infoTECH Feature

January 08, 2015

Gearing Up for ITEXPO with CGI's VP

With over 35 years of experience and nearly 70,000 professionals in 40 countries CGI (News - Alert) is regarded as an industry leader in the provision of end-to-end IT and business process services. As its website says, “At CGI, we are in the business of delivering results.”

In true ITEXPO form, TMC has gathered industry thought leaders from around the globe to collaborate, share and learn about all the current trends as well as those expected down the road. Three weeks away from ITEXPO, CGI’s VP of Global Communications Sector, Mobility & IoT Rene Sotola allowed TMC to pick his brain on Net Neutrality, mobility, WebRTC and much more.

Does the U.S. need Net Neutrality?  Why or why not?

Rene Sotola: The topic reminds me of George Orwell’s Animal Farm and the animals’ slogan after their revolution:  “Four legs good, two legs bad.” Net neutrality (News - Alert) is probably the most emotionally charged question in our industry - the President weighed in recently as did the new Republican controlled Congress. Making this issue into a political one is bad news given the complex issues at hand. Bumper sticker answers don’t work. The question could probably be rephrased to “how do we best handle the explosion of bandwidth hungry applications,” or “is traffic shaping bad?” The answer to the latter is “it depends”. If we have plenty of bandwidth so everyone can have more than enough bandwidth for any application they need, it implies one answer. If, however, limited bandwidth impacts e.g. a video viewing experience of the consumer, then the answer may be different. The Net Neutrality issue isn’t helped by past experience, as some CSPs used traffic shaping to discriminate against their competitors, which continues to be a huge concern. 

Perhaps a good lesson learned is from Europe and the EU Commission’s proposal for a single digital market “Roam Like Home.” It was triggered by huge roaming charges - sometimes in tens of thousands of euro – levied by CSPs on consumers who didn’t understand roaming and streamed in foreign countries. Huge bills made headlines and the regulators got involved. On the surface no roaming charges within EU sounds very attractive.  On the other hand, if a consumer in Western Europe can buy a phone and service in a very low cost country like Estonia, where will the money for home network upgrades come from if a significant percentage of consumers choose to go that way? This shows populist answers don’t work. Just like striking the right balance on roaming is key, striking the right balance on “discrimination” in Net Neutrality, perhaps based on the applications type will be key. An optimal answer would be that bandwidth is plentiful and will allow us to have all packets for all applications travel at a fast speed at all times. However, if the available bandwidth isn’t available, perhaps we need an “application-class” based Net Neutrality.  The consumer may not care if his email arrives a few seconds later, but he will likely care if movie viewing quality is impacted. I wish good luck to Tom Wheeler (News - Alert) (the FCC Chairman) sorting this out.

What do you think of Microsoft’s decision to rebrand Lync as Skype for Business?

RS: It shows the power of Skype as a brand. It’s probably not surprising given that in terms of minutes Skype has been No. 1 in international traffic. Given enterprise employees may be using Skype at home so they may be more open to use “Skype for Business”.

What does the recent trend toward high-profile network breaches tell us about digital security and what both businesses and individuals are doing to protect their digital assets?

RS: Cybersecurity is a huge issue as we’ve seen recently in the Sony hack. It’s not only about financial losses, but also about identity losses, as happened in the Sony case: hackers published social security numbers of selected individuals and highly confidential emails, with health details of Sony employees and their families. The lonely hacker has now amazing computing power using cloud providers. However, a greater danger is state or organization sponsored hacking, which is modeled on a military operation: planning the attack, surveillance, attack execution and lessons learned. This is a never-ending cycle and we need to acknowledge that. When an attack succeeds and results in the harm of the enterprise, questions are asked about due diligence and whether the top management has done enough to prevent the attack.

Different enterprises handle this differently.  Some establish internal security practices, which can do “friendly hacking”. Others involve independent companies, e.g. SIs, with the goal to take a look at their current situation and provide recommendations and supplement their internal IT. The ideal partner is not only someone who has the skills today, but also the ability to minimize the damage and bring the enterprise on its feet quickly. The staying power of the partner is very important given the never-ending security threat.

How is WebRTC enhancing communications today, and what is its potential in the longer term?

RS: WebRTC is a very interesting technology with a significant potential in the longer term. The fact that the most popular browsers - Google Chrome and Firefox – support WebRTC provides adoption tailwinds.  The headwinds are the video codec fragmentation (V8/V9 vs H.264, i.e. indemnification issues exist) and some CSPs sitting somewhat on the fence, as they are concerned about their toll revenue loss. These headwinds are likely temporary, as gateways can be put into place to overcome the incompatibilities and CSPs will likely realize that they won’t be able to stop this adoption.  

How often do you use video for business communications? Why do you feel it is/is not helpful in your interactions?

RS: I use it now more than a year ago.  The upside is a better “team” feeling when you see meeting participants.  The downside is that if a glitch happens, it can slow down the meeting.

How have technology innovations changed how you work in the past two years? What product had the greatest impact on your business?

RS: Significantly. Social networking implemented within CGI has probably had the biggest impact. While in the past you had to think who to email certain information to and probably got a proportion of recipients wrong, you can now subscribe to different topics on our internal network – we call it CynerGI.  This guarantees that the interested parties see the right info and can collaborate. This is now combined with mobility, as we can access the information on our mobile devices. 

