How We Built Avaya's Own Version of Khan Academy

974 videos, 2,159 subscribers, 272,211 video views – all in just 17 months. Those are the key stats around the Avaya Mentor program, our fast-growing set of how-to YouTube videos for Avaya products that my team and I have been producing.

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at the semi-annual Technology Services World (TSW) Conference, hosted by the Technology Services Industry Association (TSIA) on the Avaya Mentor program, which I had also written about last August. This was a conference focused on services transformation and TSIA asked that I talk about how we at Avaya put together this video knowledge base, including challenges we faced. The breakout session was well attended and so I thought I would share this presentation with you here. Below is a YouTube video of me doing the presentation (not at TSW), which I’ve also summarized, along with more success metrics, for those who prefer to read.

As most of you have heard, the best example of using video to share knowledge is the Khan Academy. This non-profit’s website has a free collection of over 4,000 educational YouTube videos, surrounded by curriculum, quizzes, and incentives like points and badges. The topics range from simple addition, which has 1.7 million views, to the French Revolution with 400,000 views. 

Khan makes a point of having its contributors avoid a teacher-at-a-whiteboard approach, opting instead for a style that feels like you’re sitting at a table with a tutor, working through the topic on a piece of paper. This better aligns with the many of us for whom learning is a visual experience. Being able to see how to do something taps into something different in the brain than just reading about it. The intuitive simplicity of this approach has allowed the Khan Academy to eclipse MIT’s own online education system with a total of 260 million views. 

Another good example is Jove, the Journal of Visualized Experiments, which helps speed up academic research through online video. When an academic team publishes a research paper, they include instructions so that peers can reproduce their experimental results and thus verify the research. Even to experienced lab researchers, understanding exactly what the authors of the research were trying to convey can be difficult, sometimes delaying the peer review process by months. Jove allows them to more easily include videos to demonstrate the procedure.

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By this point, I hope you are asking yourself why you aren’t already using video for your knowledge base. Wouldn’t your employees and customers benefit from your company’s own Khan Academy? At Avaya, we found ourselves facing this question in the fall of 2011.

The President of Services challenged those of us in his extended leadership team to make our organization not just be successful in the market, but to be an organization that the analysts would write about. Put another way, it was no longer good enough to be lean and efficient; we needed to take the lead. 

Going All In

My proposal was to put together an Avaya version of Khan Academy. We would use video to expand on the company’s existing knowledge-base-focused-support-model. We limited our scope to basic how-to videos designed to help those that install, maintain, and support Avaya products, be they customers, partners, or Avaya employees. These were to be short how-to videos, not anything that would replace the training that Avaya Learning develops. 

Like Khan, we would focus on videos that were more live screen capture than talking heads. Additionally, I proposed that unlike Avaya’s existing knowledge base which is only available to our customers with a maintenance agreement, we would make the vast majority of our videos available for free on YouTube. By doing so, search engines like Google would be aware of this content, making it much easier for an engineer to find the answer to an Avaya-related question.

As we got started, getting buy-in from leadership was obviously important. A big part of that was that my team of engineers would need to reprioritize some of our work in order to make time for generating 800 videos in only 9 months. We had great support from Mike Runda, the leader of Avaya Client Services, who gave us the green light to move forward.

The Gear We Got

We evaluated a number of video production software suites and settled on Camtasia Studio. Camtasia gave us great features like the ability to use templates, splice video and audio in, as well as special editing features to highlight or zoom to certain parts of the screen. These licenses ran ~$150. Adding Camtasia required that we upgrade a number of our engineers’ laptops to meet the minimum specs, an upgrade that everyone was excited to have a good reason for.

We also went with a high-quality $80 USB microphone called the Blue Yeti. All in all, that’s about $230 per engineer. We felt it was important to maintain a common look and feel to these videos, so we built a template for Camtasia with legal and branding-approved intros and outros as well as standardizing on things like transitions. Due to our high quality standards, after reviewing the first handful of videos, Avaya’s branding team gave us carte blanche to publish to YouTube without further oversight.

