The King is Dead; Long Live the King

It’s hard to believe a “must have” communication technology that was popular when I was in college could be obsolete (as some recent headlines have indicated) before my 25th year school reunion this November. Yes, I’m talking about voicemail.

Voicemail is not dying per se, in that it will be entirely dead soon; it’s being replaced by a multitude of other instant communication technologies that people prefer. For some people, it’s overlooked as a first option to connect, because we’ve moved from the world of non-simultaneous voicemail used mainly with desk phones, to a constantly-connected society.

We communicate using a variety of smart devices via voice and instant messaging, fueled by the broad accessibility and real-time presence of who you want to reach. We’ve changed the expectation of seeking instant gratification of getting a response to seconds or minutes, not hours, thus driving the obsession with constantly using and checking mobile devices for activity.

Avaya gets this, and has solutions that let users control how and when they wish to be reached, in which locations on which devices and when. They can be accessible anywhere, anytime and by anyone, or limit access by time, place and device–even by who.

Simple example: Avaya’s Engagement Development Platform enables bankers to set up business rules to ensure their most important investor customers can always reach them, rather than going to voicemail.

If you’re an investor, you want your banker to respond in seconds, because time is money, and leaving a voicemail is just not an option. By enabling the banker to prioritize their most important callers and ensure they are reachable, they provide “white glove” service to the customers who need it the most.

The message is clear–a voicemail message won’t be sufficient if the answer comes back after the market has closed. To prevent that investor’s account from being closed, this bank gets it. They know the rules of customer engagement are to satisfy the requirements whereby every business is different, and knowing the expectations difference between customers is knowing how to serve and retain them.

Voicemail will continue to be relevant for some organizations. It’s part of their culture and way of doing business. For others, not as much. But the largest group we see are those evolving to solutions that allow ‘fit for purpose’ – meaning, whatever the user and situation calls for, it’s at their fingertips.

We see all ends of the spectrum, and Avaya’s engagement solutions span the spectrum for realtime and non-realtime communications–including leaving text messages to be retrieved immediately, instead of leaving a voice message. For example, people frequently send SMS messages to my Avaya phone number, which also appears on my business card, and it magically appears on my personal iPhone and iPad while keeping my personal number private.

Over the past several years, we have invested in virtually every form of media. We want customers to have what’s right for their business and can provide voicemail if they so choose and evolve their systems to include those alternatives to voicemail. Give employees the power to be reachable when and how they wish to be reached, and they will be more productive. You are the CIO of yourself, and simplicity of making communications available gets results.

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The Future of Intelligent Headsets: Avaya, Plantronics Expand Strategic Partnership

 

In the age of the Internet of Things (IOT), it’s all about intelligence: smartphones, smart watches … and, thanks to Avaya and Plantronics, smarter headsets.

The companies recently announced a co-development initiative that will accelerate intelligent interoperability. Though the pair has worked together for more than two decades, with this expanded, strategic partnership, they’ll focus on: 1) tightening integration between Plantronics headsets and Avaya software and apps, and 2) improving contextual intelligence to drive value for the customer.

The goal is simple: address the growing need for simplified communications in contact center and unified communications environments. Here’s how they’ll do it.

It Just Works

The first part of the equation is what Chris Brady, Plantronics’ senior director of strategic alliances, calls the “table stakes.”

When customers plug in Plantronics headsets, they expect them to work seamlessly and simply with Avaya technology. This partnership is a commitment to meeting and exceeding customers’ expectations for solutions that just work.

In a way, the announcement formalizes something Avaya and Plantronics have worked on since the start. The companies have collaborated to create compatible products for decades now. Historically, this started out as interoperability between Avaya desk phones and Plantronics headsets, then soft clients and headsets, and, now, web-based applications and headsets are at the forefront.

Case-in-point: one of the projects under their expanded partnership will ensure integration between select Plantronics headsets and Avaya’s Chrome-based contact center apps, including Avaya Agent for Chrome and Customer Engagement OnAvaya™ –Google Cloud Platform.

The most exciting part of the companies’ formal commitment to compatibility and integration is what it will enable … Avaya and Plantronics are teaming up to create another layer of contact center and unified communications intelligence, one in which new features and functionalities drive customer value. Brady hints at “unique, exciting and compelling things to come.”

In short, smart headsets are about to get even smarter.

