The UK's top vendor channel bosses have laid out their priorities and future bets in CRN's inaugural Vendor Power list.
The feature encompasses Q&As with 34 UK leaders from the channel's most widely carried vendors, including Microsoft, Cisco and HPE.
Collectively, they head up partner organisations that orchestrate the lion's share of UK B2B IT hardware, software and cloud sales.
Big guns get a grilling
Each channel leader took on up to 18 questions on their partner strategy and themselves, including on their priorities for the year ahead.
In his Q&A, Dell vice president UK channel Rob Tomlin cited accelerating collaboration between channel partners and Dell's sales team among his targets for the next 12 months. The hardware giant has doubled its channel business over the last three years, he claimed.
HPE's UK channel & MM/SMB director, Lewis Simmonds, is targeting the recruitment of more XaaS partners, while HP's UK & Ireland channel director Neil MacDonald unveiled plans to invest in data and insights. Lenovo recently moved to provide partners easier access to its full portfolio, its UK boss Neil Sawyer (pictured below) said, meanwhile.
The vendor chiefs were each asked to outline their channel philosophy and the size of their partner base.
While ConnectWise (2,500), Cisco (2,000), Fujitsu (1,500), Adobe (1,400) and SonicWall (1,200) all work with over 1,000 UK partners, others have narrower UK channels, with Check Point, F5 Networks and Mitel all working with 400 or fewer partners.
Rare metals losing their lustre?
Amid talk that traditional metal-based channel programmes are losing their shine in an increasingly cloud-based world (with Microsoft's Gold badge about to be axed), our top channel bosses were also quizzed on how they see channel programmes and engagement models evolving over the next few years.
SAP's new PartnerEdge Cloud Choice model rewards partners for delivering good outcomes for clients, SAP UK & Ireland chief partner officer Celine Cazali stressed.
Simon Aldous, director, partners & channels, Google Cloud UK&I, was among those to stress the need to reward non-transactional partners.
"The detachment of the influence chain from the transaction chain is an important consequence of the move to cloud. As such, we need to ensure that we view each separately and provide the necessary levels of enablement, incentives, rewards and support for partners across these two critical areas of customer engagement and experience," Aldous said.
"In the cloud consumption world, you need to have a partner base that can drive continuous engagement with the customer. It's so much easier to switch out technologies in a cloud ecosystem, so channel programmes should evolve to incentivise partners to sustain those continuous touchpoints," added Andy Corcoran, UK and Ireland channel sales director at VMware.
How important is the channel to these vendors?
While many of the smaller vendors included stressed that they operate a channel-only model, even those market giants with a strong enterprise and government pedigree often count partners as their primary route to market.
Lenovo's Sawyer said 97 per cent of the PC vendor's business goes via its channel partners, with Cisco and HP's channel leaders pegging their channel businesses at above 90 per cent of their sales.
"[That is] reflective of the UK & Ireland market," confirmed Cisco's Dominic Pierce (pictured below).
The execs opened up on how they manage direct-vs-channel conflict when it occurs, with Broadcom's Roy Borden revealing the vendor has a "100 per cent neutral" compensation scheme for sales reps no matter whose paper the deal is deliver on.
"Within the SMB space, we have moved the full product lifecycle under our Aggregation 2.0 partners. From quote through to level 1 support, this is 100 per cent channel owned and delivered," he added.
We also asked the vendor leaders to open up on what traits they most value and scorn in partners.
Loyalty, integrity and innovation were three recurring positive characteristics, while laziness and duplicity were cited as common bugbears.
"It can be frustrating when a partner backs several competing vendors in the same opportunity," said Tom Corrigan, director, EMEA distribution and systems integrators at Mimecast.
"Unfortunately, we still see some partners wanting to do account mapping. That's outdated. From experience I can say it's much more effective to sit down and use and share data and insights and work out who we should target together with that shared knowledge," added HPE's Simmonds.
The 34 leaders in our Vendor Power list were selected on the basis of the inclusion of their company in the latest CRN Vendor Report, which rated the channel's most prevalent vendors across four core categories.* CRN Essential subscribers can read an Executive Summary of the report here.
Find out who made our inaugural Vendor Power List here.
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The more compute-intensive manufacturing becomes, the more companies and their factories need cybersecurity protection. Now a new cyber roadmap is out from a group called the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute. The group is backed by the Energy Department. Joining the Federal Drive with Tom Temin with more, the institute’s CEO, Howard Grimes.
Tom Temin: Mr. Grimes, good to have you with us.
Howard Grimes: Glad to be here, Tom.
Tom Temin: Tell us more about the institute. Who comprises it and what its purpose is here?
Howard Grimes: The institute is funded by the Department of Energy, there are 15 other what are called manufacturing innovation institute in the United States. Some of these are funded by the Department of Defense, some funded by the Department of Energy, like ours. And then there’s the National Institutes of Standards and Technology, or NIST also funds one. So they are all public-private partnerships. And our groups or partnerships of both industry and the federal government and academia. So in that sense, you know, we’re the only institute that’s focused exclusively on cybersecurity of U.S. manufacturing and enabling via cybersecurity practices and innovations to make U.S. manufacturers the most competitive in a fiercely competitive global environment.
Tom Temin: Sure. And can you describe some of the companies that are members, the company side?
Howard Grimes: Yeah, certainly, we have over 35 companies total. So just a subset of those I can mention here, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Cisco, and many others.
Tom Temin: So some household names.
Howard Grimes: In addition to those are called original equipment manufacturers or OEMs. We also have a focus on small and medium manufacturers, because they comprise about 98% of U.S. manufacturers and are part of the supply chain to the companies I just mentioned.
Tom Temin: And just out of curiosity for a cybersecurity focus, and you call the organization CyManII, which is a sort of conglomeration of the words that make it up why the Energy Department and not NIST or somewhere in Commerce or [Department of Homeland Security], for that matter?