Getting Started

For topic selection, I was lucky to be starting with an amazing team of subject matter experts. Most had no trouble coming up with topics for videos. For those that did get stuck, the engineer would talk with the support engineers to determine the most common repeat scenarios that they encounter and find a way to use these videos to speed up resolution and/or prevent the tickets from being opened in the first place. 

As word got out about our videos, we also started receiving requests from internal and external users. We set a limit of 15 minutes for all the videos and encouraged them to be under the 5 minute mark. The length would really depend on the topic, and I would challenge the author of anything over 10 minutes to see if they could break it into more than one smaller video. To give you a feel for our topics, here are six that show off the variety covering hardware, software, different product portfolios, even our own customer-facing tools.

Quality Control

As the lead for this effort, the most time-consuming part for me was the review and approval process. It was very important to me that we has a very high quality product and thus I personally reviewed each and every one, sending back to the author a list of changes that I wanted to see. The bar was set high and a single review could easily take me half an hour

To help reduce the number of errors, I would frequently share an updated list of common problems I was encountering. This was important as some had a harder time with the learning curve than others, encountering more than 20 issues per submittal, and multiple submittals of the same video. It is worth noting though that while everyone got much better at it with time; some were submitting perfect videos on day 1 while others never quite got there. Some of my engineers were frustrated with me as they felt the bar was set too high for quality. If I heard any extra noise in the background, or if a transition wasn’t crisp, I’d send it back. 

But our users noticed that quality and complimented us on it. I feel it was important to our success. After three months, I delegated the approval process to one of my top engineers, Bhavya Reddy. She was one of the best at producing error-free videos and thus I knew she could maintain our quality. Here’s her video on setting up Avaya Aura Session Manager, which has garnered more than 6,200 views.

After six more months, Bhavya transitioned this role to the company’s formal knowledge management team where it could be better integrated into the other KM processes. This is important as we made sure we always dual-published all YouTube videos to the standard knowledge base by embedding the YouTube video in an article. This helped us ensure that our users could trust that a search of http://support.avaya.com would return everything. The videos that were deemed proprietary were uploaded to an internal server instead of YouTube and published as internal-only articles in the existing knowledgebase.

Getting the Word Out

Building a knowledge base, or any tools, is pointless if you can’t get user adoption. I felt it important to delay the initial announcement until we had the first 100 videos published. I was concerned if someone came to the site and only saw 5 videos, they might never return. 

So once we reached 100 videos, I had the President of Services announce the program internally, followed by similar announcements in external communications to our partners and customers. To reinforce this in a more detailed way, I blogged about it on our corporate site wrote as well as created a Twitter account for Avaya Mentor, allowing people to receive tweets when new videos are uploaded. 

At last year’s Avaya’s User’s Conference in Boston, myself and others passed out materials to all the customers and partners we met with, be it at the conference center itself, or in a bar later in the evening. The IAUG group was actually so impressed with the program that they helped with advertising on all the plasma screens throughout the conference center. We’ve also partnered with the product documentation teams to include references to our program directly in the product documentation.

Our Results

With 16 months now under our belt, I thought I would share with you some of the measurable success we have had with the program. As I mentioned earlier, we have published nearly 1,000 videos on YouTube which have been watched more than 270,000 times.

While the U.S. provides our largest set of viewers, I’m happy to say that we are in 196 distinct geographies. What our support folks are most excited about is that we’re at 1,100 hours of video viewing per month which equates to about 10 full-time equivalents of people, which we figure equates to at least 3 FTE of labor avoidance. 

But perhaps the most interesting metric is that we are seeing significantly more views per article than Avaya’s text-based articles. Now, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison given that we used some of the company’s most knowledgeable resources and posted our content publicly. However, I still think it is clear that video-enabled content is that much more compelling than text alone. 

