Being READY for Disaster with Communications Solutions

FletchRomano

Being ready for disaster includes keeping a business operating even when employees may be forced to work remotely. The Avaya SCOPIA solution offers real time ‘meet-me communications’ from anywhere on any device to enable the smooth flow of interaction and collaboration by employees and customers. Fletch sits down with Rob Romano to discuss Scopia and it’s unique ability to solve this communications challenge faced by businesses today.

Fletch: September has been the National Preparedness Month. We at Avaya have been talking about how to be prepared. In addition, the citizens’ businesses can also be seriously impacted, and while resources can be made available online, communications can significantly be impacted.

Now, Avaya offers several solutions that can provide core communications. One of these is Scopia. Joining me today is Bob Romano, who’s in charge of marketing activities over at Scopia. Welcome, Bob. What exactly is the Scopia Solution?

Bob: The Scopia Solution is a conferencing solution with great capability to have video included in it. It was born really in the video conferencing marketplace. In the sense, it’s growing up to include not only video, obviously audio, but good rich data collaboration, moderation capabilities. Really probably one of its biggest strengths is the fact that it has the capability to be able to join Scopia call from virtually any device that you have and whatever network that device is on.

Fletch: I’ve been using Scopia quite a bit internally in Avaya. I’m having more Scopia calls now than I’m having regular phone calls. How exactly does a customer deploy Scopia? Are we talking about hardware, software. What’s this look like?

Bob: There are several options. Many of our customers will purchase a Scopia system, and then includes servers that are delivered from Avaya. They get installed in their network. That could be a distributed network where they can put those servers around geographically dispersed. Then from that, the rest is all software that allows them to be able to connect in with desktop or mobile devices.

We also have conference room video conferencing systems that we’ll go into a conference room to provide extremely high-quality video conferencing in the conference room environment.

Fletch: One of the biggest things that I find that’s annoying with the various different conferencing utilities that are out there, I’ve always got to go somewhere. I’ve got to make sure I’ve got the software updated. Sometimes that works. Sometimes it’s a pain. How does Scopia handle the client side of the software?

Bob: That’s one of the beauties of Scopia. In fact, if you look at video conferencing’s history, it really focused on conference rooms, room video conferencing where people went to the video. It wasn’t because they necessarily needed to meet in the conference room. It’s because that’s where the device was.

One of the things that Avaya really pioneered was they extension of that video conferencing paradigm out to desktop and mobile users. We have developed technology. This all came from Avaya’s acquisition of Radvision. Radvision was an early pioneer in desktop and mobile capability. What we do is we allow you on a desktop device or a mobile device to be able to simply click on a link that you’ve been invited into a conference.

It will automatically push whatever components are needed on that device, and automatically join you into the conference. It’s the simplicity of it and the reach of it that really has made this such a valuable tool.

Fletch: In general Bob, what would you say are the requirements for the remote users that are going to dial in from a device perspective? Are there any limitations there?

Bob: Well, that’s the beauty of it. There really aren’t. We have clients for PCs both whether they’re Windows based or whether they’re IOS Apple based. We cover Mac and PCs. We have clients that are supported on the Apple devices. That’s iPads, iPhones. Then we have clients for Android devices. That’s a wide variety of different manufactures that provides tablets and phones and mobile devices on the android platform.

That covers a very wide percentage of the users out there that are using either their desktop, their laptop, or their mobile device. The client as I mentioned is 100% free and freely distributable. There is no licensing with it, so the simplicity of that model works very well.

We really tailored it after the web conferencing model, where you get invited into a conference and you click and join. The host is the one that is hosting forward and supports the conference, but guests can come in from anywhere for free. That’s what we adopted to the video conferencing model. It’s worked very well.

Fletch: A couple of weeks ago, I was out in some customer meetings on Long Island, and I had to be over in Connecticut. I took the ferry, the Bridgeport ferry over in the morning. I just happen to have an internal conference call scheduled that came up while I was on the ferry. Without even thinking about it, I just picked up my phone, and I clicked the link to join the bridge because we used Scopia for that. Immediately, everybody was like, “Where are you?”

