Monday, April 9, 2018

Using the Cisco Room System API's to simplify BlueJeans meetings

Following the code samples at https://developer.cisco.com/site/roomdevices/ it should be possible to create a "Dial BlueJeans" button that would lead to a dialog to enter the Meeting ID and PIN code to connect to a meeting.  Something similar to this:

  



You could potentially use a combination of "Custom Dial Pad" and "Prompt for PIN" at their linked GitHub. I'm not a coder and so far that top screenshot is a home panel button based on the "On Button to Dial" sample.

Yes - we have Relay and encourage people to use it for the OneButtonToJoin calendaring, but not every meeting happens like that. We have a contact in the directory that everyone dials for those cases. 

Through this bit of Cisco API work you could put a single button on the Cisco Touch home screen and have an experience very similar to other BlueJeans devices (like a Dolby Conference Phone and Huddle Kit for example).

Advanced mode Boss-type stuff:

Even more.... Since you are gathering the Meeting ID, there is a Customer Satisfaction sample that you could feed it to and have a survey after the call linked to the Meeting ID. The one missing step there is to push that feedback to BlueJeans so it could be rolled into the CommandCenter!


Why am I not doing it myself?

I could code my way out of a paper bag but you would have to hand me a blowtorch: this is past my skill set and time allowance. I've pointed you to some neat API's and given you what I think is a pretty workable idea. 
I'm curious to see what someone can make out of it!

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

and now for a change of pace

It has been a while friends, hasn't it?
Much has changed since I last wrote - I have taken a Senior Unified Communications Engineer position in San Francisco at a little company that is responsible for the great sound and video in yoru music, movies and television. They also branched out into conference phones a while back and announced a video system add on at Enterprise Connect 2018.

The last two months have been filled with a major deployment here at work while also trying to figure out how to exist in two places. You see, since my family and I have been established in the Tacoma area and with a daughter in high school, I don't want to move everyone down to the most expensive area of the left coast just yet. So I am splitting my time about 80% in the bay and then home for the rest. It is not easy, but it is becoming more familiar.

So about the work.....
   We are a major partner with BlueJeans so I jumped into the deep end of the pool right away to move all of our conference phones straight onto a new BlueJeans software and connect all of our Cisco VCS-based video infrastructure to BlueJeans and their Relay services that enable One Button To Join on almost any standards-based-endpoint.
   The Cisco infrastructure and endpoints are in need of some TLC as well so I've started learning and exploring their configurations. It's fun to do this part because sometimes there are creative things you discover but more often I learn so much by wondering why someone did something. Manual phone books in TMS for example - I will never understand how that is a good idea!
   The cowboy in me wants to fix all the things right away but I am measuring myself because My philosophy has been throughout this blog to document all the things and leave things so the next person can pick up where you left off.

Leaving things....
    With a long story made short, I did not leave everything as I wanted at my former place of work. There simply was not time and as the sole person knowing a technology, as much as I tried to share info I was never sure if that information was received.
    I think IT Organizations should place greater emphasis on some repository of information. It doesn't have to be pretty, but that helps. One place where all passwords are stored and one place where people should keep notes about the things they do. This isn't tickets or change control... let it be free-form open notepads if that works, but start somewhere.
    At my new place, we use combinations of Sharepoint for communication outside our group, Confluence and Box (and Box Notes) for internal things and even some SmartSheets. Then a common but hard to manage online password storage tool. These seem to work but I think part of that is a constant push to keep things off your computer and to share info. Frankly, the less I keep on my computer the better but that same practice makes it easier to share data with those that need it.


I will try to expand on these more and talk about my experience with BlueJeans (short take: it is nice) in the coming days. Now that I have my own little room I should have more time to myself, but I'm also going to start on a Cisco CyberOps course next month.


Friday, January 12, 2018

The tools I use - what do you need first when you get a new computer?

Rejoice for the year is new and I get a new work computer! As I'm setting this up, I figured I might as well go over some of the most important essential tools I use to do my job. By no means is this list exhaustive or complete; instead it cover the thing I am installing on day one because I know I'll be using them tomorrow when I have to go back and fix what I couldn't touch today....

General Tools I Use:

