Lots of customers at the International Avaya Users Group event in Boston this week were seeking answers about unified communications technology. At the Carousel Industries booth, experts such as Tony McQueen, a solutions architect with Carousel, was offering solutions for how to bring together different modes of communication, including telephony, mobility, instant messaging and presence along with all forms of conferencing – audio, video and Web. The key is delivering access to all of these technologies through one seamless client. Even when the different point products you use for video, telephony and such come from different vendors, Carousel can show you how to get them to play nicely together.
Working from home saves the time and fuel associated with commuting, and thus real dollars, but can also improve employee productivity and make employees happier. Not surprisingly, management is taking notice and becoming more receptive to the idea.
Those are some of the key takeaways from Telework Week 2012, co-sponsored by Cisco and the Telework Exchange, a public-private partnership focused on demonstrating the tangible value of telework and serving the educational and communication requirements of the Federal teleworker community. This was the second year of the weeklong event and participation was up fairly dramatically, with an 80% increase in the number of workers pledging to participate – more than 70,000 of them in all, the vast majority (94%) being federal government workers.
Telework Delivers Big Savings
The results they report are nothing short of astounding. Consider these stats from the benchmark report on the event:
- Telework Week 2012 saved pledges a total of 6,413,006 miles; 251,774 hours; 3,453 tons of pollutants; and $5,651,890 on commuting
- Telework Revolution: If all Telework Week 2012 pledges teleworked two days a week for one year, they would collectively save: $282,594,515 or $3,962 individually
- Growing Benefits: 71% of Telework Week 2012’s participating organizations saw improved productivity (up from 60% in 2011), and 71% saw increased continuity of operations (up from 52% in 2011)
- Telework Gets Smoother: Just one in five organizations encountered challenges – such as technical issues – during Telework Week 2012, versus nearly one in three during Telework Week 2011
Asked whether their management team was more open to and encouraging of telework this year than last year, 62% said they were, up a bit from last year’s 60%. The report says that may be because companies are getting better at proving the ROI of telework efforts, using metrics such as employee productivity, reduction in commuting time and costs, real estate cost savings, employee satisfaction, employee retention and energy savings.
For years Carousel has been helping our clients realize the benefits of teleworking through data networking solutions, VoIP infrastructure and Unified Communications solutions. So it came as no surprise to us that organizations are truly beginning to realize the tremendous upside that teleworking can provide in the right situations.
GSA Proves Value of Telework
The report includes case studies on a few of the event participants, most of which were government agencies. The GSA, for example, had almost 8,000 staffers participating, about 65% of the agency – pretty impressive. Of those, 93% said they and their teams were as productive or more productive than normal and 97% said the experience was positive overall. In total, GSA saved 273,000 miles in commuting during the week.
The report doesn’t say how much time those commuting figures translate to. Just for kicks, let’s say it comes out to one minute per mile, a conservative estimate. That translates to 4,550 hours. That means each of the employees effectively got more than 30 minutes of extra free time for the week, and many of them probably a lot more.
Creating an Effective Telework Plan
Asked what they believe is most important to a successful telework effort, the participants gave responses such as:
- “Good communication infrastructure and good IT support.”
- “A definitive plan, two-way communications, and management involvement in the planning process.”
- “Collaborative tools like workgroup chat rooms, desktop video meetings, and online presence indicators.”
- “Transparency and accountability.”
- “Ensuring connectivity to our Intranet and other internal networks.”
- “A good working relationship with staff, clear expectations, and measurable work.”
- “Leadership support.”
Only 21% of the participants reported having any challenges during the week, down from 32% last year. Most of those challenges (61%) were technical in nature while others were trust issues (11%) and communication issues (10%). That’s an indicator that, for the most part, IT is doing a good job in delivering the kinds of technology that makes telecommuting possible, most notably VPNs.
