The IoT Chronicles Part 1: Demystification and Strategy

If you follow my blog, then you know I talk a lot about the Internet of Things (IoT). As Avaya’s Chief Technologist for Software Defined Architecture, I love to discuss the IoT, a vast topic that I believe all business leaders should continuously educate themselves on. (See my recent blog and my colleague Mark Fletcher’s blog about the possibilities and outcomes of smarter public safety and emergency response—something that affects every one of us.)

With research indicating that the next decade will be marked by record IoT growth—some firms expect revenue to break into the trillions—it’s never a bad idea to revisit the fundamentals. There’s no question the IoT is hot right now, but businesses need to buckle down and take the right steps that will make a lasting impact. Leaders must have a solid understanding of the IoT and, most importantly, what it means for their organizations outside all the hype. While the IoT offers ample opportunity for innovation and growth, there are undoubtedly key considerations that must be made for seeing success.

So, hype aside, what do you need to know about the IoT? This is the first in a this four-part blog series, a crash course on the ever-growing world of connected “things”—from top challenges to solutions to predictions and trends. Got your pencil and paper? Good, let’s get started…

What is the IoT?

Let’s start with the basics: what exactly is the IoT? The term has been tossed around so much that you’d think by now you’d have an inherent understanding of it. Like many other concepts though, definitions vary and can be subject to opinion.

Wikipedia, for instance, defines the IoT as “the internetworking of physical devices, vehicles, buildings and other items that are embedded with software, sensors and network connectivity capabilities that enable these objects to collect and exchange data.” This definition isn’t inaccurate; however, the way I see it, anything that can connect to either a network or provide any sort of service (not just data collection and exchange) should be considered part of the IoT.

We may be living in an age full of wearable technologies and 4/5G-enabled devices, but who’s to say that older technologies like printers, digital and analog phones or first-generation video conferencing systems aren’t part of the IoT? If anything, these were significant predecessors that paved the way to IoT greatness.

My point is that the IoT is very loosely defined in today’s market, but the end goal is the same: create automated (and in many cases data-driven) processes that generate the exact business outcome you’re looking for.

What kinds of outcomes? Imagine a sensor that can detect a forest fire and send out real-time notifications to emergency response teams to prevent it from spreading. Consider a 4G-connected car that can detect a flat tire and immediately notify the nearest repairman. Picture bank tellers that can identify customers (or criminals) as soon as they walk through the door via facial recognition. The use cases for IoT are truly endless, which is why we at Avaya define the IoT as simply having an open scope. Virtually anything can be considered part of the IoT, and so anything is possible.

How to Create Your Best IoT Approach

Do a quick Google search on the IoT and you’ll see all sorts of results like, “The IoT Is Far Bigger Than Anyone Realizes” or “How People Are Using the IoT.” These are good pieces of information, but how many resources are out there for helping you create the best IoT approach for your specific organization? What steps should you take? What steps can you take given your circumstances? You must consider such things as budgets and internal bandwidth to ensure you properly invest in and get the most value out of IoT.

I can’t give you a custom-tailored IoT strategy on the fly (although that’s something we at Avaya can help you map out and execute in time). What I can do right now is shed light on the reality of the IoT, and how businesses can leverage it in a positive way.

The first step to figuring out how the IoT can deliver proactive, positive outcomes for your business is to look at your specific vertical needs. It’s critical that businesses understand the vertical-specific nature of the IoT. Every industry has its own set of opportunities, as well as its own set of challenges to overcome.

For instance, within a hospital, there’s the critical need for fully secure connectivity between life-saving medical devices, as well as the need to seamlessly and immediately deliver patient data to medical staff. Meanwhile, a financial institution is concerned with how to guarantee account protection and secure financial transactions while providing a personalized experience for customers. A retailer may be focused on detecting the proximity of a customer in order to push relevant promotions based on big data analytics.

Every industry is centered on different yet equally important business outcomes that lead to better customer experiences. Needless to say, you’ll fall 10 steps behind your competitors if you partner with a provider that touts a “one-size-fits-all” IoT platform.

Steps You Can Take Now for IoT Success

So, after you finish reading this, what can you begin doing to set yourself up for IoT success? One question you can ask yourself in terms of security (a massive IoT concern I’ll be tackling in Part 2 of this series) is: “Am I segmenting my network to ensure no one can see my connected devices, or access those devices without proper authorization?” I’ll be digging deeper into this in Part 2. In the meantime, read up on end-to-end network segmentation.

To make a lasting impact, you should also avoid a siloed IoT approach at all costs (or break your existing siloed approach). All lines of business (LOBs) must move at one unified pace of innovation to produce better business outcomes and customer experiences. I can’t stress the importance of this cross-LOB initiative enough. If one department is adding connected devices, you must ensure those devices can intelligently connect to all other LOBs. In today’s smart, digital world, the IoT is rooted in being able to seamlessly and intelligently gather and share data organization-wide. Today, tangible ROI and benefits are found in enterprise-wide connectivity and data exchange.

Coming up: In part 2 of this series, I’ll address the elephant in the room when it comes to the IoT: security.

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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.