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Circuit Beta Tester: 'It Grows On You'

After reviewing the literature or watching the demo of Unify's new cloud-based Circuit collaboration platform, you'd not be alone in thinking that it looks a bit too good -- too slick, perhaps -- to be true. Skepticism, after all, has long been the healthy attitude to adopt when considering the merits of enterprise collaboration tools and the likelihood of their widespread use.

Circuit beta tester Bill Bouie, CEO of SkyCom, a telecommunications professional services firm, readily admitted to being a bit of a doubter when he first heard about what Unify at the time had been calling Project Ansible. "I've been around the block a few times, in the industry for 30-plus years, and I had to ask a number of Unify executives, 'What the heck is this?'"

The answers weren't entirely satisfactory. "Most of the internal people couldn't tell me what it was because I don't think they truly understood what the power of it was until it actually evolved," Bouie told No Jitter in an interview last week.

Adjustment period
SkyCom got its first look at Circuit in February, when it was more of a concept than anything else, and signed on as one of the earliest beta testers. Bouie told us he's excited about the idea of bringing Circuit into his production environment and expanding its use beyond his 12-member beta test team, but even as recently as 60 days ago that would not have been the case. "If you would have asked me about it then, I would have been pretty lukewarm about it," he said.

A turning point came when Unify moved Circuit onto production servers a few weeks ago. While in the beta environment, neither the voice nor the video had been too stable. "But once Unify moved Circuit into the production environment, it was a totally different animal."

On top of that, Bouie added, "Circuit is an application that grows on you."

In other words, you've got to play around with it to get a true feel for the value it can bring to your organization. In SkyCom's case, for example, multimodal access has been a real boon, he said.

As part of its beta testing, SkyCom conducted its weekly executive team meetings using Circuit. During those meetings, half of the team members might be on video while others were on the audio bridge. And if somebody could only listen in, they could still participate via chat, Bouie described. And all those discussions are preserved for easy retrieval, he added.

"Early on we didn't understand how valuable a tool it was, but the more we use it, the more value it brings us," Bouie said. "Certainly my staff is more productive, and they're accessible to me at all times. That's absolutely critical because of the business that we do."

Ebola knocks
Many of SkyCom's public sector clients need support around the clock, he explained. "That means we need 24x7 ability to get a hold of people in a really quick manner and either have them access information or provide them with information that they need. It's been a critical tool for us."

To make his point, Bouie recounted arriving home from a business conference one Friday at midnight a couple of weeks back and immediately needing to reach his people at New York's Bellevue Hospital, for which SkyCom provides managed services, and at which Ebola patient Dr. Craig Spencer had just been admitted for treatment. He needed to determine the status of his team at Bellevue, figure out contingency plans for supporting Bellevue going forward, and find out if either the hospital or the government had issued any information regarding access and security that affected Skycom.

"All I had to do was go online, open up Circuit, see that my field technicians also had Circuit up, press a button, and start a conference -- and that began in less than a minute. I didn't have to email and say, 'Call me at this number' or anything like that. They were just there, and we were able to communicate -- and when I push the button to converse, they could have joined me in any mode available to them at the time. ... It's a very, very powerful tool in real-time collaboration."

While SkyCom hasn't made the move to paying customer yet, Bouie said he thinks Circuit will become its collaboration tool of choice and replace other collaboration-oriented cloud services it already uses here and there. He added that he can easily see doubling the number of users in the next 30 to 45 days, but did leave us on a cautionary note:

"I'm comfortable with the price point today, but you might ask me six months from now to see if the things on Unify's drawing board get added in a timely basis and are included in the subscription base. I don't want to get into a situation where I have to pick and choose off of a menu, so I hope the value will continue to be added to the application at the same price point."

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