Project Ansible

17 Jul 2013

This week the UCStrategies team welcomes Chris Hummel, CCO of Siemens Enterprise Communications, to the Industry Buzz Podcast. The topic is the just-announced Project Ansible. Joining moderator Jim Burton are Steve Leaden, Blair Pleasant, Dave Michels, Art Rosenberg, Marty Parker, Phil Edholm, and Dr. Joseph Williams.

Unified Communications Strategies

Also on on this topic:

Jim Burton: Welcome to UCStrategies Industry Buzz. This is Jim Burton and I am joined today by Chris Hummel the CCO for Siemens Enterprise. One of the things that is important for all of us to know is that Siemens today has made a very big announcement. They are really changing the direction of their company. They have announced Project Ansible, and we have Chris Hummel to talk to us about that. We have the UC experts here to ask questions, and hopefully we are going to be able to give you some insight. A number of us attended the conference a few weeks ago where Siemens presented this to the industry analysts and consultants, and I think we all walked away very, very excited for the changes we seeing in what's going on with Siemens.

But I think we also walked away saying there are other people doing similar things. And I think those of us who have had a lot of insight in the industry have seen things that other vendors are doing that are somewhat similar. Some of them haven't been announced yet because those of us working close in the industry know what is happening behind the scenes with these. But nonetheless this was a very, very exciting product, a very exciting change in strategy and direction for Siemens, so with that I am just going to turn it over to Chris and let him explain to us about Project Ansible. Chris?

Chris Hummel: Great, thanks a lot for that, Jim. So today we made public for the first time our two-year project really where we have been not just building a product, so to speak, and working on the traditional engineering driven approach. But we have taken a market-driven approach where we went out and surveyed the market and did a lot of research. And essentially the key problem that we are trying to solve and the key problem that we identified is that we spend way too much time orchestrating work and not actually being able to do work. We really tried to build a new platform which is designed to deliver increased business performance through this kind of real time engagement by unifying voice, video, social, search, business process applications, and all the other channels and so on and so forth into a seamless, immersive, and intuitive experience. We have really focused on trying to bring it all together and truly creating something that does go beyond unified communications that obviously builds off everything we do.

But really find three things that if you put them all together this is where we think the real magic starts to happen. And the first is the idea of aggregation, and pulling and aggregating not just all your inboxes or your social feeds, but combining that with all your real time communications, combining it with all of the information and knowledge you have in the organization and aggregating across all those applications, content, and contacts. The second is really around the experience and creating a truly seamless frictionless experience where we mimic as much as possible the way humans actually interact in conversations. And so the idea of conversations is very critical.

The third piece of this is really aligning it to the way that your business operates, actually not just passing information back and forth between applications like or Oracle or SAP or Google Apps or whatever, Microsoft, but actually integrating that experience so that business process integration is much deeper than anything we have seen in unified communications today. So there is still a long way to go and there is still a lot of work. But we see it as a real opportunity for Siemens Enterprise Communications, and for most importantly, customers, to start really getting value out of the solutions they invest in.

Jim Burton: Well, Chris, one of the things that you made a comment about before we got onto this podcast, was that seeing the demo really helps a lot. And I have to agree with you a hundred percent. So what I thought I would do is call on some of my colleagues who were actually at your event where you gave us a live demo and get their comments and feedback. So let's start off with Steve Leaden. Steve?

Steve Leaden: Thanks, Jim thanks Chris. It was very exciting to see the demo right in front of us. I think it really brings together from many manufacturers, disparate UC functions into what I would call really, and I hate to use the word seamless, but into a very seamless kind of integrated way. I'll give you just one example. I think if I remember from the demo, an individual was over in let's say South Africa, Johannesburg, and while you are pulling up and contacting that individual, you cannot only see what their latitude and longitude was - and by the way, you did know if they were there to begin with, you would also see what the weather condition was. So you and I had a chance to talk the other day about this day and I found it interesting to see that the weather becomes part of the conversation, part of a more fluid experience. So that was one of my observations.

The other piece is, Chris, I would challenge you in a friendly way, what makes the Project Ansible solution better, more fluid, more game changing the way I see, too, by the way, as to how this could conceptually change how we do business in general and maybe this could be the answer for UC that we have been looking for conceptually.

