Genband Perspectives 2015 - 4 Takeaways

Last week I attended part of this event in Orlando, and here are my takeaways - better late than never. I've been in moving mode all month, and that explains my short visit to Genband, as well as the delay getting this posted. I try to share my thoughts here when attending industry events, and this time around, I need to add a couple of caveats.

First, I only had one full day for keynotes and sessions, so it's not a complete picture. Am pretty sure I saw the richest presentations in terms of messaging, but it was all about the industry and Genband's business. I didn't see or hear anything about their financial performance, go-to-market/channel plans, or how they're going to monetize Kandy. In short, from what I saw, there was very strong content about both sales and vision for how the comms space is being transformed, and pretty good content about marketing as well as demos for how various customers are using Kandy.

Second, the event was in a bigger venue this year, but it's hard to say if the audience was really larger. Anyhow, the main room was spaced out more this time, and even though analysts/media had front row seating again, we were set off pretty far to the right and back from the stage. I don't have a great camera - that's another story - and taking photos was just not an option short of walking up closer. They had roving professional photographers doing this all day long, so I'll leave that to them. As such, I just have one photo to share from the venue.

Finally, for reference, here's my post from last year's event, which does have more photos - and if you didn't know any better, they could have passed for Perspectives 2015.  :-)

1. "Protect what you have, invest for the future"

This was the mise en scene CEO David Walsh used to position Genband's customers for success in today's world of rapid, constant change. Fear is a great motivator, and the show opened with a high energy perfomance piece by actor Steve Connell (@steveconnell). It was pretty OTT - pun intended - but a great way to set the tone early that carriers need to adapt or die. This could have been the preamble to a pro sports event - "you play the game to win, not to lose" and "learn how to play the game better" - but totally on message for the challenges facing all carriers now.

David Walsh has his own style of presenting and he did a great job talking about how every aspect of our daily lives is being transformed by technology, and that "boundaries are being broken every day". He is genuinely imploring carriers to think this way as the status quo doesn't work any more. Naturally, Genband is the perfect partner to help them do that - both to protect their customer base with innovative applications, and to transition away from outmoded legacy networks to the cloud.

2. Green telephony

He also touched on this last year, but here he clearly articulated the virtues of going to the cloud. If you strip away all the drivers around making money and just focused on the environmental impact, there's a very powerful story here. He cited a string of facts and figures around heating and power consumption (and costs), then showing the magnitude of change with the cloud. If fighting global warming and saving the planet are key criteria for your decision-making, Genband totally gets it.

Just as effective, however, were the data points he shared about the economic impact, and this will resonate even stronger with anyone trying to build a business case to move on from the PSTN. He cited how there are 30,000 Central Offices in the U.S., and there's a huge real estate opportunity waiting to happen as telcos reduce their footprint when converting to IP. The PSTN remains a $100 billion business in the U.S., and telcos are still spending $1.3B annually to keep it going.

His main message from this is that if all those savings and opportunities were channeled properly, there's more than enough money to fund the move away from legacy to the cloud. Clearly, this is a vision problem, not a financial problem, and if all carriers invested in their future this way, everyone would be better off - carriers, customers and the planet.

3. Ecosystems create value

Now we get to Kandy, which is really the focus of their business now. We heard a lot about embedded communications being the key to survival for carriers, and if they don't get on board with the cloud and WebRTC, OTTs will continue taking their traffic, revenues and customers. All that's left will be a hardware-based network, and that won't get you much these days. On that note, I thought these posters in the hallway told the story pretty well. Today's customers want a personalized experience with apps they can use anywhere, any time and with anyone. That's kind of how we like to communicate as people, and not let technology get in the way.

Kandy is the solution by providing carriers a rich platform and ecosystem for delivering this experience and providing apps that customers will not only use, but will be happy to pay for. We certainly saw some great vertical market examples, so I have no doubt about what Kandy can do. It's just not clear to me what the revenue opportunity is for Genband and if it's enough to keep them playing at a high level.

