An Insider’s Guide to Enterprise Communications News — May 2019
Here’s What’s important from May 2019 . . .
UCExpo took place at the London Excel Center. This is growing into an interesting conference. It is free to attend. While program content and vendor participation are improving, the facility and location are abysmal. The conference is filling a comms void in Europe, but it could be so much more. Just some small improvements like actual walls for the presentation theaters would make a huge difference. The great thing about UCExpo is access to the vendors (and analysts) — lots of great conversations and an impressive pre-event reception hosted by RingCentral. Cisco brought its big guns to a rock fight with both Amy Chang and Aruna Ravichandran presenting — sharks in the aquarium.
Google IO: Just a few weeks after Facebook announced privacy as its new mantra, Google jumped on the privacy bandwagon too. For both companies, it’s an appropriate shift that reflects modern consumer concerns. They both are totally out of step with their histories and business models. Google plans to expand support for “incognito mode,” which limits information sharing and tracking. It will also allow users to set retention periods of web and app activity to 3 or 18 months.
Google demonstrated at I/O 2019 Live Caption on Android Q. It brings live transcription/captioning services to any video or audio played on your Android phone as an overlay service on YouTube, Instagram, Pocket Casts, or anything else, and it also supports video chat apps like Skype and Google’s own Duo. It’ll even work with video or audio that you record yourself.
Of course, this likely means that Google will “hear” just about everything played on the phone. The feature is being positioned as a breakthrough in accessibility for “466M deaf and hard-of-hearing people around the world.”
Google announced that there are currently 2.5B active Android devices. It’s the most popular operating system on the planet. That’s not even counting the non-Google Android folks on devices such as Amazon’s Fire and most of China’s Android devices.
Potentially, the most disruptive feature in Android Q has to do with desktop mode. Details on desktop mode were buried, but Android Q has new capabilities for developers that reveal Google has desktop replacement plans for Android. The concept is similar to Samsung DeX, but at the OS rather than manufacturer level. Here, an Android phone can be docked to an external display or touchscreen, keyboard, and mouse and used as a PC replacement. The PC today is often more about form factor than performance. If the smartphone can adapt to different shapes and sizes, it could accelerate the decline of PCs. More important, it would likely unleash a new era of mobile-first workflow opportunities.
Zoom announced that it received FedRAMP approval that enables US Federal agencies and contractors to use Zoom for video meetings, API integrations, and more. Zoom for Government runs on AWS GovCloud, a secure network that enables customers to deploy applications and data.
RingCentral and Zoom announced a multi-year extension of their partnership, though without any reference to a time commitment or exclusivity. The Zoom partnership has been very positive for both companies, but Zoom’s expansion into UCaaS (Zoom Phone) has caused wide speculation that RingCentral will seek a new partner or acquisition. BlueJeans or Highfive look like great candidates to me.
BlueJeans announced BlueJeans Meetings for Citrix Workspace Standard to address thin client video conferencing. The service integrates SSO, Cloud App Control of Citrix’s browser-based offering, and Citrix Analytics for access control. Video and audio optimization is a critical component of a digital workplace strategy, though VDI often sacrifices voice and video.
Highfive released two new connectors: the Highfive Room Connector and the Highfive Meeting Connector. The Room Connector allows SIP-enabled meeting room equipment to join Highfive meetings. The Meeting Connector allows Highfive rooms to join SIP-enabled meetings with third-party providers such as BlueJeans, Lifesize, Webex, and Zoom. Highfive is on a mission to make video conferencing ubiquitous. Though WebRTC appears to be the future, there’s a whole lot of past and present interop limitations.
Duo goes Octo: Google Duo for Android video chat got 8-person video calling this month. A nice improvement, but still lower than FaceTime’s 32 and Skype’s 50, though higher than WhatsApp’s 4. Facebook Messenger supports 50, but only 6 are shown at a time. That said, I think 8-12 is a reasonable max, particularly since this Duo upgrade is limited to mobile devices.
Most of Google’s apps are largely the same for consumer and business. It appears that Duo is only for consumers. My guess is Duo will replace Classic Hangouts for consumers, and Hangouts Meet will be the video solution for G Suite subscribers.
