Mitel buys Polycom for $1.96B in enterprise communications consolidation play

Re-post article by Ingrid Lunden from techcrunch.com

As more enterprises move their communications services over to IP networks and cloud-based services, we’re seeing an increasing amount of consolidation as the businesses that serve them continue to grow to provide end-to-end services — and to shore up against smaller, newer and less expensive offerings from the likes of Slack, Skype, Google Hangouts and more. Today comes that latest move in that sphere: Mitel announced that it would acquire Polycom in a cash-and-stock deal with a total value of $1.96 billion*, creating a company with combined sales of $2.5 billion and 7,700 employees.

Mitel and Polycom have been in negotiations for nearly 10 months, Mitel said, and there was a report earlier this month in Bloomberg hinting that a deal between the two was imminent. They share a common (and recent) investor in the form of Elliott Management Corp., who had been urging the two to combine to compete better with rivals.

Polycom, based out of San Jose, will continue to keep its branding, Mitel said, with the overall company headquartered in Ottawa, in Mitel’s current HQ. Both companies are publicly traded and have been acquirers of smaller companies themselves, but not on the prolific level of some rivals like Cisco. This is only Mitel’s sixth acquisition, according to Crunchbase.

“Mitel has a simple vision – to provide seamless communications and collaboration to customers. To bring that vision to life we are methodically putting the puzzle pieces in place to provide a seamless customer experience across any device and any environment,” said Mitel CEO Rich McBee in a statement. “Polycom is one of the most respected brands in the world and is synonymous with the high quality and innovative conference and video capabilities that are now the norm of everyday collaboration. Together with industry-leading voice communications from Mitel, the combined company will have the talent and technology needed to truly deliver integrated solutions to businesses and service providers across enterprise, mobile and cloud environments.”

Both companies compete against the likes of Cisco and Avaya. Mitel is perhaps best known for its IP telephony solutions, including PBX systems, while Polycom is a leader in conferencing services. They also cover SIP technology, and customers span 82% of Fortune 500 companies.

Polycom’s acquisition by Mitel comes at a key time in the world of enterprise communications and collaboration.

On one hand, it is a time of massive change and evolution. For years a lot of the services that companies used were based on legacy networking, but in the last decade there has been a big shift to IP-based networks for many of these services.

However, at the same time the whole space has been massively disrupted by startups that are upsetting by tapping into the next phase of digital services — the Internet. Companies like Microsoft by way of services like Skype and Yammer, and smaller startups like Slack, are overturning the whole idea of how people who are not in the same office floor can communicate and collaborate for work.

These solutions are way cheaper than a lot of the legacy offerings; they tap into the cloud-based services that are now ubiquitous to share and work on files; and they are also built in very user-friendly ways, based around tech that ordinary consumers are using.

All of this poses big challenges and possible threats for incumbent companies like Mitel — which has been around since 1972, but also opportunities. This is something that companies like Cisco and IBM also realise and are trying to capitalise on with acquisitions and strategic changes.

The deal is one of the bigger in enterprise collaboration and communication collaboration in recent times, but not the only one. In February, Cisco acquired enterprise collaboration startup Acano for $700 million. And IBM’s recent acquisitions of Ustream and Clearleap also give it a stronger position in enterprise conferencing, while Atlassian acquired BlueJimp. Among startup consolidation, Fuze acquired LiveMinutes last year, too.

Mitel was in the news several years ago for filing a patent infringement case against Facebook covering two areas: technology for calling up web pages in text-based communications (which you get if you type in a URL in a message or post), and its Internet telephony services. Facebook retailiated with patent suits of its own, using patents originally owned by AOL (owner of TC). Facebook and Mitel settled out of court in 2013. The Polycom deal will give Mitel a combined portfolio of over 2,100 patents and more than 500 patents pending, Mitel says.