Increasingly, though, other technologies are going to enter the telecommuting mix, such as desktop virtualization, which can give workers access to the exact same desktop remotely as they have in the office. Unified communications technology will also play a role – and will help address those communication issues by ensuring workers can keep in touch with one another no matter where they may be. (Check out our previous post for how to achieve a successful UC implementation.) And, as we’ve reported previously, it’s also important to keep in mind not all remote workers have the same requirements, so you’ve got to classify each type of worker and give them the support they need.
If you need additional help getting your telework plan together, contact Carousel. Clearly there’s a movement afoot here – don’t miss out on it.
For those who couldn’t attend the recent Enterprise Connect event in Orlando, we wanted to get a sense for what the buzz was at the show so we talked to Jason Aubee, who is Principal, Strategic Consulting Services for Carousel Industries. This was Aubee’s third time attending Enterprise Connect so he offered some perspective on how this year’s event compared to the others he attended.
Attendance Up, at Least on Paper
For one thing, attendance was up this year from both the sponsor and attendeeperspectives, Aubee said. “That means more people are interested in what’s going on and thinking it’s a valuable place to spend some time and money,” he says. The bad news, at least from a sponsor perspective, was that it was about 85 degrees and sunny in Orlando. Aubee suspects that kept at least some attendees off the show floor and enjoying the weather, especially those from colder climates. But who can blame them?
All Done Kicking The Unified Communications Tires
While the weather may have kept the show floor from getting overcrowded, Aubee sensed a different attitude in the attendees he talked with. “Instead of people kicking tires they were saying, ‘I have this problem, can you help me?’” he says. “For the first two years, we had a lot of people asking ‘what is unified communications‘ and ‘does it have any value’. Now they’ve gotten to a point where they know what it means to their business and they are either ready to trial it or are in the middle of trials.”
Bye, Bye Blackberry
Three years ago, when a customer talked about UC, they meant sending emails and forwarding phones to “500 field guys with Blackberries, that was the unified client.” Fast forward to 2012: the Blackberry is all but gone, the talk is of virtual desktops and advanced information sharing, and everybody has Androids and iPhones. But customers are struggling to manage devices they don’t own and are concerned about security and how to deliver on the promise of desktop virtualization to all these devices.
Dig Deeper: Free Webinar from Carousel and Avaya – Are You Ready to Handle BYOD?
“They came in with very pointed issues,” Aubee says. “We have this list of technologies and these problems. How can we pull together a cohesive solution that avoids building tech silos and meets our business requirements?”
Hot Tech Talk
In terms of which technologies were hot, virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) was certainly one, he says, noting it dovetails into the whole bring your own device (BYOD) and mobile security discussion. “Everyone is comfortable with server virtualization, but want to know how to use VDI to help secure these other devices that are coming to market,” Aubee says. “Do we support a custom tablet app or do we VDI enable what we have and just push it out and control it that way?” He expects to see a lot of action in this area in the next year.
Video was likewise hot, as attendees are now seeing the value in visual communications – this after 4 or 5 false starts over the years. “It has to do with the move to remote workforces,” he says. “How do I have a team meeting when I’ve got nine guys who are hundreds of miles apart? How do I have what feels like a true team when all these guys are like voices in a box?” With improvements in video codec technology and the ability to control bandwidth use over wide-area networks, now companies are seeing video as truly useful, he says.
If you were at Enterprise Connect, let us know what you thought were the highlights of the show in the comments below. And if you have any follow-up questions, feel free to contact us.
If you missed the Enterprise Connect event at the end of March, you can still catch up on at least one presentation, from Ed Wadbrook, vice president of applications and collaborative solutions at Carousel Industries. Carousel has posted a video with Ed delivering an early version of his presentation, titled Technology in Search of a Customer: Critical Factors to Consider for Your UC Strategy.
As we discussed in our preview of the presentation, Wadbrook cautions against adopting any unified communications technology for its own sake. You first need to ensure that it meets your business objectives and requirements.
