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ITEXPO Sneak Peek: Polycom Predicts HD Future

August 07, 2014

Communication is at the heart of everything we do in life, whether it is business, family dinner or talking to yourself in the shower—it’s all communication.  Communication in business has changed drastically in the past 25 years, with the growth of WebRTC and real-time communications capabilities dreamed of years ago are a reality today.  The world is getting smaller because of Microsoft Lync, Adobe Connect and others that make up a grand landscape of collaboration, mobility and availability taking advantage of the strides we’ve seen in business communications.  A company working toward the ‘next step’ and appearing at ITEXPO is Polycom.

Polycom, a company transforming collaboration and communications for more than 20 years, started with redefining the speaker phone into a necessary business tool.  And, over that time, its over 800 technology patents are pushing business to greater levels of collaboration through its inventive and remarkable solutions. From 1990, when it made video conferencing practical for the enterprise to 2012, when Polycom unveiled its RealPresence Cloud Video-as-a-Service offerings, success has followed this pioneer and it has not looked back.  

Co-Founder and Chief Evangelist for Polycom, Inc., Jeff Rodman, obliged TMC with an interview leading up to ITEXPO.  Rodman will be participating in multiple sessions.  His initial panel is Enhancing the User Experience with IP Phone Apps from 1:15pm-2:00pm August 12, 2014.  This discussion will survey the IP phone app landscape and breakdown what options may be best for your company needs. Another session Rodman is participating in, The Evolution of Business Communications, runs from 3:15pm-4:00pm August 12, 2014, and the panel will discuss mobility, BYOD, LYNC and the future of business communications. 

Why is Microsoft Lync gaining as much traction as it is? How will its growth impact other UC vendors?

JR: The first thing is that it’s reliable. It does the job.  It isn't hard to use or install, and it's friendly to IT and end users.  It integrates well with Microsoft Office, which strengthens each of those points.  And, Microsoft is a name with a good reputation for trustworthiness and viability, which is attractive to enterprises overall. 

Its impact on other UC vendors is tempered by its own status as an evolving, but not yet evolved, solution.  As good as Lync is today, with instant communication through video, text and voice, it’s not a complete solution. Much of the perception of enterprises is that Lync is another brick in the house, but not the house itself. 

The future is still coming and Lync offers one intriguing demonstration of how voice, integration with other environments, and a comprehensive cloud option may emerge.  But there are other alternatives on the market and new ones are constantly evolving.  Disruptive models of business coordination and communication may become big players in the next few years.

Is the BYOD trend slowing down or is it still gaining momentum?  Why?

JR:  Still accelerating.  The BYOD marketplace continues to grow with new device models and whole new configurations continually appearing. Many enterprises have selected a few BYOD's as their preferred choices, surrendering "just say no" for "just say a few." These policies will be stretched even farther by newer-generation workers who will want to continue adopting ever-newer devices for enterprise apps, and "enterprise-approved" devices will need to compete for user mindshare with better performance, functionality, and design.

Has Microsoft created a laptop replacement with its Surface 3 Pro tablet?

JR: For some users, perhaps.  They've upped the display game somewhat and shown more ingenuity with choice of aspect ratio and keyboard mounting options.  But this is just another step in the tablet march: Each new generation of tablets offers new capabilities and functionality, and peels off another segment of laptop users.   It’s likely that no tablet will make laptops obsolete for everyone. There are advancements in upcoming tablets that will make more laptop users into believers, but there's also a developing countertrend, such as in education, where some tablet users are returning to laptops.

How has mobility changed the way you and your team work?

JR:  It's greatly eased operating as a global organization because everyone can more easily accommodate other time zones.  It means that people can be productive everywhere, even to the extent of completing work tasks while on the evening train home.  It means the opportunity to sneak in a work email here and there while they're vacationing in Bilbao with the family. Most of all, it makes working, all around, more pleasant and fulfilling: an element of a complete life rather than an exception to it.

How has mobility impacted the way you interact with your customers?

JR:  Most customers already recognize what mobility can bring to their organization. However what many don't understand is how attainable mobility truly is.  There is definite excitement when our customers see how live human interaction and Polycom communications can empower a high-throughput organization.  This is a fun market to be in these days because it feels like everyone's on our side.

What functions/applications has your business moved to the cloud that you were once running on-premises?   How has migrating to cloud benefitted you?

JR:  A large part of our network capabilities are now available in three different ways: conventional device-based, private clouds, and public clouds.  Public cloud is still not suitable for everyone, especially in areas where network capacity and reliability aren’t strong enough to meet the needs of the enterprise.  But the availability of all forms means that adaptation, not ground-up rebuilding, is all that's needed as networks grow and needs change.  For example, we use enterprise services and also are moving more work into the cloud.  There are a lot of known benefits to doing this. But I think the most important is the ability to almost instantly scale up or down, to recover from unplanned failures, and to transfer resources from one location to another. It lends a lot of new agility to our organization.

Do you trust the cloud?  Please explain.

