Thursday, February 7, 2013

Connect 2013

You can find a more detailed overview of the conference from me on the CDW Solutions Blog, but here are some personal reflections.

I'm not exactly sure which year I first began going to Lotusphere--I believe it was 1999, soon after I began working in the e-Learning field at the University of Wisconsin Learning Innovations.  Whoever assembled the big picture mural at the conference -- thank you!  It was quite fun looking back and remembering.

I think I've missed one since 1999.  Like for many others, this conference has become like a family reunion for me.  It's the only time of year I get to see many of these folks.  In fact, I always get to see my former boss from UWLI who has long worked for IBM.  I couldn't resist giving her a bear hug this year. I always come away from this conference excited by the product direction, insight and the great innovations Lotus IBM puts into their products.  I love the time with friends, business partners and coworkers.

I did hear some grumbles about the OGS, but I was quite happy with it.  No, Joe did not have the star appeal of Neal Armstrong or Walter Cronkite, but what they are doing at is such a great example of what is possible through social collaboration that I'm very thankful to have heard their story.  (Plus I loved the short video of The Man with a Turnip for a Head.  Not sure how to embed it here, so just go see it on their website if you haven't.)  And I know not much time was given to Notes 9 in the OGS, and I'd agree that more should have been.  But there were many sessions available to get that information, both before and at the conference. 

I could not help but be impressed by the pace of innovation happening with Connections--and that it seems the team there is really listening to suggestions from the community regarding where enhancements are needed and acting on those suggestions.

I did spend some time with some newbies at the conference.  It was a bit hard to watch them get excited, and then get frustrated.  Comments along the lines of, "Wow!" and "I had no idea IBM software could do that" and "they are so far ahead of the competition."  Only to be followed by things like, "Whoever in IBM is responsible for advertising should be ashamed of themselves." Sigh. I've tilted at those windmills to no effect, but maybe they will wield the lance better than I.  I've always found it hard to balance between reciting "It's the best of all possible worlds" and letting the emperor know his suit is just plain ugly. 

So I head back to tend my garden (though it is covered in snow).  It was absolutely wonderful to see so many wonderful people again at the conference.  I hope I have the good fortune to do so again in 2014.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Cisco Releases Major Update to Plug-in for Sametime

Cisco released a major update in December to their integration with Sametime, which they are now calling CUCI-IBM.  The plug-in is a great step forward over previous integration options, and includes:
  • streamlined UI
  • integrated softphone
  • video calls
  • call history
  • call forwarding, and much more.
You can read a more in-depth overview of the plug-in and see several screenshots of it in the posting I made on the CDW Solutions blog.

One integration point I didn't mention in the overview is that both phone status and phone control options carry over into the Sametime meeting experience.  This makes it easy to quickly dial someone you've just brought into an instant meeting, or start a conference call with all of the meeting participants.

With CUCI-IBM, Cisco has closed some of the feature gap between its plug-ins and IBM's SUT solution.  I've compared the two in the past, so let's examine where things stand with Cisco's latest release.
  • In the past, SUT had the advantage over Cisco's plug-ins because of SUT's built-in softphone.  As I mentioned above, the latest CUCI-IBM plug-in includes a built-in softphone, erasing SUT's past advantage in this regard.
  • Conference call usability has improved significantly, including support for drag and drop addition of callers.  However, I'd still have to give the nod to SUT over CUCI-IBM on overall usability.  Even with drag and drop, adding users is a multi-step process involving selecting number to call, connecting, and joining users to the call.  Further, CUCI-IBM does not include conference call controls for the moderator nor current speaker indications available from SUT.
  • CUCI-IBM now includes call history as well as call forwarding.
  • CUCI-IBM now includes the ability to do SIP video calls.
It is important to note that where past plug-ins from Cisco have been free assuming you had licensed the backend Cisco systems, that is not necessarily the case with CUCI-IBM.  Be sure to identify what licensing costs may apply when evaluating CUCI-IBM for your organization.

There are some areas where SUT continues to have advantages.  These include:
  • in-call device switching (call forwarding in CUCI-IBM comes close though)
  • rule-based call routing
  • custom phone book
  • mobile integration
  • SSO (There are some customers where this is a huge issue.)
  • multi-vendor pbx support
So if any of the above are critical features for your organization, you should continue to look to SUT.  But if you've been holding off on integrating your Cisco telephony environment with your Notes or Sametime environment because of feature limitations of past plug-ins from Cisco, you should really re-evaluate that decision.  These UC features provide significant benefits to end-users.  If you don't find a way to bring them to your Notes users, your organization may not think such UC integration isn't possible with Notes.  And your organization wouldn't be the first to look to migrate to another platform because of incomplete information about what is possible.