Microsoft announced its Whiteboard app, which is now available on Surface Hub, Windows 10 PCs, iOS devices, and via the web (in preview). The app automatically saves to the cloud, supports sticky notes, converts photos to digital ink, and also works in Teams. The Whiteboard app and the Surface Hub are compatible, but separate from the Microsoft Teams Rooms.
Meet the new boss at Genesys: Tony Bates became the new CEO of Genesys, replacing Paul Segre, who will continue (for now) as chairman. Also, Permira Funds along with Hellman and Friedman, the owners of Genesys, found a new role for Tom Eggemeier as “a partner in one of the company’s private equity investors.”
This is significant news that didn’t receive much press coverage. My take is the owners want new leaders to make new changes at Genesys. Tony Bates is an interesting choice. He was the CEO at Skype for eight months during the period when Microsoft acquired it.
One theory is Bates was brought in to position Genesys for an IPO, but that’s an odd strategy since his IPO experience at GoPro wasn’t particularly good. It’s more likely the owners want to ratchet up the CCaaS offer and migration. It’s hard for premises-based companies to make the transition to cloud, so perhaps new management will accelerate the transition. For more thoughts, see my post here.
Talkdesk announced Talkdesk Agent Assist, a conversational augmented agent solution powered by the native AI within Talkdesk iQ. Yes, you read that correctly, not Google AI for CC though the operational description is pretty similar.
Augmented agent will become critical to reduced agent training. The entire industry is moving toward this solution, albeit mostly with Google. I like the idea of a differentiated solution, but with it comes both the obligation to create it, make it better than competitive offerings, and communicate differentiation. Talkdesk is one for three — at least in terms of what they have communicated. It will be hard to beat a Google or Amazon at broad AI, so specialization (such as processes or terminology of a specific vertical) seems logical.
Separately, Talkdesk announced a new distribution alliance with MSP LANtelligence (US and Canada). Talkdesk continues to expand its channel. It aligned with Mitel last month.
8x8 launched Service Management for Contact Center as a monthly service. The offering gives its customers a pre-defined number of support hours through a single point of contact for a monthly fee. Included services can include omni-channel setup, distributed deployments, enhanced IVR custom applications, and co-browse. As cloud providers move toward larger accounts, service and support become larger differentiators. We are well past the early adopter phase, and technical and financial safety net appeals to many organizations.
Serenova announced a partnership with Key IVR to offer an agent-assisted PCI solution for payments. Customers can respond to credit card information prompts via their keypads, but the agent can’t hear or see this information. The agent can see the progress and status of the transaction on a dashboard. An important but boring innovation, but I welcomed the opportunity to write about IVR again.
UC and UCaaS
Zoom Phone got a bring-your-own-carrier option this month. BYOC may appeal to some customers that are married or contractually obligated to a specific carrier. However, the real story is Zoom expands the global availability of Zoom Phone. BYOC leverages existing licensed carriers in markets where Zoom is not an authorized carrier.
Zoom also certified more endpoints for Zoom Phone. Now there are more than 50 endpoint models supported. Zoom supports telephones, but does not sell them. Also, a Zoom Phone beta was launched in the UK. The service has feature parity with the North American service. GA is expected this summer.
Avaya announced an acceleration with FedRAMP partner Collab9 which emerges as the exclusive FedRAMP platform for Avaya. I’m not crazy about the exclusive arrangement, but Collab9 is likely the best partner for FedRamp certified communications services.
Vonage has attained the HITRUST Common Security Framework (CSF) certification for its UCaaS offer powered by VBC. The enterprise service was previously HITRUST certified. VBC is arguably the newest UCaaS in the industry and positioned to become the broadest comms offering. It does receive regular enhancements.
Dialpad launched Dialpad Sell, a UCaaS enhancement for sales teams. Dialpad Sell transcribes calls, tracks customer sentiment, provides suggestions to questions and analyzes conversations — all in real-time. Dialpad Sell syncs directly with a CRM and enables sales managers to coach representatives with in-call LiveCoach.
Dialpad is the first UCaaS provider to fully integrate this type of functionality, but it’s inevitably coming to all major providers. Sell is an interesting mashup between analytics and Augmented Agent technologies. It’s an interesting blur of UCaaS and CCaaS.
