Update on Industry News - Summer Edition
Ah, the lazy days of summer. There haven't been many conferences or major news announcements in the past month or so, but I've still had some interesting briefings with vendors. Here's a quick recap of a few announcements:
Microsoft announced a new Skype for Business Office 365 Service Preview Program in July. Customers of an Office 365 Enterprise Plan or Skype for Business Online Plan 2 can try out the new S4B O365 for six months, including the new services that are part of the preview, including:
Cloud PBX - Office 365 will offer enterprise voice feature set in the cloud, and become the central location to manage users for communications, email, and content. This eliminates the need for a separate PBX.
PSTN calling - enabling users to make/receive traditional calls in the S4B client. Users can connect to the phone line from premises, or Microsoft will have PSTN calling plans available. If customers don't need to use PBXs on prem, they can subscribe to a calling plan from Microsoft.
Skype Meeting Broadcast - for broadcast Skype for Business meetings such as "town hall meetings" and webinars, etc. over the Internet with up to 10,000 attendees who can attend using a browser.
PSTN Conferencing - Users can use a dial-in number to join Skype meeting by dialing in from any device using a landline or mobile phone. Lets people dial into a call from a landline or mobile phone if they don't want (or cannot) join in through their PC, mobile device, or browser.
These features, which are currently available for testing in preview editions of Skype for Business Online, are expected to be available in the production version of Skype for Business Online by the end of 2015. Microsoft plans to make available Cloud PBX available for customers worldwide this fall. PSTN Conferencing and Skype Meeting Broadcast should be generally available before the end of 2015.
In addition, Microsoft announced that it is ending the Office 365 E4 plan and will be adding a new E5 plan, a new enterprise licensing option that includes the full Office 365 suite (including S4B), but also optional Skype Meeting Broadcast, Cloud PBX and PSTN Conferencing. The E5 plan will also include analytics capabilities such as Power BI Pro and Delve Organizational Analytics, and new security features, including eDiscovery, Customer Lockbox, Data Loss Protection, and Safe Attachments.
Microsoft is clearly making headway in adding the UCC functionality that customers require in Office 365, specifically real-time voice and PSTN calling. However, it's still not exactly clear which specific capabilities will be offered in the Microsoft PSTN service, such as E911. It's also unclear which features will be available when E5 is released, as features will be added gradually. Pricing isn't available yet, but it's fair to assume that the E5 plan will be competitive.
Unify Square recently introduced Unify Square PowerProv, an "enterprise-class solution for automation of User Lifecycle Management for Microsoft Skype for Business and Lync." PowerProv centralizes the management of a company's Skype for Business policies and regulatory compliance policies, centralizes the global management of telephone numbers, automates the process of adding, removing & changing users settings and configurations according to the company and compliance policies. The new software also provides help-desk interface for exception processing, and eliminates over 95% of the manual intervention needed to manage Skype for Business users. Given the fact that for large corporations they can have as many as 30% of their employees moving within, join or leave the company every year, the business of provisioning can be a huge time and dollar investment if not managed properly. PowerProv is a rules-based system that automates the business of moves/adds/changes in enterprises so that the organization doesn't have to get into the nuts and bolts of MAC (moves, adds, changes). Scott Gode, VP of Product Marketing, Unify Square, noted that pushing MAC work into the automated realm helps companies instead focus more attention on improving voice quality which, in turn, leads to higher rates of user adoption and satisfaction.
Unify Square also announced $12.2M in extended Series B funding. The company just secured $4M in an extended Series B round of funding, which adds to the $8.2M secured back in February 2015 in the original Series B. The key investors include Microsoft, Bridge Bank, Stanford University and other original Series B investors (Former executives at Ariba, Yahoo and IBM) contributed to the extended round. What's interesting is that this marks the second investment from Microsoft, solidifying the company as Unify Square's lead investor. The funds will be used to enhance support for existing customers, expand the company's global customer base, innovate on-premise and cloud capabilities, and accelerate adoption of Skype for Business. According to Gode, Unify Square is in the process of extending and enhancing its existing product line and upping the ante in terms of capabilities offered to customers for more proactive ways to manage the Skype For Business platform. They provide software and managed services for Fortune 500 customers, and will be using some of the investment money to continue to hire people to service those customers. In addition, the company has been signing up many multinational companies with multiple locations, and needs to be able to support these customers around the globe.