Cue Contextual Intelligence

According to a 2014 market report from Futuresource Consulting, the global headphones market is rapidly increasing, and not expected to peak until 2017. This has a particularly significant impact on the enterprise.

“There’s a growing opportunity for businesses to leverage contextual intelligence in the enterprise,” Brady explained.

He points to a recent collaboration with Avaya – the Seamless Transfer Snap-In, part of the Avaya Engagement Assistant.

The solution combines Plantronics’ on-board sensor technology with the Avaya Engagement Development Platform middleware. Plantronics’ sensors can detect the headphones’ “wear state” and tell whether or not a user is wearing the headset and near a connected device. Combined with Avaya apps, this technology opens up “new avenues for workplace efficiency and streamlined workflows,” Brady noted.

Imagine driving into work, using your Plantronics headset for an audio conference. Then, once you’re at your workstation, the headset recognizes your proximity to your PC and automatically transfers the mobile audio call to a full video conference on your PC.

“We’re looking at technology that will provide richer, deeper value to the contact center too, capabilities that will allow for both real-time action and collectable analytics,” Brady added.

And this is just the beginning.

Why Failure is More Important than Success

Businesses, leaders and entrepreneurs have long been obsessed with success.

Billions of dollars are made from how-to books, speeches and guides–all glorifying a no-fail path. For a long time, failure was considered the worst of F-words to a company, and “failure is not an option” could be heard echoing down the hallways of the enterprise.

That’s what makes the latest business trend all the more fascinating.

The spotlight that used to shine on success has shifted to success’ evil twin sister… failure. Now, not only is failure an option, it’s the option of choice − celebrated, embraced, even encouraged.

Why Fail Now

“Fail often, fail fast” is likely now the second-most repeated mantra in Silicon Valley (just behind Steve Jobs’ “stay hungry, stay foolish”).

Granted, the most astute visionaries have long understood the importance of failure. Take Thomas Edison, who tried more than 9,000 designs before coming up with a working version of the lightbulb, or Dr. Seuss, whose first book was rejected by 27 different publishers.

Nowadays, the stigma around failure has lessened, and the best business leaders are becoming more and more comfortable with failure:

  • Nine out of ten startups fail, according to Forbes.
  • Using agile software development practices, many engineers quite literally “sprint” toward failure.
  • And live events like FailCon and Startup Funeral celebrate tech world failures.

But simply failing frequently is a failure in itself.

In the best fashion of failure, every misstep is considered a learning opportunity, a way to understand how to effectively translate failing into a future success:

  • The 10 percent of startups that succeed do so because they failed behind the scenes many times, in smaller ways, before − not after − launch, and grew better.
  • Agile development is often considered the new essential for Web and mobile app development, precisely because it encourages quick experiments, failure and, most importantly, the adaptations necessary to achieve success. Agile software development “sprints” help the team find out if there are problems at an accelerated pace and make adjustments as needed. The sooner failures are found, the less time – and money – is wasted.
  • Conferences that celebrate failure do so to recast the notion of failure and encourage knowledge sharing. Events like FailCon and Startup Funeral show the tech world that it doesn’t need to bury its failures silently; instead, it should eulogize them, learn from them and fail better next time.

Failing Smarter

The challenge for leaders is just that: failing smart. The best business decision makers will harness failure. They’ll recognize that there is no point in failing (whether it be often, small, fast, forward or any which way), if you fail to learn.

Businesses are steadily moving into a software-only world, and software development kits give companies the tools to quickly write apps to solve fundamental business pain points. Rather than paying a vendor millions of dollars to stand up massive, proprietary software projects, small teams can build apps quickly, test them with users, measure success and iterate on what they’ve learned.

That’s the opportunity inherent in Avaya Engagement Development Platform, the software development kit that embeds business communications in virtually any workflow automation app.

Consider these use cases:

  • A large, nationally-recognized university launched a parking payments app that will send a text message to the student when his or her parking is about to expire. Engagement Development Platform was embedded inside, and powered the text message.
  • A large sales team had a challenge—their salespeople would get calls from numbers they hadn’t saved on their smartphones. The salespeople would pick up the phone cold, and spend the first 15 seconds trying to figure out who was calling them, and why. Engagement Development Platform linked those incoming calls with the company’s cloud-based CRM system, pushing relevant customer information to the salesperson. Now, they could pick up the phone with a warm greeting and the context they needed to be successful.
  • Avaya recently won a Thomas Edison Patent Award for Innovation for an application that permanently eliminates the need to dial long strings of numbers to get into a conference call. That capability is currently available inside Engagement Development Platform as a “Snap-in”—a modular, reusable snippet of code that’s easy to embed in any app.

