August 2020 Insider Report
The Most Important Enterprise Communications News from August 2020
August was a bit lighter in terms of enterprise communications news. But that’s not to say it wasn’t an intense month. The pandemic had considerable competition for headline space with riots, fires, heat, hurricanes, and conventions. Just as BLM protests were tapering, a police officer shot an unarmed black man in the back seven times. Beirut experienced one of the largest non-nuclear explosions ever recorded, and there were devastating floods across parts of central and southwestern China.
August was exhausting or was that just the record heat? The fires in California and Colorado are among the largest in the states’ histories. You can add the term “fire tornado” under polar vortex” to your climate change vocabulary list. India set a new world record of daily new Covid-19 cases.
Weather-related disasters continue to increase worldwide. The insurance industry is the only sector that openly talks about it, but it has big implications for enterprise communications too. The best adaptation I’ve seen is the Safety Check feature on Workplace by Facebook. Other emerging opportunities include disaster recovery services (for example Ooma’s wired-to-wireless failover — below), distributed contact centers, and ruggedized hardware optimized for firstline use cases.
It wasn’t all bad in August. In the US, new coronavirus cases slightly dipped, though a spike in the sunbelt created a new record increase in one-day deaths. Progress continues on the vaccine front. US stock markets reached ridiculous new highs.
From a tech point of view, we were reasonably well prepared for a pandemic regarding video meetings, messaging, UCaaS, broadband ubiquity, and more. Had this hit just 20 years ago, the WFH situation would have been a (far bigger) disaster. However, the pandemic also exposed the limitations to online meetings — there’s plenty of work to do. Distance learning is still primitive and there’s tremendous potential ahead for telehealth.
Pandemics are right up there with wars when it comes to great catastrophes. The last big pandemic overlapped with WWI and a depression. The good news is the Roaring Twenties came soon after which was the beginning of an incredibly innovative century that included TV and and the first boom in automobiles. It’s not too late for the Roaring Twenties to make a return this century.
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The App Store Fight: Apple’s app store is under attack again, this time by Epic. Last time by Basecamp, and previous times by Netflix, Match, Spotify, and I’m sure others. It’s a complex battle. I’ll avoid the fray myself, but will point out that both Microsoft and Facebook have jumped into it.
Facebook? Facebook is free, but its new virtual-events business is not. Facebook doesn’t think Apple’s commission is fair, and it’s now surfacing that this is not a new point of contention. Unrelated (or not): Facebook is also upset that the privacy changes coming in iOS 14 will cripple FB’s ability to serve targeted ads to users using outside apps.
Microsoft President Brad Smith claimed in a Politico interview that Cupertino’s app store walls are “higher” and more “formidable” than anything Microsoft ever threw up in years past. So, opposition to the current app store is where startups and giants agree. I don’t know if there are any vendors aligning with Apple. Presumably Google thinks it’s fair.
The app store came up indirectly last December when the Financial Times named Satya Nadella Person of the Year. When asked about Stewart Butterfield’s then-complaints about Microsoft, Nadella said, “The question he should ask himself is whether Slack would even exist if it was not for Windows, and his ability to distribute on Windows without Microsoft getting in the way.”
His point is that Microsoft does not play gatekeeper as Apple does. Slack and other developers can reach the Windows audience “without any tax collection.” But it’s odd to suggest Microsoft enabled Slack to exist. It’s not clear if he is saying Microsoft’s open model is better or that Apple improved it with a tollbooth.
TikTok: In the last Insider Report, I said the TikTok concerns about surveillance were overhyped and suggested that blocking TikTok in the US was more about helping Facebook than protecting Americans. TikTok was no more a risk than other adtech companies, IoT devices, insecure communications, and the microphones consumers install in our homes (there was an issue about iOS clipboard snooping, but several companies exploited that Apple bug including LinkedIn).
Though TikTok remains unblocked, it has been significantly devalued. If it gets acquired, it’s a shadow of what it was or could have been. Facebook used the window to launch its competitive app on Instagram, and the big talent has already moved. We now have learned that Facebook, including Zuckerberg himself, was the primary force influencing the administration’s concerns on TikTok. The WSJ reported: “In a private dinner at the White House in late October, Mr. Zuckerberg made the case to President Trump that the rise of Chinese internet companies threatens American business, and should be a bigger concern than reining in Facebook.”