Regarding analytics, we had two third-party providers doing this in the Innovation Showcase at EC19. Prodoscore was published in two case studies by Google (G Suite with Vonage and RingCentral). RingCentral also partners with Gong. The road map for these types of NLP-enabled services will capture a growing number of conversations. Prodoscore, for example, analyzes and aggregates conversation data across voice, email, chats, calendars, and CRM updates. The natural step from there is to omni-channel analytics, which brings us back to the contact center. CCaaS appeals to more than traditional call centers, and I expect sales teams will increasingly turn to CCaaS for better tools and analytics.
It’s pretty quiet on the messaging front. Though I did have the opportunity to meet with Workplace by Facebook in London and catch up with ServiceMax after its acquisition of Zinc. I am intrigued by the front-line worker opportunity, and realizing just how underserved they have been by UC/UCaaS providers. This narrative overlaps with the next generation of mobile-first solutions which pops up several times in this report.
In April, Microsoft made its Kaizala messaging service GA. This is a new, lightweight, mobile-friendly messaging app from Microsoft’s Garage incubator. Kaizala was initially launched in India and has now expanded to all Office 365 commercial plans worldwide.
Like WhatsApp, it uses phone numbers for authentication, so inter-domain interactions are natively supported with any Kaizala user, but it’s still tied to Office 365 and encouraged for team productivity, especially among first-line workers. Microsoft also announced that it will bring Kaizala capabilities into Microsoft Teams as an integrated offering in phases over the next 12-18 months. Though I have no idea what that means. The Kaizala road map includes sync with Azure Active Directory and improved policy management.
Loyal Office 365 users have numerous ways to message each other: Skype, SfB, Teams, Kaizala, O365 Groups, and Yammer, none of which are integrated into Outlook. It’s another reason prospects from other UCaaS providers may not excitedly react to an additional IM solution.
Team BUILDing: At Microsoft Build, Microsoft announced a slew of improvements (that will be made available over the next few months) to the Microsoft Teams developer platform. The improvements are intended to streamline end-to-end app lifecycle, new Teams APIs for Graph, and new low-code app templates. Also, there are several new platform capabilities, including:
- Message actions
- New and better ways to use bots, including in private chats
- Simplified authentication for Azure Active Directory-based apps (Single Sign-On)
- Tab improvements
- Link unfurling
- Reach users on their mobile devices
- Share to Teams
Unify Circuit Sprint 122: Unify continues to release updates in “Sprints” to Circuit at a fast pace. Sprint 122 has a strong emphasis on usage analytics and call quality. Other new features include support for incoming Webhooks, integration with OpenScape Business (finally), static routing policies for WebRTC to improve call quality, and mute persistence when swiping a call to a different device. I am sure Siemens AG will enjoy these improvements.
Teams Scheduling: Microsoft finally figured out that its Outlook mobile app should generate meetings for Teams. When scheduling a meeting in the Outlook apps for iOS and Android, users will now see a button for generating a Teams meeting link and dial-in code to accompany the calendar event just like it did with SfB. Also new, users can share their locations with co-workers using GPS data.
Google CallJoy: In yet another experiment in enterprise communications, Google released CallJoy. It’s effectively an inbound calling service aimed at small businesses that can record and transcribe calls. Other features include SPAM call filtering and a simple text messaging deflection service. It’s a nice value for $39/month, but it comes with some strings. For example, it requires a (free) Google Business (local city) listing. It also involves a Google-assigned number that cannot be ported out. It’s really an AI use case searching for a potential application. The concept is good, but the execution is flawed. See my CallJoy post for more information.
Microsoft DNS outage (again): It’s going to be hard to convince users the cloud is reliable when there are big outages every month. Microsoft sponsored the big outage for May, with two hours of self-inflicted downtime on May 2. The culprit was its migration to Azure DNS. The outage had a wide scope across both Azure and Microsoft 365 services including Dynamics, Azure AD identity services, SQL Database, SharePoint Online, OneDrive for Business, Microsoft Teams, Stream, Power BI, Planner, Forms, PowerApps, Dynamics 365, Intune, and Office Licensing. Microsoft has made it clear that the “DNS outage” was not actually a DNS outage — its DNS service was not impacted.
