Earth Day 2017: A Call for Education and Action … Because it Takes a Village (Truly!)

On Saturday, the world will come together for Earth Day 2017. I believe this is one of the most important days of the year because it’s a reminder of the responsibility we have to protect our planet, future generations, and each other (and we can all use reminders). This year’s campaign is about strengthening environmental and climate literacy. This is an especially relevant theme considering there are people who still challenge and debate the science driving climate change programs, initiatives, and legislation. To this end, it’s critical for us to recognize that unchecked pollution is the cause of climate change, and work to become climate literate so we can be voices for change. Remember, knowledge is power and that leads to action and progress—our only defense against the unprecedented threat that is climate change.

I have the good fortune of working for Avaya, a company that recognizes the unique opportunity we have to drive positive social, environmental and economic impact. We call this our Corporate Responsibility, and this spirit is reflected in everything we do, from upholding high ethical standards in the ways we conduct business to volunteering in our local communities and designing products that are energy efficient and require less hardware. (Learn more in our new Corporate Responsibility Report for Avaya’s 2016 Fiscal Year.) The primary reason for the environmental strides we’ve made can be attributed to our people. Corporate Responsibility is a mindset at Avaya. Our leaders and employees are educated, committed and active, and we continue to show we can move mountains with tight budgets and resources.

Why Companies Need to Lead in Protecting People and Our Planet

If we don’t, who will?

Look, it can be challenging. Getting the green light for programs that aren’t directly tied to revenue often requires perseverance. But we disregard the environment at our own peril. I believe businesses today have a moral obligation to act in ways that are thoughtful, balanced and compassionate, simply for the health of our people and our planet. Beyond that, though, behaving and acting in ways that positively strengthen our communities and the environment is just good business. It’s what customers and top talent have come to expect. Let me explain.

Millennials have recently surpassed boomers as the largest living generation. Also, as a whole, millennials are more passionate in their support of corporate social and environmental efforts. According to a study by Cone Communications, 24% of millennials believe they can make a difference in their community by buying products that support social causes, and 68% say a company’s social/environmental commitment is important or extremely important when deciding which products to buy. Similarly, according toNielsen, 51% of millennials will pay extra for sustainable products, and another 51% actively check the packaging for sustainable labeling. These are customers, and they’re paying attention.

What’s more, in just three years, millennials will account for 50% of the workforce. Now look at the following: A PricewaterhouseCoopers study reported that 88% of millennials prefer companies that emphasize corporate social responsibility, and 86% would consider leaving if their employer’s Corporate and Social Responsibility no longer met their expectations. If your retention and attrition strategy isn’t considering this data, you need to rethink it.

From where I sit, the connection between a meaningful corporate responsibility initiative and revenue is clear, and it’s direct.

Engage Your Employees

People ask me all the time how to do a lot with a little. After all, we’re operating in a time when budgets are scarce and resources are little. My answer is always this: turn to your employees. And Avaya has a great story.

The past several years, our company experienced a lot of change in its transformation to a software and services company. In spite of this, in 2015, we introduced our first-ever Avaya Month of Giving, a spirited 31-day campaign designed to bring together employees, suppliers and partners to make a difference in communities across the globe. In the run up to kick-off, I had a few people share with me their doubts that we could make this program successful. The thinking was that employees were busy, we had it in July during a high time for vacations, etc. But I never wavered in my belief it would be successful. I knew if we “leaned in” on our Avaya teams from around the globe, they’d deliver. And boy did they! In the words of Margaret Meade, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful and committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Collectively, the campaign raised approximately $250,000 for global charities, and engaged 60 employee teams across 32 Avaya locations and resulted in thousands of employees dedicating volunteer hours to charitable causes. Stunning! We followed that up with Month of Giving 2016, raising more than $200,000 for charities around the world. We’re aiming to exceed these numbers when Month of Giving rolls out later this year. #AvayaStrength

We’ve come full circle, back to where we began: our collective responsibility to our planet and to future generations. I can’t think of one reason for any company or individual to not invest all they can to help reverse the effects of climate change. In fact, there are more than a billion ways you can engage. #NoExcuses

As you head out on Saturday, hopefully to give back to your community in some way, I encourage you to keep top of mind the words of former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, “A nation that destroys its soils destroys itself. Forests are the lungs of our land, purifying the air and giving fresh strength to our people.” #EarthDay2017

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Kari’s Law: An Emotional Journey Leads to a Bittersweet Ending

Our long journey leading up to the presidential signing of Kari’s Law began well before the precious life of Kari Hunt tragically ended on Dec. 1, 2013. (Learn about Kari’s story.)