Chris Hummel: Yes, so thanks Steve. I mean, clearly I would say that your challenge is not just to me, but it's to everybody in the industry. Why has unified communications not been adopted to the level of the promise we all believe and the value we all believe it can actually bring? And that's not just us. It's all of our peers and competitors in the market as well. And a big part of it, we discovered through this research and this partnership with companies like Frog Design and Ferrazzi Greenlight and so on and so forth, we identified this change in the way that even CIOs are now being driven not by availability of capability but actually by adoption of the solutions and systems that they bring out.

You look at this and we said well, wow, if adoption is so important, what is blocking adoption? And what was blocking adoption is right now I have to learn so many different systems. I have to learn how to use my email and my video system, which is different than my telephone, which is different than my social networks and so on and so forth. OK, I have some aggregation of certain ports of that but I need to kind of learn those as well and all at the same time. And so what ends up happening is I basically throw it all away. I go and use my iPhone or my Android and I create my own unified communications ecosystem.

And what we saw was that people were creating their own ecosystems. So we went back and said, how do we take that demand for joy of use, to actually be delighted to use the system? And if we can 1) make people actually enjoy using the system, because again, as I said, it mimics the way we naturally converse. And 2) if we can make it so intuitive that you never need to pick up a manual, that you can just use it from the minute you walk up to it, we thought that that was going to drive real adoption. And then the piece that actually makes it even more engaging is when you started to talk about things like when you make a call the weather shows up, or where you are. And we found as we, again, talked to people, took pictures of their desks, watched them in action, that that element of the personal sort of context in which you operate is critical to actually building relationships of trust and engaging in real collaboration and making people productive and amplifying teamwork.

Steve Leaden: Thanks, Chris. My one footnote comment was the one general observation throughout the whole presentation, the whole demo, was I could just sense the word fluid being throughout. You got it not only seamless but you seem to have gotten it very fluid, too. So Jim, back to you.

Jim Burton: Great, thanks Steve. Another person who attended the conference was Blair Pleasant, and she and I talked about this on a couple of occasions - the amount of research that went into this and how you looked at customers and what they wanted. And so Blair, I will turn it over to you to carry on that part of the conversation.

Blair Pleasant: Thanks, Jim and thanks, Chris. One of the things that Siemens did was as you mentioned, you did research your customers. And you also worked with Frog to help with the design and some other organizations to really help focus on the user experience. And one thing you also did, was you were pretty active or involved with WebRTC. Apparently WebRTC plays a very important role in Project Ansible and the user experience. And when I was talking to some of the folks at the conference in Denver, they said that WebRTC will help Siemens leapfrog some of your competitors and also target non-Siemens customers. So can you explain how you will be able to do that?

Chris Hummel: Yes - we have to make some bets. I mean, this is not a world where you can try and do everything for all people. And we looked around at what was available after we did our design and after we talked and sort of figured out all the issues that we were trying to solve, and WebRTC just came to us as a natural platform. Siemens has about 42 million users, give or take, around the world. And we believe that this solution is targeted at 10 times that amount, more than 400 million potential users around the world. To do that we must be capable of working on other platforms other than our own. And that is a clear design principle that we have to support. And yes, WebRTC is one part of that but I will leave that for the moment, but just say our DNA has always been about open systems. And in this case we recognize that the value here can be brought for customers who are in heterogenous environments or don't only have, say, a Siemens Media Engine platform or a call control.

Blair Pleasant: Thanks Chris.

Jim Burton: Dave Michels, you were at the event. Why don't you give us your thoughts and questions for Chris?

Dave Michels: Thanks Jim. Chris I've got to hand it to you - this was probably one of the more exciting launches I have seen in the industry. You did a great job with this. I wanted to ask you a couple questions about it. Are you using Ansible at Siemens or is it strictly in the laboratory right now?

Chris Hummel: I am not using it as a production system. I am using it as a test case.

Dave Michels: Because what I am curious about and maybe you could answer this from a test perspective, the video shows lots of elements. It shows maps, transcription, contextual awareness, gestures, video, everything is in there. And so I wanted to know as you have been using this, what really stands out to you or what excites you most about your new experience?

Chris Hummel: In terms of the thing that is most exciting to me both in terms of my personal usage and in terms of as an offering to the market, it really is about the ability to extend far beyond unified communications or the traditional boundaries of unified communications and even collaboration. And as we started to touch into this we realized oh my goodness, if I want to be able to - if somebody calls me, Dave Michels calls me, ok, I can find all the emails you send or those kinds of things, but I need to find a document that we had been sharing back and forth or whatever. And I need to go and search that.