Three Unexpected Benefits

There are many surprising results from the Avaya Mentor project. The most exciting one for me as a manager was the impact to my employees. At first, I had some resistance from some of my engineers. They were not yet convinced of the value of these videos and combined with the steep learning curve and high quality expectations, some folks just weren’t interested. However, after the good press started, with people directly contacting these authors thanking them for their videos, they came around to its value.

I also saw increase in their self-confidence, which is typical after demonstrating how-to do something to others.  Having those people publicly thank you helps a ton, too. Our most popular video is actually about setting up an interface on an HP server – it has gotten more than 19,000 views! This video was created because many of our applications are sold with this server and this configuration is important. What we didn’t expect is that non-Avaya people would find it valuable to their usage of the same HP servers. I’ve found our video embedded in a variety of websites out there, having nothing to do with Avaya. 

The last surprise was discovering that a business partner pirated a few of our videos and re-uploaded them to YouTube and other sites, touting them as their own. This is something Avaya typically doesn’t care about as our videos tend to be marketing-based. The upside of this is that the message is getting out to more and more people. What makes me nervous is that if we find a problem with a video and need to take it down and re-release it, this partner likely won’t see that and bad information will continue to float around.

We’ve received great feedback from our users of the program. We get these comments on YouTube, Twitter, and via email. Sometimes we get suggestions for new videos to create, product support questions, or just encouraging statements like the ones shown here. As mentioned previously, feedback like this is very encouraging to our engineers.

I want to thank my team who helped make this program a success. We dedicated at least a third of our time for nine months building this program up and it was no small feat. I’m proud to say that Avaya has recognized all of them with well-deserved awards.

Contact or follow me on Twitter @CarlKnerr.

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Less Maintenance, More Innovation: How to (Finally) Fill the IT Skills Gap

If you take a good look at how the business ecosystem is evolving, you’ll find that it’s being redefined by five key market trends:

You’d be hard pressed to find research that doesn’t indicate the takeover of these five megatrends.

Forrester, for instance, predicts that machine learning and automation will replace 7% of all U.S. jobs by 2025. According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, almost 80% of companies identified digital transformation as their top strategic priority last year. Gartner believes that 70% of all newly deployed apps will run on open source databases by 2018; meanwhile, research continues to show that some 20 to 30 billion objects could be connected to the IoT by 2020.

As these technologies shape our smart digital world, so too do they raise the stakes in terms of customer expectations. Next-generation consumers demand nothing short of a sophisticated digital experience marked by greater quality, agility, speed and contextualization.

The Need to Transform NOW

Driven by these trends, organizations have no choice but to consider how they can adapt to grow and thrive. Competitors are moving at rapid new paces and blazing unforeseen trails. We’re seeing this disruption industry-wide, from companies like Uber and Lyft that have revolutionized the taxi industry (taxi trips have fallen by as much as 30% in cities like L.A.) to Airbnb, which turned the hospitality industry on its head by introducing the concept of an end-to-end digital homestay experience.

Look around and you’ll see just how much your own industry is changing. Do you realize how much new ground is ready to be broken? How much unexplored territory there is to seize? The organizations that thrive will be the first to not only see the possibilities, but successfully execute them. To do so, however, companies must undergo some level of transformation—and IT must be a central part of that transformation.

Elevating IT to Accelerate Business

To enable business to move at a pace that maintains a competitive edge, leaders must ask themselves how they’re empowering their IT staff. As it currently stands, something needs to be done about today’s IT skills gap. What we’re seeing is too many departments tied down to costly, archaic systems that hinder performance and productivity. There are too many people doing the same things and expecting different results. In a world where IT maintenance and innovation must be expertly balanced, teams are working to keep the lights on and not spending enough time learning new technologies and strategies or becoming part of the solution. This has been an ongoing problem that needs to be talked about less and acted on more.