For me, it actually began in the spring of 2013 when I noticed a sign on my hotel door, which read: “In case of an emergency, dial 0 for the operator.” I remember thinking, “The operator isn’t trained to handle an emergency. I should be able to dial 9-1-1 from my room phone.”

Sadly, this occurrence wasn’t an anomaly. I found it to be a common bad practice adopted by too many hotels across the United States.

There’s no doubt their intentions were good. Hotels were looking to be proactive, and they wanted to expedite not delay emergency response times. To make matters worse, direct access to 9-1-1 from Multi Line Telephone System (MLTS) was flawed because guests couldn’t dial 9-1-1 directly. They needed to dial an extra 9 just to get an outside line. That proved to be a fatal flaw in Kari’s case because her 9-year-old daughter couldn’t get through to 9-1-1. MLTS legislation also didn’t exist or, if it did, it was limited to a handful of states, and much of that dealt with the reporting location. It didn’t address the issue of access and notification.

Throughout the year, I used social media to increase awareness and drive meaningful change. I spoke at conferences and even began a podcast series dedicated to this very topic.

Then one day in December 2013, everything changed. My Google Alerts for 9-1-1 came up with a Change.org petition that was raised by Hank Hunt after his daughter Kari was brutally murdered in her hotel room.

I reached out to Hank on Facebook and offered to help him in his cause. Having an innovative tech leader like Avaya backing me increased Hank’s confidence in my ability to help him bring about the changes he sought.

My previous experience immediately proved useful, and we were able to go straight to the top at the FCC. (I had served on the Emergency Access Advisory Committee under Chairman Julius Genechowski, who had just turned the agency over to Chairman Tom Wheeler. Talk about timing!)

Following a number of tweets and letters, including an Open Letter to the FCC Chairman Wheeler, we received a call from Commissioner Ajit Pai’s office and a meeting was scheduled for Jan. 10, 2014. That meeting turned into a 45-minute discussion on the issues, the fix, and the challenges we faced.

Over the next several months, Hank and I garnered the interest of legislators in cities and states across the country: Suffolk County in Long Island, the state of Illinois, Maryland, et al.

In Texas, Avaya participated in hearings, and offered our unique expertise. We introduced the idea of a “Waiver Clause,” which stated that a business could obtain an exemption if they showed financial hardship. With the exemption was the requirement to register the make and model number of the system. This uncovered many systems that were actually capable of being compliant, and eased the adoption of the new law.

More states followed embraced the legislation—it was a full-on domino effect—except at the federal level where every attempt to bring a bill to life stalled. But then in 2018, that changed too.

After an all-night session ending on Feb. 9 on what would have been Kari’s 36th birthday, the House of Representatives passed the Senate amendment of H.R. 582, and it was officially on the way to the president of the U.S. for signature.

We quietly celebrated, knowing Kari’s murder would not be in vain.

The cherry on the cake was being invited by Hank, Kari’s father, to witness the president sign the bill into law on Feb. 16, 2018. I was both humbled and honored, and invited my former colleague Avaya Sales Engineer Dan Wilson to enjoy the moment with us. Dan had worked tirelessly on this legislation, clocking 12 miles of walking in the Maryland House and Senate.

The West Wing is everything you’d imagine: intimidating, wonderful and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. It was a pleasure to not only stand beside Hank and witness the signing, but to also be in the company of people who supported our endeavor since day one: Ajit Pai, my good friend and now Chairman of the FCC, Congressman Louie Gohmert who introduced the bill, as well as other Congressional reps with interest in public safety. After reading a prepared statement, President Trump uncapped the ceremonial pen and placed it on the paper. As it started to move, we were overcome with emotion. To think, 50 years to the day, and quite nearly the minute, following the first ever 9-1-1 call, Kari’s Law had become the “Law of the Land.”

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.