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January 21, 2009

ClearOne Mapping Out the Future

By Rich Tehrani, CEO, Technology Marketing Corporation

Mark Child, director of product marketing telephony at ClearOne, recently took the opportunity to share with the TMCnet readers information about audio conferencing systems, the tabletop conferencing market and the overall direction ClearOne is mapping out into the future.
ClearOne is a leading global provider of premium audio conferencing systems and other related products for audio, video and Web conferencing applications.
Who has influenced you most in your career and why?
My best friend’s mom. Besides cooking a mean pot of chow mien, she ingrained in me the concept that I could do anything I wanted to do and be anything I wanted to be. Maybe my mom was too close to me and knew me too well—warts and all. But my best friend’s mom could step back and see a bigger picture, one with a potential that wasn’t limited by my own lack of imagination.
What excites you most about our industry?
Frankly, I don’t see a time when our industry will be faced with the kinds of challenges other industries face when times get rough. Sure, there will always be individual companies that may not survive a down economy. But taken as a whole, our industry will always continue to grow and develop new ways to communicate. Telecommunications products have always been “mission critical” and will remain so. I get excited about not just the newest technologies but the ways people come up with new applications of technology to save time and be more productive.
What areas do you wish you could devote more energy/attention/resources?
I can think of two areas: Personal interaction, and Sustainability. Being a marketer for a technology company, I think I rely too much on the technology and don’t spend enough time actually talking with customers face-to-face. Though audio and video conferencing technology continues to make great improvements and can save organizations a boat-load of time and money, a person in my line of business can gain tremendous insights by taking the time to visit the people who actually buy my products.
And as far as sustainability goes, I would love to be able to devote more time to identifying and implementing “green” initiatives that could really make a difference.
What pain does your company take away for customers?
The pain of ineffective communication. A local bank recently installed a bunch of our conference phones in several offices across the state. I asked their IT manager if he had tried to get a handle on the ROI of the system. He said, “Are you kidding? The entire system was paid for before our first phone bill arrived!” He said that previous group calls had been so ineffectual that their management knew none of the tasks were getting communicated.
The other pain point we remove is a monetary one. With the downturn in the economy, many organizations are cutting travel budgets (in spite of my stated desire to see more of my clients in person). However, with the right conferencing system or speakerphone, those organizations can retain—or even increase—productivity by holding high-quality conference calls, especially for those regular meetings between management and staff.
 How did your company get to where it is and where is it headed?
ClearOne is the market leader in professional audio conferencing systems and we are the #2 player in the tabletop conferencing market. The way we got there was through a focus on doing audio—and only audio—better than anyone else. ClearOne has a reputation for producing the finest conferencing products—for just about any application or environment—in the industry.
Where are we headed? More of the same; we will continue to focus on our core competency—high-quality audio conferencing products. We have a large engineering and R&D group that continues to churn out new and better ways of delivering high-performance audio. And as more and more people turn to VoIP or video conferencing or Telepresence (News - Alert), ClearOne will continue to be the vendor of choice when audio quality matters. Other pieces of the technology package may change, but crystal-clear audio will always remain the bedrock component of any effective communication.
What does your dream mobile device look like?
It LOOKS like it was designed by Apple (News - Alert). It SOUNDS like it was created by ClearOne. It PERFORMS like it was made by BMW. And it COSTS like it was carried by Wal-Mart.
If you were forced to head Nokia, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft (News - Alert), GM, Cisco, Nortel or the US… Which would you pick and why?
Nortel. Everyone else has tried to turn them around, why not me?
Poof – you become President Obama’s top advisor on tech. What should he do to foster more technology use in the US and abroad?
I hope there will be a greater focus on important issues in three areas: Net neutrality (News - Alert), Universal Service Fund (USF) fees, and green initiatives. I would look for the administration to implement policies that encourage continued innovation and rapid expansion of VoIP technologies while allowing small businesses to participate and benefit. If that’s the case, the communications industry will benefit, as will the businesses and individuals using products like ours, and we’ll all reduce our carbon footprint in the process.
How has open-source changed our space and what more can it do for us?
In many ways, open-source projects have helped to democratize product development. A single developer working from an apartment in Helsinki can have as great an impact on an application or product as a large team of engineers at a high powered think tank. This kind of collaboration can lead to earlier breakthroughs in new technology and a broader acceptance of new protocols and standards.
 When does Microsoft become a major force in communications?
Yesterday. Though most consumers may not think of Microsoft as a major player in this space, they are quietly implementing products that will become the communications platforms for enterprises the world over. By pushing communication to the desktop instead of to the handset, and by enabling quick and easy communication from any of a score of ubiquitous products, Microsoft will gradually become a major force in the way businesses and individuals communicate. And I think it will happen quicker than we think.
Apple? RIM, Nokia?
Like other device manufacturers, I think Apple, RIM and Nokia (as well as many others) will continue to find success among individual users in the short term. In the long term, they may become bigger players as they integrate their hand-held devices with the ways people actually need to communicate (i.e., Microsoft desktop applications such as Outlook, Office Communicator, etc.).
 What surprised you most about 2008?
That the financial meltdown happened so quickly. And if my financial advisor is so darned smart, why didn’t he see it coming?
Assuming we need it (and who couldn’t use some extra cash), what do we tell Congress to get a multibillion dollar US government communications bailout?
Please!? It worked for the automakers.
Is the green movement dead now that oil is plummeting in cost?
 I think the exact opposite is happening. People may not be putting their SUVs on E-bay, but this was definitely a wake up call. And more and more businesses today see green initiatives as more than just marketing hype. Organizations are paying attention to things like energy conservation, sustainability, teleworking, etc., and reaping tangible benefits—not just in public relations, but in cutting costs and retaining talent.
How does IP communications help in a recession?
 Do more with less. Some estimates show that there are 3.5 million key systems being used by small businesses that are out of date—that were depreciated long ago and are ripe for replacement. Those businesses are looking for ways to weather the current economic climate and differentiate themselves from everyone else. In other words, do more with less. VoIP delivers on that promise.
 You are speaking at ITEXPO which takes place Feb 2-4 2009 in Miami. Why do people need to hear what you say, live and in person?
As businesses react to the slowing economy, one of the easiest things to do is cut corporate travel. My first reaction to this was, “Good! Now they’ll buy more speakerphones from ClearOne!” But I’ve been a little surprised to see that most companies have slashed budgets—all budgets. Speakerphone sales to the road warriors have not spiked. What we have seen is a steady increase in sales to companies that are implementing broader teleworker initiatives. In this manner, organizations are reaping more long-term benefits by not only reducing travel, but also reducing all of the expenses associated with housing employees in a brick-and-mortar building.
Besides, I could make my comments from my Salt Lake office over a high-quality conference phone from ClearOne and be heard extremely well. But Miami in February? Need I say more?
Make some wild predictions about 2009/10.
In a bid for greater interoperability between social networking applications, Facebook, MySpace and Twitter will merge, creating a new entity named TwitFaceSpace.

Rich Tehrani is President and Group Editor-in-Chief of TMC. In addition, he is the Chairman of the world�s best-attended communications conference, INTERNET TELEPHONY Conference & EXPO (ITEXPO (News - Alert)). He is also the author of his own communications and technology blog.

Edited by Tim Gray

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