The bottom line is that organizations will only truly accelerate in the digital era if IT spends enough time on strategic initiatives. Consider that 60% of top-performing companies engage IT to gather ideas for innovation, and 49% collect ideas through business unit workshops facilitated by IT. Without question, IT should be factored as a critical part of business innovation.

So, how can businesses free their IT teams to begin innovating? The right technology here is key—specifically, it has to be a combination of business process automation over an automated, end-to-end, meshed networking architecture. Let’s first focus on networking—this open, agile and integrated platform liberates IT by substantially reducing the level of complexity associated with traditional network maintenance, allowing teams to spend more time on high-level strategic initiatives. I’d like to take a look at how such a platform helps fill the IT skills gap from a traditional networking standpoint and outline some of the security benefits this architecture can bring.

Networking

Traditional legacy architecture, often referred to as “client-server” is becoming near obsolete thanks to the proliferation of automation and M2M. But before we jump too quickly, you may remember the resistance from peer-to-peer communication where IT in fact won the battle and for the most part didn’t allow it—simply put, the legacy architecture couldn’t sustain it. As manual processes continue to be replaced by smarter, automated processes, it’s imperative that organizations start thinking differently in terms of networking.

This may mean, for example, seamlessly integrating AI and machine learning into their communications strategy to engage customers with flexible new touch points. This will also likely require the integration of services from several vendors with different capabilities, versus one single provider, hence the importance of having an open ecosystem with standards as much as possible.

Regardless of how organizations go about it, the fact is that they must begin moving their networks in a new direction if they wish to progress at the pace their business needs to. Fully-meshed, end-to-end architecture offers an open ecosystem in which businesses can begin freely automating, integrating and reinventing traditional processes without a high level of complexity. This time freedom enables IT to begin reimagining business outcomes. The use of open, integrated, future-proof technology opens new doors of opportunity to do so.

Security

With billions of IoT devices directly communicating and sharing data, organizations are now operating in an essentially borderless network—or as I like to call it, the everywhere perimeter. While this everywhere perimeter enables organizations to operate with unmatched agility and ease, it can also destroy companies if left unprotected. As one can imagine, the strategy and technology needed to protect a virtually borderless network look drastically different than those protected by a traditional firewall or legacy network architecture (Static VLANs, ACLs). This is exactly why IT needs to flex its strategic muscles and identify a stronger security approach, one that safeguards the organization with a near impenetrable network that significantly minimizes security risks and reduces exposure.

An end-to-end meshed networking architecture lets organizations quickly and securely enable services across the network anywhere they are consumed (i.e., personal mobile device, Wi-Fi hotspot, corporate campus). This is done through end-to-end network segmentation, which is widely considered to be the holy grail of network security today. Comprised of three core components—hyper-segmentation, native stealth and automated elasticity—this solution ensures organizations have the necessary framework for next-generation cybersecurity defense. By minimizing security risks in this way, organizations can ensure they are maximizing the value of IT. Lay the foundation right first, then focus on business process workflow automation. Doing the opposite or simply ignoring the foundation will cause pain and slow down your business transformation while making it extremely difficult to maximize the benefits of, for example, IOT.

In the end, every important business initiative requires time. Organizations won’t be able to reinvent themselves if their IT department has none to spare.

2017 Avaya Customer Innovation Awards Honor Five Companies Leading the Way in Digital Transformation

Every year, Avaya and IAUG recognize a handful of customers who are innovators. These customers are recognized with Customer Innovation Awards. Last year’s award winners included a number of technology firms. This year’s five award winners, recognized on stage at Avaya Engage in Las Vegas, include three customers in the financial services sector, a leading global retailer, and a leader in the film production industry.

Each of these customers is benefiting from the latest Avaya solutions to meet business goals—whether the goals are growth, customer experience, cost management, or risk mitigation.