The promise of UC pivots on improving how individuals, groups and communities perform and interact across multi-vendor environments, Wadbrook says. UC becomes the fabric that enables business process and workflows to integrate multiple forms of communications into common user, administrator and developer experiences.
Know the Business, Understand the Requirements
When Carousel arrives on the scene at a customer site, it doesn’t ask what technology the company wants; rather, it talks about the business objectives the company is trying to reach. What follows is a discussion of existing business model, processes and challenges, and a hard look at the various groups that are charged with delivering on the business objectives and how they are set up. Then you’ve got to consider your existing infrastructure and systems, including whether bring your own device is a consideration (even if IT doesn’t want it to be). Finally, you define key performance indicators and success metrics, Wadbrook says.
Wadbrook gives the example of an insurance company that wants a tablet-based application that will enable its 100 wealth management experts to present in front of customers. Delivering such an application requires a series of steps, including procuring the devices and registering them with the corporate directory. They also need to be brought into compliance with corporate policy with respect to virus and malware protection, firewalls and the like.
Next is a discussion with the end users around what kind of applications they want and need. That will likely entail some sort of video application, and one that needs to work not only point-to-point with other tablets, but with the company’s room-based and desktop systems. Another issue is where in the world the applications will be used and how employees plan to connect.
“Now you start to see the physical demand on the infrastructure,” Wadbrook says. Say there’s an internal conference at the company and 100 of these tablet-toting execs show up, expecting to conduct videoconferences over the corporate network. The group may well overwhelm the wireless network and adversely affect performance for all other employees.
Implementing UC Requires a Solutions-based Approach
The point is, companies need to have a full understanding of how UC technology will be used in their company before they even think about which technologies or products they will use. That’s because UC touches so many applications, people and issues; if you take a product-specific approach, you’re likely to miss many of them.
The insurer that wanted to implement tablets is a case in point, Wadbrook says. “That $499 device could require thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars of infrastructure support,” he says.
To download the PowerPoint deck from the presentation, click here.
As we mentioned last week, Carousel will have a big presence at the Enterprise Connect Conference in Orlando next week, including a presentation by Ed Walbrook, our vice president of applications and collaborative solutions. We caught up with Walbrook to learn more about what he’ll be discussing; it’s thought-provoking stuff, to say the least.
He has been in the IT industry in various capacities for 30 years, so Walbrook has seen a lot of trends come and go. But he is somewhat uniquely qualified to talk about trends related to unified communications because he’s been involved in the IP voice technology on which many UC solutions are built literally since its inception, when he was with a startup (NBX, which was acquired by 3Com) that developed the first IP PBX.
Define Business Objectives and Requirements
So while Walbrook has seen his share of shiny new technology, the point of his talk will be that it’s dangerous to chase technology for technology’s sake. You’ve first got to define your business objectives and user requirements, then go from there.
“If you take it from the business case to the users to the technology investment, in that order, you can structure a reference architecture that may not have been in your crosshairs if you were just chasing technology,” he says.
One customer he visited, for example, was conducting trials of four different collaboration platforms, from four different vendors, without a clear vision of what it was trying to achieve. “It was like putting another layer of paint on a piece of furniture when you should’ve stripped it first,” Walbrook says. “Silos get taller as a result of efforts like that instead of getting flattened.”
Another IT executive complained that too many employees were bringing in iPads and connecting them to the company network. The devices were creating havoc and IT was going to figure out a way to keep them out, the executive said. But the executive couldn’t say what the devices were being used for. “It was like, build a moat and raise the gate,” Walbrook said. Had the executive taken the time to talk to his customers he may have found – as Carousel did – that users had legitimate reasons for using those iPads and that the devices could actually help drive business growth.
Creating More Open Solutions
Further complicating the UC landscape is the fact that there are so many vendors playing in the space. That means companies need to define an end-to-end architecture that can accommodate solutions from many vendors and adapt as requirements and products change over time.