All they see is me out in the water somewhere taking a ferry across the Long Island sound, but because of the LTE connection that I had, it was just like I’m in my office, which really was interesting.

Bob: Exactly, and really that’s the beauty of it. The idea is that you can use whatever devices available to you. Sometimes I use my PC when I’m home. I work out at my home office. That’s the majority of the time, but quite often if I’m travelling or doing whatever else, I can join with my phone or my tablet.

The beauty by the way of joining on those devices is not just participating in the audio-video component, but fully participating in the data that’s being presented and also being able to moderate it. If I have my staff meeting and I’m on the road, from my mobile device, I can see all the participants in the participants list. I can mute everybody. I can invite new participants. I can lock the conference. I can record it. I have full moderation capability.

The richness of that experience from any device that you’re on is a very important component of our solution.

Fletch: Yeah, and I think one of the benefits that I’ve experienced, because I was one of the initial users on Scopia after the Radvision acquisition, so I’ve been using it internally since day one. The thing that I’ve noticed is that when new features, when new functionalities are being deployed out, you always got that because it’s a click link, right, on your desktop. You’re always being refreshed. You don’t have to manage the clients.

Bob: That’s very important for the IT organizations that are supporting an application like this. For them, the nightmare of having to ensure that all of the users are updated … Remember, we mentioned that it’s not just internal users, but it’s external users that you invite into the call. Anytime somebody clicks the link to join the call, it will automatically test whether the latest software is deployed. If not, it will push the updates and join you in the call.

When you mentioned the Avaya deployment, that’s actually something I’m very proud of. I came with the acquisition of Radvision. In June of 2012 when we were acquired, we decided to deploy Scopia to a select group of sales people so that they could experience, and quite frankly reach out to their customers and use it as a tool.

That started with the deployment of about 4,000 sales people. It has since grown now to almost 10,000 people within Avaya that have virtual rooms, Scopia virtual rooms. Last month in the month of August, and I’m looking at the report now that we pull every month, there were 53,453 meetings with an average of about 3.75 people per meeting across all of it. The maximum number of attendees in a single meeting was 296 by the way with an average of about four participants.

That was over 200,000 participants in the month of August. Those are participants internal to Avaya, that are internal Avaya people using it, but also external. We use it with partners. We use it with analysts. We use it with customers. It’s really been amazing, the adoption of this. That really only happens when a technology is invisible, when the value and the utility of the solution and the simplicity of using it is such that people just adopt it naturally.

Fletch: Well, in addition to eating our own dog food so to speak, I think we really learned about that deployment. When they first started expanding this out, we very quickly saw where we needed to tweak out network, where we needed to tweak our policies. We learned quite a bit from our own deployment, which is ultimately going to make the customer deployments go nice and smooth.

Bob: Exactly right, and we have many customers that have very large deployments like this. We can look at that. We look at our own deployment. We can tell them all kinds of statistics about how we think their usage will be in, how they need to deploy their network. As an example, we know that of these meetings, typically about 84% of them are desktop and mobile users attending the meetings. About 7% are room video conferencing systems join in the call. Multiple people in the room of course, but the device is about 7% of them are room systems.

About 7% are just pure telephone calls that come in and join just the audio only. We have that understanding of the usage of the solution. We do all that by the way through our simple management tool that pulls all that data. We can help customers when they are deploying and looking at this by using our own usage patterns and help them with theirs.

Fletch: That was one of the first things that I appreciated as a user early on in the beta program is when we first started, there were two separate audio conferencing instances so to speak, one that you would use on day to day basis that we had deployed, and then the Scopia one. Then very early in the beta, that all emerged together to where you’ve now got one common audio bridge.

Quite often, I’ll open up Scopia, and it will be all audio participants in there because it’s mostly external people. We weren’t really setting up an audio bridge, but I’m just dialing in through my Scopia, so it’s kind of all there. It really brought there all together in one interface for me. I’m using Scopia as my normal means of communications.

