held in London in July 2009.  No, it wasn’t just like being there (no gin and tonics the evening before, no strolls down Piccadilly after).  But it was engaging enough to keep my attention.


In these challenging economic the times, I’ve attended a number of virtual events over the past few months.  While I received a link to this one four or five weeks ago, I had yet to click through.  Why?  I’ve had a couple of really bad virtual experiences that I got virtually nothing out of (pun intended).

Did I multi-task during the 90 minutes?  Yes, but no more than I do during a typical in-person analyst conference.  The fact that I was listening to a recorded version, however, meant that when my echoic memory picked up on something of interest, I could pause, back-up and listen again.  That’s something I obviously can’t do in a live event.


What was done right here?  There was a live video recording of the speakers, with occasional pans of the audience.   That is one of the keys, I believe, to getting virtual right.  While most of the audience may be attending via web connection, I firmly believe that the speakers should be delivering to an audience.  However small, those few in the room help the speakers, by either nodding in assent or checking their mobile devices, to understand what part of the content is engaging the audience.


Those live participants also bring a sense of reality to the question and answer period.  Having attended global analyst events for almost 20 years now, many of the attendees were people I knew.  When Q&A began, it was clear that these were not “planted” questions – I could see and hear my colleagues asking their questions.  

Video and voice quality are key.  Having a CEO coming in via what sounds like a bad cell phone connection on a highway does not keep an audience’s attention.

Finally, there was a terribly engaging guest speaker for this Cisco event.  Talking about TeleHealth initiatives in Scotland, he did – as customers always do – make Cisco’s TelePresence story come to life. 

Kudos to Chris Dedicoat, SVP Cisco EMEA Operations and his analyst relations team, especially Lisbet Sherlock, who twittered the availability of the playback. 

Travel budgets are tight.  Really tight.  At VoiceCon in Orlando this year, two industry colleagues (each working for a multi-billion dollar communications company) mentioned it was the first time they had travelled in 2009.  It was April.  Typically they would have been half-way to airline Platinum status by then.

With that as backdrop, there's been a fairly dramatic rise in virtual events.  The first major exclusively virtual event I recall was Microsoft's launch of OCS R2 in February 2009.  I must admit to being under-whelmed by it.  I don't know if it was me or the event, but there didn't seem to be anything going on live - it all seemed to be pre-recorded.  I went around to various "booths" and picked up presentations but to this day (4 months later) I've only looked at two of the many things I downloaded.  One problem was a fairly complex Briefcase function that downloaded batches of things into huge zipped files.  So at least to me, it seems that having a live component is a must. 

My next experience was Interop.  I opted not to travel to Interop in Vegas this year because over the years I've found less and less application-driven content (more network and mobile hardware).   But I was interested enough to sit in on the keynote Microsoft/HP delivered to launch their relationship.  Interop made it an easy click from a web page and with full video, it was a very engaging experience. 

Today I participated in yet another tradeshow, but this one was designed as completely virtual. VoiceCon held a virtual event on June 10th, complete with keynote presentations, a show floor, demos and giveaways.  I even did some booth duty, which involved logging into Booth Chat and waiting to be pinged.  (I chose the first hour of the show for my booth duty which happened to coincide with the first keynote - needless to say there was very little booth traffic.)  There were not too many exhibitors (five I think) but I was pleasantly surprised to hear the moderator say that there were 400 people logged in for the first keynote.  No video was used but there were live events, with live polling questions, Q&A and chat, which gave the event a necessary element of immediacy.

To net this out, necessity has become the mother of virtual invention in the last year or so and luckily the collaborative technologies are available to make it happen.  As you plan your own company events, be they internal or external, it makes sense to at least consider a virtual element.

Remember 2000?  An article appeared that year in Internet Week that opened, "A new breed of ASP has come to market, offering integrated call center services to small and midsize businesses.  Ineto, EchoPass and Nuasis are all offering pay-as-you-go use of contact management software through the Internet, eliminating the cost of ownership for businesses that want to manage all channels of customer support through a single interface.  And the ASPs are using IP networks to prioritize and route calls to customer service agents, lowering operational costs by taking 800 calls off standard voice networks." [i]


How might that paragraph be re-written in today's parlance? 

  •       First ASP, or Application Service Provider, would become hosted.  Or software as a service.  Or most likely, especially this month, cloud-based.

  •       Call center services becomes contact center services as voice-only is so 2000.

  •       Small and midsize changes to companies large, even very large.  In this down market there seems to be little appetite for spending the time and money to build a channel to go after small and mid-sized contact center opportunities.

  •       Ineto becomes Oracle after first becoming Siebel.

  •       Nuasis becomes Convergys after first becoming Intervoice.

  •       EchoPass remains, but no longer describes itself as an ASP (also so 2000).  Today they favor on demand or hosted.

  •      Finally IP networks are gone too, morphing into SIP over the past couple of years.


By the way, given the fact that I've been an analyst in the contact center space for twenty years, I could have taken this story back to 1989 and the initial references to central office-based ACD (CO-based ACD).  I decided that the number of people in the current Cisco collaboration community that would understand those translations would be limited, but you get my point.


While some of this is tongue-in-cheek, there is a serious historical fact here.  Repeatedly over the last twenty or so years, there have been those that have tried to convince IT and customer service management to move their sales and support applications into the network.  All the arguments being used today are the same ones used in the past - it seems only the technology gets updated with each cycle. 

[i] Judy DeMocker, 2000.  "Outsourcing Call Centers ASPs."  Internet Week.  No longer available online, retrieved from personal archives.


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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