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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Transforming Online Meetings for Team Collaboration

I find it interesting how companies choose to measure team collaboration. Most use surveys, some productivity data, and others standard review processes. Yet team collaboration is about so much more than all of this. If you ask us, it’s about putting people first.

We mean this quite literally. It’s important to provide employees with a suite of face-to-face collaboration capabilities that enable dynamic, real-time team collaboration. Communication staples like voice and chat are surely important, along with the endless other tools teams use to connect and share information. Meeting via video, however, is arguably the best way to collaborate, build relationships, create momentum and build morale. Face-to-face collaboration may not always be needed, but companies will want to make sure they have the best tools in place for when it is.

When done right, online meetings enhance team collaboration in several ways. Consider the most basic of them all: a good part of communication is non-verbal. Being able to observe team members’ body language can help prevent miscommunication and connect across languages and cultures. The technology has also evolved to the point where teams can flexibly share data, documents and other project details via screen sharing or virtual whiteboards. All the while, there’s the opportunity to initiate private chat sessions between team members to discuss simultaneously.

The bottom line: online meetings enable authentic human interaction that delivers real value, time and cost savings, and better business outcomes.

Now, imagine being able to quickly implement an easy-to-use, cost-effective service that skips the capital investment and technical hassle of a traditional video solution. This is exactly what Avaya Equinox Meetings Online offers: a cloud-delivered application that allows users—both employees and outside contacts—to connect with their browsers (no plug-ins required) or mobile apps to effortlessly initiate and/or participate in online meetings. The service places priority back on people, which is where it belongs. Simple as that.

Don’t believe us? Read Nemertes Q4 2017 Enterprise Business Value Matrix for Unified Communications and Collaboration to see what they had to say. If you like what you see, or if you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to our team for more information via our webchat.

The Easy Button for IoT

I am sure that I don’t have to tell you how the Internet of Things (IoT) is revolutionizing our world. Stop by any electronics retailer and you will find smart TVs, smart lights, smart refrigerators, and smart thermostats. Open up the brochure for a new car and you will find more space dedicated to intelligent sensors than horsepower. Tour a modern manufacturing plant and you will quickly discover that nearly every machine used in production has been equipped with an IP address. From the consumer to the enterprise, IoT is the driving force of innovation.

Of course, there is a dark side to this revolutionary technology: It’s not all that easy. As a consumer, it’s not a big deal to have one smart dryer that sends a text message when your clothes are dry. It’s also pretty simple to have your refrigerator email you a photo of its contents. In these cases, it’s just you and your machine.

However, what if you had a thousand dryers and ten thousand refrigerators. Let’s take it further. What if you were American Airlines and your fleet of airplanes had five hundred thousand different sensors reporting information every second. Now, imagine that some devices reported data using Bluetooth while others used Zigbee, WiMAX, LTE, WiFi, and NFC. Want to make it even more challenging? These different sensors report data reading using SOAP, REST, WebSockets, and a myriad of proprietary protocols. It quickly becomes an engineering nightmare to collect, store, and take the appropriate actions on this constant stream of data.

One Bite at a Time

Question. How do you eat an elephant? Answer. One bite at a time.

As with an elephant, the best way to conquer the IoT problem is to break it down into bite-sized pieces. Instead of trying to directly deal with all those different sensors and their unique forms of communication, have those sensors talk to gateways that understand multiple IoT dialects. Those gateways could then normalize the data before sending it off to a central cloud repository. Next, wrap the IoT cloud with web services that allow for a consistent and uniform way to access IoT data. Finally, use those web services to create a suite of applications for data visualization, event processing, analytics, etc.

Now, instead of being inundated with terabytes of data that may or may not be important, you only see what you need to see and only when you need to see it. You also have a scalable platform that allows you to add new sensors without having to constantly redesign and redeploy your business applications.

At Arrow Systems Integration (ASI), an Avaya A.I.Connect partner, we call this distributed architecture of sensors, gateways, and cloud services Arrow Connect™.

Arrow Connect

Arrow Connect is a software architecture that connects any device over any protocol to any cloud. Designed and developed by Arrow with security, scale, flexibility, device management, multi-tenancy, hierarchy, open APIs, and extensibility as its core principles, Arrow Connect is helping customers across multiple industries bring their products to market faster.

The Arrow Connect software development kit (SDK) helps enterprises leverage the full capabilities of any device while an extensible software gateway allows developers to add support for protocols and sensors not currently supported by Arrow Connect.

The Arrow Connect cloud platform enables secure provisioning and management of all its devices. It runs on multiple public cloud platforms and seamlessly integrates with Microsoft Azure, IBM Watson Bluemix/Softlayer, Amazon Web Services, and private data center solutions.

Breeze and Zang Workflows

While support for RESTful web services is essential to being an open and secure cloud solution, this comes with a price and that price is complexity. Despite being an open standard understood by most software developers, the fact that you must be a developer to use web services confines them to a very select group of people.

In our quest to find every possible way to simplify IoT, ASI has partnered with Avaya to add support for Arrow Connect IoT devices, sensors, and gateways into Avaya Breeze and the Zang Workflow Designer. With both of these platforms, access to IoT data and Arrow Connect services becomes as simple as drag and drop and non-developers can create powerful IoT solutions in a matter of minutes. Better still, this simplification does not come at the cost of accuracy, reliability, speed, security, or scalability. The visual tasks embedded in these workflow tools employ the same Arrow Connect web services a skilled software developer would use. The difference is that there is no need to learn Java, .Net, Python, or any other programming language.