Howard Grimes: Yeah, so it’s very clear, actually. So the Department of Energy has been and is focused on increasing energy efficiency in a number of different areas, including U.S. manufacturing. Why do they have an interest in U.S. manufacturing? Well, if you think about it this way, the United States uses about 100 quads of energy a year, and of those 100 quads across the entire United States on an annual basis, 27 of those are used by U.S. manufacturers. So getting energy efficiency into the U.S. manufacturing ecosystem ultimately saves an enormous amount of energy in the United States, and thus why the focus of the DOE. Now why cyber in that is because to save energy, you have to and U.S. manufacturers are driving forward on this at amazing speed in the sense that they are digitizing their environments and ecosystems at two times the rate of any other industry in the world. But as they digitize those environments, they exponentially increase what we call the cyber attack surface area and the cyber attack volume. Traditionally, cybersecurity people talk only about the surface area. And that’s because most cybersecurity is focused on the perimeter defense, keeping the bad guys out of your network. In manufacturing, there’s both IT and OT are operational technology networks. And the OT comprises that volume factor that I spoke about.
Tom Temin: Sure. And increasingly there is interconnection between the IT and the OT, which we’ve seen can introduce vulnerabilities versus say in the 1970s when operational technology was self contained within a factory. Fair to say?
Howard Grimes: Yeah, very fair to say. In fact, the security of the past was based on what we call air gapping that OT environment. In other words, no connectivity to it. But that is not efficient and has already dramatically begun to change in there’s now a convergence of IT and OT networks, and you’re 100% right, that introduces new levels of cyber vulnerabilities into those operational and information technology levels.
Tom Temin: We’re speaking with Howard Grimes, He’s CEO of the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute. And for the Institute and federal funding and some of the companies you mentioned are major federal contractors. So the cyber issue is maybe several fold, including disruption of operations, but also the theft of intellectual property, which can be very damaging to competitiveness, would that be a good way to describe the issues you’re concerned with?
Howard Grimes: Yeah, certainly. First, understand that U.S. manufacturing is the number one cyber attack target for what we call our nation state adversaries, those nation state adversaries are sponsored by their home governments. And depending on the country that we’re talking about, the intellectual property can be the number one target of those nation state sponsored adversaries. So again, if you look across the board at all cyber attacks in the United States, close to 35% of them are leveled strategically against U.S. manufacturers, and of that, a large proportion are focused on IP theft. Now, keep in mind, we need to already think about what we call the post quantum world. The reason for that is is that in today’s world, cryptographic keys are somewhat successful in thwarting the decryption of stolen data. But there are countries now that are focused entirely on stealing as much of our data as they possibly can, because they’re also investing heavily in quantum computing, which makes the current cryptographic keys obsolete. So the idea is steal the IP now, we’ll decrypt it later. The IP theft is a major focus of the institute in how we protect, again, U.S. manufacturers from that theft.
Tom Temin: Sure. And of course, NIST, I think is about to or may have, by the time this airs have chosen cryptographic algorithms for quantum types of applications. We’re actually working with NIST on that, also. Let’s get to the roadmap that has just published, what’s in it, who is it intended for? And what’s its purpose?
Howard Grimes: Yeah, so the roadmap is the first roadmap of its kind focused on developing and outlining a multi-year multi-stakeholder strategy for cyber securing U.S. manufacturing and in doing so making those manufacturers more productive, more energy efficient and obviously much more cyber secure than is currently possible. So the roadmap looks at different manufacturing sectors and outlines very detailed plans for how the institute will go about putting those companies on a trajectory that again, will result in increased efficiency of operations, increased productivity of operations, and also a significant cyber hardening of those operations all simultaneously, we talk about that as epsilon or energy efficiency ROI. So instead of having cybersecurity being a financial black hole of investment in a never ending stream of additional firewalls and different approaches to network segmentation in the light, the institute is about is really going back to the fundamental mathematics, the fundamental physics and the fundamental engineering systems of systems designs, so that we create new architectures that are far more superior than anything currently available. We work with companies today, of course, on what their needs are for today. But the raison d’être of the institute, if you will, is creating these new generation of architectures with embedded trusted integrity of supply chains and developing really novel innovations that introduce a whole new era, if you will, of cybersecurity.
Tom Temin: And the Defense Department has a gambit that they’re trying to get off the ground, the Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification Program, CMMC. I’m sure a lot of your members and you are aware of that program. And almost everybody has been thinking about that. Is there some harmonization between CyManII’s efforts? And CMMC? Are you taking that into account in the roadmap, that this could be a requirement coming down the pike?
Howard Grimes: Yeah, absolutely. So not only are CMMC requirements out there, but you just mentioned NIST requirements are out there and various standards and agencies and entities have other approaches to standards for interoperability and the like. No, we are hyper aware of the CMMC requirements. And towards that end, I worked with the University of Texas system and specifically our home university, which is University of Texas at San Antonio and worked with the Texas legislature to stand up what we call the Tex-Mex Hub for Texas times manufacturing transformation hub. We’re doing that in collaboration with the Port at San Antonio, and we’re standing up a workforce development hub at the port initially focused on delivery of CMMC training to manufacturers in the state of Texas. I’ve already initiated detailed discussions with the state of Virginia. George Mason University is one of our members as well as Virginia Tech and Virginia Commonwealth and so I’ve met with all of those universities to initiate a second training hub in the D.C. metro area and we’ll be moving out nationally from them. And initially again, those training hubs will focus on the immediate need of the CMMC requirements and helping manufacturers understand the requirements and more specifically training them on how to meet those standards.
Tom Temin: Sounds like we’re nearing convergence here, Howard Grimes is CEO of the Cybersecurity Manufacturing Innovation Institute. Thanks so much for joining me.
Howard Grimes: You bet.
Following a meeting between Saudi Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, Cisco Executive Chairman John Chambers, Cisco Chief Executive Officer Chuck Robbins and Cisco Saudi Arabia Managing Director Abdullah Al-Swaha, Cisco signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Saudi Ministry of Commerce and Investment that sets a roadmap for an accelerated pace of digital transformation in the Kingdom.