Collaboration and social software vendor Jive Software recently added Jive Circle, "A secure way to quickly search, discover and connect with colleagues." Described as "the mobile directory for your company," Jive Circle is a secure directory app that helps employees quickly search and discover other employees in the organization - you can find the right people in your company, when you need them, from wherever you are. It lets you know where people sit in the organization, who their peers are, who they report to, etc. Users can search for people in the organization by functional area, or by any term, such as product management, and filter based on department, etc. You can then pull up the individual's profile, view where they are in the company's org chart, see their current availability and location, and then contact through email, phone, or Jive Chime.
What I like best about it is that it lets you instantly communicate with people in your organization by simply clicking on a colleague's avatar using a press and hold feature that brings up a choice of icons to let people connect via click-to-call, email or Jive Chime for real time messaging. During the demo, I saw how easy it is to have a real-time conversation over the mobile phone with a simple press and hold feature.
In July, Redbooth, which provides team collaboration and communication solutions, introduced its latest release of its Workstream Collaboration and Communications cloud platform. With the latest release, Redbooth integrates one-click voice connection with its chat, file sharing, search, task management and video conferencing capabilities. In addition, Redbooth now integrates with Microsoft SharePoint Online (Office 365) and OneDrive for Business.
The main new feature benefits of this latest Redbooth release include:
The ability to seamlessly escalate from a chat session to voice by calling team members on their existing mobile and work phones with one-click voice connection from within Redbooth workspaces;
Integration with SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business, allowing users to collaborate with their teams on important files using Microsoft Office 365 and organize company-wide information, people and projects in one place;
A more intuitive, team-centric user experience, with shared virtual workspaces that are organized within a clean and engaging interface;
An improved, richer messaging experience with the ability to add web links and documents that generate expansive previews, capture action items as they arise during team-wide online chat and turn them into tasks, and track task assignment, deadlines and completion-all without leaving the chat stream.
The new web-based user interface that lets workers revolve around chat and real time communications. The chat function is fully integrated into the user's work planning and execution, and provides the "next leap forward in mobile apps."
During a briefing, VP of Marketing Charles Studt, noted that according the McKinsey Global Institute, 20% of the workweek is spent searching for information, and 30% of the workweek is spent managing your email. Redbooth's goal is to revolutionize how teams work, freeing users from the time email takes away, and letting people find information faster in order to do meaningful work. In a demo, Studt showed how easy it is to create a task from within the chat window, and then assign the task to someone, attach files, set due dates, add content from Google Drive, Dropbox, Box, etc. Chats can be escalated into actionable tasks, and the team members get automatically updated on the progress.
Redbooth lets you do a click to call from chat and escalate to a voice call with a single button using the phone number that's in the person's profile. However, the profile only has one phone number, so you don't have the option of which number to call, such as the user's mobile or office number. Future releases will support additional numbers and direct integration with enterprise telephony platforms.
Analytics and reporting are key, and using the Reports tab you can track projects and see which ones are overdue, unassigned, have no due date, etc. If you see that a task is unassigned, you can assign it to the appropriate individuals to prevent important action items from "falling through the cracks."
The latest version is available now for new and current customers.
People on the Move
Expect to see new faces in the coming months at many of the UCC companies.
Andy Cunningham is ending her consultancy as CMO with Avaya, and is focusing on SeriesC, a brand strategy firm that she founded.
Alan Percy, Sr. Director of Strategic Marketing, NA, is ending his 14 years with AudioCodes. Going forward, Barry Spielman, Director of Marketing Operations will be handling media, consultant and analyst relations for AudioCodes.
John Hernandez is leaving Cisco, where he was Vice President and General Manager Collaboration Market and Solutions Development, and will be joining IBM as General Manager, Collaboration and Smarter Workforce. Some of the product and solutions that he will have responsibility for include: Verse, Kenexa, Connections, Notes, Sametime and Analytics.
Speaking of Cisco, one of our favorite channel professionals, Richard McLeod, is following in the footsteps of a number of Cisco executives and is moving on from his position as Senior Director - Worldwide Channels.
I've enjoyed working with each of these individuals over the years, and they are all top notch and the best in their fields.