DNS issues caused an Azure outage in January. Another DNS problem impacted Windows 10 users last February. Bill Gates was famously opposed to Microsoft supporting TCP/IP networking back in the 90s, but I thought those days were over.
Smartphone sales are declining. Apple reported a 17% YoY decline in iPhone sales. IDC reported that smartphone shipments for Q1-19 were down 6.6% YoY, and Google’s Sundar Pichai commented that it's harder than it used to be to sell high-end phones. Samsung, too, in its earnings statement, said that it expects more pressure in the "mature" smartphone industry in the second half of the year. Apple is in a particularly precarious position with US/China relations threatening to impact its sales in China and the risk of tariffs threatening to impact its prices domestically.
While many of the smartphone makers are looking to new form factors and augmented reality, sector maturity and commoditization may actually be just what’s needed for a new era of mobile-first computing. Are PCs still needed? The alternatives are not quite there yet, but I believe the Chromebook, tablet, and smartphone will soon be able to replace the PC.
Samsung DeX is a great example of how the smartphone could replace a PC. Now Google may implement the concept in Android. See Google IO above.
The better story that no one is telling is, while PCs are in a perpetual decline, telephone sales are increasing.
Poly clarified its four priorities as a combined company: to make the workplace work for everyone (solutions to mitigate distractions), to collaborate the way you want (multi-platform solutions), mobile-first workforce solutions, and services that assist IT organizations with management and ROI. No big surprises, but I am anxious to learn more about mobile-first solutions.
China, Trump, and Huawei: The FCC voted to deny China Mobile's application to provide services in the US due to concerns about national security and law enforcement risks. Yet another escalation in the slow-building conflict between the US and China over telecommunications that includes an all-out attack on Huawei and tariffs on Chinese imports. The FCC unveiled efforts to give the US a leg up in the 5G race against China.
Also, Trump issued an executive order calling for a ban on infrastructure gear made by foreign companies that may pose a security threat. Though meant to target Huawei, it potentially could impact many brands including ALE and Yealink. There’s also increased exposure for companies, such as Zoom, that do development in China. As Martha Buyer wrote, “You don’t need to be a lawyer to recognize that, particularly with respect to the definition of foreign adversary, the language is generic enough to leave huge gaps through which a litigation truck can easily be driven.”
I have no opinion on the potential threats of Huawei or China in general, but the security argument is suspicious. Security concerns to protect the US doesn’t explain why US businesses are restricted from selling to Huawei. Why shouldn’t Corning glass or Micron flash memory be used in phones bound for Europe? There were also concerns expressed about intellectual property theft, but then why are other perceived culprits like Lenovo or DJI excluded? Further weakening the security argument, Trump signaled that a trade agreement could cause the ban to be lifted.
I am increasingly concerned that few things online (premises or cloud) are actually safe against hackers, which can include nation-states. This month we learned of a major vulnerability on Cisco routers.
I fear this trade war with China will get worse before it gets better. Apple may be the pawn that China sacrifices.
A few thoughts on Augmented Reality: AR is one of those fascinating topics that we know will have a major impact on the workplace sometime in the future. There’s a steady drip of new information that validates this, but it remains a topic of the future. Here’s some interesting AR news from May.
At the recent Microsoft Build, Microsoft attempted to show off its HoloLens, but the demo failed. As a result, it released an impressive video of the rehearsal where the speakers interact with Apollo spacecraft. Google also recently announced its Google Glass Enterprise Edition 2 which appears far more useful than its first attempt.
In a more practical example, Google put AR in Google Maps. Here, a smartphone user can point the camera down a street to get all kinds of supplemental information. The integration combines the camera, computer vision technology, and Google Maps with Street View.
New forms of AR/VR are still emerging. Looking Glass announced its new Pro desktop that does not require goggles or glasses. It is a full self-contained system for the display and interaction of 3D files.
There will indeed be applications for AR/VR in the communications and collaboration space. Cisco has previously demonstrated a VR component for Webex. See below for acquisition news from Magic Leap.
