Disruptive Forces: The Leaders Speak – Mark Loney, StarLeaf

Mark-Loney-1014This is the first blog in the series Disruptive Forces: The Leaders Speak.

Profile: Mark Loney is the driving force behind StarLeaf’s vision to deliver a global network from which to provide cloud video conferencing services and the manufacture of a new generation of collaboration solutions. He is one of those rare individuals who has great insight into the art of the possible, gained from the successful leadership of engineering, product management and commercial teams.

Mark’s backstory: Mark co-founded StarLeaf in 2008. Previously, he held the position of vice president of product management at Tandberg, where he translated Tandberg’s strategic vision and direction into video conferencing infrastructure solutions. Mark joined Tandberg through the acquisition of Codian in 2007, where he served as vice president of product management and marketing.

Prior to joining Codian in 2002, Mark held engineering and senior management positions at Cisco Systems, Calista and Madge Networks. He has a master’s degree in electronic and information sciences from Cambridge University.

I would like to thank StarLeaf CEO Mark Loney for participating in this next series on Disruptive Forces in AV/IT.

CM: Mark, thank you very much for your participation. Please tell us about your personal journey with StarLeaf.

MLWhen asked, ‘What do you do?’, I find myself holding back from delivering a rousing speech on why everyone should use video throughout his/her personal and business lives. My passion was ignited in 2004 at Codian, the MCU developer and manufacturer, and continues unabated here at StarLeaf. Codian gave me my ‘light bulb’ moment and is where I learnt a powerful lesson: high quality video communications transforms the effectiveness of teams and in many cases the businesses themselves. I had heard this all before, but I didn’t truly appreciate the power of video communications, until I and my colleagues used it daily and discovered what it enabled us to do as a business. 

OK, so that all sounds good… but only if we turned a blind eye to the major limitations and lack of forward progress, which at the time was a major frustration for me. Why couldn’t we as an industry sort out the usability and management issues? Systems were hard to use, unreliable, too expensive and required specialist skills. Clearly, unless something changed, the vision of ubiquitous video would never be realized. It was from this insight and out of these obstacles that StarLeaf was born in late 2008. 

We founded the company with the intention of helping more and more businesses to reap the benefits of video communications. We set out to develop a complete communications system, with ease of deployment, ease of use and ease of management at its core. This has not been easy and we have learnt plenty of lessons along the way. 

We believe we have solved these issues and today StarLeaf has a broad range of high quality endpoints for rooms, desktops and mobile users all backed by a comprehensive range of services delivered from the cloud, the StarLeaf Cloud. Delivering this, is a robust, reliable and secure global video communications network, entirely developed by StarLeaf, with six points of presence in strategic locations around the world. 

starleaf-1014CM: Can you give us your perspective on the current state of AV/IT convergence?

ML: The AV industry is under pressure to become proficient in IT; [AV integrators] need to master areas such as networks, firewalls, security and so on, and this pressure has been building up over the last few years. On the flip side, the IT industry has mostly given the AV world a wide berth, due to the complexity and cost of acquiring the necessary skills, certifications and equipment. 

Less pressure is being applied within businesses themselves, where typically the IT, voice and AV/video groups are separate. I predict that this will change over time as businesses respond to the blurring of solutions, particularly as they become integrated, and at this point there will be no clear distinction between voice and video.

CM: How do you see cloud-driven strategies as being beneficial for your partners as well as the enterprise?

ML: The benefits of services delivered from the cloud are well understood. An enterprise benefits from the economies of scale of the service provider, the reduction in the number of people who need to be trained and periodically re-trained to maintain servers and other on-premise equipment, the reduction in risk of a large capital expenditure that turns out not to deliver value and so on.

These benefits are no different when it comes to video communications but may be even greater, given the overwhelming complexity and great cost of today’s video infrastructure and endpoints. The simplification delivered by the StarLeaf Cloud means that an IT group, within an enterprise can manage a vast deployment, which before would have required a much larger and more specialized AV/VC team to run and keep running it. This applies, no matter whether you are a large multinational or a small organization.

For partners who are VC specialists, the often-stated benefit is the transition to a recurring revenue stream. While this is true, the biggest benefit is the shortened sales cycle, of what becomes a much simpler sale. This also means that much less input is required from technical sales specialists, who, as we all know, are like gold dust. Another benefit is the ability to sell to a broader range of organizations, not just the large enterprises with budgets big enough to afford the infrastructure and the people to manage it.

For partners who are not VC specialists but IT resellers, the benefit of the StarLeaf Cloud, for instance, is that it is so much simpler and does not require heavy investment in demo equipment and technical staff that it is traditionally required when entering the video communications market. It is clear to me, that a convergence of IT and VC will occur to serve the blooming UC space.

CM: With the escalating usage of mobile devices as well as BYOD programs in the enterprise, how do you see your application(s) fitting within that structure?

ML: Our services fit perfectly with the desire to use mobile devices whether they are provided by the enterprise or by the employee themselves. Our mobile clients are equally usable whether inside or outside the enterprise network and that is one of the huge benefits over many other solutions. 

StarLeaf’s firewall technology, which uses a single TCP port and at most one UDP port, means that you don’t need to open up a range of ports, which weaken a network’s defenses. Our central management portal allows the administrator to keep control over who has access to the applications along with usage records for all users wherever in the world they happen to be.

CM: Any last words for your partners as well as the rest of the industry?

ML: The tide has turned — services provided from the cloud are very much mainstream. Who has an on-premise CRM system these days, with all of the overhead that it brings with it? Why should video conferencing and calling be any different?

The days of installing on-premise infrastructure to provide video conferencing are over. Yes, there will be the traditional vendors and partners selling their solutions for years to come, but we already see the decline in their numbers. It is tough in any transition, and the transition to video communications as a service will be no different. 

Transitions don’t make things easy for the incumbents but, out of transitions, new players emerge. 

Part II coming next week.