We don’t know how this will play out. Oracle, Microsoft, and Walmart with Microsoft are circling the carcass, but none of these is a truly logical fit. An acquisition is further complicated by the administration’s desire to receive a cut. Someday, this will make an entertaining video. The other story is the “great replacement” of the diverse global internet with safe, regional nets (China, India, Europe, and the US).
Cisco as a Service: No surprise here, Chuck Robbins wants to see more recurring revenue at Cisco. The CEO announced major changes to deliver everything as a service — “nothing is off the table.” The Collaboration unit is probably ahead of most of Cisco. Cisco now has 78% of its total software revenue sold as subscriptions. Similar programs are underway at the other premises-based comms vendors including ALE, Atos, Avaya, and Mitel.
Ask Your Developer: Software developer and Twilio cofounder and CEO, Jeff Lawson, shares the value of unleashing software developers to enable growth, solve business problems, and drive digital transformation. His upcoming book is now available for preorder. The title refers to a billboard ad. Learn more in this TalkingHeadz podcast.
Email Innovation: Google announced a new Groups feature called Collaborative Inbox. It’s for group email processing. It’s actually an old feature that went and came back. It fits with Google’s strategy of placing Gmail at the center of its collaboration strategy. This could be a good solution for contact centers.
Edison Software is making its new OnMail email service available by invitation. The twist here is to democratize the use of custom domains for more personalized email addresses. It's intended to be an email address that represents you or your business better than a specific email service. While it does address a gap in the current market, what I find more interesting is innovation is returning to email — it’s not as if (despite the myth) email is going away. Basecamp introduced an innovative reinvention of email, called Hey, in July.
The Internet Crashed (Again): On Aug 30, an outage occurred CAUSING a 3.5% drop in global web traffic. The culprit this time was a misconfigured routing rule in a CenturyLink DC in Mississauga, Canada. It appears that a misconfiguration caused routing errors to propagate to neighboring Tier 1 providers. The resolution required providers to de-peer while CenturyLink rebooted its routers — a process that took about 7 hours. This could have been both much worse and completely avoided. Hopefully, the outage will contribute to better practices worldwide.
Contact Tracing: Twilio announced that it has been selected to power communications for the contact tracing initiatives of more than 28 cities, states, and universities. I don’t typically report wins in the Insider Report, but this one has significant growth potential.
Sabotage with a Capital C: In the fall of 2018, Cisco Webex Teams experienced a multi-week outage. The cause was not fully revealed, though rumors later surfaced that Cisco had been sabotaged. It turns out it was a disgruntled former employee who used administrative access to delete 456 VMs in Cisco’s infrastructure. An article stated that Cisco spent $1.4M to restore the system and paid $1M to affected customers.
The article said no data was compromised. That was by design. Webex Teams utilizes a secure architecture that prevents admins (rogue or not) from accessing user-generated data. Most security experts agree that insiders are the greatest security threat to an organization. Most hacks, including last month’s high-profile Twitter hack, are accomplished with internal admin rights and tools (at Twitter, user data was compromised). Finally, the stated financial loss figures did not include the harm to the Webex Teams product and Webex brand or the cost of lost customers.
Poly CEO: Poly announced the appointment of Dave Shull as its new President, CEO, and Board member. Shull succeeds Robert Hagerty, who was serving as Interim CEO since the departure of Joe Burton last February. Shull is new to enterprise communications. He most recently served as CEO of TiVo, and he was also the CEO of The Weather Channel (I knew they would find someone with experience in video), and he held various executive roles at DISH Network.
Shull is an interesting selection. He appears to have an operational background (and Harvard MBA), and supplier management has been a problem for Poly. I was sorry to see Burton leave when he did, as so many initiatives (Teams phones, Studio X, and more) came together this year. For legacy Polycom, Shull is the fourth CEO in four years. Poly is in a reasonable position, as the pandemic has caused explosive growth for its two biggest partners: Microsoft Teams and Zoom.
Here Come the Layoffs: The first US stimulus is over, and the second one remains elusive. Now come the big layoffs. The travel sector, restaurants, and retail are expected to be the hardest hit. I am seeing layoffs steadily increasing. Accenture just announced a potential reduction of 25,000. Also, layoffs have been announced at NetApp, Mozilla, Salesforce, Schlumberger, VMWare, and WarnerMedia.
Ring and Poly: RingCentral announced RingCentral Rooms for Poly that utilize the Poly Studio X all-in-one video bars. RingCentral Rooms for Poly is currently in beta and fully integrated with Poly Studio X30 and Poly Studio X50. I believe that this solution is the fastest way for any provider to deliver a reasonable room system solution. Rooms are coming back. On a related note, Microsoft Teams now supports live captions on supported Collaboration Bars such as the Poly Studio X30 and X50.
