Convergence – 2008 TAG Forum on Leading Technologies

May 15, 2008

April 25, 2008

Atlanta, GA. Last month, I attended the 2008 Annual MITEF/TAG Forum on Leading Technologies The topic was a timely one – Convergence. They had a good panel of industry experts: Jim Straight, SVP Consumer Product, Verizon; Mark Taylor, SVP, Product Delivery, Business Markets for Level 3; Bob Schukai, VP Wireless and Broadband Technologies & Platform R&D, Turner; Allen Weiner from Gartner; and Dr. Neale Martin
It was a little, actually a lot, like the blind man/men describing the part of the elephant that they were touching.  Or, more to the point, the part of the elephant that they wanted you to see and they way in which they wanted you to see it.  That said, the presentations and discussions were useful and informative.
 The title of the forum was ‘Convergence’, but the theme that I kept hearing was the need for all of the various players to find/make new ways of doing business.

Allen Weiner’s keynote touched on a wide range of topics:  from TV on your cell phone and social casting, to what he described as ‘Super Enablers’ (Amazon and Google Business Apps), to opportunities presented by the elections and the Olympics.  However, in all of the topics was a clear message that Convergence was going to drive the creation of new business strategies and relationships.

Jim Straight talked at length about the need for Verizon and their partners to develop and implement new business models:  core business capabilities, partner relationships and value propositions.

Mark Taylor described how Level 3 had to completely re-architect their network to be able to double  the amount of bandwidth that they can deliver (every year), and, at the same time, lower the cost of their services.

Bob Schukai’s (Turner) presentation focused, not surprisingly, on media and content delivery. He is one of the few presenters that I have heard recently who asked the audience to ‘turn on your phones and let them ring’.   The tagline for Bob’s talk was ‘brands without borders’ – the delivery of media and content, and, of course, advertising, without regard for networks, technologies or devices.  The second theme was ‘no experience in isolation’ – being able to link media and content from one source to another (i.e. use TV to promote mobile content and vice versa).  In the end, it is all about finding/making new ways of linking content, channels and  networks, experiences, and devices (to drive subscription and advertising revenue). 
One of the key issues presented was ‘openness/access to cellular networks and
creation of services/applications that can run on those networks’. Jim Straight talked at some length about the need to embrace new business models and their [Verizon’s] plans to open up their wireless network. However, he gave few specifics or details about their plans.
During the Q/A session, I asked Jim Straight a direct question about their support for Google’s open mobile software project (Open Handset Alliance), but all I got were general statements about their commitment to ‘openness’ (he even started talking about Linux, not sure where that was coming from).  I did not come away from all that with a ‘warm/fuzzy’ about their open network plans. I talked to a couple of the other presenters about their take on Verizon’s plans to open their network.  One presenter was somewhat (guardedly) positive – “yea, open, but open in Verizon’s terms”. However, another presenter was quite negative – “a cold day in hell”.  That person reminded me that the FCC mandated an open cable standard five years ago, and then asked if I could see any evidence of an open cable network [open to 3-rd parties] – I could not think of any such evidence.
I believe that the meaningful innovation in this space is likely to come from some number (possibly all) of the following scenarios:

 – There will be a strong push from the likes of Apple, Google, Microsoft, Cisco and others with real muscle to get carriers to open up their cell networks – any applications, any devices.  The open platform provisions from the recent 700M auction are a good starting point; but, as always, ‘the devil will be in the details’.
– One of the more innovative carriers is going to embrace some new/radical business models that are inherent to this new, open network – possibly a T-Mobile, Virgin Mobile or Sprint (the Clearwire deal may have potential).
– The openness of the European carriers (Vodafone, T-Mobile, O2, Orange) and Asian countries (Japan and Korea) will put pressure on ATT and Verizon.
– Clever innovation from players in the eCommunication space (i.e. VoIP capabilities imbedded in Adobe Flex).
– Clever individuals will find workarounds to the restrictions of the cell networks (i.e. iPhone hacking).


Communication Enabled Business Processes (CBEP)

April 21, 2008

Review of a presentation at eComm2008 by Trevor Baca

This was a compelling presentation on the use of voice enabled applications to enhance/improve business processes by reducing the latency in computer-to-human and human-to-human communications.

The talk focused on real world examples of CEBP applications:

§  Buyer Verification and Fraud Control – A customer trips a fraud threshold when using their credit card for a transaction.  Instead of the card being automatically locked (and the purchase denied), the system can call the user and prompt them to ‘press 1’ if the charge is valid.  The user can also press 9 to contact C/S and dispute the charge.

§  Critical System Support – The system can be configured to automatically contact (dial) essential support staff and alert them to critical system problems/outages.  The systems can also ‘conference in’ members of the support team to discuss/resolve the problem. 

§  Wakeup Call Notifications – The user can set their current location (city or Zip Code) and time of wakeup. The system will call user with a ‘wakeup call’ and play relevant information (i.e. local weather, traffic information, flight status) based on their notification profile.

§  Job Site Closure Notifications – The system will call team members and notify them of job site closures. The notification app can get a confirmation of receipt of the message from the users.

§  Caring Line Services (not really a CEBP app) – Automated system that allows callers to leave ‘caring’ messages for individuals who are in need of support.  The messages can be picked up and played from anywhere.  This is an example of a communication system that is used to broker human-to-human communications.


The following is a summary of Trevor’s report on Judaka’s key learning and takeaways from their experience in developing CEBP applications, and my response/take on his [their] findings.

§  Voice apps are easier to develop then Web application.  ->   I would agree for simple voice applications.  However, for complex voice applications that is clearly not the case.  The problems with poor quality voice application and poorly designed voice dialogs are well known. 

§  The best opportunities for voice services are in areas where there is a sense of urgency (i.e. disaster response).  ->   Yes, especially if you want the parties to be able to communication immediately.  You could to the same thing with SMS multi-casting, but that would not be my first choice for communications when I am in the middle of trying to recover critical systems/services.

§  Voice can be a better bearer of emotion.  ->  Yes, this a clear advantage of voice over Email or SMS.

§  Try to target times in which things are going to happen, rather places where which things happen.      ->  I am not sure that I completely agree with that.  Location based services are going to be huge.

§  Look for opportunities where people that are texting or IMing and want/need to talk to one another.  ->   Yes, clearly a good opportunity for automated voice connect

§  If scaling is not currently a problem, it will be [it you are the least bit successful].  ->   Yes!

§  Integration is hard.  Even if you have APIs, and a Web Service architecture – integration will take time and effort.  ->   Yes, and you need to carefully manage the customer’s expectations at every step of the process.

§  Vertical markets did not work the way they thought that they thought that they would.  Voice did not seem to provide a significant advantage in a particular market.  ->   I am not sure what to say about that.  It is clear that their voice applications can be used in many ‘horizontals’.  However, there are many successful voice applications for the corrections, medical, finance, legal, insurance, and travel markets. 

§  Our best solutions come from thinking about people [the end user] and real-world problems and issues.  ->   Yes! 

§  The money is in the enterprise; the monetization for products and services is right there [the slide shows logos of Apple and Nike].  ->   If what he is saying is “don’t expect the end user to directly pay for the service”, then yes, I would agree.


The last point needs a good bit more discussion.  What is the value proposition for the product/service? Who is going to pay for it, and how much will they be willing to pay?