All of a sudden you are now in search capabilities. Well, search has not generally been associated with unified communications. I also need to potentially link into if Dave Michels is a client of mine or a potential prospect, I might need to log into my system but I don't want to be a woodpecker and constantly pivot in and out of applications. So the ability to move back and forth in this fluid fashion as Steve called it, that's great but it is really the ability to do that and then get all the context from the ecosystem around unified communications, from my content management system, to be able to search across multiple forms and across any device, the ability to reach into some of my business applications. For me the productivity gain that suggests are phenomenal.

Dave Michels: That's great. I want to focus in on that orchestrating of work. I understand what you are saying in terms of having access to your documents and you mentioned search. And once the work has started, does Ansible do anything about starting work? I mean, it seems like every conference call takes five minutes to get people on board and figure out who's on. Is there anything that Ansible does to shortcut that process?

Chris Hummel: Yes, another part of the research that we did was a group called Ferrazzi Greenlight, which is headed by New York Times bestselling author Keith Ferrazzi, a sort of business consultant. And we looked at this very concept of the five minutes that we all essentially waste in every virtual meeting. Who has the code? Well, wait a minute, do we have the right version of the document? Hang on, I will send it to you. Hey, where's Chris? Somebody call him and get him on the phone. You spend all this time sort of fixing the technology, orchestrating the work, or worse, you are sitting in the background just doing email.

Whereas if we go into a physical meeting we actually spend that first five minutes doing what? Getting to know each other, checking in, doing a personal and professional check-in. Which, based on research, we could go into all kinds of neuroscience and all that kind of stuff: (it) calms the reptilian brain and reduces the fight or flight reflex of fear, and all that kind of stuff of working with somebody you don't trust, and the release of oxytocin in the brain, and so on and so forth. I mean, we really went pretty deep into all this and found that if we can just immediately (proceed to) "I am on a conversation; I want to escalate to a web collaboration." I press a button and it goes. We found that this concept of persistence was critical, and the ability to not have to stop and start work all the time. So we are in the middle of a collaboration session, we get to a certain point, we have to go do the rest of our job or daily lives, personal lives, or whatever, come back and we can start immediately where we were from. And we can do that because a collaboration space has been automatically created. And we don't have to go search for it again. It's just created as a natural element of that.

Dave Michels: Thank you Chris. Jim, I am kind of torn. I have got about 30 more questions, or I can hand it back to you. Which do you prefer?

Jim Burton: Dave why don't you hand it back to me and then maybe when we get to the end if your questions weren't answered or asked by someone else you can jump back in.

I want to turn it over to Art Rosenberg now. He was at the event, and I know is a big proponent. So I turn it over to you, Art.

Art Rosenberg: Thank you. Yes, Chris, it was very impressive in terms of the starting point as looking at what end users want to begin with. You want to know what you want to end up with. How you implement it, that can come later. So I just wondered if you had any particular comments any different from that at this point in time? Because the way I see it is that customers are now able to communicate and access information a lot easier, a lot faster, and also be more accessible with mobile smartphones and tablets. That's an area that I see as being most important, maybe even more important, than how people conduct meetings. But go ahead.

Chris Hummel: Thank you Art, I appreciate that. I would love to be up there with the consumer companies that design and make their living off of that kind of thing. We are a little bit more humble than that, I guess, in terms of what we've tried to do, if we have over delivered then that would be fantastic. I think where we look at it is we are focused on the enterprise. But that doesn't mean that the consumer is not involved. I mean, this whole concept of the capabilities of what we are talking about here and the unified communications and the extension and the collaboration and all that, those are actually the baseline features that are then required to move into an even deeper level with things like the contact center. And so you need all these capabilities of persistence and automated collaboration spaces and the ability to swipe with a natural gesture, a multi-threaded call, and the ability to search information and we have not even talked about analytics yet and so on and so forth.

Art Rosenberg: The only other suggestion that I have is that you need to look at the individual user as wearing two hats; and they are different. One is they are the ones that initiate a contact or want to get information or want to make a connection with another person, a person-to-person. On the other hand they are the recipient of a contact and they may be busy doing other things.

Chris Hummel: You're absolutely right. We're now not just talking about the CIO, right, where traditionally we would sell to the CIO or various people in the organization there. We now are going to the individual user. And so we now have to take into account the individual user and their likes, needs, wants, limitations, perceptions. So we need to go to the business decision maker as well. So we have just tripled, if you like, the audience that we need to sell to. And again, this is one of the reasons why we are starting this process earlier than, say, we would traditionally do it. Certainly earlier than we would have conservatively done it. So you are absolutely spot on.