The acquisition — in which Polycom stockholders will get $3.12 in cash and 1.31 Mitel common shares for each share of Polycom common stock, “or $13.68 based on the closing price of a Mitel common share on April 13, 2016” — is a 22% premium to Polycom shareholders based on Mitel’s and Polycom’s “unaffected” share prices as of April 5, 2016, the companies say. It is expected to close in Q3 2016.

Note: the $1.96 billion figure is based on Wednesday’s closing price, whereas some publications are reporting $1.8 billion, based on Thursday’s closing price.

BlueJeans Network launches their Enterprise Cloud

Re-post article by Chris Preimesberger from eweek.com

Enterprise Video Cloud is a full-featured cloud service built for globally distributed workforces with video communications at the core.

BlueJeans Network thinks using live video to communicate in business or with family and friends has been way too difficult. So it has focused itself on making it so easy that users won’t have to default to conference phone calls anymore.

To facilitate this, the Mountain View, Calif.-based company on April 12 launched its Enterprise Video Cloud, a full-featured cloud service built for globally distributed workforces with video communications at the core.

New global research shows that 85 percent of employees already are using video in the workplace and that 72 percent believe that video eventually will transform the way they communicate routinely at work.

Video Conferencing Still Hard to Do Well

Conventional video systems are often fragmented, siloed and prohibitively expensive, or not secure and reliable enough to be trusted by larger businesses. They are also often difficult to use, forcing users to face steep learning curves and the so-called “video tax”—which industry people have described as an average of 10 to 15 minutes of lost time associated with setting up a video session before every meeting.

The BlueJeans Enterprise Video Cloud is a secure, global platform and extensible architecture that extends a video culture internally and externally. Uniting single-click video experiences, high-end IT management tools and an ecosystem of integration partners, the BlueJeans Enterprise Video Cloud claims to offer high-quality business video communications on a global scale.

“The whole concept of video has been hard,” the company’s new president, Mike Mansbach, told eWEEK. “Ironically, it’s the last place in the consumerization of IT that’s been aligned.

“When people think of live video, they think of three paradigms: Web conferencing, which is OK quality generally but small video, and it’s secondary to screen-sharing; in-room systems (such as Cisco’s TelePresence), which provide brilliant video but require you go to a physical room, which you might or might not be able to go to or interoperate with on a desktop PC; and lastly, what we do at home with Skype and FaceTime, which is easy and fun for grandma to see the kids but isn’t enterprise-ready and doesn’t interoperate with anything.”

‘People Expect to See Each Other’

“What we’re doing [at BlueJeans Network] is much different. People expect to see each other,” Mansbach said. “Half of communication is physical, it’s not just verbal, and yet we still default to audio conferencing bridges because everything else has been hard.”

With its new Video Cloud, BlueJeans is homogenizing the user experience, making it simple to have, he said. “We don’t care if you’re on a desktop, or on a mobile device, or in a room—however you want to receive and see video, that’s how we want to deliver it to you,” he said.

Key features BlueJeans Network offers in the Video Cloud, according to Mansbach, include the following:

1. BlueJeans Meetings: Features touch-to-join simplicity, HD video and screen sharing for any combination of conference room systems, mobile devices, phones and computers that interoperates with leading unified communications tools;

2. BlueJeans Primetime: Engages up to 5,000 attendees with one-click access to live, multipoint video, creating a new way for audiences to participate and interact; and

3. BlueJeans Relay for Room Systems: Makes room system deployments easier to use and manage with calendar integration and touch-to-join simplicity. It displays scheduled meetings on a tablet controller so users can simply walk into a conference room and join meetings with a single touch.