4. "We aim low and succeed"

Every conference has a special speaker, and Genband sure picked a good on in Sir Ken Robinson. I was hardly alone in not knowing him, but now I will avidly say you should follow him (@SirKenRobinson) and check out his writings on creativity and the education system. Great stuff here, and the "aim low and succeed" mentality really says it all. He spoke at length about how we're not really encouraged to be creative or even believe that we can be. With his classic British tongue-in-cheek delivery, Sir Ken made the point by telling how the music teacher of both Paul McCartney and George Harrison told them they had no musical talent back in their Liverpool days. Oops.

It's really about fostering a culture to encourage everyone to explore their creativity - it's not just the domain of artists. While his frame of reference is the education system - and how it's been failing us this way for generations - it applies equally well in the business world. Large organizations tend to stifle creativity for all the wrong reasons, and when you connect the dots back to what Kandy is doing, there's an important message here for carriers. As David Walsh noted, let Kandy do all the heavy lifting, which frees you up to focus on what customers really need - that's where and how carriers can be creative and create the new value needed to protect their base.

So, don't underestimate your imagination and creative energy - it's in all of us, but you need to deploy all your senses to fully tap it. As Sherlock Holmes would say, seeing and observing are very different, and when you take advantage of all the tools around you, that's when amazing happens. To inspire you, here is a great clip that Sir Ken shared with us - if this doesn't wake you up to what's possible, then you're spending way too much time staring at screens rather than the world around you.

Finally, as is the Genband way, we got our fill of classic rock later that night. This year it was Kansas, who are still going strong - wow. Was never a fan, but they sure put on a great show, and sound just as good as what I remember hearing way back when. I really enjoyed seeing them, and this makes for a good coda - again, pun intended - to my post.

Playing music is my big passion, and seeing them was a good reminder of how music is unique in its ability to produce collective creativity. When you create something special as a group - as Kansas did - you keep it going as long as the energy and passsion is there. As an aside, this holds some truth for the management team David Walsh has put together, as trust and familiarity is a big part of keeping the creative process going. The big picture message, however, is that organizations - telcos - have tons of creative potential, and with the right culture, it can keep them competitive for years to come.

Coming back to Sir Ken, he talked about how this collective creativity differs from individual creativity, and sticking with the music theme, he noted how the music of the Beatles was greater than the sum of its parts. Sure, they all had good/great solo careers, but those will always be overshadowed by what they achieved together. That's another topic I'd love to riff on, but we'll leave it at that let's just stay calm and carry on my wayward son. How's that for tying all these threads together?

Making Music with the SIPtones at Interactions 2014

Most of you know me as an analyst, and I'm not in the habit of putting my personal life on public display. I still get my share of spam, but let's keep this upbeat!

Music is my biggest passion, and I've been playing piano and guitar most of my life. If you follow how my youngest son, Dean, is progressing with his music career, that should give you some clues as to where that's coming from. I can only take some of the credit, though - he's got a real gift, and my job is help him take it to full potential.

He bypassed my guitar playing years ago, but I still love to play, mostly blues, R&B and some jazz. I was really happy to have a chance to do that recently with the SIPtones, who got play a long, two hour set at Indy's top blues bar, the Slippery Noodle.

The gig took place earlier this month during the Interactions 2014 event, held by Interactive Intelligence, a vendor most of you will be familiar with. The SIPtones are all consultants by day, and they've been doing this a while. By night, it's Wayne Sos on bass, Stephen Leaden on drums, Rick Hathaway on saxes, and Mike Moszynski on guitar and harp.

They were nice enough to let me guest on a few numbers, with all but one on keyboard. Towards the end of the night, I comped on guitar while Mike did a Juke-like harp raveup, Off the Wall, including playing on top of the tables in the crowd. Whoo hoo!

