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ConFuzed about the New Fuze? TPO Talks to CEO David Obrand
Fuze rebrands and refocuses on addressing what is missing from today's visual collaboration offerings.
Today Fuzebox became Fuze, and shared a few related announcements. We were lucky enough to chat with CEO David Obrand (known for previous success at Salesforce and Yammer), who gave us the inside scoop on the specific announcements, as well as some related Fuze developments. It was very interesting to see how he has guided Fuze's development based on similar principles that worked so well at Yammer and SF (for example, see the discussion on Analytics, below). Let's start off by diving into the announcement itself.
The New Fuze
The new name is an obvious improvement. "Box" used to mean a hardware solution and now "box" means cloud storage. Neither of these things define Fuze, so it makes sense to drop the box. It's also easier to use as a verb, "Let's Fuze after lunch." What matters more to me are the product developments, which really show the direction and goals of the new Fuze
New iPad App and UI
The new Fuze iPad app was released today. Fuze will roll out the new interface on the other obvious OS platforms over the next 60 days. The new UI will offer the same experience on all devices, making it easy for users to switch from desktop, to mobile, to meeting room, without hassle or re-training. I had the old "Fuzebox" version of the app on my iPad, and it appears to have updated itself. I created a new free account and joined a video meeting (with myself) in about a minute. Unfortunately, I do not have time to really test it out before going to press, but after the full rollout is over the TPO team will be sure to run it through its paces and let you know our thoughts. But for now, here is some more of what we do know about the new UI.
Fuze has always been known for a strong focus on UI and user experience. They were one of the first companies to create a successful (and well-reviewed) productized, commercialized, platform leveraging the leading Vidyo SVC technology. While their UI was also leading at one time, it had simply become outdated. Today's users do not want to flip through menus, we want icon driven experiences. The new Fuze UI is completely icon based, with a very intuitive layout and minimal learning curve. Even advanced features, like recording, are very easy.
Analytics Based Approach
Rather than detailing the UI icon by icon, it might be more helpful to describe the overall philosophy that David Obrand shared with us. At Fuze, product development is directly influenced by unexpectedly deep and power analytics of user productivity rates and related behaviors. David believes in "capturing the usage and innovating with relevance." Furthermore the product itself offers similarly powerful analytics to its users, to help them even further increase ROI. It's analytics at every level.
The Fuze experience includes a lot more than quality audio and video. There are a number of unique workflow elements (see discussion below) which have been included and developed after careful stuff of existing user's habits and preferences. While we do expect vendors to base their updates on good data, what is really interesting is how Fuze passes this power on to its users.
Users are provided with analytics and supporting data throughout the Fuze workflow. Prior to meetings, users can access an "Overview" page with key information such as meeting agenda, invitee list, documents, recordings, etc. After meetings a summary page with relevant info is available. But that is just the top level. Users can dig to the level of tracking individual speaker's mic activity. Does your team have a well-meaning member who doesn't realize he is dominating every meeting? Perhaps presenting him with the metrics showing that he talks 187% more than the boss might give him the hint. This is just one example, but unfortunately we don't have time to go through all available analytics here. Regardless, it is clear that Fuze isn't satisfied with selling a well received service, they want their users to be able to self-generate the data proving that their use of Fuze is a productivity enhancer.
User Experience and Workflow
Fuze is designed to address the fact that workers spend 30% of their time hunting down other people or materials. Eliminating those tasks is an obvious winner from a productivity standpoint. But you can't just throw communications technology at workers and expect success. You have to look at what is and isn't working and fix it. For example, David Obrand noted that we take it for granted that people don't want to go to a kiosk or special room to send an email, but we expect them to do so for video. That will never work. Fuze is based on a person to person calling dynamic, not device to device. Even during a call, a person can easily switch from device to device (think about walking into your office while on audio/mobile, then popping up video on the desktop as you sit down). But there is more to the puzzle than mobility and flexibility.
Issues such as user comfort are also important, and often neglected by VC vendors. It isn't enough to just make the video connection work, we should be thinking about how users look and feel as they join a meeting. Typically, we look bad when we join a meeting. We are fumbling with our cameras and microphones, and generally looking unprofessional. Fuze offers a "Green Room" which allows users to check their self-view and adjust audio settings before joining the real meeting, allowing users to put their best foot forward in every meeting.
Another workflow issue often neglected by VC vendors is the meeting experience itself. Why not provide additional tools and context to make a video meeting room, into a true online workspace. Fuze shared their roadmap plan for permanent Fuze spaces, which will create a persistent environment hosting all shared project resources. I really like this workflow, as it mirrors the intuitive "war room" workflow we all know and love. A dedicated project space, available to anyone on the project at any time. While Fuze isn't the only vendor out there with the persistent space model (Acano being the most closely associated with the concept), it is still very cutting edge and has massive disruptive potential.
We also like the deep integration with Google Calendar and MS Outlook/Lync. Like many vendors, Fuze has plug-ins allowing users to schedule, create, and launch meetings from within these standard apps. What was particularly interesting is their support from within the Fuze interface. As expected, users create Outlook / Google calendar entries from within Fuze UI. But what I didn't expect was the ability to import your entire existing calendar into the Fuze UI, and "upgrade" any existing scheduled meeting into a Fuze meeting. Fuze appears to have UC in its sights, as works to make its UI a home base for users.
One final workflow issue to discuss is interoperability. We used Fuze for our briefing and were connected with a variety of desktop, mobile, and meeting room solutions (see pic above). Allowing users to call on the device of their choice, as explained above, is key to enabling viral growth and adoption.
The BT Partnership
Fuze also announced a new partnership with BT today. While VoIP is often the answer for audio, sometimes it just simply isn't available and we need to rely on the good old PSTN phone network. By partnering with BT they are adding a global telephony partner to their own global video infrastructure. They are also putting just as much effort into the workflow and UI of this integration as all their other features. The result will be a scenario where the meeting moderator is notified of an attendee's bandwidth issue and can seamless switch that user to PSTN without disturbing the meeting or requiring the user to deal with complicated gateways.
Freemium models come in a few flavors. This one is very heavy on the "Free" side. Pro users ($8 per month) get unlimited free toll-audio, larger meeting sizes, and recording functionality. Fuze is clearly shooting for virality here, over short term profits. Fuze is well aware of the massive user gap in the visual collaboration world. The typical worker needs more than Skype, but can't either can't afford, or can't manage the complexity of, a business class solution. This segment of the market is first starting to become aware of viable options like Fuze and is more open to trying them out than ever (due to the success of commercial VC like Google Hangouts). The most exciting thing is that this is a relatively open market. Fuze doesn't need to displace anyone to become the market standard, they just have to beat the rest of the herd that is now rushing to fill this gap. With this in mind, going viral is a smart strategy.
Fuze, while not a new player in the market, represents the new kind of thinking in the industry that TPO News strongly supports. In our briefing, we didn't waste time talking about pixel counts and frame rates. We now take it for granted that the video has to be high quality, and the discussion becomes about what is really important, which is how do we expect people to really use this stuff. We look forward to future developments from Fuze and can't wait to try out the new UI.
About the Author
David Maldow, Esq. is a visual collaboration technologist and analyst with the Human Productivity Lab and an associate publisher at Telepresence Options. David has extensive expertise in testing, evaluating, and explaining telepresence and other visual collaboration / rich media solutions. David is focused on providing third-party independent analysis and opinion of these technologies and helping end users better secure their visual collaboration environments. You can follow David on Twitter.
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