Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Avaya In The Spotlight With Flare

The impressive list of speakers at the FW SIM 2011 CIO Executive Leadership Summit yesterday included the CIO of IBM, Kimberly Clark and Avon. Their presentations and the other speakers and panelists focused on the role of the CIO in business transformation, innovation and growth and many key management issues. But the session that most impressed my inner geek was a brief demonstration of the new collaborative tool from Avaya called Flare.

Paul Humphreys, Director of Global IT at Avaya, in a breakout session discussed collaboration in terms of being people-centric, in sharp contrast to being object-centric. When we collaborate with conventional systems, he claimed,  we generally start with some object and share it with people. We may draft a document or develop a spreadsheet, then send or share it with others through email or other on-line collaborative tools.Perhaps the process begins when we receive a text message or imaged document and we forward that to someone else to begin working together. As work progresses we keep passing these objects around.

Avaya have taken advantage of session instance protocol or SIP to turn this process around. SIP creates connections and moves things among different systems. For instance, this is the underlying technology for the feature in Google Voice that permits phone calls to be moved from your cell phone to the land line in your house even though they are completely different phone systems. In the Avaya model collaboration begins with the people, bringing other systems or objects into the session as needed.

One can probably argue six of one, half dozen of another -- in other words it amounts to the same thing. But what was very different and unique was the drag and drop interface used to establish and orchestrate all of the collaborative interactions.

The metaphor for the shared space is a spot light in the center of the screen where you drag and drop people or objects to bring them together. Although I have not used the system and cannot speak to the performance and functionality first hand, I have to admit the demonstration video makes it appear very slick.

In flash back to the movie Minority Report, the senior manager in the video is swiping employee images from his virtual address book and with the stroke of his hand dropping them into the spotlight. By doing this he creates a working group. He kicks off a conference call and dynamically adds more people, then breaks a few of them into a smaller working group as a sub-team. He drags a text he received and the draft presentation into the spot light sharing it with the other participants. After a while he brings everyone back to the full working session to complete the project.

The system is completely device agnostic. While the senior manager is using a desktop computer in the nicest office I have ever seen, other participants are in smaller work spaces, at home or on a smart phone.

The novelty might wear off and system limitations will no doubt surface, but one thing is undeniable. The observation that people begin by collaborating with people and not objects is spot on. We need more systems, like Flare, that have a highly intuitive interface and are built to operate the way people naturally interact.

Captain Joe

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