The MoU serves as a partnership framework and underlines Cisco’s strategic commitment in support of Saudi Arabia’s efforts to drive digital transformation at a country-wide level. Digitization will play an important role as the Kingdom focuses on diversifying its economy and achieving its ambitious “Vision 2030” agenda, launched last April.
“This partnership reflects the Saudi government’s priority focus on embracing digital transformation and capturing the many opportunities presented by country digitization,” said Dr. Majid bin Abdullah Al-Qasabi, Minister of Commerce and Investment for Saudi Arabia. “Developing a vibrant digital economy is a key pillar of our economic diversification plan and collaborating with global technology leaders is essential to bring expertise and know-how to our program of development.”
The memorandum outlines a multipronged approach through which Cisco will help accelerate Saudi Arabia’s digital agenda and position the country for long-term prosperity in the digital age. Through their partnering, Saudi Arabia and Cisco will identify a number of collaborative opportunities in areas that include developing national IT infrastructure, accelerating business innovation, stimulating startups and enhancing research and education.
"Saudi Arabia has a bold plan for fostering an innovation, talent and entrepreneurship ecosystem that will shift the economy towards greater private sector participation and a more market-based approach,” said John Chambers, Cisco's Executive Chairman. “The government and leadership have shown great appreciation of the importance of digitization as a pathway to prosperity and to the achievement of their vision. This lays a strong foundation for Kingdom’s success and we are honored to collaborate closely with them to realize the immense benefits that Saudi Arabia’s accelerated digital journey will deliver.”
Saudi Arabia is the largest technology market by far in the Middle East and with a young, fast-growing demographic, its market is weighted heavily towards technologically literate early adopters. Its strategic location also offers advantages of a technology hub that caters to over 350 million Arabic-speakers in the region.
Abdullah Al-Swaha, Managing Director, Cisco Saudi Arabia, commented, “Since we started operating in Saudi Arabia nearly 20 years ago, we have been committed to investing in long-term programs that support economic growth and greater Saudi workforce participation. As Saudi Arabia embarks on an exciting new phase of development, our country digitization acceleration program will unlock unprecedented opportunities that harness the power of technology to deliver real, sustainable value to the Kingdom and its citizens.”
As part of the collaboration, Cisco will make its global expertise in smart transformation, digital government, and connected healthcare and education available to the Kingdom. Cisco will also play a leading role in the development of Saudi Arabia’s ICT infrastructure, increasing digital skills and awareness and supporting the alignment of investment with government priorities.
Cisco recently conducted a Saudi Arabia ‘Digital Value at Stake’ analysis, based on detailed use cases across the Public and Private sector, which revealed a $124.1 billion value opportunity over the next 10 years for Saudi Arabia – representing over 0.27 percent additional GDP growth. It also highlighted the areas of digitization, IP connectivity, security, Smart Cities and the Internet of Things (IoT) as having the potential to create sustainable and positive impact across the Kingdom.
The Cisco® Country Digitization Acceleration (CDA) strategy is a long-term commitment to a partnership with national leadership, industry and academia to deliver real outcomes faster and more effectively. It aims to accelerate the national digitization agenda to grow GDP, create new jobs and invest in a sustainable innovation ecosystem across public and private sectors.
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Jun 23, 2022 (Market Insight Reports) -- The latest Collaboration Tools Market Analysis is designed to help clients Strengthen their market position, and in line with this, this report provides a detailed analysis of several leading Collaboration Tools market Key Players including Avaya, Inc. (USA), BroadSoft, Inc. (USA), Cisco Systems, Inc. (USA), Good Technology, Inc. (USA), Salesforce.com, Inc. (USA), VMware, Inc. (USA), and Others. Also, the Collaboration Tools market analysis report includes information on upcoming trends and challenges that will influence market growth. This is to help companies strategize and leverage all forthcoming growth opportunities.
Our Experts will help you get valuable insights about Collaboration Tools market share, size, and regional growth prospects. Available Other Related Market Research Reports
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Imagine sitting next to a hologram of a student who is actually in Dubai while you are in a lecture theatre in Perth, Western Australia, pursuing your academic studies. That is just a small part of the dream of Curtin University chief operating officer Ian Callahan.
He is one of the people who has presided over the remarkable rise of the university from a middle-of-the-road institute of technology to a cutting-edge university that is well on the way to becoming a global institution.
“Imagine sitting in a classroom with the holograms of all the people taking the course worldwide and the live people. I can’t deliver that and nor can our technology partner, Cisco, at this point, but the point is that you are thinking about how education is going to further change.”
To underscore the point about change, five years ago the university had no collaborative classrooms. Now it has 76 – all video-enabled with cameras that are able to transmit in and out. It has also just opened its first 180-seat classroom that is completely video conference-enabled. That is a challenge.
“You can imagine the scale of 180 seats with people calling in from around the world,” Callahan says. “We don’t know how to use that so we are experimenting with how to do things. We are continually experimenting with new ways to do things, failing in some, succeeding in others, moving on to the next piece.
“That is where our technology partner, Cisco, has been really useful for us as well in that the team has helped us push those boundaries. They have worked with us to experiment and knowing it’s an experiment we allow ourselves to fail because we know that we are pushing the boundaries on something.
“From an individual, location and country perspective, everybody works a little differently and you must have multiple platforms to meet their needs. Whether it’s two people communicating across campus or talking globally from one country to another, Cisco has been able to help enable securely a lot of different things that allow us to both interact in delivering programs and meet our daily collaboration needs. So the relationship with Cisco has really been about pushing the boundaries and finding the best outcomes. The right partner for this journey is essential.”
From Cisco's perspective, the power of digitisation offers three main areas of growth which fit into Curtin's overall perspective: the power to change customer experience; the power to transform the business model/marketplace; and the power to enable staff.