JR:  Oh absolutely yes.  And heavens, no!  I actually think the question is not as much "Do you trust the cloud," but "How do you trust the cloud?"  The cloud is often highly redundant, but the network that connects to it is less so.  As wireless carriers play with the net neutrality rules, users lose confidence in what they can really expect from the network and the cloud.  There are also continuing concerns about security, susceptibility (against hacker, legal, and governmental attacks), metadata extraction by the cloud vendors themselves, and other issues that keep coming up.  Each enterprise makes these judgments for themselves, and establishes appropriate strategies and the policies to implement them.  My own belief is that the cloud is a safe, reliable repository for non-critical functions and data (which could be as high as 97 percent of normal business), but that an enterprise must keep alternatives ready to go. In some cases, this is for highly secure data or communications while for others it's a sudden need, such as catastrophe recovery within the enterprise or the cloud provider. In some cases, such as archival data storage, there is a need for more than one alternative. 

Big data makes this a little different because some applications unavoidably live in the cloud.  There, the user must find an uneasy comfort and keep a contingency plan or two under their pillow.

How important is it that the generational gap in technology literacy be closed?

JR:  It's important that we move toward closing it, but recognize that it will never fully disappear.  There are two gaps: "kids today" that don't understand all the technology we had to develop just to get a working broadcast color TV system with its 3.579545MHz (in the USA) color subcarrier.  Sadly, though, the times of many technologies have passed and a careful appraisal is needed to discern what is truly needed by newer workers.  The basics, like math and science, yes.  Cathode emissivity? Probably not.

The converse gap comes from those "old guys," the ones also trying to ignore all the new tattoos. They have never lived in an MMORPG and dragged themselves through the 25 hours of unalloyed tedium that was Final Fantasy XIII.  They need to understand how new workers think, what they're accustomed to and what they expect.  The newer generation is tomorrow’s workforce and enterprises need to understand and meet their needs. 

So we all need to close the gap. Or at least move in that direction. And maybe have some fun with it.

What impact will the Apple-IBM alliance have on the enterprise vendors?

The Apple-IBM alliance is a great enabler for enterprise vendors because it demonstrates the expanding scope of application and UC solutions in enterprise.  Like other services and devices out there, it will cover some needs and leave others, like versatile and real-time audio and video communications, open for innovation and further partnering.

Will wearable technology have a more significant impact in the enterprise or consumer segment?

JR:  First, let's look at an example that's already happening.  Aside from vertical markets and highly-specialized applications, non-wearable mobile devices have not split into enterprise and consumer forms primarily because they're built differently. It’s mainly by the selection of applications and supporting functions that are installed on them.  “Wearables” are likely to follow the same path.  This means their usage will be greater in the consumer market (for the simple reason that there are more consumers than enterprise workers), but their uptake in both will be big. 

What one wearable tech product do you most want to see on the market?

JR:  Well, I've been a "glasses" user most of my life and would love to see a "Glass" - style accessory, but compatible with prescription lenses.   It would yield conventional smart abilities.  But it would also add additional vision enhancements, like night and telescopic vision.  And maybe X-ray vision! Yes, I want to be an early adopter of BYOS (Bring Your Own Superpowers); is that bad? 

Is gamification an effective tool for increasing engagement with customers?  Explain.

JR:  Yes, I think so, as it is in education.  The conventional sales model puts the customer into a passive role: they listen while we sell and by the end, the score is pretty binary. We wonder who won, the customer or the seller?  Adding a games element offers more engagement and gives the customer a feeling of empowerment. It sustains customer interest better by bringing a concept of "intermediate rewards" into the sales process. The customer can receive treats as they run the race, not just at the finish line.  "Can I buy you lunch" is a classic intermediate reward but is expensive, rare and usually requires geographic co-location and a restaurant.  Gamification can make rewards more frequent and strategic while using teleconferencing to broaden the seller-buyer interaction into many more spaces. It can also lengthen the engagement because the "game" aspect is something that may sustain the customer's interest over days or weeks.

What is going to be the biggest tech trend for this year’s holiday season?

JR:  Pervasive use of video. I think there is a strong enough ecosystem that exists today where video conferencing from a remote location is becoming an increasingly viable option.  And I think a lot more people will be exploring that.  People are also exploring things like controllable light bulbs - like the Philips Hue, and those make a great gift. And, of course, we are awaiting Apple's announcements this year.  If they introduce something relatively inexpensive and novel like the iPod, it could be a big hit.

What is going to be the biggest trend or innovation in business technology in the next year?

JR:  Video everywhere, HD Voice everywhere, and more complete integration of live communications with business applications.  Analysts are already predicting that live video will be be the biggest component of human communications by 2016, so we'll be seeing this continuing to grow rapidly next year.

What are you looking forward to at ITEXPO?

JR:  ITEXPO gives me the best opportunity to survey the industry and have a lot of really valuable conversations in a very short time.  The panel discussions with industry leaders always bring a lot of depth.  I'm also looking forward to the Open Source Telephony keynote, and a couple of others including Hollis Bradwell's take on running IT as a business.

What will attendees learn from your session?

JR:  I've been privileged with the opportunity to participate in three sessions this year.  One session will focus on the evolution of business communications, and will offer a look at the growing role of Lync in the enterprise, and the alternatives that are evolving.   Another session will explore how HD Voice is quietly taking over the voice communications market, why that's good for everyone and what happens next. Finally a third panel will hit hard on the role of the IP telephone in business, and whether by hosting business-essential applications it will continue to earn its place on the desktop. 

Rodman is one of many participants at ITEXPO shaping the way business is done. Don’t miss out on this trail blazer and others at the Rio in Las Vegas August 11-14, where you have a firsthand opportunity to get a glimpse of the future. 

Edited by Adam Brandt

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