I mean, you don’t normally make phone calls on it, but I’m finding myself when we want to discuss something, instead of calling somebody or setting up a bridge, I’m setting up a Scopia event, which is really interesting to see how it’s changing my way of communicating.

Bob: It’s a meet me here. We call it a virtual conference room. It’s a virtual conference room in the cloud. Everyone in Avaya, there’s 10,000 people that have their own virtual conference room, has this unique ID. We have a plug-in that goes into outlook, which we use for scheduling. When I schedule a meeting in outlook, I just click that little button that says “Scopia meeting”. It automatically populates the invite with all the information for somebody to join the call regardless of what they’re on.

It says, “If you’re on a desktop or mobile, click here.” Again, that pushes that client. If you just want to make a telephone call in, click “dial this number”. If you’re on a room video conferencing system of any vendor by the way, we’re fully standards and fully an operable, dial this way. With that, then it allows people to be able to join from wide variety of devices and again from whatever network those devices are on.

That’s really the utility of it. In our work, we were talking about the National Preparedness Month. It is interesting when Hurricane Sandy came through the East Coast. There was a lot of disruption in terms of Avaya and many other companies obviously, but Avaya employee is able to do business. Our New Jersey office was closed for several days. People were impacted at their homes with their ability to get around.

We utilized Scopia extensively during that period. Those employees to be able to continue to have meetings, and many of them were in coffee shops trying to get a wireless connection. They would come in with their iPads. We had one employee that was stuck and couldn’t get back into the New Jersey area, and stayed in Chicago on a business trip, but just had all of her meetings on Scopia, and really never missed a beat. It was quite amazing.

Fletch: I set up in my local coffee shop as well. I would just go in every morning, and just set up office, and would literally work out of there because they had power. They had food. They had something to drink and bathrooms and WIFI. That’s all I needed.

Bob: The interesting thing about it is that we use technologies on all of our endpoint devices. Specifically, we use a high profile codec. What that does is it compresses the video much more efficiently than normal codecs. It uses about 30 to 50% less bandwidth at any given resolutions. That dramatically improves the ability to be able to have high quality video over all of the networks.

As the network gets faster, that just becomes better, but still bandwidth management and bandwidth utilization is very important. We use other technologies that correct for air packet loss in the network, which is very typical. When you’re on the open internet or you’re on a cellular data network, there will be packet loss. We use technologies like scalable video coding that allows it to be able to not be as impacted by packet loss.

Particularly the video, we’re used to get blotchiness. Now, we have a very smooth video even if there is packet loss in the network. There is a lot of things technologies in the background that significantly improve the quality of the experience. At the end of the day, users don’t care about that. They just know that when they get on, they have a great experience no matter where they are.

Fletch: What did we do at Avaya over the last couple of months? There was a significant change in the quality of the video. It was like we turned on HD one day or something.

Bob: That’s exactly what we did as a matter of fact, Fletch. When we first deployed it, we set it up so that mobile users, desktop, and mobile device users when they came into a call would come in at about half HD resolution, DVD quality. It is what it was. We did that because when we’re deploying it to 10,000 users and we have an over 200,000 participants in a call at any time, we wanted to make sure that we were efficient with our bandwidth usage.

What we found was with the new high profile codecs that we now have across all of our device, our mobile clients have it. Our desktop clients have it. Our room system clients have it. It’s fully supported in the servers. Then we decided, “We can go to HD now with very little impact to the overall bandwidth utilization,” and so we upgraded all of these services to support HD across all of the devices that join. That’s why we’re seeing what was very good quality before, now looks like it’s stunning HD quality.

Fletch: I know. That’s what it is. It is stunning. The day it happened, I looked in my screen. I’m like, “Oh my God! What happened? There’s a big difference here.” Then it was amazing. The cool thing is we didn’t have to go out and touch 10,000 endpoints to do that upgrade either.

Bob: Not at all. There was actually no change to the endpoints at all. It was just a service change internally that we turned on, and because we upgraded our servers with the new high profile capability, then that allowed us to do that.

