Dispelling "F.U.D." in the Brave New World of Software-Defined Networking

The world is changing… at least my world of networking. It’s evolving into a long overdue state. As a result, my skills have to evolve. So, I might as well extend my comfort zone with this whole blogging thing while I’m at it. Who said an old dog can’t learn new tricks?

To kick it off, I want to address this change I mentioned: SDN. No, I’m not going to subject you to yet another definition of software-defined networking, or an overview of the many different vendor options. I get to pontificate about that enough doing my day job. Instead, I want to talk about the real issue here: FUD.

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt: the weapons of choice for any good smear campaign. FUD is being wielded in the SDN discussion with brutal cunning. I’m just waiting for an election year-type ad spot with homeless engineers and an ominous voiceover telling us how the proponents of SDN are destroying our great nation.

Clearly, the whole concept is an evil plot perpetrated by Hydra to undermine the networking staff in IT and allow world domination. Captain America 3 is going to be a box office smash with that storyline.

In all seriousness, most people are uncomfortable with change… even more so when the outcome of that change is uncertain. Unfortunately for SDN, we’re still trying to define that outcome. We know that we want it to be a state where businesses are more agile and productive, but we don’t know quite how we’re going to accomplish that on a global scale across a multitude of technologies and vendors. That’s where the FUD comes into play.

Many in our industry are slinging mud and/or stirring up uncertainty in attempts at self-preservation. Some are doing it to postpone the inevitable, while others are doing it out of their own lack of understanding. Regardless, the results are the same: those with the most to gain in this transition are at odds.

Related article: Why We’re Joining the OpenDaylight Project

Businesses are excited by the promises of SDN, and they’re actively looking to craft strategies that will help them gain an edge with their customers and employees through technology. Network engineers, on the other hand, are the targets of the FUD. They’re constantly being told that SDN is going to drive them to extinction in favor of programmers. Of course, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Even if network configuration and provisioning were to suddenly shift tomorrow from CLI to Python or YANG or whatever, would it really make a difference? Good network engineers have learned multiple CLIs over the years… even if they’ve only dealt with one vendor.

Some have even succumbed to that whole GUI thing. So, learning a new set of commands and UI is trivial for most engineers. Not to mention, no change is going to occur overnight. It’s going to be a gradual evolution that may have more than one appearance in the end.

There’s plenty of time for good network engineers looking to evolve themselves to pick up the necessary skills along the way.

Don’t be fooled by the new skills piece, though. The value of network engineers isn’t their ability to configure boxes–it’s their ability to design elegant systems, understand complex protocol relationships and reduce technology issues to the lowest common denominator rapidly for resolution.

So, what if we even go as far as automating configuration and provisioning? That just means that network engineers can spend more time on strategic initiatives that will actually challenge them and leverage their true value. You know, those things that have occupied slots 3 through 5 on the to-do list for the last 18 months, but have been repeatedly usurped by the latest fire drill.

Of course, there’s also that crazy concept of integrating the applications and network to provide greater awareness. How terrible would that be? I mean imagine what crazy things might come of actually knowing the requirements and real-time status of applications on the network. Dare I say network engineers may never have to deal with another “Hey, the Internet is slow today” call again… ever?

Yes, change is scary, but it’s also very exciting. It’s a chance to learn new things, to make new contributions and to lead. Network engineers aren’t going to suddenly be hanging out on street corners with “will route for food” signs.

The good ones will simply find themselves in new spheres of influence collaborating with different teams on how their combined skill sets will improve IT. Maybe they’ll even start bartering with the programmers: You teach me YANG modeling, and I’ll teach you link state protocols. The sooner we can all get past the FUD and embrace this reality, the sooner we can move this industry forward.

This is tech. If we’re not here to innovate, then why are we here?

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Different Preferences, Same Expectations: Can Your CX Platform Handle it All?

When was the last time you as a customer used live chat to interact with a brand? How about a self-service option like IVR? Have you ever received an automated message with a discount, or perhaps an appointment reminder? Chances are, you’ve engaged in at least one of these forms of service at some point. In fact, I’m willing to bet you frequently use them. I do, too. That’s because we now live in a world where our first level of interaction is usually some sort of automation. This has thrown a wrench into the standard CX platform.

These service examples are just the tip of the iceberg. By the end of today, more than 3 million people will have chatted with Amazon Echo’s AI assistant, Alexa. Over 70 million people will have enjoyed listening to Spotify’s automated “Discover Weekly” playlist. U.S. sales of Google Home smart speakers increased by 40% in Q3 2017 alone, reaching 7 million units. In a very short amount of time, automation has evolved from static and human-operated to dynamic and autonomously learning.