Adhering to open standards such as SIP is one way to accomplish that. And beware of vendors who lure you in to a UC solution with promises of openness, only to revert to a predominantly proprietary suite once you get your foot in the door. While the single-vendor suite approach does give you the proverbial “one throat to choke,” it may be better to use a systems integrator to get the same effect. The integrator becomes the throat to choke but can likely put a solution together using less expensive components, and be your advocate with vendors. Customers can also choose the delivery option that best suits them, whether it’s an on-premise solution, a managed service or a cloud model, he notes.
Creating a flexible architecture is especially important given the increased rate of technology change. An IP PBX, for example, typically had a useful life of 5-7 years, towards the end of which the vendor would come knocking trying to sell the next iteration of the product. But the iPad 2 came out within about 12 months of the original iPad. Similarly, wireless LAN speeds are doubling or more about every 2.5 years. You can’t wait around for “episodic” change anymore; you need to be prepared for changes as they happen, Walbrook says.
Get A Free Expo Pass or 35% of a Conference Pass On Us
Walbrook will be presenting his talk, “Technology in Search of a Customer: Critical Factors to Consider for Your UC Strategy,” on Tuesday, March 27 at Enterprise Connect. If you’d like to catch his session in person, we can help. Click on this banner and get the Carousel discount. We can’t wait to see you at the show. Stop by the booth and let’s talk!
If learning more about unified communications has been on your IT to-do list, you’d do well to make it down to Orlando later this month to Enterprise Connect, “the leading conference and exposition on enterprise communications and collaboration,” as it’s billed – and with good reason.
As an industry leader, Carousel Industries will be highly visible at the event, to be held March 26 – 28, showing off both our products and our people.
Four Stations on Virtualization, Video and More
We’ll be offering four stations, each featuring a different technology. We’ll demonstrate our UC and virtual desktop technology in one area, showing how it can enhance productivity while improving security and help IT deal with all the different types of end user computing devices that end users are now employing. That’s a topic we’ve covered previously in the blog but if seeing is believing, at Enterprise Connect we expect to create a bunch of believers.
Video is another topic that we’ve hit on in the blog several times – including here and here – but at Enterprise Connect you’ll get to see it in action. We’ll show you how to use videoconferencing and UC to “bridge the gap to interoperability” and connect remote teams, colleagues and clients to improve business continuity, reduce time to market, drive closer relationships with customers and more.
Along with our partner Extreme Networks we’ll also be demonstrating identity aware networking, showing how companies can efficiently manage access rights for employees and stakeholders across a multitude of systems, applications and platforms.
We’ll also be showing off some of the custom solutions we’ve designed to address customer requirements in areas such as IVR self-service, contact center technology applications and enterprise middleware. In a nutshell, if you can’t buy what you need off the shelf, let us know – our expert developers can help you solve your requirements.
Sharing Our Expertise: Critical Factors for UC Strategy
On Tuesday at Enterprise Connect, our Vice President of Applications and Collaborative Solutions, Edward Wadbrook, will be conducting a session titled “Technology in Search of a Customer: Critical Factors to Consider for Your UC Strategy.” Ed will explore some of the decisions that need to be made in regards to enabling your UC platform to support mobile devices, video, desktops and telepresence – all while maintaining IT security and holistic device management.
“It is critically important to have a comprehensive strategy in place before deploying a UC solution,” said Wadbrook. “Since UC solutions encompass so many different technologies and require significant amounts of bandwidth and network capacity, there needs to be a clear set of expectations of what is needed before the project gets underway in addition to having the technical know-how required to complete each phase of the solution. This workshop at Enterprise Connect will include all of these topics.”
Get A Free Expo Pass or 35% of a Conference Pass On Us
Still not convinced? Click on this banner and get the Carousel discount. We can’t wait to see you at the show. Stop by the booth and let’s talk!
If you’ve got kids and an iPhone, you’re probably on board with the idea that video is now mainstream. While kids like to snap photos, they love to play with the video camera on the device, endlessly recording each other doing pretty much anything and watching it with fervor.