Such thinking has led Curtin to become a 24/7 global university in virtually no time at all. Four years ago, Curtin Deputy Vice-Chancellor Professor Jill Downie started in the position with the idea of transforming learning. She visited several universities overseas and came back with a vision of Curtin being totally globally connected. Soon after, the idea of Curtin Converged was born.
Curtin Converged is the institution’s model for teaching and learning, a mix of traditional lectures, flipped classes, technology-enriched environments and distributed learning techniques – such as Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) and high-end video and 3D technologies that actively engage students whether they attend classes on campus or from elsewhere.
As Professor Downie points out, there are more than one billion internet users just one hour either side of the timezone in which Perth is located. It gives Curtin a massive audience reach to play with, not that it needs to confine itself to people and countries in similar timezones.
“We already distribute learning to Miri [in Malaysia], we are active in Singapore, we are into parts of Europe, we have a partnership with Aberdeen University in Scotland – subsea engineering will be the first Masters course that will be taught between the two universities –and we will open up a campus in Dubai soon,” she says. “The university is also working on moving into Africa.
“The important thing in all this is the secure and seamless use of technology. We are going through a process of audio-visual standardisation across all our rooms to ensure that it is really easy for academics to be involved. We also have a big professional development program to help academics not only use the technology to connect with citizens around the globe but to help change the pedagogy around teaching which is required in these new and exciting environments.”
Being a 24/7 university throws up all sorts of new challenges, both technological and physical for both students and staff alike, but it has already been broadly embraced. Ian Callahan says more than 35,000 people visit the campus each day. The library will tick over – for the first time this year – to more than two million visitors; on a normal day at 2am there are 200 people in the library, when exams are approaching there are more than 500. There are 5000 bean bags scattered over the campus (we’ll get back to that later), a hammock hotel and 20-plus food trucks visit daily. The nature of how a campus is used has changed irrevocably. The key, however, is a change in thinking on all levels.
“To properly understand a global 24-hour campus you have to look at it from the perspective of it being one system of global interconnected campuses around the world,” Callahan says. “On that broader scale, we must meet the needs of our students, our research partners and industry on a 24-hour basis as we meet their timelines and their requirements in content and delivery. We have to do that in a way that allows us to deliver those resources. That means getting creative about how you go about it. One way is by using resources from our home base in Bentley but we are also looking at ways to share our global resources and deliver around the clock by having this interconnected one campus or global campus mentality.”
It also requires an extraordinary level of interconnectivity, of multiple networks, of everything in sync. It is the Internet of Things in practice. Aligning with innovative companies such as Cisco helps Curtin achieve this vision. In one example, the university moots a semester class made up of 20-30 in-class students, with another 15-30 students participating online from countries around the world such as China, Belgium and Singapore, with the main lecturer on the Bentley campus and expert lecturers in Nigeria and Japan working with students in a live environment.
If this sounds hard to imagine, you would be wrong.
“We deliver that in one area already with our [postgraduate] Sexology program,” Callahan says, “and we have other individual examples where we are doing that or variations on that. The technology is there. It will get better and more intuitive to use. The challenge for us is to securely roll it out on a larger scale now. That depends as much on the human element as the technology because it is about getting the staff trained and able to run classrooms. The logistics of running a classroom like that is very different from having everybody sitting in front of you.”
Ultimately, it is easy to envisage a world where the bricks-and-mortar universities of today are dust and the global hub of interconnected universities delivers everything to its students logged in from home or the office or on the road, wherever there is a connection. Not so, say both Callahan and Professor Downie, the former underscoring that attending the Bentley campus is sold as the premium tertiary experience.
You see, there is more, much more. Curtin has well-documented expansion plans that define its business model change. Professor Downie points to the Greater Curtin Master Plan that outlines a vision for 2030 to create an important economic, research and innovation hub, with diversity in culture and the arts.
Then there is the Cisco Internet of Everything Innovation Centre (CIIC), an industry and research collaboration centre established by Cisco with foundation partners Curtin University and Woodside Energy. With more than 80 researchers and links to advanced facilities and a global industry network, the centre aims to bring together start-ups, industry experts, developers and researchers in an open environment to create ground-breaking solutions that foster growth, provide jobs and help build sustainable economies. The university also has several smart city projects underway.
“People sometimes ask if everything is going to be online and everything is going to be distributed then why are you building Greater Curtin and why are you building refurbished classrooms and putting so much effort into place activation on campus?” Professor Downie says. "My response to that is while everything will be available to students in distributed mode or online or by flexible delivery, there will always be a place for students coming on to campus.”
And that brings us back to those 5000 bean bags. “The students are staying on campus between classes,” she says. “The face-to-face environment has never been more active but students in that environment might be sitting out in a bean bag under a tree, dialling into class at the other end of the campus. If that is what they choose to do, if they are interacting and learning that way and that suits their needs, then that’s the sort of environment we want to provide.”
Tertiary education has never sounded more appealing.
How many video meetings have you taken this week? Chances are the answer isn't none. Video conferencing has become the new normal for most businesses, particularly those that have embraced hybrid work. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic made working from home a necessity, many companies were cutting back on work-related travel and using video conferencing to connect workers in satellite offices or even in conference rooms on different floors. This new reality means it's critical to invest in the best video conferencing system you can find.
The proprietary end-to-end systems you've probably seen deployed in smart conference rooms are still around, but the star players today are cloud services that require little more than an account and a webcam. We're focusing on these for this review roundup, since they're the most relevant to remote work. But first, you'll need a good understanding of how they work.
We've come a long way from the proprietary video conferencing systems of yesteryear. Today's cloud video services use TCP/IP as the primary network protocol. The majority of video calls go over the internet, rather than a private LAN. Also, their hardware support is generally open, meaning you can use whatever webcam or microphone works with your computing device. These new services often support an entirely web browser-based experience without the need to install any app (though a standalone app usually gives the best experience). Mobile devices are typically supported too, including apps for Android, Chrome OS, and iOS.