Because of this growth, automation is now everywhere we are and in everything we do. It is proven to transform experiences and enhance the outcome of nearly every customer interaction. The ROI is there, too. For example, research has found that after customers start using Echo, their spending increases by 10%. Bottom line: businesses should be aggressively working to embed automation into their existing IT ecosystems.

But what about your traditional customers? Like I mentioned above, our first level of interaction is usually some sort of automation. Not always.

This makes me think of my father. He’s your typical 85-year-old customer who will never consume digital services. His modality of communication will always be voice, and that’s perfectly fine. But he still expects a personalized, end-to-end experience. For example, if he calls his healthcare provider with a question, he expects the organization to know who he is and to have his health records pulled up prior to that first “hello.”

And this brings us to an important point: it doesn’t matter how services are consumed, the experience must be the same. So, how can companies meet expectations across the board? First, they must gain an inherent understanding of each customer’s individual journey, whatever that looks like. Then they need to build technology that adapts to that. Let’s dig into this…

Context: The Crux of Next-Gen CX

When I say, “gain an inherent understanding of each customer’s individual journey,” what I really mean is gain a context-driven understanding. After all, every experience will differ depending on the circumstance. Here are two examples to show you what I mean:

  • A customer (let’s call her Becky) is in the car driving to JFK airport. She called your contact center about an hour ago and requested through IVR to be put into your automated callback system. Her place has been reached in the queue and now it’s time to reach out. However, your system shows she’s currently driving 70 mph on I-95 south. So, although she normally prefers video chat, you choose to connect via a traditional voice call instead.
  • Becky later vents on Twitter about poor service she received from the restaurant in her hotel. With the ability to bring social analytics to the agent desktop, the hotel can have its support team proactively reach out to let her know they noticed her post from five minutes ago expressing dissatisfaction and ask if there’s any way they can help make things right.

A True Next-Gen CX Platform

Regardless of whether customer preferences evolve, your CX platform must in order to drive real-time responsiveness, anticipatory engagement, and intelligent communication at the individual level.

So, what should this next-gen CX platform look like? This isn’t something that can be summed up in a nutshell, but I’ll take a stab: companies need a platform that provides the utmost flexibility for them to bring the right technologies together with the right modality of interactions in an open world (if you have time, I recommend reading this five-part series where I detail the core components of this next-gen platform).

The key here is to be agile and flexible enough to give each individual customer the choice to get what he or she wants, as well as respond to their needs quickly and efficiently. I’d like to focus on two things here:

  • The full integration of UC, contact center, and AI to begin immediately developing features and applications that meet different customer, organizational and vertical needs. Technology has evolved to the point where it no longer takes 10, 12 or 18 months to build a targeted, feature-rich release. A next-gen CX platform offers the necessary levels of agility, flexibility, scale, and openness companies need to very quickly develop these solutions. Or, they can release small footprints of incremental functionality within the platform. Companies can develop at their own paces, depending on their goals.
  • An open data model that rapidly integrates various information sources to present a full visualization of the customer journey. Companies must now bring an immense amount of information together to make smart, real-time decisions (something human beings are incapable of doing). This is where AI, machine learning, and contextual analytics come into play. This is how your contact center will be able to see that Becky tweeted about poor service five minutes ago, and that she engaged in three web chat sessions the week prior. The integration of AI with Becky’s smart vehicle enables you to see statistics like speed and traffic to maximize her service experience. An open data model enables organizations to truly capitalize on big data to make impactful, real-time decisions that transform the individual customer experience.

Note the emphasis on contextual analytics: real-time contextual analytics are needed to continually transform individual experiences as well as handle today’s large volume of different interactions (our Director of Customer and Team Engagement Laura Bassett does a great job breaking down contextual analytics vs. traditional analytics in this blog).

The future of customer experience will be supported by a next-gen digital platform that’s capable of seamlessly converging UC, contact center, and AI. Long gone are the days of proprietary schemes. Long live digital, automated, data-driven experiences!

Avaya Solutions Connect People Across the World

During a recent vacation cruise, I found myself playing cards with a group of six strangers. As we got to know one another I was asked, “What do you do for work?” The question quickly became a discussion, and I’d like to share that conversation with you.

Who is Avaya?

A couple of people at the table knew of Avaya. One asked, “Doesn’t Avaya make phone systems?” Another asked, “I hear about cloud all the time. Are you guys doing cloud?”

While both of these questions are relevant and somewhat factual, both miss what makes Avaya special. In my opinion Avaya is a connection company. The whole reason Avaya exists is to connect people with people. In my experience, it really is that simple.