LastPass *- Because I have a million passwords I use LastPass to manage them. It will also autofill them in Chrome and Firefox as well as on my Android phone and my Chromebook. This becomes essential as I start installing new apps and logging into new webpages. I turn off most of the "Show" notifications though as well as autofill because many admin webpages I use have password fields that would be best left unchanged. PS, I love setting the password length to crazy long - minimum 50 characters :)
SnagIt - Before I make any sort of change it is always important to make a backup but it is also helpful to screenshot things first too. SnagIt is the easiest clipping and fast editing tool I have found so far. I'll also use it to screencap and then highlight settings I'm not too fond of and then I'll email them to the responsible parties. I'm like that.
Notepad++ with Plugin Manager and Compare plugin - Simple editing of text files, but with the Compare plugin you can see why one endpoint works and the other doesn't.
KiTTY - yes PuTTY is what everyone knows, but KiTTY offers some additional features like login scripting and passwords.
Wireshark - If I have to explain this, you are in the wrong business.
7zip -  We have to work with compressed files that are not .zip files all the time, so using 7zip is quick and reliable.
Evernote *- I use Evernote for most of my documentation and note taking and the cross-device sync function is absolutely killer for people on the move. (remember - don't store confidential or proprietary info in your personal cloud service!)
FileZilla - It is infrequent that I need an FTP application but this one is still updated so here ya go....
Royal TS - I don't quite know how to describe RoyalTS; Terminal Services, Remote Desktop, SSH console, VMWare things... It's a crazy powerful connection manager and a single pane of glass to work with almost every kind of system.
Google Backup and Sync - You should never use a personal cloud service for work files so I strictly use Google Backup and Sync and a synced folder to drop PDF release notes, install and config guides and other things of that nature so I can read them from my phone on the way home or from another computer - kind of like a cloud USB key.

What do you use or need?

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Reflecting on the year both personally and professionally

As the year comes to a close we frequently reflect back on what we have done. This is my first year of blogging so it's been the BEST ever!

A winter journey to Miami to connect with our headquarters made last winter more bearable. Then a little surgery followed up with a week of training in Dallas. It had been a long time since I had spent any time in Texas; it was more pleasant than I expected. So a few months later I followed up with additional training in Houston. In-between all of that my employer opened up a new building in Seattle that I had key involvements with. Oh, and the paychecks started coming from someone else (unfortunately) even though the job didn't really change.

As the year progressed I began an effort to be more active in social media as a technical professional whereas previously I was just a professional joker. When the 140 characters of Twitter no longer sufficed I expanded here. I attended many Microsoft Skype user groups and training, plus (as mentioned) even more Cisco Collaboration training, conferences and Cisco Champion program shenanigans.

I decided that working within the realms of my production corporate environment was not experimental enough, so a quick jaunt into the world of my own personal Microsoft Office 365 environment then later into Google's G Suite let me see what other environments could be like. This allowed chances to connect collaboration and telepresence products in new way and to fiddle with ones I have not otherwise been exposed to.

My family and I have adventured to Spokane Washington, where according to the hotel receptionist the most fun thing to do is drive to Montana! There was a day trip to Portland, Oregon but far more exciting was our 2017 Solar Eclipse impromptu excursion to Springfield (home of the Simpsons)! The typical 6 hour return drive only took us 14 hours! Camping out in a motorhome along the Canadian border got wedged in there too. More recently though, we experienced our first Oktoberfest in the mountain town of Leavenworth; where lederhosen were made for snapping and the hotel rates were astronomical. We might go back this weekend to see them light up the town.

I took up a new hobby, so considering it would be motorcycling it was only appropriate to do this come October. A solid 3 weeks of great weather and a fancy new 2017 Honda Rebel 500 has provided distraction as the season has turned colder. Or did it amplify my attention to the bitter wetness preventing me from riding? One shall see....

Thank you for sticking with me this year. I plan to make the next year more exciting and of course to share more!

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Meetings sucked but they don't have to anymore!

Today I attended a seminar about the modern meeting. Thank you to Logitech who sponsored the seminar, and also to Microsoft and Pexip who presented, and finally to the guest speaker, Dave Michels, who gave an excellent talk which i will borrow from and expand upon below. These are my words and ideas, but Dave reinforced them and made me want to write a little about them here.

Let's reflect on a simple truth - meetings suck.

They are an anachronism from a time of TPS reports and heavily regimented hierarchical structures incompatible with the modern American organization.

Do you come out of a weekly 60 minute status/team meeting and feel 120 minutes older?
     I know I do...

Meetings must die.
     Long live the meeting!

Just to get started, here are my recommendations for meetings:

  • Never host or goto a meeting without a clear agenda or purpose
    • Include the agenda in the meeting invitation and relevant documents with the meeting (or even better - links to them)
  • Never schedule a meeting for something that can be handled in email or IM
    • Remember that status reports and project updates should be a part of a project management system and not a meeting
  • Schedule meetings for WAY less than an hour - think 15, 30 but never more than 45 minutes
    • Ask yourself, "do we NEED this meeting/time?" - remember this is probably time that everyone can be more productive doing their jobs
    • Ending early isn't "giving you back your time," it's just a good idea
  • If you don't need to be there, then you shouldn't have the meeting
  • Meeting time isn't social or complaint time so a leader should direct the conversation so the agenda/purpose of the meeting can be completed efficiently and quickly (wrap business up before the social sessions)
These simple things are a first step in making meetings better.  Notice that they also discourage meetings. I intend to preach this idea far and wide because "meetings" are evolving; the act of consciously devoting cycles to stopping work and talking about your work has been componentized and redistributed in function by a number of different tools. Decades of thought have gone into this but the changes have come very quickly and are remain is a huge state of flux as the competitive markets see who wins.