The most valuable private tech companies in the US. “At this point, there are almost too many billion-dollar startups to count,” wrote Paige Leskin in Business Insider regarding the PitchBook report. The list includes the following companies that are in or interact with the communications sector: Magic Leap at $6.4B, Slack at $7.1B, Stripe at $22.5B, and The We Company (WeWork) at $47B. See list here.
Twilio announced general availability of two services in May: Encrypted Call Recording and Pay. I’ve written about Pay before, which cleverly makes PCI compliance a service. My prior coverage of Twilio was inadvertently light as I’ve come to realize the company mostly publishes announcements (and other random ideas) via blog posts instead of press releases.
Tollring reported annual growth across its call analytics, recording, and fraud and credit management portfolios. Total endpoints/licenses across all solutions now exceeds 3M, representing a 337% growth YoY.
Twilio announced a public offering of its class A shares of common stock. The company expects to grant options for up to an additional $112.5M of Class A shares. The company states that funds will be used for general corporate purposes, which may include the acquisition of other companies or businesses, the refinancing or repayment of debt, capital expenditures, working capital, and share repurchases. Stephens Inc. thinks the funds will be used for a strategic acquisition to supplement Flex. “Flex has the most R&D dollars directed to it and the largest team of engineers in the company currently working on it.” I agree because cloud contact center is the most lucrative opportunity within enterprise communications, and Flex still has gaps.
Slack provided updated information in an amendment to its initial public offering filing. For the quarter ending April, Slack brought in revenue estimated between $133.8M and $134.8M, up from $80.9M in the same period a year ago. Slack’s net loss expanded to about $31.8M in the quarter. For FY18, the company reported losses of $138.9M on revenue of $400.6M. That’s compared to a loss of $140.1M on revenue of $220.5M the year prior. Slack stock is expected to begin trading on the NYSE as soon as next month under the ticker WORK.
Puzzel, a European omni-channel cloud contact center software provider, announced the completion of a majority recapitalization and growth investment from Marlin Equity Partners, a global investment firm with over $6.7B of capital under management.
Monday: Management and productivity startup Monday.com Labs Ltd is in the process of raising a new round of approximately $250-300M at a company valuation of $2B. Last year, the company raised $50M, bringing its total equity raised to date to $84M. The same month the company also received a credit line of tens of millions of dollars from LeumiTech.
Robin Powered, a startup looking to help offices run better, announced the close of a $20M Series B funding. Robin hooks into Google Calendar and Outlook to help employees get a sense of what meeting rooms and activity spaces are available in the office, complete with tablet signage out front. Meetings are the starting point for Robin. It intends to offer insights about how the space in this or that office is being used. This is similar to the built-in functionality of many conferencing applications.
Mindsay announced it raised $10M in series A financing. The infusion comes as Mindsay’s YoY revenue growth eclipses 300%, and as it prepares to expand its team from 40 to 120. Mindsay provides conversational chatbots as a service tailored to large hospitality and service, transportation, and e-commerce companies.
Enghouse stole Vidyo: That’s my take after learning the silent giant, Enghouse Systems Limited, acquired Vidyo for a purchase price of approximately $40M. That’s below Vidyo's annual revenue of approximately $60M. Vidyo was once the disruptor that was going to change everything. The company had a different way of approaching video and some powerful allies including Google, Nintendo, and Barclays. The company missed its window, overspent its funding, and was too late with its pivot to cloud.
On the other hand, this could be a rebirth of sorts. The technology, employees, and customers may be better off as it starts a new chapter under its fourth CEO within a larger, more capable company. Enghouse is still evaluating the opportunities, but for now it has not signaled any major changes or interruptions to current customers. Mitel and Genesys remain major customers/partners of Vidyo. 8x8 and Fuze were, but they recently pivoted to open-source technologies. It’s a head-scratcher how Mitel missed this opportunity, but Enghouse is a better fit as Vidyo has largely been moving away from general communications toward embedded and vertical opportunities.
The press release stated that Vidyo is deployed in approximately 400 hospital networks and in approximately 120 financial institutions. The company's platform and applications are used by over 1,700 customers.
