Enterprise Connect 2012 did not disappoint--in fact, it was pretty great. There was lots of energy, information, and networking, as usual, but there was also a sense of relief that we made it through the economic downturn and things are looking up. The atmosphere and attitudes were very different from a year ago, and everyone I met with was much more optimistic.
I had a jam-packed, crazy three days in Orlando, and only had a chance to talk with a small portion of the vendors and exhibitors at the event, and attended way fewer sessions than I would have liked. That being said, here are some "shout outs," or kudos that I'd like to share.
First, the attendees were awesome. I presented two sessions at the event, and based on the questions from the audience that I received during the Q&A, I can attest that the attendees were very knowledgeable and engaged. It was clear that the attendees recognize the value of unified communications, collaboration, and social business, and are trying to find the best ways for their organizations to move forward.
And of course I need to do a shout out to the three customers who participated in my panel on "Creating the Social Enterprise." Leon Benjamin, Enterprise 2.0 Project Manager, Virgin Media; David Nettles, Director IT Architecture and Compliance, Rayonier; and Kevin Rice, Enterprise Architect, A.T. Kearney. The three customers are all at different stages of their deployment, with Rayonier in very early stages, A.T. Kearney being further along the process, and Virgin Media the furthest along.
David discussed Rayonier's integration of their Siemens Enterprise Communications UC solution with Google Apps; Leon gave a colorful overview of the many benefits Virgin Media is getting from their integration of Cisco Quad, WebEx, and Microsoft Lync; and Kevin described how A.T. Kearney is integrating Microsoft Lync with the company's Facebook-like social tool called Global Link. All three panelists discussed the importance of having an evangelist to help drive UC and social usage within an organization. They also all acknowledged that these tools are helping workers be more productive, and help them do their jobs easier and faster. There was also consensus that it takes a bit of work to help the end users in their organizations feel comfortable using social software tools for business, and helping them understand why these social and collaborative tools help them be more productive, and most importantly, what's in it for them. As I mentioned, we got great questions from the audience, and I hope that we'll get to do this panel again next year, especially since more organizations will be further along the path of integrating UC and social software within the enterprise.
As far as the product demos I got to see at the event, there's no question that the most interesting demo by far was from Dolby Labs. Dolby Voice is the Dolby audio conferencing solution that consists of a conferencing server and a softphone client that can run on either a Windows or a Mac PC, and combines wideband audio with spatial sound.
With spatial audio, you can tell where people are located inside a conference room or where the conference is taking place based on where you hear the sound in the headset. You can get an idea of who's on what side of the room, and you can figure out who's talking based on their physical location. And as they move around the room, the audio follows them. As Dolby explains it, they create a unique spatial audio scene for each VoIP participant, which lets the human brain understand what is being said, even when people are talking over each other (often referred to as the cocktail party effect). When multiple people are talking at the same time, you can tune in to individual voices and still hear them clearly, which isn't the case on regular audio conferencing systems.
When using stereo headsets you get the full special audio effect, but a single-ear headset still works. In fact, Dolby also demonstrated PSTN integration (on a single-eared telephone) and how they can clean up signals from the PSTN.
The noise reduction was also impressive. There was a lot of noise from the air conditioning, which was pretty loud in the room, but the software was able to block it out of the audio stream and it didn’t interfere with the audio.
The audio quality during my demo was pretty amazing--there was a button you could press to turn off the Dolby audio so you can compare what the audio sounds like with and without it, and the difference was like listening to a concert under water vs. in the Sydney Opera House. The audio was crystal clear, even when people were talking over each other and interrupting each other. Usually when listening to an audio conference when people are in a conference room, you can hear the people right next to the conferencing device, but not the people who aren't sitting right next to it. During the Dolby Voice demo, I was able to hear people clearly, regardless of where they were located.
It's hard to describe how good it sounded--you need to try it for yourself. This doesn't mean that every enterprise is going to run out and deploy Dolby Voice, but for companies that do a lot of conferencing and for whom quality audio is important, it's definitely worth looking in to.
My final shout outs go to Fred Knight and Eric Krapf, who put together a wonderful event. It's been about five years since the UCStrategies team started working with Fred and Eric to help move VoiceCon towards focusing more on unified communications, and it’s clear that the new Enterprise Connect is the place for anyone and everyone in the UC and collaboration space to be and to be seen.