It’s a Wrap!

by Dave Michels

The Aastra User Group conference came to a close today. Thanks Aastra for having me here.  2011-05-03 12.41.50
This is my sixth telecom conference this year, but my first User Group. User Groups are great. Much less focus on “solutions” than vendor oriented conferences and more focus on solving things. 
The conference took place at the Santa Monica Loews Hotel, right on the beach. I don’t understand why all these conferences are in beautiful locations. I think conferences should be selected for easy airport access and few distractions. Airport hotels in places like Dallas, Cincinnati, Sacramento, or Wichita – those would be good places. My presentation was right after lunch (which was served by the pool) on an 80 degree sunny day – Oddly, the attendees did come back inside. In fact, overall the attendees were very punctual – it is their meeting after all.
DavenJackAastra hosted a Thank You evening for its users at Sony Studios (formerly MGM studios). We got to walk down the red carpet and I met Jack Nicholson – or at least someone with a similar albeit shorter look.
Before dinner we got a studio tour, but it was very disappointing. We saw sound stages and traveled from New Orleans to New York – but we didn’t get to see anything behind the scenes like what type of phone system they had, or what voice mail system supports Pat and Vanna (I love the idea of those two using a spell by name directory). We went into the Jeopardy set, but Watson wasn’t there. The only thing on the tour that had anything remotely to do with telephony was the Ghostbusters car (who you gonna call?).
A few thoughts on the Aastra User Group:

  • These are some big shops. One customer presentation was discussing their upgrade plan – 3,000 phones a year over five years!  Quite a few universities and hospitals.
  • This crowd is different than enterprise customers in many ways. One goof I made in my presentation was the assumption the audience was responsible for voice and data. This was largely a voice crowd – although many were in combined departments, the individuals were voice oriented.
  • Although Aastra is clearly a UC vendor, the user based discussions were a bit different than the vendor based conversations For example, there was not much discussion about soft phones, headsets, mobile clients, presence, even UM. When I asked folks about wireless, they assumed I was asking about cellular rather than wi-fi, DECT, or FMC solutions (there was one mobility session on which was focused on the Aastra DECT phones- very impressive). This is partially explained by the type of customers here, but it’s a reminder that the majority of the world has yet to implement the UC solutions the vendors are offering (all brands).
  • I spoke to several universities that have either stopped or soon will stop offering voice services to the dorms- bring your own cell phone. One university said they determined only 5% of the students in the dorms bothered to set up their voice mail. Use or it lose it.
  • One campus reported instructors are now requesting to use their cell phones too. A very interesting conversation – do you force employees (instructors, departments, etc.) to have a phone (or phone number)? Directory listing? voice mail? No matter how you respond, the conversation spawns numerous rabbit holes. 
  • Donors: Every CIO has multiple constituents to consider and please. Universities also have donors – and sometimes donors have opinions about VoIP. “If the building is going to have my name on it….”
  • Lots of interest in the Aastra BlueStar video phones. They appear to have a winner, but the units haven’t started shipping, so no official verdict yet.
  • Voice mail was a big topic. Many of these organizations use various voice mail platforms from bygone eras. Aastra offers integrated voice mail on its new platforms, but for some it is easier to keep things separate. AVST does well with this crowd and enjoys a tight partnership with Aastra. 

Usually when I look at ClearSpan, it is as a stand alone new system. It is indeed a very robust UC solution. However, I now have a much stronger appreciation now for ClearSpan as a Trojan Horse strategy, effectively positioning ClearSpan as a migration solution to fix whatever the pain du jour might be. So if your voice mail system is in need of a replacement, implement ClearSpan as a voice mail system. If you need an improved mobility solution, consider implementing ClearSpan as a mobility server. Interested in SIP trunks, etc. Because its price is determined by licenses, it is cost effective to license it as a single solution and then once in place, additional features can be activated. Many vendors offer this approach, but of course seamless integration with legacy Aastra solutions is key.
All in all, a great event. A very relaxed and educational environment to chat with folks supporting some very large environments. Of course, Aastra customers come in all sizes with multiple platforms. .
This is one impressively loyal group. Many go back decades and their excitement about their future with Aastra is unbridled.