BlueJeans Network Enterprise Cloud offers the following IT management tools, according to Mansbach:

1. BlueJeans Command Center: Combines reporting and analytics with centralized moderation and live meeting control through a dashboard. It helps IT leaders manage and measure the success of their video communications deployment;

2. Public and Private Cloud Deployment Options: Options include a global Tier 1 peering network with data centers in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia, and direct peering through the Equinix Cloud Exchange and MPLS integration with AT&T NetBond, Level 3 Cloud Connect and West IP Maxxis;

3. Custom Branding: Enterprise branding options including custom landing pages, email templates and interactive voice response (IVR) system prompts; and

4. Customer Success and Support: Service options include deployment planning, training and adoption services, meeting and event assist services, and access to dedicated Customer Success Managers and Enterprise Solutions Engineers.

BlueJeans Network uses the following integrations with equipment and applications:

1. BlueJeans for Microsoft Skype for Business: Delivers high video quality, access for room systems and external participants, cloud recording, bandwidth conservation and central management features for organizations that want to upgrade their stock video experience;

2. Workflow integrations: Offer users an onramp from workflow applications that include Lync 2010/2013, Cisco Jabber, Atlassian HipChat and Slack. Organizations can also use the Blue Jeans API to add cloud-powered video communications to their users’ everyday applications and workflows; and

3. BlueJeans for Huddle Rooms (available later in 2016): Enables IT to affordably deploy and support video communications in every conference room and workspace, and gives end users one-touch simplicity for both ad hoc and scheduled meetings.

While the BlueJeans Enterprise Video Cloud was designed for large-scale enterprises, companies of all sizes can benefit from video communications. Blue Jeans also announced new packaging plans designed to the needs of all companies.

BlueJeans has an impressive list of customers, ranging from high-growth startups to the Fortune 100. Netflix, Facebook, Sephora, Rosetta Stone, Red Hat, Atlassian, Seattle Children’s Hospital, Stanford University, Derek Jeter’s The Players’ Tribune, Sundance Film Festival and others create more than 1 billion minutes of video communications a year on the BlueJeans platform.

What Will the Team of the Future Look Like?

Re-post article by Andrew Pope from cmswire.com

Back in the 1980s, around the time robots started replacing humans on automotive production lines, some pundits confidently predicted that automated systems would soon replace humans in most walks of life.

Yet here we are in 2015, humans are very much alive, present and integral to producing stuff. Granted, we are trying to stay afloat in the sea of technology that surrounds us, while at the same time being exhorted to work more effectively.

How then do we predict how the teams of the not-too-distant future will work? How much will change? And will the concept of the “team” still exist?

What Makes a Good Team?

Let’s start by unpacking the team of the present.

A recent initiative by Google, Project Aristotle, analyzed the behaviors that resulted in high performing teams. One stand-out finding: we need to throw out agendas, schedules and formality.

As Charles Duhigg reported in the New York Times Magazine, the key to building great team dynamics is feeling comfortable being ourselves.

Although this doesn’t sound particularly groundbreaking, a lot of effort is required to make work-orientated teams bring out the best in their people. All team members need to feel that they’ve had a chance to have their say — and this isn’t necessarily through an allocated time slot on an agenda. It’s through fluid conversations that may or may not be related to the topic at hand.

The key to this is emotional empathy: building personal connections, understanding feelings — through what is said or more importantly, what is not said, but conveyed in expressions and mannerisms. These are the relationship building blocks for any get-together.

Tearing down the norms of meetings to encourage these behaviors means letting go of the rules and conventions that we are expected to follow. Stop being efficient and talk.

The Tools of a Virtual Future

We’re all familiar with how teamwork has evolved: face-to-face meetings supplemented or replaced by teleconferences and video-conferences. Virtual collaboration and social tools allowing the creation of team spaces, wikis and online conversations.

So what will we see in the coming years?

Let’s start with video conferences that actually work! Imagine, a future where when we try to host a video conference, we actually succeed in hosting a video conference. Starting on time, everyone able to connect, hear and speak — that’s a future worth hoping for.

We now take for granted the ability to connect from anywhere. But will these virtual connections ever recreate the feeling of being in the same room as colleagues—seeing what they are seeing, reading their expressions, responding empathetically as well as professionally?