What is changing these meetings? 
In the IT world a dozen or so years of Project Management, ITIL, and many other methodologies have standardized business practices. When we all work the same way, or at least have an understanding of how we should work towards a goal, we don't need to meet as often to figure out how we will wing our way through the next week. Standardization helps!    With this, we have many tools to track projects, assign tasks, and fiddle with all kinda of levers that traditionally we had meetings for. Just look at email - it killed the memo and has been leveraged to avoid meetings for forty years now! Many other areas have seen similar standardization and tools come into regular usage and we can always use them to reduce wasted meeting time.

Video and voice conferencing has become pervasive in the workplace and in our everyday lives. We've tied these into our phone systems and added messaging and made them all work from everywhere. This rapidly changing technology is nearly commoditized such that everyone everywhere can communicate as if they were in an old-fashioned meeting but in a short ad-hoc impromptu way. This can avoid the interruptive nature of a scheduled meeting yet still allow the face to face productive benefits than single model communications cannot.
Think about communications in the different models we might use: written < verbal < documents < visual. Each model provides more information and therefore more context than the previous but also requires more attention. Retention also increases with each as well.
The coming revolution might lie in what Dave referred to as "Work Stream Apps." I like that name as it appropriately describes what Slack, Cisco Spark, Microsoft Teams and similar can do. Think  about those models I just described; each was completely separate not long ago. Talking to someone on a phone required a very separate set of infrastructure than sending them a document but how often did you have to do both at the same time? A work stream app allows you to multitask your communication (or meeting) such that textual messages exist in the same space as the documents they reference and those involved can start a voice call about the topic instantly without leaving the same app, or even add in video participants. 

When we consider Work Stream Applications, the traditional meeting does not need to exist. We have distilled it down into a concentrate that fits better into the way we work. When a team or functional group is working on something from diversa locations and times, they can keep each other up to date without ever having interrupted their work. This isn't even an EOD handover - it's an active ongoing conversation (ok, a never ending meeting). When there is a situation that the keyboard/finger combo turns to head/desk, you can push a button to start using your words OR gesticulate a little. 

As I said, these ideas are in flux right now as the pioneers see the big guns crowding the market with their different take. Everything will change in the next few years. It is possible that "work stream apps" become too monolithic and are rejected by users. It is hard to tell for certain, but having seen how componentized these things are I am confident in saying that if you are in Collaboration, Telecommunications, Unified Communications or Messaging and you are not paying attention then you are behind the ball.


Meetings? Are ya with me?

Monday, October 23, 2017

The power of Social Media and Collaboration

I was asked last week about "social media" and work and I have been thinking about it a lot since then.

Twitter, blogging, chat groups and community message boards are definitely a very powerful tool, even more so in some of the more specialized fields like collaboration, voice, telepresence and UC. I am active in attending what user groups I can, but the online social communities really give me the feeling that I am not alone in this technology.

Some of the first user groups I ever attended were the Seattle chapter of the Avaya Users Group - it's one of the largest in the country so I was lucky to experience it. There is the natural chance to commiserate with people who handle the same stuff everyday, and the opportunity to learn form their experiences. But organizing these groups is difficult and takes a different type of leadership.

I make sure to attend the Skype Users Groups here - they are usually hosted by Microsoft and run by members and sponsored by companies and vendors with a keen interest in informing and engaging with their customers. I always learn good things - a few weeks ago we had a dive into Microsoft Teams (I came away impressed).

Social Media - that is Twitter, blogs, online communities, ongoing chats and the like - really fills that gap. It keeps me from feeling like I am the only one in the world working on this stuff. I get ideas from other, keep up to date with news, but more importantly I can put out my thoughts so they organize more easily. I'm not obsessive about my social activities and I probably overshare. If I occasionally sound like an idiot then hopefully someone calls me on it.  But really it has helped me grow and so I love it.

Please share your opinions and experiences! Has being social helped you? Where do you keep social?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

This is a technical meeting not a sales call!

I was on a call with Polycom today taking a dive into their RealPresence and Clarity solutions. Prior to my current job I worked with a Polycom infrastructure and took quite a bit of training in it. So I have a pretty good understanding of the bits that make the bauble.

The essentials of a Polycom infrastructure are very similar to a Cisco VCS-based system, and for that matter a CUCM too. There are only so many ways to skin a cat - h323 and SIP are universal standards after all.   Right?
                                            Right?
                                                        ok, basically yes.

Anyways, I'm not writing this up to repeat everything about the meeting. I found it to be refreshing and invigorating to exercise some of the beginnings I had in the video and collaboration space.  It was also fun to hear the senior architect begin to realize I was not coming in cold. I knew the core components they were selling and this was no sales meeting, no bs.

It also can be a reminder that we should always know the other products out there and always be critical of the things we use and know.