Fletch: There is going to be a lot of interesting use cases around that. I’m certainly going to want to sit down and talk to you about that in upcoming podcasts. For today, I really appreciate you taking the time to sit down with us. This has really been interesting to see some of the backend to the Scopia product that’s out there.

Bob: Well, I’m happy to do it. I’m always happy to talk about Scopia. It’s a phenomenal product. I’m just really happy that so many people around the world are using it. Certainly within Avaya ourselves, but the deployments now are amazing. Some of the use cases of what people are doing with it are really interesting and a lot of fun. We can talk about those in future podcasts. I’d be happy to do that.

Fletch: I’m absolutely be looking forward to it. Where can someone go to find out more on Scopia and how they can add that functionality into the enterprise environment?

Bob: Go to avaya.com of course. Then underneath there, you’ll find the Scopia product pages, and full descriptions of those. We certainly invite you to go there and take a look.

Fletch: We’ve been talking with Bob Romano, who brought the good technology with him from Radvision. Thanks for sitting down and talking to us.

Bob: You are welcome, Fletch. Thank you.

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Call it what you will: Multi-channel, Omnichannel—It isn’t about the Contact Center!

At this point, we know that most companies are competing exclusively on the customer experience (83%, according to Dimension Data). McKinsey Insights shows that effective customer journeys are impactful: increase revenue by up to 15%, boost customer satisfaction by up to 20%, and turn predictive insight into customers’ needs by up to 30%. The issue isn’t that companies fail to understand the importance of the customer experience (CX). The problem is that over half of companies today fail to grasp what is arguably the single most important driver of a successful CX strategy: organizational alignment.

This isn’t to say that companies aren’t taking the necessary steps to strengthen their CX strategies. Looking back five years ago, 92% of organizations were already working to integrate multiple interaction channels—call it multi-channel, omnichannel, digital transformation—to deliver more consistent, contextualized experiences. The needle is moving in the right direction. However, companies will find themselves in a stalemate if they limit the customer experience to the contact center.

Customer Experience is the Entire Brand Journey

That’s right, the customer experience is NOT about the contact center. In fact, it never was. The customer experience is instead about seamlessly supporting consumers across their entire brand journey regardless of where, when, how and with whom it happens. This means supporting not just one business area (i.e., the contact center), but the entire organization as one living, breathing entity. This means supporting not just one single interaction, but the entire experience a customer has with a company from start to—well, forever. After all, the customer journey never truly ends.

Are companies ready for this future of the customer experience? Perhaps not: 52% of companies currently don’t share customer intelligence outside of the contact center, according to Deloitte.

Executives are planning for not only contact channels to expand but most are expecting these interaction journeys to grow in complexity. It’s clear that a contact-center-only structure doesn’t cut it anymore. At today’s rate of growth and change, it’s easy to see how a CX strategy can miss the mark when the entire customer journey is being limited to the contact center. Imagine how much stronger a company would perform if it supported the customer experience as the natural enterprise-wide journey it is? A journey where interactions take place across multiple channels and devices, unfolding across multiple key areas of business (i.e., sales, HR, billing, marketing)?

Imagine, for instance, a hospital immediately routing an outpatient to the travel nurse who cared for him last week, although she is now on the road to her next location. Imagine a bank being able to automatically route a customer to a money management expert after seeing that the last five questions asked via live chat were about account spending. Imagine a salesperson knowing that a customer attended a webinar last week on a new product launch and had submitted three questions—all before picking up the phone. Imagine a retail store associate knowing you walked in and that you were searching online for formal attire.

Contextual Awareness is Critical

Today’s CX strategy is no longer about asking the right questions: it’s about having the right information at the right time to drive anticipatory engagement. It’s no longer about being able to resolve a customer issue quickly. It’s about building an authentic, organization-wide relationship based on contextual awareness. In short, this means companies being able to openly track, measure, and share customer data across all teams, processes, and customer touch points. This ability either makes or breaks the CX today.

