April 18, 2017

You're a winner

This is a two-part blog all within this single blog about awards, both pay to play awards and best of show awards where things are announced before the actual show.

Pay to play awards serve no real point. Be it Red Dot or some other award where the participants must pay to be in consideration serve no purpose except a few days' worth of Twitter patting on the back. Congratulations, you won the best of show of people who pay to be in best of show consideration.

With extensive marketing teams and budgets, large companies can simply throw dollars and personnel at pay to play awards. He with the most dollars win, even if the products aren't that great. We should be more concerned about what the users think of our products.

From Red Dot "In case of an award, you have to purchase the “Winner Package”. Yeah.

The winner should be the users

Best of show finalists should not be announced a month or more before the show even starts. Does anyone understand how silly that is? I'm looking at you, Enterprise Connect.

This would be a better idea:
A Best New Product award voted on by attendees beginning on the first day of the exhibition and wrapping up on the last day. The award could be presented during the "lock note". There could also simply be a "best product" as voted on by the attendees. That is more meaningful to know what users think.

Voting would be easy since at the end of every conference track we received an email to rate that talk. A simple box to write in a product could be easily added. The more conferences you rate, the more votes you get (that will also help garner more track reviews).

Do you need video

An interesting discussion took place after yet another video demonstration yesterday. The conversation revolved around the need for video conferencing itself.

Back in the day where your whole company was on-site and you needed to meet with several people, you would book a conference room then all head to that room to meet face to face. If you needed to talk to one person, you picked up the phone - typically - to get a question answered or a problem resolved. Usually, the easiest means to an end are used to accomplish the task at hand.

Then the combination of video conferencing and remote workers/satellite offices became the norm. If you need a group meeting, you can either do a conference call or better yet all get together on video. If you need to talk to one person though - my guess is that you'll still pick up the phone and not opt to attempt a video call. There are cases of 'presence' enabled apps where you can see if someone is available and reach out via video. Good luck having that work as easily as a phone though.

At the end of the discussion we were all in agreement that one to one video is not important or necessary for business. To see your spouse, kids or grandkids via Facetime (etc) - now that is valuable.

April 11, 2017

Could you ditch email?

Read the Cisco article here first, titled "Could You Ditch Email for Spark Overnight?" Then come back and continue reading below.

For "all internal communication" a room based chat app (whatever you want to call it these days) can work. However, only if you're in complete control of your entire team and their communication devices will it work fully. One key person whose device, network or ideology fits outside of the scope and it's a bust.

From the blog:
"If team members wanted to stay informed of what was happening in Switzerland, they needed to be part of the Swiss Spark room. All key information—weekly news, win messages, organizational announcements and changes, and all other official communication"

This is an interesting comment. Were all these pieces of information previously done through email?  Are they creating more unimportant things for everyone to read just "because they can"? Here lies my main issue with chat apps, you can get flooded with new things to read, some important, some not. You'll end up with people who feel the incessant need to over share so everyone else is forced to weed through the junk to find the relevant information.

Adoption, usage and productivity rely on a few key factors - and this could be said about any new form of communication tool:

1. Understanding why there needs to be a switch - is communication being missed in the current method?
2. Top to bottom buy in and a desire to switch.
3. The time to switch with the understanding that with each new tool comes a learning curve.
4. Making sure people don't use emojis or post pictures of dinner and use the tool like a professional.
5. Being able to wrangle in the people who abuse the new method of communication - remember when you first had email and all the chain letters and other sorts of bullshit you received (uh, and still get)?

Of course their line of reasoning is solid to eat their own brand of dog food and switch/ditch, write a blog about it and use it for marketing. I can't argue with that.

April 09, 2017

Trade Show Fails?

Read this blog about trade shows then read on with this.

I've done a dozen or so trade shows in the last two years (both local and remote - we do sell a video conference product) and for us it's always 'all hands on deck'. We're not Cisco, who can rotate cozy shifts between their 70,000 employees, so this blog obviously struck enough of a nerve to write about it.

Do not eat or drink in your booth

How in the hell do you think I'm going to have enough energy to get through 8 hours of handshaking and networking? I'm the engineer who is supposed to be locked up in his cubicle designing things. I need to eat, and yes I am sorry I need to drink. In trade shows it's hard to find time to take a piss, let alone eat or God forbid take a drink when you work for a company with only a handful of people. I'm not gorging on a pizza and I try to be as discreet as possible, but I need to eat something.

"Make your booth stand out, booth graphics, overhead signage, listing in the Show Directory are all good ways to help people find your booth."

Money, money, money. Getting carpet for your booth costs a ton. Overhead signage costs N+ton

"If you are from another Country, have people in the booth who natively speak the language(s) of the place you are in."

So for ISE, we should have hired someone who speaks Dutch. Got it. I'm sure hiring an interpreter is cost effective. My guess is the author is a native English speaker and pointing out non English speakers having booths.

"Break time is for email, drinks and lunch outside of the booth. NEVEReat or drink in the booth (yes I said it twice)."

Break time. That's cute. Should I leave my booth empty?