Telefónica sold 11 data centers to Asterion Industrial Partners for $615.7M. Telefónica will continue to provide and manage the services it had already been offering. Asterion intends to now leverage the Telefónica sales network to market its full capacity.
Salesforce and Bonobo: Salesforce acquired AI startup Bonobo. Financial terms were not disclosed. Bonobo develops conversational AI technology designed to extract insights from online customer interactions such as voice, chat, video, and email, running AI algorithms to analyze the data. Bonobo has raised $4.5M. If they keep making acquisitions like this, I may have to eventually attend Dreamforce. I think 2020 will be my first year.
Magic Leap acquires Mimesys: Magic Leap agreed to acquire Belgian startup Mimesys which offers a holographic video conferencing service. Mimesys will continue to service its enterprise clients, including BNP Paribas and Orange. It’s an interesting acquisition. Note that Magic Leap made this report twice, as it is one of the most valuable private tech companies moving into conferencing.
LinkedIn gets Drawbridge: LinkedIn acquired identity management vendor Drawbridge for an undisclosed price. Drawbridge could help LinkedIn users "better reach and understand their professional audiences and measure the ROI of their campaigns across mobile and desktop." Since LinkedIn remains largely independent of Microsoft, the announcement was made by LinkedIn, not Microsoft. The value that LinkedIn can deliver to Microsoft in terms of both marketing and identity management seems largely unrealized.
Two omni-channel acquisitions this month:
Zendesk acquires Smooch: Smooch, an omni-channel solution, was one of the first partners for the WhatsApp Business API, alongside VoiceSage, Nexmo, Infobip, Twilio, MessageBird, and others that are already advertising their services in this area. But it was its longtime partnership with Zendesk that really paid off. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Its entire team of 48 were offered positions with Zendesk.
Zendesk has appeared in this monthly report several times with contact center-related news. The service desk is brilliantly moving toward a complete engagement solution. Last year, Zendesk launched a new CRM play called Sunshine, and launched an omni-channel platform called The Suite (uses Smooch).
NICE and Brand Embassy: NICE announced that CXone’s Smart Digital Conversations will be powered by its acquisition of Brand Embassy. CXone powered by Brand Embassy allows organizations to put digital at the forefront of their interactions with consumers. CXone now has over 30 supported channels, including Facebook Messenger, Twitter, Apple Business Chat, WhatsApp, LinkedIn, SMS, email, and live chat. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but NICE confirmed the purchase as it rolled out its quarterly earnings results. Interestingly, Brand Embassy uses Smooch for some channels. Talkdesk reports that it completed its migration off Brand Embassy for its omni-channel solution.
This Month’s Goodreads
- Robocalls are Getting Worse
- The Productivity Pit: How Slack is Ruining Work They moved to Slack because email was too noisy. The noise followed.
- Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint, and AT&T Hit With Class Action Lawsuit Over Selling Customers’ Location Data
- Google’s New Privacy Pivot Puts The Responsibility on Users Privacy is the new mantra, if you can figure it out.
- A Little Less Conversation Ramblings on the importance of conversation.
- How effective is basic account hygiene at preventing hijacking
- 5 Important Takeaways From Google's Two Year Study Of Remote Work Tech is great, but we have to change our behaviors.
- Google’s Duplex Uses A.I. to Mimic Humans (Sometimes) If that bot sounds realistically human, it just might be. Reminds me of Kramer and MoviePhone.
- If Facebook's Privacy Practices Anger You, AT&T Shouldn't Get A Free Pass Privacy is the new mantra, but only for certain companies.
- Gogo plans in-flight 5G for U.S. and Canadian aircraft in 2021
- How we scaled our startup by being remote first
- Nancy Pelosi and Fakebook’s Dirty Tricks Kara Swisher attacks Facebook’s incoherent policies. The issue she misses is there’s money (eyeballs) in controversy. On a related note, see this tweetstorm regarding online bullying within YouTube. FWIW TalkingPointz uses Vimeo.
- Fuze Flex Day, Boston
- Infocomm, Orlando
- Genesys Xperience19, Denver
- Cisco Live, San Diego
- 2600Hz KAZOOcon, San Diego
- No major industry events
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