They are far from alone, of course. Consider that more than 800 million unique users visitYouTube every month. As of May 2011, 71 percent of adult Americans were using the Internet to view video information, according to the Pew Internet & American Life Project. And it’s not just kids using those iPhones for video: a Nielsen poll from October 2011 found that at least one-third of mobile device users engage regularly with video on their smartphones.
As is the case with so many consumer technologies, now employees want – even expect – to be able to incorporate video into their work lives. According to Forrester Research, 53 percent of employees in North America and Europe are using or would like to use desktop videoconferencing on the job. And that data comes from late 2010 – you can bet the number is higher now.
With industry leader’s, like Carousel’s partner Avaya, providing secure enterprise level visual communications solutions to this challenge, there’s good reason for IT to comply with this demand for video. When it is integrated into a broader unified communications platform, video is a powerful tool that presents real business benefits. They include improved relationships with customers and partners, strengthened corporate culture and improved operational efficiencies.
Redefine Collaboration with Video
UC solutions make it simpler for employees to participate in meetings no matter where they may be located. But video raises the stakes, putting faces to voices. That quickly puts a stop to the multitasking that so many employees perform during conference calls and gets their attention on the task at hand.
Not coincidentally, video can also make meetings far more valuable and productive. Consider a healthcare scenario, where one doctor wants to consult with a specialist on a patient. Rather than forcing the patient to make another appointment, imagine if the doctor can simply conference the specialist in via a desktop or tablet-based video connection – no matter if the other doctor is in the same building or across the country. The patient gets better care more quickly and both doctors free up time to see more patients.
Video Adds Visual Cues to Unified Communications
It’s often said that close to 60 percent of the population retains new information better when visual aides are used. In a business context, visual cues can be invaluable in conveying the “true” context of what someone is saying.
When a sales manager can see his direct reports on a weekly sales pipeline discussion, for example, he can read visual cues from the sales people – and quickly gauge how confident each is about their pipeline forecasts.
In the same fashion, video can be valuable for human resources professionals when interviewing job applicants. Many companies now pre-screen promising candidates via videoconference before bringing them in for an on-site interview – saving time on both sides.
Video Enables Companies to Share Knowledge
Video also enables companies to capture and disseminate ideas and corporate knowledge. A particularly successful product team can use video to document its processes and practices, creating training tools to share with the rest of the company. Video-enabled UC platforms make senior executives and subject matter experts more easily available for impromptu consultations, such as to help a customer service rep with a thorny customer problem.
Corporate communications also become more effective with video. Even though he’s on the road, imagine the vice president of sales records a video discussing the quarterly sales pipeline and the urgent need to close specific deals by a given date. He then sends it to appropriate employees, using the UC directory. That will have a far greater impact than a simple email or phone call – and it’s done at a time convenient for the VP.
These are just a few examples of how video and UC can and are being used to create business benefits. To learn more, including some of the keys to deploying video effectively, check out the Carousel Industries white paper, “Video and Unified Communications: Perfect Together.”
I recently had the opportunity to do something I’ve always dreamed of doing. Walk up to home plate at Fenway Park and imagine myself blasting a shot over the Green Monster. (Note: It’s further than you think!) I had this rare experience when I was able to join Bob Harkins, Vice President at Carousel Industries, as we visited with Steve Conley, the Director of IT for the Red Sox in his Fenway Park offices.
Carousel has been working closely with the Red Sox since 2003, when as Steve explained it, “We had a Centrex/Hybrid phone system running our call center that was antiquated, and it blew up a few weeks before the season started. Literally! Carousel stepped in and came up big to help us get through the season.” By bringing expertise and specialized manpower to bear, Carousel put a loaner Definity system in place for the 2003 season, and was able to help the Sox address the immediate short-term issues, while buying time to develop a strategy that would allow the organization to begin addressing its long-term priorities and goals while putting in a technology backbone for growth.