 

The Easy Button for IoT

With integrated workflow technology, you can quickly turn an idea on a whiteboard into a fully functional and easily deployable solution.

Next Steps

McKinsey recently said that “Any business that fails to invest heavily in the IoT in the next 10 years is unlikely to be able to remain competitive.” While these may seem like strong words, industry after industry has taken them to heart and the IoT revolution is everywhere. As I stated at the beginning of this article, IoT is becoming pervasive for both consumers and businesses.

The simplification, scalability, and security of IoT offered by Avaya and Arrow Systems Integration helps an enterprise to create the solutions it needs to enhance its business, grow its customer base, and stay competitive.

Andrew Prokop is the Director of Emerging Technologies at Arrow Systems Integration. Andrew is an active blogger and his widely-read blog, SIP Adventures, discusses every imaginable topic in the world of unified communications. Follow Andrew on Twitter at @ajprokop, and read his blog, SIP Adventures.

News & Solutions at ENGAGE 2018 Show Avaya is Back in the Fight!

Now back from last week’s Avaya ENGAGE 2018, our annual customer and partner event, we’re finding the energy of the conference continues to drive the cadence at Avaya. What a show! In my last blog I wrote about taking time for a bit of introspection—thoughts echoed by our CEO Jim Chirico during his ENGAGE keynote. One of his points really resonated with me: how you get up off the mat. All of us face challenges everyday—most of them are manageable but occasionally an event comes along that can really take the wind out of your sails. Jim pointed out that while we all get knocked down from time to time, what really matters is how you get up. How you carry yourself and how you get ready for the next challenge.

In 2018 Avaya is back up. We’ve got our gloves on and we’ve come out swinging! ENGAGE 2018 was a great opportunity for us to thank our customers and partners for their outstanding support over the past year and give them a taste of the new Avaya: poised, fit, and ready to win.

Our commitment to win was reflected in a number of key announcements from last week, but the headliner was the acquisition of Spoken Communications, a leading innovator in the Contact Center as a Service (CCaaS) market. The Spoken platform is based on the Avaya Aura® Platform and Avaya Aura® Call Center Elite, making it a perfect architecture for both Avaya omnichannel offerings, such as Avaya Oceana®, and its Unified Communications as a Service solution. But Spoken brings much more than a proven xCaaS capability to Avaya—the really exciting news is Spoken’s transformative real-time customer experience management applications built on conversational artificial intelligence (AI). A true innovator in AI, Spoken will be accelerating our “Think Avaya, Think Cloud” strategy with solutions that not only provide a clear path for customer migration, but offer improved efficiency, drive more intelligent responses, and gain deeper insight into customer sentiment and experience.

And there was more news at Avaya ENGAGE on the AI front: Avaya introduced Avaya AvaTM , a cloud, messaging-agnostic solution that offers new AI capabilities for social messaging integration and automation of digital interactions. An evolution from our Ava technologies offered for over eight years, Avaya AvaTM delivers AI 2.0 architecture including natural language processing and machine learning. And innovative analytics enables effortless customer engagement through social media and messaging platforms.

Last year we introduced the Avaya Oceana® Solution—our omnichannel context-driven contact center solution. Now we are thrilled to bring the Workspaces environment to our existing customers later this year. This modern agent desktop will take advantage of key elements such as context and customer journey and be made available to our existing customer base, enabling them to transform their CXs.

Avaya also unveiled compelling enhancements to its signature unified communications user experience, Avaya Equinox®. These include:

  • Enhancements to Avaya Equinox Meetings Online, a cloud-based meeting and conferencing service that can be deployed with or without an Avaya infrastructure. The economical, pay-as-you-go cloud model offers the same capabilities as an on-premises deployment, making it easy to take a hybrid approach and mix and match between the two.
  • The new Avaya Equinox Attendant, which enhances customer service and brings the power of unified communications to front-desk operators. We will extend Avaya Equinox to the IP Office platform—providing a single UC platform for all our customers.

Devices remain a key part of Avaya’s strategy to deliver a unique UC Experience Everywhere. Avaya has shipped over 100M phones to date and currently ships almost 10,000 new devices every day. For 2018, Avaya is expanding customer options for UC devices like never before. The Avaya Experience has evolved to be more modern, connected and personalized, and tailored to vertical specific needs such as hospitality and retail. Key additions include:

  • Launching Avaya’s new Essential Experience portfolio of industry leading phones for a state-of-the-art user experience that includes Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity.
  • Extending the Avaya Vantage Experience to include support for IP Office.
  • Announcing the new Avaya CU-360 Collaboration Unit, which provides easy set up and collaboration in huddle room spaces.

Providing our customers a bridge to the future is a key focus for Avaya this year—and this goal will drive a great deal of our activity. To start, Avaya has launched a number of new promotions:

  • Loyalty2gether: This exciting and bold offer provides all our loyal Communication Server 1000 customers with a path forward to either IP Office or Avaya Aura with full support for the surrounding applications like customer contact and messaging. It’s an opportunity to reinvent what communications, customer experience, and collaboration can mean to your business and to do so with an unprecedented level of experience and investment protection.
  • Oceana NOW: This program focuses on helping organizations evolve and transform their CXs.
  • Automate CC NOW: Through the use of automation capabilities, Avaya is helping organizations modernize for less.

These programs are a prime example of our focus to ensure no customer gets left behind.

ENGAGE 2018 was a very busy week of announcements, meetings and demonstrations, and the energy and enthusiasm of our customers kept us going and underlined our confidence that Avaya is back and ready to do battle. Continue to watch for updates and details on Avaya.com and let us know how the new Avaya can support your plans in 2018.