Friday, January 4, 2013

CDW Customer Event at IBM Connect

Once again CDW will be hosting a customer appreciation event at the IBM Connect conference.  This year's event will be held Tuesday evening, January 29th, and will involve great food, bowling and billiards.
If you are a CDW customer attending the conference and would like to attend this event, reach out to your CDW Account Manager and ask for an invitation. Or you can email me at for more details. I look forward to seeing you there!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

New Cisco Plug-in Demos

I've put together a couple of video demos of the Cisco Voicemail Plug-in and the Cisco Phone Control and Presence Plug-in.  Hopefully they convey some of the great features that they provide.  They are best viewed full screen.

The plug-ins require that the user is licensed for Sametime Standard.  But the plug-ins themselves are free.  So if you have Cisco telephony and a Lotus Notes environment today, you really should be looking at deploying them for your end-users.  The only additional hardware you might need to deploy and license would be a Cisco Presence server, and that is only if you want the phone presence to be displayed.

Here is the video on the Cisco voicemail integration.

And here is the video on the Cisco phone control integration.

If you're wondering how these plug-ins stack up to IBM Sametime Unified Telephony, check out my comparison of the two.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

SUT vs. Cisco PCAP

If your company uses all Cisco telephony in your organization, you may be wondering whether you should use the Phone Control and Presence (PCAP) plug-in available from Cisco to integrate into Sametime and Notes, or whether you should use Sametime Unified Telephony.  Both solutions bring some similar capabilities to your end-uses, but they are not identical.  What follows is a comparison of these two solutions.  It is not necessarily exhaustive, and I invite you to add differences I may have missed to the comments below.

Wherever you have Sametime presence, either in Sametime or elsewhere, you can initiate a call out to that user by clicking and selecting the phone number to call the user at. The PCAP plug-in can initiate the call either through your Cisco desk phone, or through Cisco's IP Communicator softphone.  SUT can do this either through the integrated softphone in Sametime, or to any device you've configured as a preferred device.

The SUT implementation of this feature has some advantages over what you receive from PCAP.  For one, if you are using the softphone, you are not directed to another interface when placing calls.  In other words, the SUT softphone is integrated directly into the Sametime client, whereas IP Communicator is a separate application.  This is not a huge difference to many users, but some may find it disconcerting to be brought into another program when initiating a call.  Of course, I'm not sure you'd be outfitting users who are that techno-challenged with a softphone in the first place.

Another advantage the SUT implementation has here is the ability to initiate the call to any configured phone number.  This does make SUT more flexible for a road warrior or other user that may need to receive calls to end-points other than their Cisco desk phone or Cisco softphone.  That said, this can be accomplished in a Cisco environment by setting up call-forwarding to a different number.  But your users must know where to do this on their phone, or need to know how to configure via the web, neither of which are as intuitive as doing it directly in the Sametime interface.

But SUT doesn't get all the stars in this category.  Not unexpectedly, PCAP does a better job when initiating a call from your desk phone.  When PCAP is used to initiate the call, the call is immediately active on your desk phone via the speakerphone or in your headset if you have one connected.  SUT, on the other hand, will send the call through to your desk phone if that is currently set as the preferred device.  But you must then answer the call on your desk phone, and SUT will then place the outbound call.  This extra step is not required with PCAP, and it may initially be confusing to an SUT user.

Both solutions provide you the ability to click-to-conference by selecting multiple-users from your Sametime contact list and initiating a phone conference.  With the PCAP plug-in, the telephony conferencing capability is provided by Cisco Call Manager.  Alternatively, SUT will use its own conferencing servers to provide this capability.  

From a usability standpoint, I'd have to give the edge to SUT once again.  In addition to making it easy to initiate a conference call, SUT makes it easy to add additional users to the call simply by dragging and dropping a user from the contact list onto the conference call.  It also uses the photos from the Sametime business card to give a helpful visual interface to go with the call that is in progress.  This is particularly helpful for those of us who remember faces better than names.  It also provides a visual cue for who the active speaker is by highlighting that user during the call.  For those of us who don't have the best of hearing, it makes it much easier to follow the conversation during a conference call and know who is currently speaking.

Lastly, SUT gives the audio conference owner moderator controls that enable the moderator to do things such as put all participants on mute.  For anyone who has had a conference call disrupted by a barking dog or someone who has put the call on hold and is now terrorizing all of the call participants with corporate hold music, you know that having the ability to mute participants is a huge advantage.