So, are you near the breaking point? Consider that nearly 40% of executives say their agents’ top frustration is that they can’t access all of the information they need. Less than 25% of contact centers today enjoy full collaboration on process design with their entire enterprise. Connected customer journeys and the overall CX are now top areas of focus as most organizations support up to nine channel options. CX will encounter a dramatic shift of reimagined customer engagements that will be able to incorporate technologies such as artificial intelligence, IoT, analytics, and augmented reality and virtual reality.

The bottom line is this: organizations must support an enterprise-wide customer journey to support the future of the CX now! They must share contextual data inside and outside of the contact center, and they need seamless and immediate access to that data anytime, anywhere, under any given circumstance. Above all, organizations need the right architectural foundation to support this anytime, anywhere ecosystem—otherwise, even their best moves will always result in a draw.

Get out of the Queue: Drive Your CX with Attribute Matching

At this point, nearly every company is working overtime to realign around two simple words: customer experience (CX). So much so that nearly 90% of companies now compete solely on CX—a drastic increase from 36 % in 2010—and 50 % of consumer product investments are expected to be redirected to CX innovations—like attribute matching—by the end of this year.

But what exactly does the CX consist of, especially in today’s new world of digital business innovation? This next-generation CX is supported by several advanced technologies—big data analytics, omnichannel, automation—however, these investments are all aimed at driving one thing: contextualization.

The rise of contextualized service—the ability for companies to not only gain insightful information about their customers but also deliver information in a way that is relevant and meaningful to customers based on individual circumstances to improve their experience—has evolved the CX to a point where it looks virtually nothing like it did as recently as 10 years ago. Whereas consumers once primarily focused on the act of purchasing, driven by such things as product quality and price, they now focus on the richness of brand relationships, driven by the personal value that companies deliver throughout the customer journey. Just consider that 70% of buying experiences are now based on how customers feel they are being treated. This is the key factor that sets apart market leaders like Amazon, Trader Joe’s, and Apple from the competition.

According to Accenture, there is an estimated $6 trillion in global revenue up for grabs due to dissatisfied customers constantly switching providers. The ability for companies to offer contextualized service is vital for operating at the speed of the consumer and capturing more of this market share. There’s just one thing preventing companies from seizing this limitless potential: the traditional call queue.

Every customer is familiar with the call queue. This is the place where statements like, “Your call is important to us. Please continue to hold,” and “Let me transfer you to a specialized team who can help you with that” perpetually live. It’s where exhaustive efforts to route customers to the correct service rep become lost, or where consumers must repeat the same information to multiple agents across different teams. It’s the greatest barrier preventing companies from being more dynamically connected to their consumers, and one of the greatest reasons why customers reduce their commitment to a brand.

Driving Contextualization with Attribute Matching

In a world where customers demand a profound level of connection and transparency, organizations can no longer support a contact center environment in which calls are distributed among agents who are organized by function (i.e., sales, service, support). In today’s smart, digital world, companies must transform the traditional call center into an integrated, digital communications hub. This means moving away from a siloed, metric-driven queue and instead working to put customers in touch with the best organizational resource depending on their exact need or circumstance as immediately as possible. The most effective way to achieve this is to migrate from archaic infrastructure towards an integrated, agile, next-generation platform built on open communications architecture.

Open communications architecture allows organizations to seamlessly collect, track and share contextual data across various teams, processes, and customer touch points. This integrated environment supports a real-time data repository from which businesses can pull from to route customers based on needs beyond traditional characteristics (like language preference). Rather, the technology allows companies to build customized learning algorithms that drive anticipatory engagement, enabling them to match customers based on next-level variables like personality, emotion and relatability.

Imagine, for example, a hotel routing a customer directly to an IT staffer after seeing that the person tweeted about a poor in-room Wi-Fi connection. Imagine a bank being able to route a customer to a money management expert after seeing that the last five questions asked via live chat were about account spending. Imagine an athletic apparel company matching a customer with an agent who is an avid runner after noticing that the individual recently signed up for a 5K.