BECU

BECU, which began life 80 years ago as the Boeing Employee Credit Union, today is the fourth largest credit union in the US, with over $12 billion in assets and over a million credit union members. In 2016, BECU embarked on a digital transformation journey focused on the customer experience. BECU relies on Avaya Elite Multichannel running on an Avaya Pod Fx™ infrastructure.

BECU engineer Rick Webb says, “BECU is rapidly expanding and needed a technology partner that could support that expansion and keep our members happy. The Avaya Elite Multichannel infrastructure does just that, while providing increased flexibility and allowing BECU to better meet the expectations of our more than 1 million members.”

Green Shield Canada (GSC)

Green Shield Canada (GSC) is a one of the leading health and dental benefit carriers in Canada, with over 850 employees across seven locations. Starting last year, GSC is deploying the Avaya Equinox™ Experience and seeing strong results. Competing with larger players in its industry, GSC sees strong collaboration among its workforce as a key ingredient for success.

Jim Mastronardi, GSC Director for Enterprise Infrastructure says, “Green Shield Canada has over 850 employees across seven offices in Canada—from Montreal to Vancouver. We saw an opportunity to explore technology upgrades that would enhance company-wide communications and bring our teams across Canada closer together. With just a single training session, employees have hit the ground running with the Avaya Equinox tools. The video conferencing option has provided a solution to overbooked meeting rooms, and the instant messaging feature is already cutting down on the number of emails being sent.”

Scotiabank

Scotiabank prides itself on “being a technology company providing financial services.” As a long-time Avaya customer—and a beta customer for Avaya Oceana™ and Avaya Oceanalytics™—Scotiabank is on a digital transformation journey to better serve bank customers worldwide. Scotiabank contact centers located in Canada and the Caribbean & Latin America region have benefited from a next-gen centralized architecture leveraging the latest Avaya solutions to better serve customers.

Scotiabank has already developed and deployed Avaya Oceana and Avaya Breeze™ apps, and continues to innovate in an ongoing drive to improve customer service and meet customer needs in a competitive market. The success of Scotiabank’s transformation program has enabled the bank to move with greater agility, improved reliability, and speed to market. This has changed the framework for deployment from months/years to days/weeks while improving the overall ROI/TCO.

The Crossing Studios

The Crossing Studios is one of Vancouver’s largest and fastest growing full-service studios and production facilities for film. The firm caters to companies like Fox, Nickelodeon, Showtime, and Netflix. The Crossing Studios were unhappy with the stability and quality of the disparate systems previously in place across their seven studio locations. In 2016, The Crossing Studios deployed a Powered by Avaya IP Office solution offered by local provider Unity Connected Solutions.

Powered by Avaya IP Office has improved stability, reduced TCO and provided the advanced features that the business needs to serve a very demanding film industry client base, including high scale audio conferencing, extensive web collaboration, and rich multi-vendor HD video conferencing. CTO Mark Herrman says, “We needed something that would support our rapid growth, support our clients, and support our bottom line. Thanks to IP Office and the hosted cloud model, we’re able to keep pace with dynamic, fast-moving film productions, staying as flexible as our clients need us to be.” Estimated savings are in the six figures for the first year alone.

Walgreens

Walgreens is using custom Avaya Snap-ins to bring centralized contact center reporting capabilities to local branch sites, for compliance purposes and to help improve the overall customer experience. Avaya Professional Services were instrumental with the deployment, which relies on an Avaya Pod Fx infrastructure.

These companies are each leaders in their respective industries. As part of their digital transformation journeys, they recognize that when it comes to selecting a trusted technology advisor, “experience is everything.” #ExperienceAvaya.

APTs Part 4: How Do You Detect an Advanced Persistent Threat in Your Network?

Here in part four of my APT series, we’re looking at how to detect Advanced Persistent Threats in your network. The key is to know what to look for and how to spot it.

Look for patterns of behavior that are unusual from a historical standpoint. Some things to look for are unusual patterns of session activity. Port scanning and the use of discovery methods should be monitored as well. Look for unusual TCP connections, particularly lateral or outbound encrypted connections.

