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Mind Share
December 2000

Marc Robins  

Two Steps Forward, Three Steps Back


Like a mystery shopper, I walked the aisles of Internet Telephony Conference & Expo, visiting the booths of the many, signed ConvergeNET participants. Actually, I shouldn't have been a "mystery" at all, as I had my name badge dangling from my neck and business cards at the ready. Not to mention my photo for all to see.

The many booths I visited were manned by people who didn't take the time to read my badge, didn't match the headshot to the person, and/or didn't read the business cards in their hands. Maybe it was because it was a bright, early morning, before the show floor opened to the general public, and they hadn't had their coffee yet. OK, I'm not complaining, mind you, because I really wanted to know about their interoperability demos (or lack thereof), and wanted the scoop, plain and simple.

Talk about excuses! I wish I was this good at making things up when I hadn't done my homework back in third grade. "We don't have any interoperability demos because we are a point-to-point solution," which begs the question: "Why sign up for ConvergeNET in the first place?" Excuses ran the gamut... from "We need an ATM or frame relay network to connect to," and "We were just too busy meeting with show attendees to get things working," to "We don't have any technical staff here at the show to engineer the demos."

Suffice it to say that I was more than a little disappointed by my initial walk down the aisles, where I discovered how few vendors actually took the time and trouble to take advantage of the interoperability environment we provided for them at the show. It is important to note that as time went on, more and vendors devoted their energies to making things work (I would like to think partly due to the subtle nudgings of my booth visits). By the end of the show, we had a respectable 16 vendors providing interoperability demonstrations, most of which were successful. (For a full accounting of the various interoperability efforts made at the show, see Adam Altman's excellent ConvergeNET writeup in this issue entitled, "An Urge to Converge".)

Based on the incredibly positive, vocal reaction of the keynote audience to Rich Tehrani's "ConvergeNET Challenge," where he challenged the industry to continue to work towards bridging the interoperability gap, and enlisted the support of the end user community to keep the pressure on the vendor community to deliver on their promises and press releases, interoperability is clearly a major concern of the end user community. It is an issue that has the power to separate the technological wheat from the chaff.

Some of the things we learned from this latest ConvergeNET experience are worth giving ink to:

Interoperability is a voyage, not a destination. For the most part (and for most vendors), interoperability is not a "plug and play" endeavor: It requires dedication for the long haul and tolerance for the curves, dips, and yawning potholes in the road to the promised land of convergence.

It is far, far better to try and to fail, than to not try at all. Sometimes failure reaps a bounty, especially if you learn something from your mistakes. We applaud ALL of the (truly) participating vendors for their efforts, whether they were successful at interoperating or not. It takes a strong corporate backbone to put your company on the front line and risk failure, and this courage did not go unnoticed.

Practice Makes Perfect. A number of vendors who have been involved with ConvergeNET since its first installment, notably Tundo, Quicknet, and ShelCad (now known as way2call Communications), have in fact achieved a kind of "plug and play" mode of operation. Having made and overcome their mistakes, they can now boast the kind of interoperability others vendors may only dream of.

"Playing" in ConvergeNET is hard work, and requires planning. One thing is for sure: Just showing up with your logoed denim shirt and a smile won't do the trick. Participation in ConvergeNET (and any other interoperability demonstration for that matter) requires a lot of groundwork before the first day of the show. This means making contact well before show time with other ConvergeNET participants (contact lists are provided upon sign-up) to plan, compare specifications, and determine what type of applications make sense to demonstrate.

TMC is also learning. We're not shy about admitting that we could also improve on the process. Since we are providing an "environment to interoperate," we can only lead the horses to water, so to speak. We are considering a number of improvements, such as scheduling a full dress rehearsal prior to the shows, where signed ConvergeNET participants can stage their demonstrations and work out kinks in advance. Our shows are simply too busy to allow for (or expect) extensive onsite debugging and programming. We are also planning scheduled conference calls with the vendors' respective technicians to ensure that dialogues are initiated and continue.

By working together, by prodding the vendor community to push the envelope of interoperability, and by providing a positive environment for testing and demonstration, we promise to do our part to help lead the industry into the promised land. 

Marc Robins is vice president of publications, associate group publisher, and group editorial director. His column, Mind Share, appear monthly in the pages of INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine. Marc looks forward to your feedback.

[ Return To The December  2000 Table Of Contents ]

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