Jim Burton: Thank you Art. I want to turn it over to Marty Parker now.

Marty Parker: Thanks Jim. Chris thanks for being here. I want to start by applauding the grander aspiration that you and the Siemens team are pursuing which is to fit communications into how people work rather than fitting people into how communications works. That's fabulous. And I want to give you my emphatic compliments on the market research you have done. In yesterday's analyst briefing you had described to us a few persona types but you hinted that there are many more that you have. And if you do, this is going to be huge. So if you can help your customers and your prospects fit the solution into their business needs and into the personal experience I think it will deliver great business value.

Then you mentioned people who are constructing their own solutions on their Android or whatever.

I think it will be exciting if you are able to meet those people's needs so well they shift from their consumer centric mash-ups into a business centric work management tool. So can you say more about the personas and what your team plans to do to make those visible? How we can be supporting them as consultants and analysts out here because I would really like to be supportive of that adoption? And how do you think you will get people to find their own persona and move into project Ansible from their mash-ups?

Chris Hummel: Yes, thank you Marty. It's been a great ride. I know there is - it's certainly not over. There is a long way to go and hopefully it goes on for a long, long time in a very positive way. But we really took this concept of switching around from a traditional kind of B-to-B technology approach of saying ok, what's the technology, what's the next thing that technology can do, let's bring that on. As you get into the details, you will see that a lot of the foundation we have actually been building over the last couple years. But the personas specifically, what we did was we walked around and we just... watched. We asked questions. We took pictures. We actually looked at people's desks and saw where they put pictures of their family and how they have arranged their physical space. we looked at their phones, which I think we all know, right, if you take a snapshot of any two people's or any group of people's applications on their smartphone or device it's probably more unique than their fingerprint in the way that they do it. And so we really tried to build it - and inevitably we had to shrink it down - create some level of aggregation at the higher level, but nonetheless we were very specific.

So when we put these personas together - so you had Eva, the executive assistant. We actually looked and said how many emails does she send a day? How many phone calls does she make? How many tweets or Facebook posts or LinkedIn chats? How much time does she actually spend at her desk? And how much time does she spend in different applications? And yes, we sort of eventually kind of normalized it. But being able to look at those kinds of things we really understood the context in which these individuals were working. We have to try and figure out what we are going to be able to deliver to them that is going to make them cross this barrier of adoption that we have been talking about today.

It constantly created a center of gravity for us. It always brought us back and said, ok, but why do we want to do that? What is it going to give to Eva, in this case, to make it work? So that was a lot of effort. And normally you want to get products out faster and faster to market so you can recoup your earnings in your investment. But in this case we thought we are playing for the long haul. Having these personas really kept us grounded in reality.

Marty Parker: Well it will. And it will also help the customers buy your product because the customers want to know what to buy and the list of 200 features that they see on a PBX isn't what they need. If they are able to look at their business and this may be why IBM sells IBM Connections to the HR Department, because that's the organization responsible for assisting managers with utilizing the talent, if customers are able to say look, I've got these five types of workers and you're showing me personas that match those, I am buying five personas from you. And you guys know what the technology set is behind the personas. That will be huge. So I will stop with that. I would like to develop this discussion further as you get your personas more out there and visible. Thanks a lot.

Chris Hummel: Thank you Marty, would be happy to share them.

Marty Parker: Great.

Jim Burton: Thanks, Marty. Phil, whenever the phrase "WebRTC" comes up, your name pops to top of mind. I'm sure you have got some questions and comments.

Phil Edholm: I'm curious about how you're doing routing and routing management. How much are you using adaptive intelligence and predictive intelligence or knowledge base to manage those things and build up preferences versus asking users to map those themselves.

Chris Hummel: It's a great question, Phil. When you start to get down to the technology layer of actually the physical routing we are not going yet into that level of detail. But what I will say is we have taken the concept of following certain topics. So you can actually go follow a topic. You can like a certain theme. And so anything in the company that is kind of open that goes against that theme will come into this shared space and you can go and get it. So we haven't yet gotten to the level of predictive analytics or sort of predictive relationship coding and mapping. But certainly we have talked about how we could extend that. I think if we can put the relationship thing on first, the relationship thing... that's not a particularly eloquent way to say it, but the relationship element into the communications framework and all that kind of stuff, then I think that provides us then the idea to go look at analytics, look at all those other kinds of things.