Virtual reality team rooms will come up against this challenge, with no visible faces or worse, hidden inside VR headsets. We’ve already seen the phenomenon of “meetings with myself,” where colleagues in the same office, and often in the same team, dial into a meeting from their desk, or alone in a meeting room.

Hopefully technology doesn’t lead us into a future where these same people wear virtual reality headsets to “join” their team in a meeting. Or worse, a team where eye contact is forever lost as they all sit around a table resembling a squad of Death Star technicians.

On to the cloud — what does it mean for teams? While connecting to cloud content has long been a part of our personal lives, fears remain in the business world. I will leave it you to decide if your boss leaving his laptop in the nearby bar is safer than trusting the security of specialist cloud providers.

Once confidence in the cloud rises, local copies will be a thing of the past. Unfortunately this doesn’t guarantee that documents and other information will be any easier to find.

The tool that future teams most need is a way of finding documents, information or people by a contextual analysis that exceeds today’s versions by many hundreds of times. Putting documents in the cloud is the easy part. We won’t reach the future until we can find the stuff that we’re so good at storing.

Which leads me to…

Stalked By Information

We’re creating more and more information and data every day — so feeding it into collaborative networks, finding its intended target and vetting its usefulness is critical to the team of the future.

Information won’t follow future teams, it will stalk them. Information will be pushed towards us based on the mass of contextual data that surrounds us — where we are, what we are doing, etc.

This is a good thing.

Useful information will always be attributable to a person, and show a clear trail of who has accessed or read it. Finding the information relating to your team members is more than just efficiency. It’s about making connections, understanding more about them, and learning about what they have worked on. Readily accessible information will spur conversations and interactions.

And one thing we know for sure: Conversations, real and virtual, are not going away any time soon.

Goodbye to Offices?

Technology facilitates remote and virtual working, but does this actually kill the office? Judging from what we see playing out in some organizations, I predict future teams will find themselves back in central offices.

This isn’t about managerial oversight, it’s about maximizing collaboration and bringing energy to team working. However, the increasing quality of virtual collaboration tools will mean that disconnecting from work will become harder as we leave our real office, head home and join the virtual office.

The High Performing Virtual Team of the Future

Now let’s go back to the Google research. Any future technological advances will only be effective if members can actually make personal connections, and feel like they can be completely themselves.

So how can we get the most out of technology today and in the future, to deliver great virtual team outcomes (and hold off being recalled to the office)?

  • Autonomy: Giving teams autonomy to deliver tasks, particularly with offshore teams, drives collaboration. Ownership of the task free from fierce oversight of head office encourages independent thinking
  • One common platform: This is a big one — invest in ONE common platform, a place for teams to call home, where conversations, knowledge and process all interact
  • Relationships: Get started by building personal connections. Whenever possible, gather team members early on in person in a social or informal environment. Break down the barriers, and start talking
  • Remove the ‘Work Face’: Find a means to discuss who you really are, what makes you tick. Virtual working doesn’t preclude this, we just need a subject from outside of work to start a conversation
  • Time: Virtual meetings are difficult to manage, and are hard to get started. Introduce conversation subjects that invite anyone to participate, and allow time for this to flow. The benefits of giving time to building a team dynamic are far greater than the risk of holding structured meetings where the majority of participants don’t get involved
  • Networks: Build a network that you can trust, a place you can ask questions without fear

It’s reassuring to know that even as technology speeds things up, connecting us and automating how we interact with information, that relationships will be more important than ever. The humans aren’t dead, although sometimes we may look like we are during the formal weekly meeting.

How to use lighting like a pro for your video calls

Re-post article by Katie Takacs from HighFive.com

One great thing about video conferencing is that you can always meet “in person,” as long as you have an Internet connection. Pretty much any device with a camera can get you connected face-to-face, even if you’re an ocean apart from other attendees.