The challenge with these systems is that they typically don't interoperate. For example, you can't attend a video conference initiated in Microsoft Teams using a Cisco Webex meeting client. That means that if your workers need to join a video meeting with a company that uses a different system than yours, they'll either need to install a compatible client or rely on their browsers. On the other hand, the advantage is that these systems no longer require one large system purchase. Instead, they are services offered on a per-user or per-host subscription basis (see below for more about hosts). This can seriously reduce costs, as we'll see later.
Modern video conferencing systems also offer a big bucket of new capabilities that older systems never had. Best-in-class video conferencing services let users share their screens, remotely access one another's desktops, chat via text, exchange files, communicate via digital whiteboards, and even broadcast conferences to large groups of passive viewers (like webinars). Some are part of business-geared Voice-over-IP (VoIP) packages that let you dynamically change a voice call to a video call or initiate a shared meeting at the touch of a button without ever losing the original connection.
Those features are great for central offices, but they're also fantastic communication aids for work-from-home scenarios, especially when viewed through a long-term lens. However, video conferencing can go even further. For example, it's a perfect tool for addressing customers' support questions live or interacting with customers in real-time during a webinar. These and other factors are likely to continue to drive user adoption of these services for at least the next few years, as shown by growth projections from Fortune Business Insights:
Many of us were introduced to video conferencing in the COVID-19 era. But even pre-pandemic, many small to midsize businesses (SMBs) spread across geographic locations. While that trend has both cost and hiring benefits to most companies, it also brings complex challenges for communication. Face-to-face meetings often aren't feasible due to limits on travel expenditures, and that's also true for customers and partners. This is where video conferencing can deliver a serious boost to your company's bottom line.
Even without considering geography, video conferencing can save money. Many of the new collaboration features included with this round of contenders aim to automate tasks that used to cost extra. Two prime examples are meeting transcription and recording.
In older, proprietary systems, recording a meeting meant either a separate camera or a third-party microphone for audio-only recordings, plus server space for storage. Modern services have automated recording that you can initiate with the press of a button and then automatically save the recording to the cloud and auto-share it with all meeting attendees.
Transcription, too, used to cost extra, with meeting managers sending an audio recording to a transcription service. Many new video conferencing services now contain artificial intelligence (AI) in the form of virtual meeting assistants that manage things like attendance tracking and transcribing meetings directly to PDF or Microsoft Word documents. They can then send those docs to everyone in the discussion or save them in shared cloud storage.
As with many software services, video conferencing providers offer multiple pricing tiers. The prices quoted in our reviews are typically for the vendor's middle pricing tier, and those are usually charged on a per-user per-month basis. For more pricing information, click through to the individual reviews. Most video conferencing services offer free trials, typically for 30 days, and many don't require a credit card. That means you don't have to worry about being charged automatically when the trial ends.
Most services offer free plans with a limited feature set. These can be great for individuals who want to reach friends and family, or for distributed teams who don't plan to spend a lot of time in conferences. Once you move to a paid tier, however, you need to pay attention to pricing details. For example, many products tested charge differently for hosts and users. Digging through the fine print, you'll find that hosts are users that can initiate meetings. Not all companies need to make every user a host, depending on how your organization handles collaboration. That can have a significant impact on your overall price, so be sure to nail down the details before buying.
Many services scale their pricing based on the number of hosts and attendees you need. That's why we recommend not just using the features in our top-rated video conferencing services; you should also leverage that trial time to experiment with how many users need to have meeting manager status. In other words, evaluate how video conferencing best fits your organization's culture and workflows.
Generally, services that are priced per host instead of per user are more cost-effective for webinar-type environments, where a few hosts will present to many attendees (users). Plans that are priced per user tend to be more attractive to collaborative-style engagements where anyone could start a meeting.
Another price consideration is hardware. Most every laptop has a microphone and a serviceable (if fairly mediocre) integrated webcam. Some laptops, such as the 2021 Apple MacBook Pro and Microsoft Surface, ship with high-quality 1080p webcams, and the same goes for many higher-end mobile devices.
Desktop PCs, however, will need additional hardware. If you're looking for enhanced clarity of sound or video, you'll need the best microphones and high-end webcams you can get. Depending on how many desktops and conference rooms you're looking to outfit this way, you can significantly affect the overall cost of your video conferencing solution, so you should budget for that upfront.
Because video conferencing is likely to be a new way of working for many employees, which in turn means a platform's ease of use is a great place to compare one vendor's capabilities with another's.
In each review, we discuss the ease of signing up, creating a meeting, inviting participants, and setting up audio and video controls for each review. We also look at the user experience (UX) from the meeting invitees' point of view and how easy it is to access smart meeting controls. That covers whiteboard-style collaboration and file sharing, annotation, and the virtual assistant features mentioned above.
We've also tested each service's prominent features, but it's up to you to decide which features you need most. Do you need dial-in numbers, VoIP support, or both? How about features like screen sharing or remote control? Some services offer both teleconferencing with dial-in numbers (local or toll-free) and VoIP calling, while some offer just one or the other. A few offer international dial-in numbers.
All of the products reviewed offer video calls via webcam, which is a feature that's creeping into several team messaging platforms, like Microsoft Teams and Slack. In Teams' case, this is a complete video conferencing solution, which is why we've reviewed it here. On the other hand, Slack and some of its competitors have only implemented person-to-person video calling, which is why we haven't included them in this roundup.
However, Slack's strength in this regard (and it's a strength shared by its competitors) is its very long list of out-of-the-box integration options. While you can only do person-to-person video. inside Slack itself, the platform also integrates with Google Workspace, Teams, Zoom, and a host of other communications platforms, including the ones we've reviewed here. A skilled Slack administrator can build full meeting functionality this way.
