One of the great things about attending a major industry event such as TMC’s ITEXPO Anaheim is the insights gained from having what can best be described as truly “immersive” experience with industry experts. We just concluded the second day and already a couple of things have been illuminating from listening to and moderating several sessions, hearing the keynote addresses and speaking with people on and off the exhibit floor.
A big takeaway has been the absolute confirmation that we are in a remarkable transition period in ICT no matter where you look. This includes communication service providers (CSPs) growing sense of urgency/interest in accelerating Network Function Virtualization (NFV) standardization (particularly regarding service orchestration). There are also questions about data center transformations leveraging Software-Defined Networking (SDN) and the industry debate about the costs and benefits of virtual machine (VM) vs. containers and micro services. The real-time communications segment is evaluating if Microsoft’s Skype for Business is a game-changer or not, and what the impact of momentum behind WebRTC means to the future of communications in general and market shares specifically. And, that is just the short list.
Where there is violent agreement and a common thread in all of the above is that the “need for speed” is an imperative. Regardless of the industry sector and where you sit in ecosystems or are a vendor or customer - going faster and being able to adapt to change has no alternative as the path to success. On a little more granular level on the vendor side of things, this translates in the requirement to have more visibility of service delivery end-to-end, agility, scalability, controllability, in theory if not in practice interoperability, and not surprisingly, and refreshingly, security. For consumers it also means a better customer experience, more billing options and more transparency into how their vendors of all shapes and sizes are performing.
The three keynotes were great punctuation points on the above. Peter Bailey, President and CEO of comprehensive communication service platform provider Vertical Communications in discussing his company’s transformation and success, noted the decision to concentrate on solving customer problems in a rapidly changing world by concentrating on really understanding how work flows and using technology to make those workflows create sustainable value was key over selling technology. This, he said, is the path forward and is getting great traction in the market.
In fact, Bailey walked the audience through three real workflow customer examples. The first was a pharmacy drive-thru challenge to delight customers faster. The second was a major retailer using mobility and kiosks and multimedia interactions to increase customer engagement and make the in-store experience one that keeps people coming back in the face of online-only competition. The last was a grocery store chain looking to improve customer engagement for each of their specialty areas. In each, using the Vertical Communications platform which includes contact center, data warehouse, IVR, big data and sophisticated analytics, integrations with other enterprise systems like CRM, and a host of other capabilities, to improve and enhance business processes and the information they generation was enabling not just cost reductions but critically was enabling frontline people to better service customers.
The catch phrase for why technology is purchased in the first place is now appearing in enterprise reports to their investors as becoming more “customer-centric.” Enhancing the customer experience has become a C-level obsession as technology has made most products and services commodities where options abound and are readily available – and where treating customers better and offering differentiated value means keeping them and having permission to up-sell.
This may sound very familiar to industry vets. Back in the 1970’s AT&T’s marketing campaign with the late CEO John DeButts as pitch man was based on the notion (to paraphrase a series of commercials that were vertical market oriented), “we don’t want to be your service provider until we know your XXXXX business.” How to actually do this has always been more a promise than a reality. Let’s just say that change and its accommodation was been a hard pill for vendors and many of their customers to swallow, especially as the Internet has forever changed the relationship of buyers and sellers. Buyers now have better information and instant access to alternatives which is why sellers need to delight them or suffer the consequences. The Internet and now the cloud, mobility and the expectations we all have from experiences in the way we personally use technology really have disrupted “E”verything.
This is where all of the wonderful technology on display at ITEXPO comes in. Interestingly, the sell now is not to IT, who obviously has a seat at the table but to C-levels who increasingly “get it.”
This message of being more responsive faster was echoed by the keynotes from XO Communications and Microsoft. Matt Bateman, XO, Technical Team lead for NFV, SDN Team substituting for XO’s CEO Chris Ancell delved into how his company is helping enterprise become more competitive through virtualization. The goals are straight forward for doing so: improve control over costs, provide multiple choices to customers and be able to be fast in the market and respond rapidly to change.
Paco Contreras Herrera, Director WW Product Marketing Microsoft Skype for Business gave an interesting talk about the impact Millennials are having on the workplace (of which they will be the majority in the next few years) and how their digital adeptness and the need for real-time communications and collaboration to speed decision-making and responsiveness to customers is changing the way everyone will work. He mapped out what Microsoft plans to do in the next few months with Skype for Business and its integration with Microsoft Office 365 (which remains the productivity tools interface for over 90 percent of workers) and other Microsoft capabilities along with its move to the cloud and the accommodation of mobility, the message was the same in many ways as all of the speakers.
In short, organizations need to see change as opportunity not threat. Making sure in real-time that the right people have the right information and tools at the right time, that they are easy to use and interactions are private and secure is the objective, and that technology is a means and not an end.
While the Microsoft talk started with the Millennials all of the speakers noted that we all already live on our personal devices and real-time has become the only time for us to be highly productive in a very competitive world that is all ways and always on. Agility, performance, ease-of-use, interoperability and security all will play a part in getting from here to there in terms of providing frictionless experiences. What ITEXPO has confirmed is that we are making progress, this is a journey with a constantly changing destination, but in most cases at least the industry is on the same page as to what is needed for success. The great thing is that everyone has innovative ideas about how to make the journey a delightful, less painful and fulfilling experience. Being able to hear and see what is going on and coming next is why ITEXPO makes for a good reason to get out of physical and virtual office.