Logitech Swytch: Fortunately, the product is better than the name. The new Logitech Swytch is effectively an A/B switch that allows users (not admins) to easily configure a room system into a BYO-Laptop room with USB peripherals for A/V. It’s shockingly clever and obvious once you see it. The problem with room systems is sometimes it’s just easier to use your own device — but too hard to do so.
The Swytch is intended to be used with Logitech room hardware such as Rally and Meetup (configured for Teams or Zoom), but it should work with any room system that uses USB peripherals. It allows users to switch [sic] from USB mode to room system mode with a single USB connection. The Swytch is also manageable with Logitech Sync.
Phone Booth Returns: ROOM offers booths in two sizes to facilitate social distancing at the office. The Standard version comes with a whiteboard, and the Pro version is equipped with a Jabra PanaCast.
Cast Meet: Google is now supporting Chromecast on Google Meet. This means you can view your meetings on a Chromecast capable television over Wi-Fi. It’s a logical/reasonable thing to do — everything should be castable, but it’s not a very complete solution as it doesn’t address microphones. Still, I can see some use cases such as education. More interesting is the support of Google Meet on the Nest Hub Max.
Cisco Revised Vision for Meetings: Cisco Collaboration wants to make video meetings 10x better than in-person meetings. It’s a subjective measure, but I agree with the logic. I’ve already seen environments where employees prefer online meetings over the conference room when given a choice. The desk has the best view, best sound, and best infrastructure (paper, pen, apps, lights, etc.). Cisco wants to further improve online meetings with audio that is actually superior to in-person, automated notes and action items, and more.
Mitel Meetings: Mitel extended MiTeam Meetings to its MiCloud Connect and Teamwork clients. MiTeam Meetings delivers global cloud-delivered services via an integration with AWS Chime. The application provides real-time transitions between video, chat and voice.
MiTeam Meetings has what I consider to be a very important feature, what Mitel calls an “always open” design. This allows users to return to the workspace to review documents or notes. I am frequently frustrated with meeting chats that contain important comments and links that immediately disappear when meetings end.
Webex Classrooms: Video has obviously become a central component of remote learning, but most of the video vendors rely on learning management systems to fill in all the other gaps. Cisco is now field testing Webex Classrooms to “connect learning needs in one space.” It has become painfully clear that distance learning needs a lot of improvement.
Chime Updates: Amazon announced Voice Focus for deep learning noise suppression. Voice Focus uses pre-trained Machine Learning to suppress constant and intermittent noise. What is pre-trained ML? I don’t really know what this technology is. Cisco put a lot of effort in educating the analysts on how BabbleLabs is different. Specifically, it removes noise rather than muting it. Amazon says Focus can “suppress” unwanted sounds, so it sounds like muting.
Also, Amazon Chime became more global this month with new support in AWS regions Africa and Europe as well as AWS regional expansion in APAC.
Zoom Home and Home Video Devices: Zoom swiftly adapted to WFH. In last month’s Insider Report, I wrote about the Dten.me Zoom home device. I have one on order and will cover that more soon. This month Zoom claimed three consumer devices as Zoom Home solutions. You can soon Zoom from an Amazon Echo Show, Facebook Portal, and Google Nest Hub Max. Zoom will support the Portal in September and the others later this year.
These devices are similar to the Teams Device announced last month. I’ve written before (about the Portal) that these are the next generation desktop phones. Sound odd? They are always-on communications devices. In a video-first world, devices don’t need handsets or curly cords, and buttons have been disappearing from devices since the launch of the iPhone.
I have an upcoming post on the Facebook Portal. I got the Plus model which is tall (places the camera closer to eye level) and has a large screen. It has speaker tracking capabilities and cost me $279. When I ordered the Portal, it could only be used with Facebook (consumer) and Workplace by Facebook (enterprise). By the time it arrived, Zoom, BlueJeans, GoToMeeting, and Webex had announced intent to support it. It appears to be a killer device for WFH.
The Lenovo Teams device seemed like a great deal when it was announced, but it is much smaller, costs about $350, and only runs Teams. I am not sure employers will provide their workers either the Amazon or Google devices as they seem primarily intended for shopping and home automation. Zoom will work on the Amazon Show, but I can’t find anything that suggests the Show works with Chime. Also, a hat tip to the Android-inspired Avaya Vantage desktop model without a handset or keypad. Also coming up on TalkingPointz are reviews of the Poly EagleEye Cube and the Cisco Desk Pro.