We have to do our best, no matter if the company has five or five thousand employees. Booth visitors luckily, at least in my experience, haven't been judgmental on our situation as a start up.

March 30, 2017

Enterprise Connect 2017 Day Three

Ok so I didn't get around to part two of day two's wrap up. Basically I spent it touring the booths and getting a better understanding of everyone's products. After the show was over for the day, Blue Jeans had a cocktail hour that I went to. I got to catch up with former coworkers who were also there in attendance which is nice. It seems like these shows end up being sort of like a family reunion with all the former coworkers I do run into.

On to Wednesday
Apparently, I must have slept in because I forgot what happened in the morning until I attended Google's keynote. Actually, I spent most of the morning on the phone but whatever.

Google's keynote featured G-Suite and their soon to be released Jam Board. Of all the touch screen devices that are out there, it seems like between all of them, the Jam Board would suit my needs the best. That being said, I only partially use Google's suite of products relying mostly on Office 365 for my own business. I could see me switching to Google's services if I ever received a Jam Board. I don't see myself getting a Surface Hub though. The only thing I wish Google would do is fix their video chat quality. It's been notoriously lacking in quality, lagging behind everyone else in the space. That really surprises coming from such a large company that puts time and effort into their product.

After a second or so thought about it, before I switched to Office 365, I was on Google's services and didn't like their proprietary nature of documents and spreadsheets (in favor of Microsoft's proprietary documents and spreadsheets). It disrupted my workflow and transferring documentation to a non-Google user was always a pain.

After that I headed to the Speaker Services room to get ready for my presentation. They treat speakers very well as Enterprise Connect and I was honored to be among them. I was treated to a nice lunch and coffee was available all day. Then it was off to my talk.

Our presentation of "telepresence performance on an SMB budget" ended up being a talk on cameras. Logitech, Huddly, Altia and myself with Array were the guests with Andrew Davis from Wainhouse being the host. I think it went well. My problem since I'm not in sales or marketing I tend to answer questions short and directly. It's the engineer in me that loathes long answers to short questions. I don't spin tales so I think all my answers were shorter than everyone else. I tried to make a long winded comment about integration (since our product is the only integrator friendly product) and that didn't go so well. Other than that, it was fine. Once it was over and I realized that I didn't die or make a fool out of myself it was time to relax. I spent the rest of the afternoon back on the show floor in one final review of everything. AVI-SPL had both the Surface Hub and the Spark Board in their booth and since I'm on good terms with those guys I spent a long time reviewing both of them, checking their camera captures (it's a habit) and their other features. Of the two, I would choose Surface in a heartbeat, but would still prefer the Jam Board over all three.

That was it for the day. I got a latte and watched the world go by for the next hour of so before heading to my room for some room service and sleep.

I'm typing this on Thursday morning, where I have three more presentations to see, then it's back home this afternoon.

March 28, 2017

Enterprise Connect 2017 Day Two

Today I took a longer stroll through the trade show, but first it was a lecture, a talk and a keynote to kick things off.

First off was a lecture about endpoints. Of course, since I'm in video conferencing, I assumed "endpoint" meant codec. Oops, it was about desk phones. Anyway since I manage a place with five actuall, real life desk phones on copper lines, I thought I would stay. I really appreciated Micheal Frendo's comments, but took it with a grain of salt since Polycom sells desk phones. One thing I refuse to do is call something dead. I don't believe they are dead, especially since I have them.

After that was an end user talk which was very interesting to listen to. Of course, the end users were enterprises and their problems are entirely different than mine. They seemed to be looking for one solution (or provider) but have difficulties. Team chat apps came up and right behind it was their security. Apps may have encryption but the problem lies with what the users do with the content they download to their devices. One security breach is a security breach.

Next up was Jens Megger's keynote from Cisco. He talked about their new codec and the spark board. One humorous thing he said was commenting on how immersive a point to point call between two Spark Boards were. I only found it funny since I don't personally consider the experience anywhere near immersive. He used a slide titled "Experiences matter", which I thought was interesting since I've used the phrase "The Experience Matters" for at least 5-7 years now.

Then it was back to the show. One thing I typically do is ask vendors how long their product has been available. Several times today, the answer was "as of today". That's cool.

I spent quite a bit of time in Zoom's booth and it seems like of all the players in the soft codec world, they are making the biggest strides, biggest improvements and most innovations. I applaud them for that. Some vendors have put out a product and said "here you go" and that's about it. Not Zoom. This is why they are at the top of my list of favorite soft codecs.

March 27, 2017

Enterprise Connect 2017 Day One

Day one is a wrap at Enterprise Connect and here are the highlights.

My day started with the Innovation Showcase presented by Dave Michels. The best thing I got from that is learning about Kaptivo which is a fantastic new solution for everyday whiteboards. Kaptivo captures your existing whiteboard and allows a remote user to log in via a web browser to see what is being written. It de-warps the whiteboard and transmits only the content being written and not people, shadows, hands, etc. For $399, it's an absolute winner for those using traditional whiteboards. It's shipping now

Next was "Taking video to the next level" with panelists from Neureva, Cisco, Polycom, Oblong and Zoom. It was a standing room only crowd. Literally. The most interesting thing about it was when Andrew Davis asked if anyone hadn't heard of Zoom, there was quite a show of hands. That's surprising given the assumed level of the audience. It makes me wonder if anyone will know about Array when my presentation takes place on Wednesday.