Has your business implemented a Unified Communications solution?  How has it changed the way you and your colleagues operate?

RS: We implemented UC. The main change was the increased use of video conferencing especially for internal meetings. While different time zones may mean a very early start – I’ve had calls starting at 4 am, which was noon in Europe and my EU colleagues finished at 8 pm. However, if this saves an international trip, it’s worth it.

In terms of productivity, what is the most useful app you use on a regular basis?

RS: Email, messaging and CynerGI (our enterprise social network) for work, Skype – both voice and video for keeping in touch socially with friends and family.

Do you own and use a wearable tech product?  Which one and how has it impacted your life?

RS: Just an iPOD, which I typically use when biking or doing chores outdoors. I realize wearables are exploding and by the end of this year I’ll probably be using some of them.

How useful can wearable technology be in the enterprise?

RS: Very. In Healthcare wearables can bridge the gap between aging population and the number of doctors needed by determining some of the conditions under which an elderly patient should see a doctor, thus saving both the patient’s and doctor’s time. Similarly, baby bodysuits can prevent cot death in newborns by raising alarms when key body function (e.g. breathing) stops. It can provide virtual reality helping technicians fix issues faster. It can be useful for first responders – e.g. police identifying a dangerous criminal, firefighters being monitored when firefighting so they don’t endanger their lives, agriculture for tracking livestock, e.g. in the Nordics farmers get compensated when wolves take their sheep. Pet tracking has been available for some time, recently improved with the temperature readings. These examples will grow in time. The presentation of wearables, i.e. are they ugly or nice to wear, will be important.

Which is the best mobile device on the market currently? Why?

RS: It depends on the target purpose and whether we are talking about business or consumer products. As an example, I watch movies on a tablet when exercising on the treadmill, yet I still carry a laptop on my business trips as I can switch a laptop battery if I’m on the plane. This may change in 2015 as tablet batteries have a longer life and the modern planes have power in seats.

Looking back at 2014, how would you characterize the change that has taken place in the technology landscape?

RS: IT is evolving faster and faster. Cloud has been established and its use is increasing. Mobility has been mainstream for some time. IoT is taking off and we see enterprises realizing its power, especially when combined with other technology – e.g. mobility and predictive analytics. Cybersecurity is also a key element, and 2014 was definitely a year when this topic was featured prominently due to the widely publicized security breaches (Target, Home Depot, and Sony, just to name a few). Last but not least the usability increase. Very few users want to read manuals – they expect digital products to be intuitive and simple to use.

What is the most interesting or exciting technology announcement or enhancement of the year?

RS: I have two:  IoT and Blackphone. While IoT has been around for a while, it’s exciting to see many new solutions which came out this year and the avalanche of new offerings shown e.g. at MWC (Mobile World Congress) or CES (News - Alert). We are proud to provide some of the solutions, eg. electric vehicle charging, management of assets in public spaces which saves costs, rail access and road charging, asset tracking, iBeacons solutions etc. 

The second area is related to your question about the importance of cybersecurity: Blackphone with PrivatOS. Of course closing operating system holes and encrypting communications still doesn’t give you 100 percent security, as downloading the wrong application can still create a vulnerability. A lot of application data still resides on servers and if these aren’t secure, Blackphone won’t help. However, it’s a step in the right direction. One of the nice features is the ability of the user to allow unsecured communications. As an example, if you wanted to take advantage of e.g. iBeacons in a retail store or amusement park, you can use unsecured communications. 

What is one announcement or product you would like to see announced in 2015?

RS: I would love to see the FCC (News - Alert) come up with Net Neutrality rules which would address some of the issues I mention in the beginning and prevent abuse and uncompetitive practices, while positioning the industry for the necessary broadband expansion we need. I believe the FCC seeks the vote at their February 26 meeting, though it’s likely the resolution will have to wait give the strong feelings on both sides of the debate, the issue being politicized and the likely legal challenges whichever way the decision goes.

What are you looking forward to at ITEXPO Miami?

RS: Catching up on the latest technologies, seeing interesting offerings, getting an update on WebRTC and IoT.

What is your session about and why should attendees make sure your session is on their ITEXPO to do list?

RS: I participate in a Super Panel discussion on customer experience. I’d recommend attending, as the topic is critical for CSPs (and beyond): in a saturated market the key to success is stealing customers from the competition. There are many aspects of this topic, from time to market, innovative and targeted offerings based on individual usage patterns and pricing to the quality of service. Social networks in combination with BI can play a significant role on passing a verdict on such offerings and thus impact offerings’ success.

Rene Sotola will be part of the session “Customer Experience and Telco 2.0” held on Friday January 30 at 10:00 a.m.—one of many well worth being in attendance for. For more on all the latest technology and trends happenings, be sure to register to attend ITEXPO, the business technology event that brings together service providers, enterprises, government agencies, resellers, vendors and developers to demo, discuss and network all the latest innovations changing the marketplace. ITEXPO is being held January 27-30, 2015, at the Miami Beach Convention Center in Miami, Florida.   Stay in touch with everything happening at the event -- follow us on Twitter


Subscribe to InfoTECH Spotlight eNews

InfoTECH Spotlight eNews delivers the latest news impacting technology in the IT industry each week. Sign up to receive FREE breaking news today!
FREE eNewsletter

infoTECH Whitepapers