Zoom Outage and Apology: There was a general acceptance of outages back in March and April when the pandemic was new. Zoom’s outage this month on the first day of many schools was more unforgivable. My focus isn’t the outage — every provider has them; and unless it’s a chronic issue, what goes around comes around.
Instead, I want to focus on the apology Zoom offered. It came from Velchamy Sankarlingam, President of Product and Engineering: “We deeply regret this incident and sincerely apologize. I'm personally disappointed that we have let you down and I am sorry for any inconvenience this may have caused.” That was nice.
While outages are common, apologies are not — and that makes them stand out. I remember when Apple apologized for Apple Maps. I don’t recall an apology from Microsoft when an expired certificate brought down Teams. Customers want to be recognized, and it shouldn’t be a big deal for a provider to acknowledge and apologize for a disruption. Though Zoom is a big company, it works to be more personal than a big company. Zoom live streamed an apology for an outage last April.
Team.Video: The newest video company on the block is Team.Video. It is separately branded but backed by Plectica, known primarily for organizational mapping. It appears to be a WebRTC messaging service. The app boldly claims to enable happier, more productive meetings.
I will say it does have some interesting innovations including a speaker timer; shared in-app notes; and some detailed analytics such as who was late, the amount of time each participant spoke, and who contributed the most non-verbally.
Team.Video is targeted at small-to-medium-sized businesses with freemium and $15/mo offers. Team.video is already the last video pure-play offer following the news that Highfive is being acquired this month. I wish them the best, but I still contend we are going to see an implosion in the video industry.
Teams Meetings Are Now Coordinated: It’s an odd term, but it’s in reference to coordination among devices, specifically an MTR and a Surface Hub. The Surface Hub was not designed specifically for Teams, but it certainly makes sense to use a Microsoft touch-screen display, camera, and speakers with Teams. Or not — that’s the issue. In meeting equipped rooms, a touch-screen can be more desirable than an all-in-one. The feature is really about disabling the Hub’s speakers and camera and making the Hub an integrated e-whiteboard. There is a similar capability (all-in-one or board configuration) with the Webex Board.
Other Teams updates include a new spotlight feature that allows meeting hosts to pin a particular presenter as the main video feed. Spotlight overrides individual pinned participants selections. Also, VMware Horizon 8 announced enhanced audio and video for VDI implementations of Microsoft Teams.
EPOS Launches Expand 80 Line: Audio solutions provider EPOS launched the Expand 80 speakerphone series. Its beamforming microphones are sized for up to 16 participants, but optional mics increase that to 32. Expand 80 comes in a universal version and a Microsoft Teams-certified version.
We Now Return Control of Your Image to You: This Outer Limits reference applies to the Zoom Filters, a new set of controls that give users more control over their image during meetings. These controls are both serious and whimsical. There are level-adjusts now for picture improvement and noise reduction (instead of on/off). I agree with Zoom’s intent to feel your best, express individuality, and build moments of fun into the day. Though enterprises prefer to turn those smiles upside down, so it may be perceived as a consumer feature.
Slides can be presented as a background (beta). This involves uploading the PowerPoint file to Zoom which will undoubtedly reignite security concerns.
The Avocor Interactive Touch Screens Now Teams Ready: It’s an all-in-one video conferencing, whiteboard, and touch display with integrated camera, stereo speakers, and microphone array. It also features IoT sensors that connect to the Microsoft Azure Digital Twins platform. I think it’s a room USB peripheral that includes the display.
Avaya OneCloud: Avaya launched OneCloud as its new comprehensive brand for everything that it sells. Avaya OneCloud has three focus areas: Avaya OneCloud CCaaS, Avaya OneCloud UCaaS, and Avaya OneCloud CPaaS. Products can still be purchased separately or combined. Avaya also continues to emphasize its subscription offers for all implementation models.
OneCloud replaces some existing brands such as IX (Intelligent eXperiences), Breeze, and Oceana with the goal of simplifying the offerings. The changes do simplify branding, but it can get confusing when using “OneCloud” with other clouds or even MultiCloud in the same sentence. That’s because Avaya is leading with marketing (new) and portfolio changes are coming. OneCloud is what it is today, but it is also an aspirational hint about the future as Avaya more tightly ties its products together technically, financially, and operationally.