Engagement Development Platform is simple, powerful and automatically preconfigured for scalability, enabling faster, more flexible development cycles.

That flexibility empowers our customers — from universities to approximately 95 percent of Fortune 500 companies — to fail forward quickly. Engagement Development Platform shortens time-to-innovation and time-to-business, allowing Avaya to act as a catalyst to its customers’ success.

How Open Are You to Open Platforms?

Poll question: How many cloud-based applications does the average organization use?

  1. Fewer than 200
  2. 200-500
  3. 500-700
  4. More than 700

Answer: D. Organizations now use an average of 730 cloud-based applications, and a large percentage of those apps are unsanctioned by the IT team, according to an April 2015 Netskope Cloud Report. Companies can’t prevent employees from using their own devices and apps at work, but they can maintain a higher level of control by embracing an open environment for their communication technology.

For decades, employers and IT departments relied on a single vendor to supply all of their communication technology, which allowed them to manage every communication pathway and touchpoint employees used. But Bring Your Own Device and Bring Your Own Application trends changed the way businesses operate.

Today, employees believe they should be empowered to choose the devices and apps they use to do their jobs—regardless of whether those tools are provided by their employer, a trusted vendor, or a startup they read about on their favorite blog. Fighting this trend isn’t an option, so IT departments have to find a way to create a safe, secured, and controlled environment in this bring-your-own-everything world.

Open vs Closed Loop

As these heterogeneous tech trends take hold, IT leaders have to deal with interoperability issues, heightened security risks, and the need to provide seamless communication capabilities in their traditionally closed-loop environment. This can be particularly difficult when these closed systems consist of highly proprietary software, which are difficult to integrate, and lead to higher costs to procure and support.

But what if their communication platform wasn’t a closed loop?

An open communication platform could provide teams with ways to support a varied collection of applications and workflows, while still giving companies a foundation to establish security and seamless endpoints. This is not a new idea; many tech verticals are successfully using open solutions. In the customer relationship management space, for instance, companies like Salesforce.com tout their open platform as an opportunity for developers to build their own apps and expand the capabilities of the system.

No single vendor can provide interoperability for every system. But an open platform gives the freedom for IT departments and third parties to develop new features, and bring interoperability to the market more rapidly. That flexibility and openness creates the potential to remake industries.

Consider the iPhone, and Apple’s willingness to design a platform where users could build their own apps, which lead to the creation of more than a million new applications (at a must faster rate than if Apple had to design each new app themselves) and a fundamental shift in the way users viewed their devices.

“An open platform environment drives collaboration and diversity,” says Dr. Timothy Summers, Ph.D. a former hacker and current information security consultant with Summers and Co. in Washington DC.

Creating open platforms that allow end users to innovative and adapt the system can shorten development times, improve quality of the product, and provide greater control over the user experience. And those benefits aren’t limited to smart phones, Summers says.

“This model could bring a huge competitive advantage to any communication technology field,” he says.

The concept of “openness” is disrupting networking, personal computing, wearables, enterprise communications, and many other sectors.

The Way of the Future

When companies opt to implement an open system from a reputable vendor that offers the necessary support, security and development tools, they can eliminate the hassles of trying to force proprietary solutions on their teams. Instead, they can focus on managing and implementing innovations that arise from an open environment.

A secure, open communication platform enables rapid deployment of new solutions, giving teams a way to contextualize and format data for their needs while allowing the IT team to maintain control over the data movement within the organization. It’s the best of both worlds, Summers says. “Communication technology companies can leverage these opportunities to develop new protocols and to better support the way users want to connect with each other around the world.”

Recent surveys show up to 90 percent of the cloud apps being used in organizations are not coming in through the IT department, and 70 percent of employees admit at least some of the apps they use aren’t sanctioned by the company. IT departments need an alternative to spending their days blocking apps, and juggling multiple communication platforms.

While open platforms still have room to grow before being the standard among communication technologies companies, the increasing demand for greater flexibility in the tools employees use will soon drive the industry to embrace “openness” as a way to maintain their competitive advantage and meet the needs of customers in the future.