Avaya makes it easy to get work done by connecting teammates with other teammates, regardless of where they are, what device they have, and what network they’re connected to. At the same time, Avaya connects consumers who need help with the exact resource who can fix whatever is challenging them, helping to create lasting impressions and ongoing relationships.

More than 90% of Fortune 100 companies are running Avaya Solutions. I believe that each and every day almost every human being on the planet is impacted by Avaya solutions in one way or the other. Heck, thanks to the cruise line using Avaya solutions, everyone with me at the table had their cruise questions answered prior to boarding the ship.

This led to the most interesting part of the discussion. If people connect with people using Avaya, how do we make the world better? The answer lies in two areas, and we’re deeply invested in fixing both.

  1. Making it Easier to Work. While Avaya tools make it easier to connect with teammates wherever they are, there is still room for improvement in making it easier for you to actually get work done. People have so many tools and apps it’s confusing to know what to use when, and there are still a ton of manual steps to getting people together to work on projects. Using Artificial Intelligence, the Internet of Things, and Avaya Breeze we automate a lot of the manual stuff that makes work so frustrating, which means when something happens at work, you waste less time reacting and more time responding with a tool that’s built to be easy to use, puts everything you need at your fingertips, is always available, and is super secure.
  2. Making Customer Service Experiences Better. Avaya recognizes how frustrating customer service has become, and we’re helping companies fix it. Over the years, customer service was designed around the company’s needs not the consumer’s. Things like auto attendants, long hold times, and constantly repeating yourself are too common. Using Artificial Intelligence and our experienced consultants, we help businesses change both the technology and the business processes to create more magical experiences for consumers.
     

    For example, booking a cruise online can be super frustrating, especially if you get a discount code that doesn’t seem to work. The last thing you want to do is call customer service. But what if when you call, the auto attendant knows who you are and greets you by name. Instead of telling you what it can do, it knows you’re calling because of the trouble you had on the website. When you’re connected with an agent, they not only know why you’ve called but they already know how to fix the problem. Instead of wasting time trying to talk you through which fields to change, they ask to share your screen so they can show you how to use the discount. Avaya eliminates the frustration and replaces it with a near magical experience … all by improving the connection between you and the cruise ship company.

Simply put, Avaya solutions make the world a better place because we make connecting with the people you need easier, faster, more secure, and even slightly more magical than ever before.

Avaya IP Office Can Speed Your Journey to Communications in the Cloud

Let’s talk cloud—or, should I say, let’s talk in the cloud. Research shows that by 2020, 78% of small and midsize businesses will be fully adapted to the cloud—almost double that of 2014. One of the main drivers in this growth is the way we share and communicate. By bringing disparate communication channels together onto a common platform, companies stand to gain tremendous productivity and efficiency increases. But, for all the benefits, there’s no denying that moving to communications in the cloud can be challenging. Working with a trusted partner is critical to avoiding some of the common issues that can arise.

The Many Challenges That Can Cloud Your Journey

Like many SMBs, you may be facing limited IT budgets and capital, so cost-efficiency is paramount, which means no room for error in mapping out a cloud strategy.

Moving to communications in the cloud can also mean an increase in complex application environments, and the need for more scalability in line with application usage. You need to find a balance between purchasing and maintaining IT tools, vs. coping with legacy systems and aging infrastructure. Making this all the more complex is limited IT resources and the increasing cost of attracting/training/retaining IT staff.

That said, the benefits of making the move are considerable and well-documented, and approached correctly it’s a sound commercial decision, giving you:

  • A predictable expense model with subscription-based payment options—you only pay for what you use
  • Access to the latest technology with real-time monitoring, with management and analytics included in many solutions
  • More time for your IT staff to focus on more strategic initiatives
  • The ability to scale up or down as needed, on demand in response to your business peaks and troughs

So Where Do You Start?

The Avaya IP Office™ platform gets you to the hybrid cloud quickly, easily and cost-effectively. A powerful unified collaboration solution, IP Office has a simple migration capability that takes you from hardware, virtualisation, and cloud deployments, to a hybrid cloud. It unites all of your communication and collaboration solutions onto a universal platform.

Why Migrate to Avaya IP Office in the Cloud?

  • Common code base—no retraining of staff
  • Worldwide partner expertise
  • Investment protection
  • Reuse IP, digital, cordless and analog devices
  • Repurpose IP Office 500v2 as a gateway and failover
  • Cloud critical features: built-in, always on security and centralised management
  • Unique hybrid resilience—whether cloud-to-premise, or premise-to-cloud

Envision Your Migration With Avaya

Get in touch to discuss your own requirements, and together we can map out how IP Office can help transform your IT operations and put your communications in the cloud.