Rick is the bandleader, and like all good bandleaders, he documents their gigs. He put together a nine minute highlight reel of the evening, and it's been posted now to YouTube. Unless you're a SIPtones groupie, you'll never find it, so I'm being the brand ambassador here and sharing it with you.

I'm on keyboard off and on throughout the compilation, and while the sound isn't great, I'm easy to spot on the far left of the stage. When comping Mike on guitar, I'm on the far right - that clip is near the end of the video.

Anyhow, watch as much as you like, and please share it with anyone who might enjoy it - or better yet, sign the band to a mega-deal and world tour. Rick is standing by on his SIP phone, and I'll keep practicing to keep the dream alive.  :-)

JFK's Assassination at 50 Revisited - the Day the Music Died

Many of us - myself included - remembered where we were 50 years ago today, but perhaps none of us witnessed JFK's assassination at Dealey Plaza. I sure don't know anyone who was there.

For modern music fans, you know what "the day the music died" means. If you don't, it refers to Buddy Holly, who was lost along with others in a fatal plane crash a few years earlier in 1959. Interestingly, his birthplace of Lubbock is due West from Dallas - not that far away.

What he represented to the nascent world of rock and roll, along with what was to become youth culture, was exactly what JFK meant to the idealism of post-war America and all the promise that the 1960s was showing. After November 22, 1963, nothing was ever the same again, and my feeling is that this was historical high point for America and we may never get back there.

If any of this resonates with you, then today is pretty special, and that's why I'm re-sharing one of my older blog posts here.

I wasn't at Dealey Plaza in 1963, but I WAS there in 2008, and given what made that day special, I'd say this is the next best thing, and a pretty good proxy for getting a first-hand flavor for what happened then.

So what was so special in November 2008? Well, Obama got elected, and I happened to be in Dallas the day the results were announced. If you care about these things, the stars really couldn't have lined up any better, and I took full advantage of the moment in both time and place.

I don't often cite old posts, but just after that trip, I put a photo-essay together based on my experience, and if you're even just a bit reflective of what today means, I think you'll enjoy seeing it. There was hardly any social media then, so if you don't follow my blog, you probably never saw it.

As a taste, here's one of my photos. What's this?

Well, it's the USA Today headline announcing Obama's win and "dream fulfilled" at the base of the JFK cenotaph in Dallas, where another big dream died 50 years ago today. How's that for linking one American dream to another?

If you don't remember my photo essay - or have never seen it - I hope you take a look. I'm pretty sure you'll find it time well spent and maybe learn a few things you never knew or saw. If you like that, you may also enjoy my Americana posts, which I do from time to time. Whatever you do, I'd love to hear what all this means to you too!

Obama Redux - Flashback Photo Essay - Nov. 5, 2008 - Obama, Dallas and JFK

Four more years - that's the storyline for the U.S. election. Great win for Obama, but not much has changed across the board in the mix of power, and let's hope the two parties can find ways of working together. Nothing like a financial crisis to force the issue, and I hope they figure this out before China calls our hand and starts dictating economic policy. Yeesh.

Well, let's stay with the afterglow for now, and I wanted to share a photo essay of mine from 2008. Some of you may remember this, but many of you weren't following me then, and I hope you enjoy this.

On November 5, 2008, I happened to be in Dallas, Texas - the day after Obama got elected. Wow. Talk about a happy accident. Clinton sure had his JFK parallels, but nothing like what Obama had. While we're still living off the hope 2008 brought, it was a pretty inspiring message then.

So, if you're a fan of.... Obama, JFK, conspiracy theories, or just America, I hope you'll check out my post from my day in Dallas. Also, if you like this type of posting, please check out the other posts in the Americana section of my blog.

Enough said - let's go back to 2008, and sadly, to 1963 - would love to hear your thoughts!

Snail Mail - Flawed, but it Works - Just Like TDM

Pretty busy writing and researching lately, but I just had to get this posted today.

Call me old school, but I still use the postal service - just like I still read newspapers, use a paper-based calendar, and listen to vinyl. I'm even still into silent movies, table hockey and board games, but let's save all that for another blog, or just come by for a visit.