That was it for the lectures I wanted to attend for the day, so I slept until the trade show opened. It only took two hours to do my broad brush overview and to hit the things on my list which mainly was cameras. I was surprised that NEC wasn't showing their new Infinity Board despite having a large booth presence. Zoom's booth had both a Huddly and Panacast cameras so I got to check their image quality out. Logitech had their Brio so I took in a demo of its features. It's an amazing camera.

Random notes:
Yealink did not have any codecs in their booth (that I saw).

Cisco's new codec/camera solution is quite impressive in features but not so much in looks. I do not care for cameras integrated into speakerbars. It absolutely limits the installed location. It does voice switch much faster than Speaker Track.

Polycom's EagleEye Director 2 was nice, but it still takes too long for switching.

There are a ton of UC apps, but in all honesty I can't tell them apart. I'll dive deeper into those tomorrow.

That's it for today!

March 21, 2017

The video conference experience matters

While browsing LinkedIn, I came across two pictures in my feed. Both are actual video conferences and NOT marketing pictures. What you should immediately notice is the striking differences between the two experiences in this tiny snapshot of time.

The first picture is of a meeting using a Cisco MX700. Here are some bullet points:
1. Zoom in real close and look at the self view. This is what the other end point is looking at.
1a. SpeakerTrack may be in use and the guy may have just finished talking. The world will never know. Worst case scenario is that the camera was panned, tilted and zoomed and just left here.
2. Notice how the far end point is not engaged in the meeting (probably because they can only see one person and he isn't looking at them). No one is even looking at the displays.
3. The camera captures the people in a line (due to camera location and table used) and unless the people lean forward or back, they will be obscured by the people closer to the camera.
4. If my Googling is correct, this solution is $50,000

Unfortunately, this is a typical video conference.

The guy in blue looks very familiar

Now notice the meeting in the second picture.
1. It's a fixed camera solution that captures the whole room.
2. People are the same size on screen and highly visible.
3. Note that both rooms are standard conference rooms with typical tables.
4. Both rooms are set up correctly for video conferencing regarding lighting and windows.
5. If there were more people in the room, the camera is placed at such a location that everyone would be visible to the remote site.

You can probably put this all together for less than $20,000 (displays, codec, camera, control system)

Setting up your conference room using best practices creates a much better overall experience. Using the right tools for the job increases that level of experience. The answer is clear to me.

For total disclosure, if you already don't know by now, I work for Array Telepresence which is the company that makes the product experience shown in the lower picture.

March 19, 2017

Enterprise Connect 2017

This year will mark my second visit to Enterprise Connect, located at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando. Two years ago, I was there as an exhibitor. This year I will be there as a speaker. Two years ago I didn't have time (nor the credentials it turned out) to go to any of the lectures. This year, I'm going to be in lectures most of the time, but making sure to visit the show floor as well and take in everything.

There are several new products that have popped up recently to look at, including several new cameras. New imaging technology is always cool to see and it looks like we're finally getting away from HUGE/ugly set top camera systems.

The cool:
The main reason for going this year was the invite to speak about telepresence technology. I was honored for the invitation and will be alongside representatives from Logitech, Huddly and Altia Systems to discuss attempted telepresence at a SMB price point. I'm not sure exactly how much speaking I will be doing as Andrew Davis from Wainhouse will be handling the presentations. As far as I can gather, my role is to answer any questions or provide clarification on the products from Array.

What would be cool is to have a debate between all four of us regarding the pros and cons of our products but I'm about 8003% sure that won't happen. It would also be fun to debate actual telepresence, which in my opinion Array is only company of the four that can deliver it with products currently on the market. That could get extremely long winded on my part and could be a day long affair. That being said I would like to debate someone from both Cisco and Polycom simply to ask them why they think 3 screen systems make any sense. Ok, ok.

The bad:
In a blog I wrote after the last Enterprise Connect, I was dismayed at the actions of some people regarding inappropriate behavior after having too much to drink. I hope that doesn't happen this year. I wouldn't want to cause a ruckus by doing something I may regret to some drunk jackass who thinks it's funny to treat women with disrespect. A lot of alcohol was thrown around on the show floor and I don't know that this has changed. It's just disappointing that some people don't know their own limitations (or don't care).

The good:
I'm excited to be staying at Gaylord too! Last time, there were several of us that rented an AirBnB house. Since it's just me and I'm not renting a car, it actually made financial sense to stay on-site.

So anyway, if you see me there say 'hi' and I may just ramble on about video conferencing until you're sick of it. Attend my lecture while you're at it. If you're not going feel free to reach out to me about all things telepresence anyway.

February 21, 2017

Persistent Group Chat

Persistent group chat apps like Slack and Spark are starting to dominate the conversation of unified communications. Are they that good? I'll let you find your own fluff blog posts hailing them as the next big thing (rendering everything else dead I assume). This takes a look at the other side, since it's rarely discussed.