In all of these reviews, we hosted and joined meetings to test the experience of registered and non-registered users alike. We made sure to outline how easy it is to join a meeting, including whether a participant needs to download software before joining (which could cause a delay). When that's the case, it's important to communicate with employees about hardware compatibility and your preferred browser. Other services simply require that attendees enter a code to access the meeting.
Our reviews also cover the host's administration features. The best services let you set up various types of meetings, such as lecture-style meetings where all participants are muted, or a discussion or Q&A mode in which presenters can mute and unmute participants as needed. Other options include enabling and disabling webcams, locking latecomers out of a meeting, creating a waiting room while preparing for the meeting, and allowing break-out sessions.
For presentations, screen sharing is essential. But so are more granular options, such as the ability to share just one , document, image, or application (Microsoft PowerPoint, for example), not just your entire desktop. Most of the video conferencing services in this roundup also offer a text chat mode not only during a meeting but sometimes outside a video call, too.
During a trial, you should experiment with all these features and think carefully about how much real collaboration you need in your various meetings. That means evaluating the service with more than just IT personnel. You should also include stakeholders from your various departments, so you've got an accurate representation of the different kinds of gatherings your employees hold between themselves and folks outside the organization.
Unfortunately, even in a centralized network like the one in your main office, working with any stream-dependent app, and especially video, becomes trickier the larger the network and the more apps there are competing for bandwidth. If you're running all or part of your solution on a high-traffic network, some network settings may need tweaking by your IT staff to minimize video artifacts, stuttering, or excessive buffering that pauses the stream.
The situation is even more complicated for remote workers. This could be a persistent problem for your IT help desk personnel, who will have little control over the consumer devices and home network routers that will power your remote employees' home offices. Then there are additional peripherals, such as webcams and microphones. Most of these weren't purchased by the IT department, which means IT support staffers haven't been trained to service them. All of this makes supporting those home users on an end-to-end basis very difficult. That's not even considering the conditions on the internet, which handles most of the network traffic (and is something that your IT department doesn't control, either).
Most businesses will have little choice but to handle this problem on a case-by-case basis. If an IT pro can service a router remotely, that's what happens. If not, then it's down to either sending the device to a central location to be reconfigured, or walking the employee through the required steps over the phone.
Because of these concerns, it's a good idea to develop long-term solutions for remote workers. For example, IT could pre-configure a number of router models and then distribute them to remote workers so that everyone is using the same platform.
Virtual private networks (VPNs) are another related problem. Many businesses require employees to use these services when working remotely, both to protect themselves from cyber-attacks and to protect corporate data. Because they use encryption, VPNs can often cause bandwidth or throughput problems that affect video streaming performance. They're also run by companies other than your video conferencing vendor, so supporting the combination of the two usually ends up as an internal problem.
To help, you'll need to investigate VPN offerings for remote connections and potentially work with your IT staff to implement Quality of Service (QoS) features on both your main network and users' home networks. That'll help protect the bandwidth required during your video conferences. Still, be aware that the public internet remains its own beast and problems will inevitably arise that are outside the control of your IT staff.
Don't discount support resources from your vendor. The best video conferencing services offer phone, email, and chat support in addition to extensive online documentation. End-user support in this manner may cost extra money, but it's worth considering if your IT staff is small. Checking for a professional services arm that helps train users and IT pros is another important factor, and an active user community is a good resource, too.
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Government ministers and members of Parliament (MPs) have met with tech sector representatives to discuss plans for the future of the UK’s £150bn digital economy.
Tech industry figures from Zoom, Cisco, Infosys, Meta and trade association TechUK met with policymakers at the Tech Policy Leadership Conference on 20 June 2022, where they discussed the government’s new digital strategy, overcoming the UK’s tech-related skills deficit, and the government’s views on data adequacy with the European Union (EU).
Announced 13 June, the government’s digital strategy aims to help coordinate and focus efforts around the UK’s digital economy.
The government has said the strategy “brings cross-government tech and digital policies together in one unified roadmap for ensuring digital technology, infrastructure and data drives economic growth and innovation in the coming years. The plan will lead to new jobs, skills and services that benefit and level up the whole of the UK.”
Speaking at the TechUK-organised conference, digital minister Chris Philp said the digital strategy is critical to the economic future of the UK and can help deal with a range of economic issues – from wage stagnation, flatlining productivity and inflation.
“We see the growth in the tech sector and the diffusion of digital strategies and technologies across the whole economy as being a fundamental part of the answer to these economic challenges,” he said.
“The jobs that tech creates tend to be much more productive, have much better pay, encapsulate innovation and growth, and be inherently productivity creating. So by being more productive, obviously, we can reduce prices, we can produce more for the same amount of input.
“So, for all of these fundamental challenges our country and our economy faces, we see technology and the digital economy as the answer.”
Asked by Computer Weekly how inequality factors into the digital strategy – both generally (given that around one in five people in the UK live in poverty) and regionally (of the £12.4bn raised by tech startups in 2022 so far, £8.6bn went to those in London) – Philp said that there were already a number of public-private partnerships underway based around reskilling people.
“There’s a very explicit focus on digital skills and digital literacy outside of the southeast and, in particular, work with people from less advantaged backgrounds,” he said. “There’s also a massive issue with industry not being representative, for example, of women or minorities, so there’s a desire to do a lot more work there.
“There’s 2,000 masters courses in artificial intelligence [AI]. There’s, I think, 2,000 scholarships to go with that, and those scholarships are expressly reserved for people from underrepresented backgrounds, so there are things like that [which] we can do to try and to move the needle.”
In terms of investment outside the southeast, Philp noted the UK now has a number of unicorn tech companies (those valued at over $1bn) outside of London, as well as funds such as the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, which Philip said had £500m of government money with “an express mandate to invest across the north of England”.
On the government’s upcoming Digital Markets, Competition and Consumer Bill, Philp added that it would be published in draft form during the current Parliamentary session before being introduced formally as soon as possible after that, so that industry has time to provide feedback on the direction it is taking.