“Even though people look at the Red Sox as an New England institution and a nationally recognized brand, we are actually a small company with only 160 full-time employees” explained Conley. “So when Carousel helped implement our new Avaya system, we worked closely with them and relied on their expertise to make sure it enabled us to do things we had never been able to do before.” Carousel worked with the Red Sox team to help identify key objectives and business drivers that the system needed to address, including:
Ensuring the ticketing “Contact Center” system would integrated with the rest of the organization
Making the ticketing system “fair” to allow everyone equal access to tickets
Eliminating busy signals when fans call in – no easy task when there are only 15 call center assets
Defining infrastructure requirements, from necessary T1 bandwidth, to scalability of the network for future growth, to cabling needs in an enormous, 100 year old steel and concrete facility
“Carousel helped put together the strategy and really brought expertise to the table that allowed us to move forward with confidence,” said Conley. Carousel has also worked closely with the Red Sox to make progress on many fronts and keep us with current technology and opportunities. For example, “upgrading to VoIP for the organization and the Contact Center meant upgrading our network backbone to support that initiative. The Carousel relationship has been great, because they have had to be flexible and creative in helping us solve problems and responsive in implementing solutions.”
The Future of Red Sox Nation: Beyond Fenway
Today, the Red Sox are looking at ways to build upon a Unified Communications platform in creative ways to help the organization succeed. Some of the key initiatives we discussed include:
With the proliferation of consumer technology amongst the Red Sox staff, an amazing thing happened. “Our medical team, trainers and coaches started using Apple’s Facetime video calls to collaborate and discuss injuries, assess rehab issues and review player mechanics”, explained Conley. “Obviously this approach, while beneficial, has limitations. However, we quickly saw the opportunities for the organization. Our endgame is now to get a video backbone in place to allow us to securely collaborate over video, with multiple participants from various locations.”
The parks are all being outfitted with video conferencing infrastructure and the new system will connect all the parks, allow for the sharing of MRI information, X-rays and other medical data, while speeding the decision making process and eliminating the need for unnecessary travel.
Unified Communications and ONE-X Mobile
“With Carousel’s help, we are continuing to improve our Unified Communications capability and tie the entire organization together,” explained Conley. As Harkins describes in more detail, “They have voicemail and email coming together on one inbox, and now with the the explosion of smartphones, we are working to implement Avaya’s ONE-X mobile solution. This will enable 4-digit calling on the network, so you can call someone’s extension and know you’ll reach your contact regardless of the device they are on or their location.”
As Conley sums it up, “The payoff for this will really come when the season starts and people are everywhere. Regardless of whether they are at spring training, scouting, or traveling for games, they can connect with colleagues like they are sitting at their desk.”
“We appreciate the long term relationships we build with our clients, and the Red Sox are a great example of that,” explains Harkins. “Initially, we were brought in during a crisis. Today, we work closely with Steve and his team to make the most effective decisions for the Red Sox organization regardless of the product or technology. Our engineers understand Steve’s business objectives and we do our best to craft recommendations to achieve those goals. The Red Sox will challenge our team to do better, short and long term. It has proven to be a great partnership over the years, one I’d like to emulate with all of our clients, and we look forward to the next challenge.”
Carousel’s partner, Avaya, today announced the availability of Avaya Flare® Communicator for iPad tablets. Avaya Flare Communicator broadens the next-generation user experience of the Avaya Flare Experience currently delivered on the Avaya Desktop Video Device, to include the market-leading consumer tablet. Avaya Flare Communicator provides mobile workers with secure, next-generation, unified communications and collaboration capabilities over both Wi-fi and 3G networks.
Summing up the launch, Avaya explains what users can expect:
- Avaya launches secure, next-generation mobile collaboration for consumer devices with Apple iPad application – now available through Apple App Store
- Avaya Flare Communicator enables enterprise-class voice, instant messaging, presence with email integration over wi-fi and 3G networks
- Customers — like Emory University – adopting Avaya Flare Communicator as a cost-effective, easy-to-use means to support BYOD and enterprise consumerization strategies