It’s a convenient and cost-effective way to keep the “flat world” closer together.

With this in mind, it’s important that today’s professionals know their information-age etiquette. That includes asking yourself this simple question: “When I turn on my video, do I look like I’m patching in from a cave?”

Without a doubt, impressions still count over webcam. And even though yesterday’s tech might have pixelated you or glitched you out… well, we’ve come a long way. Video fidelity will always vary with the quality of your equipment and your Internet connection, but a basic, presentable video appearance is well under your control and is a key ‘best practice’ for all video conferencing.

Let’s jump in and take a look at some lighting tips and techniques to get you ready for your close up.

Keep it eye-level

First things first: As you adjust your lighting, you’ll want to keep your camera positioning constant. This is not an occasion that calls for experimental point-of-view shots or avant-garde camera tricks. If you’re feeling creative, channel that energy into getting your camera elevated to eye-level.

If you don’t have the right equipment or desk configuration to position your device at eye level, you can go DIY by stacking some flat, sturdy household items. Dictionaries and hardcover books will do nicely. Golf balls, pens, cutlery… not so much.

Straight-ahead primary lighting

Cinematographers often like to use a downlighting approach that brings in a primary light source from above the subject. This is great for casting facial shadows for a dramatic effect, but there’s a good chance your artistic nuances will be lost on the meeting participants who would much rather see your face clearly. For your purposes, a much better placement of your primary light source is close behind your camera, coming from the same direction your camera is pointing. It’s best to avoid placing this light source off-center as well.

Light sources are not all the same

Got some natural light in the room? Your camera will actually display that with a different color temperature than your light fixtures. If you’re getting some funky mixes of warm and cool colors going on, this could be your reason. And as fun as some psychedelic color combos might sound… probably not what you should be going for with that big presentation. Make sure you don’t have too heavy of a lighting combo at work.

And then there’s you

Lighting for a video call takes into consideration how your camera will read different light sources, so it’s also worth mentioning how it will react to you and what you wear in a conference. In general, bright colors and white clothes, all of which reflect lots of light, are not the best choices. Instead, opt for cooler colors, and preferably muted earth tones or blues. Patterns are fun, but if you’ve got a lower-fidelity camera, you might be creating some pretty distracting optical illusions with those thin stripes.

Ultimately, it doesn’t take too much effort to put across a good, clear image in a video conferencing situation, even with the kind of standard webcam technology that comes on your average laptop or tablet. With a little investment in video conferencing equipment, companies can even achieve high-fidelity conferencing experiences that stand in nicely for real, face-to-face interaction and keep employees, clients, and partners closely connected without adding a lot of cost.

5 Collaboration Trends to Expect in 2016

Re-post article by Rob Marvin from PCMAG.com

The days of large enterprises being tied to one physical office location are long gone as many enterprises are now global entities with employees in multiple office locations or telecommuting from home. Collaboration between employees and independent contractors who could be working from anywhere in the world is now commonplace. Small to midsize businesses (SMBs) are dealing with the same challenges as large enterprises as both plan out how to allocate resources in order to drive expansion to new locations and more competitive marketplaces.

Online collaboration software is evolving along with businesses to empower this shift in the name of productivity. Distributed teams have more ways than ever to communicate and collaborate in real time, and 2016 is set to bring another wave of innovation around cloud-based connectivity, cross-platform integration, and next-generation multimedia conferencing. The following are five big trends to watch for in 2016.

1. Room-Based Videoconferencing

Videoconferencing is the linchpin of online business collaboration. As new plug-and-play videoconferencing solutions iron out the audio/video (A/V) quality and usability issues that have plagued the space for over a decade, the virtual pow-wow is replacing more and more in-person staff meetings, brainstorming sessions, or small team check-ins. A particularly popular virtual pow-wow are the quasi war rooms that businesses set up during crises in which key personnel around the globe assess damages and hash out plans of action face to face. In 2016, videoconferencing will continue to get smoother, smarter, and more affordable while operating at higher Internet speeds.