During a panel on WFH and the Future of Work, Conservative MP Matt Warman, who is leading the government review into the future of work in the UK, said that the government’s primary focus at the moment is around building up people’s digital skills: “Everything comes back to skills…you’re going to see the creeping inclusion of tech into more and more jobs, and we need a workforce that has the skills to tackle it.”
He suggested that, to make updating digital skills more appealing and less expensive for people, any training going forward should take a hybrid approach of “being partly online and partly in real life” to take advantage of the shift to working from home (WFH) facilitated by the pandemic.
Charlotte Holloway, director of government relations for UK and Ireland at Zoom and member of the TechUK board, cited a May 2022 report by the company which showed that the UK has been “a world leader in the way it adopted digital technologies”, including Zoom, during the pandemic.
“SME adoption [of digital technologies] was the highest of any G7 country, and we see the vast majority of employees want to see hybrid and or remote working continue,” she said.
However, Warman noted that there are still huge chunks of the economy for which working from home is never going to be relevant, because those jobs simply cannot be done remotely.
“Hybrid working and working from home is important, but it is a subset of flexible working, which potentially has a lot more to offer…we don’t want to inadvertently do something that exaggerates the differences between one part of the economy and another,” she said.
With the pandemic facilitating a greater shift to working from home in some sectors, Justin Madders, Labour’s shadow minister for employment rights, said “the future is hybrid” and that Labour would push the presumption that flexible working is a right, rather than something employees only have a right to request.
He agreed with Warman that “it’s really important we don’t forget all those jobs that you can never do remotely”, adding that the increasing use of AI and automation in decision-making and recruitment in companies needs to be a focus area for policymakers.
In particular, Madders noted the need for transparency, explainability and accountability when it comes to companies using AI or algorithms to make decisions regarding their employees.
On this point, Warman added that it is unacceptable for companies using algorithms in decision-making to push accountability onto the algorithm itself: “You wouldn’t allow that kind of outsourcing in any other area of business, so why should you here? The tech sector does have a frustrating and almost entirely self-defeating tendency of saying, whatever it is, ‘It’s so new and so radical it has to be treated legally differently’.”
Madders also indicated his support for a “right to switch off” – which would allow employees to ignore work-related communications such as emails and texts outside their contracted working hours – although Warman added that this would have to be done in a way that promotes flexibility for employees rather than a mandatory work cut-off time.
On 17 June, the government published its response to a consultation on the Data Reform Bill, pledging to press ahead with a number of changes, that the government says will boost businesses, protect consumers and seize the “benefits” of Brexit.
Its proposals include clamping down what it perceives as red tape around privacy and data protection to save an estimated £1bn, while strengthening data protection standards, reforming the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), giving innovators and researchers more flexibility in how they use data in their work, and increasing fines for people who misuse data.
Commenting on the Reform Bill, Philp told TechUK conference attendees the government “do intend that burdens on business here in the UK will be lighter than the equivalent’s elsewhere”, claiming this would not be done at the expense of privacy.
“We’re not going to make data available to people who are going to abuse or misuse it, and we do want to achieve those legitimate and important privacy considerations in a way that poses fewer burdens, so by making the regulatory regime more principles-based and outcome-based, rather than prescriptive,” he said.
Speaking in the same session, TechUK’s director of technology and innovation Sue Daley said it was critical that the UK retain its data adequacy agreements with the EU: “That is crucial to industry, not just our industry…every industry, data crosses every industry in every sector.”
The European Commission granted the UK data adequacy in June 2021, allowing businesses to continue exchanging data with Europe, but warned it may yet be revoked should the UK’s new data protection rules diverge significantly from the EU’s.
According to Philp, however: “The way that we’ve designed these data changes have been done with the purpose in mind of making sure that adequacy can be maintained – there’s no legitimate legal or technical basis upon which adequacy might be revoked.”
He added that UK government discussions were held with the European Commission during the adequacy proposal process “to make sure they didn’t pose any legal or technical risk to adequacy… so it is our firm intention and expectation that adequacy will be maintained”.
Cisco Systems is a company that has grown both organically and via acquisitions. As such, the networking giant has a huge portfolio of products and services that have historically been disparate. But Cisco is working to remedy that.
The company at Cisco Live 2022 unveiled a breakthrough in network management. The very popular Cisco Catalyst portfolio can now be managed via the cloud using the simple Meraki dashboard. But that’s not the only integration Cisco has been piecing together. The company’s flagship Webex collaboration offering is now feeding Cisco’s WAN Insights engine and the security portfolio is being united, according to the San Jose, Calif.-based company. It’s music to the ears of Cisco partners who are deploying these solutions but who now have a more unified networking, security and collaboration story to bring to their end customers.
Integration isn’t the only thing that has been keeping the company busy. Cisco Chair and CEO Chuck Robbins sat down with CRN at Cisco Live to talk about how the company is on “just the first step” of its unified networking story. He also discussed the macro issues that are impacting the tech industry, like supply chain constraints and how they are shaping the selling motion of channel partners. The global supply chain crisis has created a record-breaking backlog for Cisco, and the company is doing a lot of work behind the scenes to prioritize and triage the evolving situation. And speaking of selling motions, the Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS) model is gaining traction as the company released its second Cisco Plus offer earlier this month.
From the company’s simplification and integration work to supply chain and XaaS, here’s what Robbins told CRN in an exclusive interview at Cisco Live 2022.
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With the announcement of Catalyst support on the Meraki platform, how big a deal is it that administrators can manage their network from a single pane of glass from the cloud?
I think it’s a significant milestone and I think it’s just the first phase. Todd [Nightingale, executive vice president and general manager of Cisco’s enterprise networking and cloud business] has done a great job with the organization of getting them here. But there’s a long list of things we’re going to do to leverage that [Meraki] dashboard and help continue to expand it, from monitoring to some level of configuration to looking at the rationalization of platforms over time. There’s a lot of things that will come as a result of it. I’m just really happy we got that out and proud of what they announced.