Some Similarities
Both solutions are pretty similar in providing the following capabilities.
  1. Both pull phone numbers from LDAP and provide those dial options to users.
  2. Both can manage multiple incoming calls.
  3. Both can merge active calls into a conference call.
  4. Both can be linked with Live Text to allow users to click-to-call directly from where Live Text has been recognized.
  5. Both solutions can provide phone presence.
Additional SUT Advantages
Here are a few additional things SUT brings to the table.
  1. In-call device switching.  SUT allows you to transfer the call to another device without disrupting the current call.  This makes it possible to switch to your cell phone from your desk phone, for example, should you need to leave the office while a call is continuing.
  2. Custom phone book. SUT adds a phone book to Sametime that allows you to store additional phone numbers that are not in your LDAP.  This makes it convenient to initiate a call to any entry you've added to the phone book.  PCAP does allow you to add custom phone numbers, but only to existing users.  This benefit is offset to some degree when PCAP is used in conjunction with Notes since a user can pull up a contact card in Notes and then use click-to-call from the Live Text there.  But this does involve additional steps.  The SUT phone book also allows you to store conference call phone numbers and passcodes, making it easy to use with 3rd party phone conferencing services.
  3. Call transfer.  SUT provides the ability to easily transfer the call to another number.
  4. Call history.  SUT provides a call history showing you the incoming calls received and outbound calls made.  With a PCAP deployment, you could view the call history on the hard phone or in the IP Communicator softphone, but it is not viewable nor integrated into Sametime.
  5. Rule-based call routing.  SUT allows you to easily setup up rules for routing your calls to different end-points.  For example, you can configure a rule so that when your Sametime status is 'Offline' that all calls are routed to your mobile number.  Or you can create a rule that says when my wife calls, direct the call to my personal cell number.  The possibilities are endless and provide great flexibility to end-users on how to manage in-coming calls.
  6. Mobile dialer.  The Sametime mobile client includes an SUT dialer that enables a mobile user to initiate a call to another user.  When doing so, SUT will then call the user's mobile device, and once connected, bridge the call through to the other caller. Depending on the call being placed and the calling plan a company has, this may result in lower call charges.
  7. SIP video calls.  SUT adds the ability to make sip-based video calls to sip-compatible video end points, such as a room-based video conferencing system.  
  8. Single-sign on.  SUT is completely integrated into Sametime, and there are no additional accounts to manage.  It is possible to setup PCAP with single-sign-on, but it requires that your Cisco Call Manager, Presence server and Sametime server all use the same LDAP for authentication.
  9. Multi-vendor PBX support.  If you do not have Cisco telephony throughout your company OR your company is frequently engaged in mergers and acquisitions, SUT brings the advantage that you can bring all of these capabilities, including phone presence, to ALL of your users.  It also provides a single softphone to support throughout the entire organization.
 Architecture and Costs
As you can see from the comparison above, both PCAP and SUT provide end-users with great capabilities and integrations with your Cisco telephony environment.  SUT clearly provides a greater set of features, and in some cases, an easier to use implementation of features than the Cisco PCAP plug-in provides.  But these additional capabilities do come both with a price tag as well as additional complexity in the back-end architecture. 

Both solutions require that you have at least Sametime Standard deployed.  The PCAP plug-in can be deployed without any additional infrastructure added to your Sametime or Cisco telephony environment.  But you do have to add a Cisco Presence server and necessary Cisco licensing to your infrastructure if you want the phone presence feature though. The PCAP plug-in itself though communicates directly to the Cisco Call Manager and Presence servers.  No additional call plans or other complex software needs to be maintained, and deployment of the plug-in is fairly straightforward leveraging an eclipse update site and widget catalog, and automated using Notes policies.

SUT however is a major addition to both your telephony infrastructure as well as a significant and complex piece of additional software to be maintained.  At a minimum you will be adding an SUT TCS and TAS server to your infrastructure.  And since if SUT is not available then neither are your phones, you will need to setup clusters of each with shared storage to enable failover.  With the latest version of SUT, IBM does support deploying SUT in a virtualized environment.  But this still will require at least two physical hosts and shared storage to ensure high availability.  And as you can imagine, deploying and maintaining SUT is a significant undertaking. Deploying SUT requires telephony skills, and any new user you add to your phone system will now need to be setup and maintained in SUT as well.
From SUT whitepaper

Finally, SUT licensing starts at approximately $160 a user.  Compared to the free Cisco PCAP plug-in, that's not a small difference in cost.  As with all things, you'll have to weigh the advantages described above along with the benefits to your business and end-users, against the costs.

Not Either Or
It's actually not something you have to take a full either or approach to though.  For one thing, Cisco provides a second plug-in for accessing voicemail that you will likely wish to deploy regardless of whether you deploy SUT since SUT does not provide any integration with voicemail.  Also, you may want to start with the Cisco PCAP plug-in as a low-cost way to start providing some of these UC features to your end-users.  As with many technologies, sometimes it takes users experiencing the benefits of UC integration in a tangible way before they can understand the benefit to the business.  Once that is done, it may be much easier for you to build the business case for the extra costs of deploying SUT.