These factors are contributing to the rise of cost-effective and easy to install “room-based” videoconferencing systems. Although their outward appearance and functionality acts as simply as a flat-screen TV, these systems pack high-resolution cameras and computing platforms plus communication and collaboration software within one piece of hardware. The room-based solutions combine multi-way videoconferencing with presentation and wireless content-sharing capabilities—all at 720p or 1080p video resolution.

2. Cloud-Connected Everything

Efficient, universally accessible collaboration software and videoconferencing solutions couldn’t exist without the cloud serving as their frontier. Cloud-based integrations are what connect a company’s videoconferencing solution with not only its core collaboration software but also with the myriad of devices employees use to interact with it. Off-site team members are increasingly participating in the collaboration process by using smartphones and tablets as much as they use desktop or laptop PCs (if not more). Whether that means joining a group chat, sending and editing shared documents, or logging into a videoconference from an Android or iOS device on the go, cloud-based collaboration will continue to erode device, location, and platform-based barriers to enterprise and SMB communication.

3. Seamless Interoperability

In addition to accessing it from anywhere, businesses should also have the option to hook their collaboration software into all of the other third-party services in which they’re invested. These can range from more traditional services such as customer relationship management (CRM) or help desk software to the tool an organization uses to manage and gain analytics from its social media platforms.

The easier it is for employees to send data and documents—and flip back and forth between services while collaborating on and managing projects—the better that businesses can optimize productivity. If they can incorporate targeted business insights from business intelligence (BI) services to make smarter and more informed decisions, even better.

In 2016, collaboration and videoconferencing tools will bake in more and more integrations and sharing capabilities with everything from calendar applications and enterprise device management solutions to cloud-based accounting and voice over IP (VoIP) services. If an integration doesn’t exist by default, the collaboration software you choose should include an application programming interface (API) for developers and IT personnel to code and deploy themselves.

4. Distributed Teamwork Without the Hassle

Email is still alive and well as the professional world’s primary means of communication, but modern collaboration software will continue its quest to kill email dead in 2016—at least for in-house communication. Collaboration applications and services are offering more intuitive, hassle-free, live-chat capabilities for direct messaging for groups and teams. These applications are offering channels for business-wide and department-specific communications along with workflow tools to streamline productivity—no matter where team members physically reside or what devices they’re using to communicate.

In 2016, cloud-based interoperability will merge a team’s videoconference window side by side with its live chat, putting every form of collaboration into one place. As this centralized mode of social feed and direct mention-based collaboration gains more traction, long email chain messages full of forwards and “Reply All” messages will become less common in the workplace, which will let employees spend more time actually getting things done.

5. The Web Real-Time Communication Revolution

The next step in the Internet communication revolution is upon us, in the form of voice and video calling directly embedded in browsers. Web Real-Time Communication (WebRTC) is an open-source technology and application programming interface (API) standard that has been shepherded into the mainstream browser market by the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) over the past several years. WebRTC allows Web applications to engage in direct voice calls, video chat, and data sharing without the need for any desktop or mobile applications, add-ons, or browser plug-ins.

Over the course of 2014 and 2015, major browsers including Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Opera, and Windows 10’s Microsoft Edge browser announced support for WebRTC. Chrome, Firefox, and Opera also enable WebRTC on Android. For iOS, there’s Bowser, a WebRTC-enabled mobile browser. Enterprise videoconferencing solutions are already bracing for the WebRTC revolution by offering built-in Web browsers in their systems as a way of not only turning into the skid but latching onto that open-source momentum to innovate and improve their native browser-based communication.

In 2016, WebRTC’s rise should make one space nervous though: standalone voice and video chat applications whose existence may soon become superfluous. Microsoft is already taking steps to enable back-end Skype interoperability with WebRTC but those video-calling applications that don’t do the same may well be left in the dust.