Avaya’s Simon Culmer tells us about his 30 years in the IT industry, his vision of an IoT future, and why good headphones are his must-have technology item
Tell us about your company and your areas of expertise?
I’ve worked at Avaya for the past 3 years. Avaya is a leading provider of business communication technologies. We focus on providing software and services that improve team engagement, customer engagement and those that deliver communication networks. In my role I work with organisations of all sizes from small barrister chambers to global corporations like Barclays and also large sporting events like the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics and the recent Ashes tournament.
Tell us something about your IT career
I’ve worked in IT for over 30 years. I love the buzz and continual evolution of the industry. Right from my time at Sun in the 80’s and Cisco in the 90’s through to my current role at Avaya, I’ve found seeing the difference new technology solutions can make to businesses really exciting.
Technology evolves continually but I’ve realized the basic principles of customer satisfaction don’t really change. I have found working for a company like Avaya really thrilling, because you can really see how communications solutions can have a positive impact on the way businesses communicate – from a fail-safe network that kept the Olympic family connected at Sochi 2014 to a six clicks to install mobile video solution to a 3,000 seat contact center, our solutions have a positive impact on the way businesses communicate.
What tech were you involved with ten years ago?
Ten years ago I was working with business communication technology, like I do today, but it’s evolved a huge amount in that period. For example, ten years ago Unified Communications (UC) was simply IP technology and was only really available as an on-premise solution. These days it can also be delivered as a service and there are a wide range of maintenance options. UC also used to be the preserve of the enterprise segment; it’s grown to become a mature market now.
I think that advances in UC have enabled a shift in the way businesses think about collaboration and communication more generally. Thanks to technologies like UC, remote and flexible working has become common-place. Geographically disparate teams no longer have to mean a disengaged workforce and employees and employers both believe in the efficiency and productivity benefits that flexible working has proven to offer.
What tech do you expect to be involved with in ten years’ time?
Looking ahead to the next game-changing technologies, I think the Internet of Things is going to be the biggest, particularly because of its impact on customer engagement, and it’s in wearable technologies in particular that we will see much of the potential of the IoT realised. Eventually ‘connected everything’ will create a new paradigm, transforming the omni-channel engagement into a real-time engagement.
Wearables are gaining more visibility with consumers: Amazon has even given them their own product section on their website! The new communication method that they offer brands coupled with the data that they collect and send back to organisations puts them at the heart of customer engagement strategies of the future. According to market analysts, the uptake of wearables is currently faster than that of smartphones when they were initially launched and therefore we can expect higher penetration levels of these devices.
Who is your tech hero (and why)? Who is your tech villain (and why)?
My tech villains would have to be UC vendors who don’t train their channel partners to help them realise ways they can meet their customer’s business needs. They have the service specialism so they are the best placed to help them understand how to sell in a consultative manner.
As for my tech hero? Headphone technology. I’m amazed at how much has been done to this category and to offer a product you wouldn’t realise was so necessary until you have it makes it all the more desirable! They have track navigation features on the ear cup as well as a built in microphone so you can talk hands-free. I can’t live without my wireless headphones when I go to the gym and running cordless means I can work out without distraction.
What’s your favourite technology ever made? And which do you use most?
For me, this has to be video conferencing because I use it almost every day to talk to my friends, family and also to help me manage my team.
We’re all used to FaceTime and Skype nowadays, but using video chat as a way to communicate with your colleagues makes work so much more sociable and business communication much more immediate, which I think explains why businesses are tapping into video culture more and more. I admire video chat because it offers such a seamless way of connecting and communicating, and you become so much more flexible because you can easily hop on a video conference call to your colleagues no matter where you are. I’ve often been on the road and pulled over to do a quick video conference call – so it’s come to my rescue a number of times!
What is your budget outlook? Flat? Growing?
For Avaya, the midmarket is an extremely important segment and one where we are seeing very rapid growth. It is midmarket firms that powered our economic recovery and they are continuing to fuel growth, with many millennials choosing to work for more nimble, midmarket companies and eschewing traditional blue-chip corporate jobs. For the technology industry, medium-sized businesses offer high growth opportunities. They are a key focus for us, which is why Avaya runs a dedicated midmarket channel partner programme with its own distinct training, certification and recognitions.
Apart from your own, which company do you admire most, and why?
I’m a big fan of Google. I think they’re an extremely innovative company and they continue to find ways to adapt and make life easier for their customers. While they are a massive organisation they seem to have retained their agility. We are working with them to improve the customer experience, by inserting video into the browser (web RTC) and have found Google to be really open to innovative ideas.
What is the greatest challenge for an IT company or department today?
Our customers are very tech savvy, and organisations in almost every sector and industry is undergoing digital transformation so they can keep up with them. Mobility, BYOD, cloud computing and now IoT is making businesses smarter and better connected. But what this means is IT departments now have more technology to manage and more complexities in how it is deployed.
The digital enterprise brings a new set of challenges because firstly, it is a fast-moving target and it has constant innovation on its side so it forces CIOs to rethink their digital strategy. Secondly, ensuring the successful management of these offerings is pervasive across a company. So the challenge then is whether IT department can adapt to this new management model and collaborate with, rather than against other departments to architect the digital enterprise, while still staying relevant.
To Cloud or not to Cloud?
Definitely to cloud! 80 percent of UK large enterprises have adopted at least one cloud-based service and the hybrid cloud model is particularly popular because it can be a stepping-stone if your business isn’t fully ready to move to the cloud, while still being able to experience some of the benefits of cloud computing without the potential risks.
More recently, Avaya partnered with BT Wholesale to offer Avaya customers a hybrid model with managed migration to help them evolve from on-site to cloud based services. Hybrid cloud computing is a bit like removing the constraints of limited storage space for toys in your bedroom. You keep the slightly larger toys you won’t play with as often in your Aunt’s house – she’ll charge you a monthly free to store your toys but lets you visit and play whenever you want and need.
Cloud isn’t going anywhere – hybrid cloud means you can have the right mixture of private and public cloud hosting that gets your business exactly what it needs to grow. It’s scalable storage and means huge cost savings, but also offers a high degree of customisation. For example if you want to use video conferencing via the cloud, with a private or hybrid service you could add extra functionality or even integrate it into other software you use for additional collaboration benefits.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
A lot of very ambitious career ideas came to my mind when I was younger – for example,I went through the phase of wanting to be a footballer when I was younger, but unfortunately my skills weren’t exactly on a par with Beckham’s or Messi’s! But I always admired how there was something about the atmosphere when you’re in an enormous football stadium, with your favourite team below you, and there’s a real buzz.
I do feel quite fortunate to be involved in fan engagement and stadium connectivity in the last couple of years through my role at Avaya. It’s often struck me as odd that, as “always-on” consumers, we are armed with our mobile devices connected to everyone and anyone we want to and have that power to change brand reputations in a single click, and yet we readily accept a third-rate customer experience when we walk into a sports stadium.
Some of our sporting venues really are communication black holes! Fortunately this is changing with quite impressive developments in sports technologies like contactless payments, stadium apps to help you find a parking spot, order a beer to your seat, or access player information on the last goal scorer have incredible potential to boost engagement for sports fans and advertisers. Glamorgan County Cricket, for example, will use technology to reinvent the spectator experience in cricket through custom apps, e-commerce, marketing initiatives and promotions to become the most technically advanced cricket stadium in the world.
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