10 Take-Aways from #BSFTConnections

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Cisco/Broadsoft hosted its annual Connections conference last week in Hollywood, Florida. This has always been a fantastic conference. It’s a very global event aimed at service providers which see the UC world differently than VARs and OEMs (they also know how to party). I’ve been going to Connections for about 10 years, a few times I was the only analyst there. Connections 2018 had about 30 analysts,  more than double from last year (welcome to Cisco).

I previously posted my at-event wrap-up video. I’ve been trying do these at major events in 2018. They force me to gather my thoughts quicker which is good, but tend to be a bit rough as some ideas take time to form. 

Here’s 10 post-event thoughts and observations from #BSFTConnections 2018.

  1. BroadSoft is alive and well. There was some doubt that Connections 2018 would even occur. Cisco already has its Collaboration Summit and Cisco Live events. However, Connections is unlike those or any other event. Not only did Connections occur, but it was still called “BroadSoft Connections,” and Mike Tessler was still in charge. The only Cisco exec above him was Tom Puorro who was there for just one day. While there has been some turnover, the entire BroadSoft organization still reports to BroadSoft’s co-founders Mike and Scott.
  2. It’s a PBX dummy. For the past 10-15 years, there’s this perpetual myth that UC killed the PBX. I got news for you sunshine, it’s the other way around – sort of. When the PBX learned to talk IP, new services such as a click-to-dial and unified messaging became possible. The bigger idea of UC was to create a single solution/client for all communications. That pipe dream died years ago. Today there’s more comms services and inboxes than there were in the pre-UC days. The PBX is stronger than ever because voice remains critical. The PBX has changed though, it’s more likely to be a service than a product and adhere to the mantra of integration (not unification). The comms playground includes voice, workstream collaboration, conferencing, video, social, mobile, and more. BroadSoft was diversifying into team collaboration and video, but its core was always voice — and that’s exactly what Cisco valued. Now, there’s no confusion – a separate best of breed app. 
  3. The new bundle. The big news is BroadCloud + Webex as a go-to-market bundle for providers. Doh! It’s a voice-first solution plus a conferencing-first solution delivered as a service. The big change for some providers is the addition and support of Cisco’s enterprise sales force. This new SP-oriented go-to-market hits several marks:
    1. An incentive toward BroadCloud over BroadVoice (BroadSoft has politely been encouraging this migration for five years)
    2. A powerful combination of  two industry leading services: voice and conferencing (and team collaboration gets thrown in for free)
    3. An improved implementation of endpoint provisioning and management that’s ahead of most hosted offers.
  4. Cisco 2019 is all about the cloud. Cisco is not new to voice nor the cloud. It has a diverse and broad communications menu with something for everyone. But not all products are equal. Cisco is clearly prioritizing a cloud-delivered portfolio with its first string players being BroadCloud for global voice, Webex for conferencing and messaging, and cloud-optimized endpoints. It also plans to build-out a cloud-optimized contact center (currently in the mass hire stage).
  5. Ecosystem. The big question is what will happen to the amazing BroadSoft ecosystem. It was surprisingly very strong at Connections 2018. For example, Grandstream, Avaya, Snom, Yealink, and Polycom all came to Connections to sell their open SIP endpoints as they have in the past. However, this year the new go-to-market program has a requirement for the provider to sell Cisco phones.  This put a bad-kind-of-cloud over the expo hall. The good news is both Cisco and Broadsoft have a long history of ISV partnerships, but the merger will have some ecosystem casualties.
  6. One solution, two brands. I like the dual-branding angle. Cloud services tilt toward centralized branding and operations. It’s hard for an SP to avoid the “dumb pipe” thing (they hate that term), but that’s the result of OTT services. This offer includes two brands: an SP branded UCaaS offer combined and integrated with a Cisco branded offer for conferencing and team collaboration. Cisco is revising the playbook from an either/or to include both a global brand (Microsoft, RingCentral, etc.) and a rebrand/wholesale opportunity (Star2Star, Intermedia, etc.).
  7. Where does cloud begin? While service providers preach the benefits of cloud to their customers (opex, economies of scale, scalability, outsourced operations, etc.), they have a hard time believing those benefits apply to themselves. Resistance continues regarding the move from BroadWorks to BroadCloud. It’s more than ego, it’s sunk costs and infrastructure. Many providers have invested heavily in licenses, operations, personnel, and other aspects of their well oiled hosting machine, and these are inherently incompatible with Cisco’s encouraged wholesale model. The Flex plan that Cisco is pushing represents a fundamental change in the business for many BroadSoft providers. While Flex is presented as an option, realistically the status quo may not be an option if the Cisco sales force starts directing prospects (even customers) to other providers. Some SPs have some tough decisions to make, and not all of the options come from Cisco. 
  8. Timing. This UCaaS/Webex offer is great, but late. Cisco is the first to deliver an enterprise grade, hosted and global offer for voice and (audio/video) conferencing with a comprehensive endpoint line (plus a promise of something cool in CCaaS). The question is if the benefits of the suite can overtake the forces already in motion. Microsoft has its own suite with O365. Slack, Salesforce, Zoom, and others are effectively beating the best-of-breed drum. CCaaS is exploding with innovators that are years ahead of Cisco.
  9. The other shoe. The BroadCloud/Webex offer is aimed at providers. Connections is a provider oriented event, so there was no immediate need to answer questions about other channels. How Cisco addresses if/when VARs can participate in this offer is yet to be clarified. The other proverbial shoe to drop. This won’t be simple as there is a risk of channel conflict. While we wait for details to emerge, it’s notable that for now Cisco and BroadSoft have created an exclusive provider opportunity. Many software makers have struggled with this, and the provider opportunities have significantly diminished as premises-based solutions migrate to the cloud.
  10. No Surprises. There were no big surprises. I predicted most of this a year ago. However, there’s always surprises, so the question is when? The competition hasn’t responded yet, and the new Cisco Collaboration leadership hasn’t made any course adjustments yet. Stay tuned.

Dave Michels