It’s Coming: EC15

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It’s that time of year again. Enterprise Connect is upon us. As usual the conference will be held the third week of March, in the Gaylord Palms hotel in Orlando Florida.  This is without question, my busiest week of the year, and arguably the busiest month of the year. More on that below, but first some thoughts about the venue.

One of the most common reactions to Enterprise Connect is feint disgust about the Gaylord. The venue is something I defend. Of course, there are plenty of places I’d rather be, but it isn’t that bad as conference venues go. I am generally at EC for four days: Sunday – Thursday. In that period, I am unlikely to leave the hotel at all during daylight hours and maybe only once in total for a dinner. I figure: if I am going to be stuck inside for that long, then the illusion of the outdoors is the next best thing. The Gaylord Palms offers a lot of natural light, waterfalls, plants, alligators, and even a sailboat. I actually think twice about the weather (for a second) when the host queries: “outside or inside table?” In terms of the actual conference, there isn’t much to say about big rooms for keynotes and exhibit halls other than the Gaylord offers them too. I will pass thru the Avaya bridge/tunnel probably 25 times in four days, and yes, that’s better than walking thru a Vegas casino, taking a taxi, or walking thru dubious convention center streets. Despite the hotel being so huge, the rooms are never too far away.

The Gaylord Palms is indeed just a hotel, in fact a Marriott. However, it is only about 20 minutes from a major airport (with direct flights to Denver), has (at least in the past) served me cider, offers a reasonable pool and climate, and the Cowboy steak is one of my favorite ribeyes. It is certainly better than many alternative locations that come to mind.

Now, back to the busiest week of the year. Do not confuse busy with productive. I actually get very little done at EC. The reason the week is so busy is because everyone is there. Of the 18 conferences I attended last year, EC is by far the biggest. That means it’s a big reunion event filled with receptions, meals, and conversations. Suddenly, vendors get very talkative and want to do briefings (tip: it’s the worst week and place to do a briefing).  I may work alone in a home office, but I balance my annual social kibitz time in this one week. All that social stuff happens on the side. There’s also sessions, keynotes, and a huge exhibit hall filled with vendors – some I know and others I want to discover. I do like the exhibit hall because demos are hard in a home office. EC is a busy week with news too. There will be more industry announcements that week than any other. Snoozing this week can set you back a year. Despite what I said above, it’s also a big hotel – I will do more walking each day than I usually do in a week.

More food, more thinking, more news, more booze, more physical activity and way less sleep – That is Enterprise Connect. Be thankful it’s only once a year (VoiceCon San Francisco never saw the Enterprise Connect logo).

What to do

Rather than plug my own events, I will offer some general advice on how to make the most of the week.

Keynotes:

Big changes this year. The only keynoter alumni is Rowan Trollope of Cisco and I’m glad he’s back. I truly respect his ability to tell a story. Rowan provides both context and a journey in his presentations. I previously felt the collaboration unit at Cisco to be innovative, but confused. They seemed to be victims of shiny object syndrome with random announcements. Either that’s changed or I understand the vision better or more likely a bit of both. Cisco seems far more aligned and focused today. This will be the first big showing of Project Squared to a broader, non-Cisco audience. When Rowan presented it last November at the Cisco Summit, it was brand new and he only had internal Cisco stories to explain it. I am curious to hear how the service has evolved in 5 months. CTO Jonathan Rosenberg explained how the cloud calls for rapid “iteration,” so I expect to see/hear changes in the solution.

This will be the first time Zig Serafin takes the keynote stage at EC, and he has some big Gurdeep-sized shoes to fill. Zig is very approachable and sincere (which is not how I’d describe his employer), and he’s also very engaged in the products. He may be a new face at EC, but he’s an old face at Microsoft and has worked with Gurdeep for some time. I expect Zig to unveil Skype4B at EC, but then who knows? Microsoft previously used its Lync Conference in Feb for announcements and offered little to nothing new at EC. Skype4B may be tied up with Windows 10 later this year, so for all I know Zig will be doing shadow puppets to pass the time. On the other hand, this year Lync Conference got morphed into the Ignite event taking place in May. Microsoft has revealed very little material about Lync for over a year (don’t get me started on their “briefings”). Maybe Microsoft will treat us with a clue about what they are up to. I do expect Zig to preview the Surface Hub with Skype4B (LRS-2). You may recall Gurdeep brought an earlier version of the Surface Hub on the EC stage back in 2013 soon after Microsoft acquired Perceptive Pixel. Regardless, Lync or Skype4B represents a force unlike anything this industry has ever seen. So regardless of what Zig says, say it was dazzling or risk ridicule.