Partners are saying Cisco is tearing down walls to create a more unified networking story. Do you agree with that assessment?
I think that we’re bringing more offers to the market today that require integration across business units than we ever have, and this is probably a banner day for that. But there’s a lot more coming.
Look at the integrations between ThousandEyes and Talos Threat Intelligence service within AppDynamics. One of the ironic things they figured out is that Webex actually has a lot of analytics about internet performance, so now it’s feeding the [WAN Insights] engine data. Then, you have observability integration with Intersight, and [Nightingale] and Jonathan [Davidson, executive vice president and general manager, Cisco Mass-Scale Infrastructure] are working on private 5G and Wi-Fi 6 stuff together. There’s a lot of cross business unit work going on, and I think it’s a muscle that we’re going to build even more effectively as we go forward.
How is Cisco prioritizing its record-breaking backlog in the midst of a constrained supply chain?
We have a team of people that are doing this. And obviously, when the customer ordered matters. That’s the basic principle. But then you can imagine that we are working hard to prioritize first responders and those who have regulatory requirements. And a lot of those come in sort of ad hoc from customers who send us notes. I will say, though, that customers have been very conscientious about escalating for exceptions only when they need them. And in many cases, that conversation is around, ‘I need this stuff, I don’t need that—you can push it out, so don’t worry about that—but I need this stuff if you can help me.” And so, it’s actually allowed us to, in some cases, serve other customers. It’s just been complicated. It’s a daily triage for our team to try to get this done.
Do you think the supply chain crisis will accelerate the XaaS trend?
Considering that a lot of our services have hardware built into the core service, I wouldn’t say that it’s a significant accelerant because I’ve actually had some conversations where some of our challenges in getting some of these things adopted is actually still supply chain and trying to get that stuff out there. Like [for Cisco Plus] Hybrid Cloud, we went out and we allocated some equipment from our capacity to make sure we were getting those early adopters up and running so we could get the feedback because otherwise it would have taken a little longer, so I don’t think that you’re seeing an accelerant. I think [XaaS] is not immune to supply chain challenges, unfortunately. For pure SaaS offers, it’s obviously a different story.
Are partners coming along with Cisco on the XaaS business model transformation?
I think they are coming along with us. We just launched the SASE [Cisco Plus Secure Connect Now], and Cisco Plus Hybrid Cloud is still in early adoption. We have some architectural systems work that we’re doing that’ll make it a much more simple way for us to offer everything as a service. That work is being done right now and should come online in the fall, which will provide us the ability to accelerate a lot of offers in this space.
What I would say, though, is one of the big things that we have seen in the partner community is a serious uptake on taking our technology and delivering managed services to the customer. I think the desire for these kinds of services from the customer is real. We launched a new [partner program role] called ‘Provider,’ which is a managed service provider program and there are almost 2,000 partners now that are delivering something. So, for me, that validates the model. And I think over time, what you’ll see is partners having a combination of their unique intellectual property baked into a managed service that they can deliver, as well as in some cases, they may deliver ours as a service to their customers as well. I think that’s where we’ll end up—probably 2023—we’ll start to see that really come together.
Customers don’t want to be systems integrators. It just takes too long. So, you create two opportunities where partners can go in and do that systems integration work more effectively and more quickly—that’s an opportunity for them. But at the end of the day, [customers] want the outcome one way or the other, buy it as a service, or buy it as an integrated, tightly wrapped solution from a partner. I think that’s where they’re building their managed service offerings as well, even if it’s just the management of on-premises capabilities. If it’s all packaged and done, I think a customer finds that more attractive because it helps them get to that outcome they’re trying to get to.
How important is it that partners wrap their own services around XaaS and Cisco managed services?
I think you’ll see us expose APIs on our own services. If you look at Meraki, that’s a great example where we deliver that as a service. But we also have partners who take that and add their own layer of capabilities on top because of the APIs we expose. So, I think you’ll see that that opportunity arise as well. But my view is to the extent you can, you want to provide the partners the ability to add their intellectual property to it to differentiate their solutions.
Is your channel mix changing due to Cisco’s growing base of cloud and hyperscale business?
I think it has to anytime you start partnering with new partners, [especially] big ones. We’re doing more with the hyperscalers for sure [and] building out in the cloud marketplaces. And then, obviously looking at the managed services opportunity—we have really spent a lot of time at the leadership team level with Oliver [Tuszik, Cisco’s channel chief, pictured] around cloud marketplaces and managed services in particular, as he’s taken on this whole routes-to-market responsibility. Those are two of the big ones that we’re focused on right now. I think anytime you do that, you’ll see a big shift.
We’ve always been in the managed services space, but [Tuszik] has invested pretty significantly on service creation resources to help our partners actually think about and build plans to create those services—the marketing plans and sales plans. And it feels like customers are adopting those even at a faster pace than they used to. I would say that that particular provider will become a greater percentage. But it might still be some traditional providers who have moved into that space. It might be the same partner, but a different profile of what they look like.
Where should Cisco partners be placing their bets right now?
I think, clearly, security, which I think many of them already are. I think if you look at customers trying to re-architect their fundamental infrastructure to deal with these traffic patterns that we’re facing today, I think, ironically, partners could have a big role to play in just thinking about how you architect that. I think getting in the early phases of the observability space would be a good area for partners to start looking at, but it may not be for everybody early on, but over the next year or two, it would be one that I would definitely look at.
Then, obviously, hybrid work and really helping customers think through their strategy for hybrid work, I think that’s another big area. I also think DevNet. Grace [Francisco, vice president of Cisco developer relations strategy and experience] came in, and working for Liz [Centoni, Cisco’s chief strategy officer and general manager of applications], rearchitected our entire DevNet program. There’s now a standardized API architecture that teams are building, which gives these partners opportunities to build businesses on top of our platforms.
I have to say there’s probably more opportunity today than we’ve seen in 20 years. And I think that’s true for the partners as well.
This article originally appeared at crn.com