The future of the CX means creating and continually building a contextualized view of customers throughout their entire brand journey. It means going beyond customer service to establish unparalleled, organization-wide relationships. It means transforming peoples’ lives, verses simply answering questions. This is what companies must work to align themselves with. The good news is that technology has evolved to a point where they can now easily, effectively and cost-efficiently do so.

Interested in learning more or getting beyond the queue to Redefine Your Customer and Employee Experiences? Contact us. We’d love to hear from you.

Reducing the Risks of Distributed Denial of Service Attacks

Picture what may just be one of the scariest scenarios in your career: The network has slowed to a crawl. You can barely hold a management interface, let alone control the network elements involved. The attack propagates, and as it does you watch your services drop one by one. Panic sets in. You’re experiencing a Denial of Service (DoS) attack. All resources are focused on stamping this fire out—and that may very well be the intention of the attackers.

A DoS attack might be a smokescreen to get you to focus elsewhere while the intruder goes about covert business in a much safer fashion, leaving little forensics afterward.

DoS attacks are an easy thing to comprehend. Even the term Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) is an easy extension. But the strategy behind why they’re used and their intent can vary dramatically. A DoS attack can occur in an array of sophistication. Here’s a quick breakout from the simplest to most complex attacks:

  • Network Level attacks:

    The simplest ones—TCP, UDP, ICMP, Floods

  • Reflective/Amplified attacks:

    Service focused—DNS, NTP, SNMP, SSDP, Specific floods

  • Fragmentation:

    Session specific—overlaps, missing, too many

  • Application specific:

    Repetitive GET, slow READ or loop calls

  • Crafted:

    Stack and protocol level, buffer resources

These methods are often overlapped in a targeted fashion. In essence the attack is a series of waves that each hit in varying degrees of sophistication and focus. Other times the attack is relatively primitive and easy to isolate. The reason for this is that in the simplest levels, it’s an easy thing to do. As an example, a disgruntled student, upset over a new vending matching policy, could mount a DoS attack against his or her school administration. On the other end of the spectrum is a much darker orchestration, the sleight of the hand to get you to look elsewhere. This is typically the signature of an Advanced Persistent Threat (APT).

Unless an attack is very simple and short-lived, it needs to be distributed in the way it operates. It needs to be generated from various points of origin. This is referred to as a DDoS attack. The attacker needs to coordinate a series of end points to execute some particular event at the same point in time or perhaps, in more sophisticated examples, as phased against a time series. For a DDoS attack, the attacker requires a command and control (C2) capability. This means that they need to have access and response to the compromised systems. This is referred to as a Botnet.

Botnets do not have to be sophisticated to be successful. They only have to implement a simple set of instructions at the right point in time. Let’s take the recent reflective/amplified DDoS attack on Dynamic DNS services on the East coast of the U.S., which affected several large firms such as Amazon and Yahoo. The attack was mounted from residential video surveillance cameras. Even though there was no direct intrusion, the firms were impacted. Which leads us to two lessons.

Lesson number one: Security in IoT needs to be taken more seriously in the product design stages. Perhaps the concept and treatment of residential security systems needs to be rethought.

Lesson number two: As we move to outsourcing and cloud services we need to realize that we spread the reality of our exposed risk. Due diligence is required to assure that service providers and partners are doing their role in end-to-end security. But do you recall I mentioned that the source of the orchestrated attack was from the residential network? This brings about a new degree of challenges as we look at the new world of consumer IoT.

How do we maintain security in that sector? Clearly the residence itself should uphold best practices with a well-maintained and monitored gateway. But let’s face it, this is generally not going to happen. The monitoring of behaviors and abnormalities at the provider interface level is the next best catch and many providers are moving to reach this goal.

The other key point to remember about botnets is that in order to command, one has to control. This can happen in various ways. One is automatic. It infects and sits until a predefined time and then activates. This is the simplest. Another method requires true C2. Either way, bad code gets residence or existing code gets leveraged in negative ways. You should be able to pick out the anomalies.

Proper design with hyper-segmentation can greatly reduce the risk of propagation from the initial infection. The botnet is contained and should be readily identified, if you’re watching. Are you?