AWS CCI: Amazon launched a new bundle of contact center technologies called Contact Center Intelligence (CCI). It looks a lot like Google’s CCAI, but includes AWS services. The bundle is made available through the AWS Partner Network (APN). AWS CCI solutions can facilitate self-service, live-call analytics & agent assist, and post-call analytics (Amazon Comprehend, Amazon Kendra, Amazon Lex, Amazon Transcribe, Amazon Translate, and Amazon Polly).
Amazon also made a series of small announcements regarding Connect, these include: 6 new online training courses, a feature that auto-selects the best TTS (Polly) voice, improved editing capabilities in the contact flow designer, agents can now hear network error messages (to minimize attempts), agents now return to previous status after a call, and a new CTI connector for Salesforce that supports drag and drop editing.
Genesys MultiCloud: Genesys announced Engage to be MultiCloud ready. Genesys has optimized Engage around containers that will work on all major cloud infrastructure providers (and private data centers). Two big benefits of this model are portability and operations. Portability ensures that customers are not trapped at the wrong provider (or data center). For organizations already using containers and orchestration, Engage can operationally and administratively blend in with other applications and infrastructure from an operations point of view.
Vonage Adds Microsoft Dynamics 365 to Contact Center: Vonage revealed a Microsoft Dynamics 365 integration for its contact center platform. Agents can pull customer insights from Dynamics 365 for improved customer engagement. The integration offers click-to-dial, screen pops, a unified interface, dynamic routing on any Dynamics data, auto-logging of data into Dynamics, as well as delivery of key performance metrics and analytics.
Vonage also announced several updates to its contact center in August. Live chat is now part of its omnichannel capabilities, a new PCI solution for self-service payments, a new integrated virtual assistant, and a clever use of direct routing so that agents can route calls to Microsoft Teams.
CCaaS Wave: Forrester published its bi-annual CCaaS Wave this month. It identifies NICE inContact, Genesys, Five9, and Talkdesk as Leaders; Aspect as a Strong Performer; and 8x8, Amazon Web Services, Cisco, Lifesize, and Vonage as Contenders.
A few notable quotables: “CCaaS is now the dominant model for delivering contact center capabilities.” “Genesys has unmatched support for large-scale and global deployments.” “Five9 has among the industry’s best outbound capabilities.” “While there are solid Amazon apps for AI, analytics, and reporting, they all require integration within each implementation, which limits Amazon’s strategy.” The nice thing about Wave reports is the transparency. They publish their weightings, and subscribers can even adjust the weightings to match their own.
Compared to the 2018 Wave, Talkdesk joined the same three Leaders in this year’s report. 8x8, Lifesize, and Vonage dropped from Strong Performers to Contenders. Avaya did not meet this year’s inclusion criteria, and Enghouse opted not to play. Overall, the gap between Leaders and Contenders is growing.
That said, readers are advised not to put too much into year-to-year comparisons of Wave (or MQ) reports. As markets change, so do the criteria and weightings, which exaggerate some differences between providers. For example, in this year’s Wave, more importance was given to native WFO and integrated AI capabilities.
Genesys Kicks CIC: Genesys announced a five-year strategic partnership with Infosys, a $13B global SI. Infosys will assume primary responsibility of R&D, operations, and product support for PureConnect. Infosys will also become a strategic GTM partner for the entire Genesys portfolio. PureCloud remains a Genesys product. There were no external changes regarding payment and distribution. PureConnect was built as a premises-based solution, but is often deployed as a (private cloud) service.
PureConnect, previously known as CIC, has been on the back burner since before Genesys acquired it from Interactive. It’s not as strategic as Genesys Cloud nor as functional as Engage. However, it still has a large, loyal base. I see it as an innovative way to exit the product. This allows Genesys to focus on G Cloud and Engage without the loss of the revenue or migration opportunity. It also adds a major SI as a strategic partner. Genesys believes PureConnect customers will gain “faster access to innovation” which is probably true, but I’m not sure if that reflects more about Genesys or Infosys.
Wix Engagement: Website-building platform Wix launched Wix Answers. It offers an all-in-one help desk solution that includes a contact center capability intended to compete against Zendesk. Wix Answers offers a multi-channel ticketing system, live chat, call center, custom widgets, and more. Clients already using the Answers product include Getty Images, MyHeritage, Guesty, Viber, Fiverr and Yotpo.
