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
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
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.
To The December 2000 Table Of Contents ]