Paul Butcher talks about the importance of convergence and offers up a prediction on what the next big technology wave will be.
September 1, 2006
CNS: What is the company’s main technology thrust today?
BUTCHER: Over the last five to seven years we have invested very, very heavily in convergent technologies. That investment is multi-faceted. The whole company needs to be re-skilled in terms of going from a voice-centric world to data-centric world. The same applies to our channel partners. It all means there is a huge amount of heavy lifting to get the company from where it was to where it is today.
CNS: Who is driving convergence — the customer or vendors?
BUTCHER: Very early on it was coming from the vendors, but as the awareness level from the customer rises about the types of things you can do in a converged environment, we are getting more demand from them. The larger organizations are certainly aware of what the technology can do.
CNS: For convergence to work, this division between the “voice and data” professionals is going to have to disappear is it not?
BUTCHER: The worlds are very, very different. For example, if you have a data person selling voice there are a lot of nuances around voice they have not touched before. The network has to be designed in a certain way so you need the skills of someone who specializes in voice to make sure it operates properly.
Frankly, if an e-mail message takes four seconds to get to you it’s no big deal, but if the voice call takes four seconds an organization and their employees are going to find that unacceptable.
CNS: Is it safe to say that convergence is going to change the entire staffing criterion from a technical perspective. After all, you are going to need different skills sets.
BUTCHER: Certainly. I would say that most large customers would historically have a data IT group and voice group. They are converging their IT groups in to a single entity. You cannot make a decision on IP telephony in isolation. You have to understand the consequences of some of the decisions being made as you roll out an infrastructure.
CNS: In terms of Mitel’s R&D efforts, how much emphasis is currently placed on security issues?
BUTCHER: A great deal. There are two or three areas of attack that an organization needs to be conscious of. The first is what’s classed as a Denial of Service attack, which jams the network. If that network is carrying voice then you are going to have a real problem on your hands. Customers need to design around making sure they are protected against these type of attacks.
One of the compelling things about IP telephony is the ability to connect into your corporate network from anywhere. You need to have security measures in the physical connection. That security requirement is built into our product offerings.
The third area is where people physically attack the server that’s running your voice applications. If you cover off all of these areas, customers will be well protected and in good shape.
CNS: As you morph into a convergence vendor, has that necessitated hiring new people and letting existing employees go or has everyone been refreshed?
BUTCHER: It’s a combination of the two. We have gone from a proprietary, hardware-centric model to a very software-centric model. We have also seen two transitions in R&D. One is a move from traditional telephony to data centricity. The second is a transition from hardware to software. For example, a 400-line PBX would be the size of a small door, while a 2,000-user IP PBX is the size of a DVD player. That transition is quite profound.
CNS: How are organizations using IP technology?
BUTCHER: The bulk of the products that we ship today are being sent to customers with multiple locations. They are using IP telephony as a way to connect not only their various locations, but all of their people.
What you end up with a ubiquitous network in which everyone has the same access. For example, I can go to a Starbucks caf in Sao Paulo with my notebook equipped with a $59 USB video camera perched on the top, access my corporate network and have a videoconference call and it’s free. That’s pretty neat. You have to pay 10 bucks for a double-shot latte, which is ridiculous, but the technology is very, very compelling.
CNS: What is going to be the next big technology wave?
BUTCHER: The ability to see the connection status of people. When you get used to using these types of solutions, it is going to change the way people communicate. For example, why would I ring an employee I’m trying to reach if I know he or she is not going to answer the phone? Previous research we have conducted, reveals that callers are only able to reach the person live 12% of the time, which is a shockingly low number.
Mitel Mobile Extension is software that lets users twin their desk phone with an internal or external PSTN-connected phone (a cell phone, for example). Calls arriving at the desk phone ring the cell phone simultaneously, until one or the other is answered, or if unanswered, they are forwarded to voice mail. Administrators configure system settings using an administrative Web interface.
CNS: How far away are we from this going mainstream?
BUTCHER: Since upwards of 95% of product that we ship revolves around IP telephony, I would argue that it is already happening. If you look at the overall Canadian market, 45% of the equipment currently being shipped is IP telephony-based. It’s that low because some of the traditional voice vendors have been a little slower in the adoption of these technologies.
What we are also seeing is that customers do not have the appetite to throw away what they have. If you bought a PBX four years ago and I come along and say, ‘what I have to offer is better you should throw that away,’ is not an easy sell.
What they should do is keep the PBX, but move knowledge workers, employees who travel or are located in a multimedia call centre or at a customer service desk, over to these convergent technologies because of the benefits they provide and leave everyone else as is.
We have the ability to do any type of migration at a pace that satisfies the customer. It’s certainly not a case of having to pull a big switch next Tuesday and your entire system is transformed to IP.
CNS: Clearly, it appears a whole new world of networking is about to begin?
BUTCHER: There is no doubt about it. Everybody is going to be connected whether you’re physically connected, wirelessly connected, it does not matter. You will be accessible to the corporate network.
Another example around cell phone twinning is that our research shows that that 65% of the time people use their cell phones for business purposes, they are either in the office or at home.
Why would you pay two cents a minute to use a cell phone when you are in the office? I see people in Mitel offices checking their voice mail using their cell phones, which is wrong because they’re paying for that service.
The other benefit of twinning is that if an employee calls me on my cell phone and I’m walking back to my office, as soon as I arrive, I can drop the call and seamless continue the conversation via the phone on my desk.
CNS: Finally, is company founder Terry Matthews still heavily involved with Mitel?
BUTCHER: He has the office next door to me, which is a joy. I have never met anyone like him — the guy’s energy is just phenomenal. The other benefit of Terry being associated with the company is that he knows everybody. For example, if you want to talk to the CEO of France Telecom, he’ll make a call and you can meet with him three days later.
He’s also a very active industrialist in this space — involved in 40 or 50 businesses, many of which have per
ipheral technologies that are useful to Mitel. It gives us greater breadth when we talk to customers about solving their issues.