Bear with me, foks, there is a telecom thread coming. I got a check in the mail yesterday from a client in California, and was kinda surprised to see the state of the envelope - see below - this is pretty much exactly how it looked.

As you can see, the envelope wasn't sealed, the flap was torn, and the letter was half-opened. It's a total mess, yet the letter got to me, and the check inside was perfectly fine. There was no damage, and anyone can see this was a check, yet nobody saw fit to take it and pretend to be me at their local Money Mart (and the check wasn't just a few hundred dollars, so it could have been a nice payday).
I've actually had stranger things happen with my mail, but generally, the service works fine for me. Sure, sending mail from the U.S. to Canada costs more and takes much longer, but it does get here. Email has its virtues, but regular mail still has value too. This letter travelled over 2,000 miles, and to arrive in my box in this shape tells me that the mail service works pretty well. Sure, I'm probably lucky too, but the bank took my check, and the end result was achieved.
The parallels to telecom struck me right away. Snail mail is like TDM - both are great for what they were designed for, but they're costly and complex services to provide, and are being replaced by cheaper, more efficient alternatives. I'll bet you'll have to think hard if I ask you whether it's been longer since you last mailed a letter, or made a legacy landline phone call.
With all that said, both services still function very well, but most people simply don't value them any more. We used to take the reliability of these services for granted, and when email crashes or VoIP sounds like you're under water, we just shrug and carry on. These shortcomings are part of the experience, but they never would have been tolerated with legacy services. Sure, there were lots of problems with mail service, but the rain or shine delivery promise of the U.S. mail is about as ingrained in the culture as apple pie. That reliability isn't what it used to be, but the mail comes 6 days a week (for now - but only 5 in Canada), and for those still using TDM, the service pretty much still has 100% uptime.
I've long maintained that the postal service is really in the privacy business. The mission is to deliver letters and parcels from point A to point B as efficiently as possible. Mail is private and personal - the seal on an envelope is a pretty flimsy form of security, and it only works because it's implicitly understood that you NEVER open someone else's mail. Postal workers don't do it (well, they're not supposed to!), and we don't even do it when we see other people's mail. For the most part, personal privacy is respected.
Yet, the letter in the photo above got to me just fine. I can't say whether anybody actually looked at the contents, but it arrived in the same condition it would have if the envelope was sealed. The idealist in me would say that the privacy principle was upheld here, and even with an unsealed, half-open letter, nothing was compromised when it easily could have - or maybe I'm just lucky!
Let's get back to telecom. In the TDM world, there's a dedicated circuit between the callers. For the most part, it's totally secure and private, the reliability is virtually 100%, and the quality is pristine. IP-based calls may be far more efficient in terms of using network resources, but all of these TDM virtues are somewhat compromised - that's why phone calls today are practically free. 
Now, think about my letter being a VoIP packet in a data network. I can't articulate the specific comparisons, but a packet with this much damage would never get to its intended destination. Or, if it did, it would be exposed to all kinds of security and privacy vulnerabilities along the way that any wannabe hacker could have a field day with. I'm just saying that the potential for bad things to happen here is very high, and it's part of the bargain when you move on from legacy to nextgen technologies.
So, while TDM and the postal share similar baggage, they still have their virtues. Their successors no doubt have their advantages, and there's really no turning back, but the price of progress can be higher than expected. There's no way that the equivalent of my letter in a data network would have gotten to me, and while this isn't an everyday occurrence, it's a reminder about why what we had worked so well for so long.
It's the same reason I still listen to vinyl. If you didn't grow up with it, you can't possibly understand what you're missing. As with VoIP and email, digital music definitely has its virtues, but even with a bit of homework, it won't take long to understand the subtle and not-so-subtle ways that vinyl is hands-down superior. Time to get back to work - if I have to explain this, then you really don't know, but I'd need a entirely separate blog to debate these things. Hmm....