Delivering the keynote for Avaya is Gary Barnett. I do like CEO Kennedy, but his keynotes always leave me looking for the Cliffs Notes. Avaya is trying to find the right front man. Last year they gave the keynote to CTO Brett Shockley as a parting gift on his way out. I am sure Barnett will do fine, but he’s challenged with material. Avaya has plenty of great things to share, but their client story is still fragmented and that’s what keynote audiences want to see. Infrastructure doesn’t demo well, be it IP Office, Team Engagement (contact center), or networking. There might be a Google announcement. Avaya keeps hinting about a partnership with Google, but I haven’t seen one yet (writing a client for the Chromebook isn’t a partnership). I expect Avaya will again spend most of the keynote talking about its fabric switches. This subject is a triple win for Avaya because it’s growing, threatening to Cisco, and complementary to Microsoft and other UC solutions. It is also a very compelling story. If this is the plan, then I hope Barnett invites Jean Turgeon to the stage as I was impressed with a recent presentation of his.

New this year is Adam Swidler from Google for Work. I worked with Adam on a recent research project and found him very friendly, open, and knowledgeable.  I don’t know how Google got this slot when it was initially slated for Oracle, but no complaints. While education, government, and SMB all seem to understand the Google for Work story, the enterprise seems largely clueless. Though if anyone is to blame it is Google itself. Google is the only keynoting company without a booth – nor has it ever had a booth at EC. The company is doing some amazing things with Hangouts, but I find the enterprise-oriented to be largely unaware of them. This is because Google poorly communicates their story to enterprise audiences and because they avoid major releases. We all remember Office 2013, Lync 2013 and understand Windows 10 is coming, but we can’t name a major Google Apps release since it launched. The company just quietly adds features when it pleases (and does so often) – this is the cloud-way (oddly, the Android releases are well known which are also cloud oriented). Many people still consider Hangouts to be a Skype knock-off, but it has integrated recording, calendar integration, network-based screen sharing, gateways to room systems, and its own room systems. The mobile Hangouts client is more robust than most UC mobile clients. Just don’t tell anyone. It is noteworthy that Google is doing a keynote, and equally noteworthy that it is being delivered by a Technology Evangelist rather than Amit Singh, President of Google for Work (the man chartered to penetrate the enterprise). 

Side note: There is this anti enterprise movement that confuses me. Companies like Google, Slack, and Evernote all need and want enterprise customers, but seem to avoid traditional enterprise communication channels. I don’t get it.

Other Stuff

There’s a lot to see and hear – though don’t look to me for announcement coverage. I don’t write any posts while at the event (but I will be tweeting), and the following week (Spring Break) is a family vacation. By the time I cover new stuff from EC, it will be old news (with a new interpretation). There will indeed be big news over the next few weeks. Of the six finalists announced for Best of Enterprise Connect half are for solutions that haven’t been announced yet and 8×8’s analytics was just announced.

The two general categories that interest me the most in 2015 are business social and enterprise video. I don’t like the name “business social” because people think of LinkedIn and Twitter. I am referring to these new collaborative solutions such as Circuit, Project Squared, Acano, and Biba. I think these are incredible and largely misunderstood. Video also continues to fascinate me. Many ignore video because it has been on the edge of being disruptive for two decades – but start looking again because it’s happening. I think enterprise video is much bigger than its UC context and is already beginning to change customer (and other) interactions. Barclays and Nationwide (both UK) have rolled out major video initiatives, not for employees, but for customers. That’s just finance – many vertical plays are doing the same.

Social and video intersect with WebRTC. 2015 will be a big year for WebRTC enabled applications. I’ve already seen some compelling examples from BroadSoft, Genband, and many more. The disruptive innovation many expected in 2013 is upon us, though don’t expect them all to be using the WebRTC moniker.

APIs were supposed to be rage with UC. For the most part, developers ignored the infrastructure vendors and instead turned to the likes of Twilio or their carriers to build comms enabled applications. Twilio now has a $100M run rate and is attracting more competitors. Digium just launched its Respoke service and Genband launched Kandy last year. Tropo is more carrier focused, but launched a new API Platform for MNOs.  APIs-aaS makes a lot of sense as do most aaS options.

A final category to watch for is speech recognition. This started in the enterprise with a dull roar, but now that consumer apps have proven its value things are getting interesting. We are connected more than ever before, and the keyboard is increasingly inappropriate. Speech rec technologies are becoming very powerful as an interface, for analytics, and totally new ideas such as the Skype translator.

Looking forward to EC15

 

Dave Michels