Phil Edholm: Yes, I think the challenge is relationship is only one part of almost the contextual model of routing which is all those other contacts. And I guess the adaptive intelligence, almost the TiVo model, right, of knowing that if you like these movies that have this actor or actress in them that you will like other movies and kind of applying those things. So that is an interesting thought process. So from a WebRTC perspective, are you introducing a WebRTC portal as part of this? Or is it something that is not really considered here?

Chris Hummel: It's something that is being discussed. I mean, the idea of - phone numbers are still sort of the unique identifiers, right, to sort of find somebody and we have been using one number service. The interesting thing, we were just talking about kind of engagement and mapping and as you said contextual analytics and all that kind of stuff actually on our website.

Phil Edholm: Or it just goes directly to WebRTC. I mean, the concept that you go to my personal page and say, I am here to talk to you and I am Phil and I want to talk to you, Chris, about a project and that becomes the entry point to communicate with you. And I never see a phone number because I am not going to a phone system. I am going to this whole next generation collaboration system.

Chris Hummel: Once you are in the system, Phil, so once you are in my contact list that's what happens. But in terms of a raw contact that is something we are still observing.

Phil Edholm: So are you adding web addresses into the contact list as a potential way of - so that's interesting. Just one last question. Frog Design obviously did a lot of work on this. Are they a beta customer for the platform? Are they actually using the platform in their business now?

Chris Hummel: They are not doing it today because we have not started the beta trials. But what Frog's role here has been three-fold: one is they have helped a lot of the market research because they have a methodology. The second is that they have really been the core designers particularly of the user experience and that is why we went to them - is world class. And the third is they have just been incredible partners and advisors.

Phil Edholm: Excellent. Sounds good, thanks, I will throw it back to Jim.

Jim Burton: Thanks a lot, Phil. Joseph, do you a question for Chris?

Dr. Joseph Williams: Jim, I have a question around the deployment modality. I read somewhere there is going to be a cloud, private cloud, public cloud, multi-tenant version. Could you elaborate on that?

Chris Hummel: We haven't released all the details. There are a lot of elements here that are obviously going to be critical and go-to-market and the packaging and pricing and delivery and so on and so forth. What I would say is this: the primary delivery model that the world is moving to is a SaaS-based, mobile-based sort of delivery model. And that allows us to do a certain number of things with Project Ansible that we are very excited by. And so we look and say that is a key delivery. And even for customers, existing customers and what not who have existing on premise systems or what not we can marry the two in a hybrid environment.

The most important thing that we are working on right now is really to bring a path for our existing customers for them to take their OpenScape and use that as the basis and the foundation. Get them current because that's the number one thing they can do right now and then move them into this sort of, I don't want to say post-UC world, but extended UC world of Project Ansible.

Dr. Joseph Williams: Well, because you know there is a lot of energy around UC-as-a-Service and maybe you have not thought all the way through your distribution on this but if it is going to end up being a channel offer, that is super interesting to a lot of folks. But if it ends up being a Siemens hosted play that is also super interesting but for other reasons.

Chris Hummel: What I would say is this: we have thought for years about this. And we have built our strategy. That's just not the piece that I'm ready to sort of divulge the full roadmap right now. But that's clearly one of the key elements. And I will say since you mention the sort of distribution and that kind of thing is we really do believe that this is one of the things that is going to enable us to build a channel ecosystem if you like, unlike we've ever had before. We are traditionally more of a direct sales model. And we see a real opportunity here regardless of where it's hosted or who it's hosted or what not. But you saw in Denver a number of key carriers and large partners like IBM get up and talk about their partnership with us: IBM, Verizon, Telephonica.

We also look and see not only an ecosystem in terms of delivery and sale but almost more importantly right from the start we have kind of designed this all with the principle that we need to publish APIs and SDKs because we are not going to be able to build all the functionality people want. We are already getting requests for - or we have been for quite some time even on industry-specific, let's call them modules or extensions, functionality whether it be in healthcare, automotive, or public sector, whatever. And it is great that people want that.

Dr. Joseph Williams: Thanks Chris, Back to you Jim.

Jim Burton: Great, thanks a lot Joseph. Well I think we are about out of time. I really, really appreciate you spending the time with us today, Chris. It's been very, very helpful to us as a team and hopefully this will help educate the marketplace on where Project Ansible is headed and where Siemens is headed. And I look forward to inviting you back to a podcast maybe about the time you have some new branding issues to discuss.

Chris Hummel: Thank you everyone.


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