Remember that there is a theory to all types of intrusion. An attacker needs to compromise the perimeter. Unless the attacker is very lucky, they will not be where they need or want to be. This means that a series of lateral and northbound moves will be required to establish a foothold. In order for any information to leave your organization there has to be an outbound exfiltration channel. This is another area where APTs have to diverge from the normal behavior of a user.

Here’s what to look for:

  • Logon Activity:

    Logons to new or unusual systems can be a flag. New or unusual session types are also a flag to watch for, particularly outbound encrypted sessions or unusual time of day or location. Watch for jumps in activity or velocity.

  • Program execution:

    Look for new or unusual program executions at unusual times of the day or from unusual locations. Execution of the program from a privileged account status rather than a normal user account should also be alarming.

  • File access:

    Look for unusually high volume access to file servers or unusual file access patterns. Also be sure to monitor cloud-based sharing uploads as these are a very good way to hide in the flurry of other activity.

  • Network activity:

    New IP addresses or secondary addresses can be a flag. Unusual DNS queries should be looked into, particularly those with a bad or no reputation. Look for the correlation between the above points and new or unusual network connection activity. Many C2 channels are established in this fashion.

  • Database access:

    Most users do not have access to the database directly. But also look for manipulated applications calls doing sensitive table access, modifications or deletions. Be sure to lock down the database environment by disabling many of the added options that most modern databases provide. An application proxy service should be implemented to prevent direct access in a general fashion.

     

    The goal is to arrive at a risk score based on the aggregate of the above. This involves the session serialization of hosts as they access resources. The problem with us as humans is this: if we’re barraged with tons of data and forced to do the picking out of significant data, we are woefully inefficient. First of all, we have a propensity for missing certain data sets. How often have you heard the saying, “Another set of eyes”? Never manually analyze data alone, always have another set of eyes go over it.

     

    At Avaya we’ve developed a shortest path bridging networking fabric we refer to as SDN Fx™ Architecture that is based on three basic self-complimentary security principles:

    • Hyper-segmentation: This is a new term that we’ve coined to indicate the primary deltas of this new approach to traditional network micro-segmentation. First, hyper-segments are extremely dynamic and lend themselves well to automation and dynamic service chaining, as is often required with software-defined networks. Second, they are not based on IP routing and therefore do not require traditional route policies or access control lists to constrict access to the micro-segment. These two traits create a service that is well suited for security automation.
    • Stealth: Due to the fact that SDN Fx is not based on IP, it is dark from an IP discovery perspective. Many of the topological aspects to the network, which are of key importance to APTs, simply cannot be discovered by traditional port scanning and discovery techniques. So the hyper-segment holds the user or intruder in a narrow and dark community that has little or no communications capability with the outside world, except through well-defined security analytic inspection points.
    • Elasticity: Because we are not dependent on IP routing to establish service paths, we can extend or retract certain secure hyper-segments based on authentication and proper authorization. Just as easily however, SDN FX can retract a hyper-segment, perhaps based on an alert from security analytics that something is amiss with the suspect system. There may even be the desire to redirect them into Honey pot environments where a whole network can be replicated in SDN Fx for little or no cost from a networking perspective.

In the End

Hardly a day goes by without hearing about a data breach somewhere in the world. To combat these breaches, it’s imperative to understand how APTs work and how you can detect them. Remember—prevention is ideal, but detection is a must!

With this blog series, I hope I’ve helped you see how to limit the impact of APTs on your enterprise. If you missed a blog post, here’s the whole series:

APTs Part 1: Protection Against Advanced Persistent Threats to Your Data

APTs Part 2: How the Advanced Persistent Threat Works

APTs Part 3: Prevention is Ideal, But Detection is a Must

APTs Part 4: How Do You Detect an Advanced Persistent Threat in Your Network?