ALE Has a Nice Ring to It: Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise and RingCentral announced Rainbow Office powered by RingCentral. If this doesn’t feel like déjà vu, then you must have missed Avaya and/or Atos making similar arrangements with RingCentral. Similar to other deals, RingCentral will pay Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise $100M in cash for exclusivity and future commissions.
There’s a lot here. There’s the story of disruptive technologies on established vendors, there’s the angle that RingCentral built a backend for integration (see my NoJitter post), there’s the story of Rainbow (now a CPaaS) play, and no doubt other angles to cover — all of which are fascinating. As with Atos and Avaya, the migration path is mostly about automation and endpoint reuse. The story a few years from now will be how these partnerships worked for these vendors, their customers, and their partners.
Much of the development effort behind Rainbow is retained and will continue to live. This is one of the topics we covered in this UCToday video with ALE leaders.
It’s impressive how RingCentral has played this angle three times with PBX makers as well as with a few carriers — and I don’t think they are done. Transformation is really hard, and UCaaS has proven to be much more difficult than we expected 20 years ago.
Fuze Networks: Fuze announced BYO Carrier support for voice services. It is also the latest UCaaS provider to embrace networking services. It has partnered with four providers to support SD-WAN. For peering, Fuze said it supports connectivity from over 40 global co-location facilities.
Teams Phones: Microsoft Teams expands its lineup of supported phones. This is a really good reversal in direction. Microsoft has always been a bit sour on softphones and that’s understandable because they are not as versatile as the desktop client. I still clearly remember Gurdeep’s early keynotes where he pushed the deskphone and desk (on rollers) off the stage to make room for the future.
The problem is people like phones, and to Microsoft’s further astonishment they like cheap phones. There are three ways to make cheap phones: old school (small display and simple buttons), modern method (tablet size touchscreen and no buttons), and of course any method with economies of scale. Microsoft is pursuing all three strategies.
There are two big twists in this MS tele-saga. For the first time, Microsoft will be supporting some SIP-compliant phones (economies of scale). And they are similar to, but different from, the Skype for Business (3PIP) phones which just received a stay of execution. In both cases, they are relatively braindead, on/off-hook handsets (like most UCaaS phones).
Microsoft is also adding new USB phones. Microsoft is the only comms provider to support USB phones. I’ve always liked the concept, but they never caught on. Perhaps they were ahead of their time. They offer most of the benefits of a hard phone in a simpler and lower cost (initial and ongoing) form factor. They remind me of those hemispherical spare tire molds on the backs of some older cars — an evolutionary stump. Shh! It’s really a softphone.
Teams Merge: Microsoft Teams now supports Call Merge that gives users the ability to merge several calls into a 1-1 call or another group call.
Zoom Phone Expands Globally: Zoom expanded the international coverage of its Zoom Phone service to include 40 countries across Europe, North America, Latin America, and the Asia-Pacific region. It also introduced a simplified calling plan for multinationals. Zoom also supports BYOC, so Zoom Phone is effectively available globally.
Zoom generally operates very quickly and was rapidly expanding Zoom Phone before it implemented a 90-day freeze to prioritize security improvements. The freeze is over, so naturally they added 40 more countries. Speed (to develop and respond) is Zoom’s superpower.
Ooma Makes an Extreme Pivot: Ooma announced Ooma Wi-Fi that combines UCaaS with Extreme Wi-Fi gear as a service. This is a very clever expansion of the portfolio as it addresses common needs and provides provider differentiation. The Wi-Fi add-on runs $12 for the first AP, and $7 for each additional.
FBI and CISA Warnings on “Vishing”: The FBI and the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency issued a joint warning about the growing threat of “vishing” attacks. These are voice phishing attacks that are conducted over the phone instead of email. The attackers call targeted employees (via LinkedIn social engineering), and then establish trust by knowing personal or corporate information. The attacker directs them to a new VPN site where they are prompted to log in (to capture their credentials). Once the attackers gain VPN access, they swiftly steal funds or data. The warning includes suggestions to help mitigate the threat from these attacks, including restricting VPNs to managed devices only, restricting VPN access hours, and monitoring for suspicious activities related to domains.
Vyopta announced its “LI-SaaS” (Low Impact Software as a Service) products have Authority to Operate (one step closer to FedRAMP certification). Vyopta offers monitoring, alerting, and analytics.
Slack Certified: Slack announced its first certification program for admins. I had assumed they already had one. In the press release, this quote caught my attention: “Being a Slack admin is more than rolling out a new tool,” says Christina Kosmowski, the VP of Customer Success and Services at Slack. “It means fearlessly undertaking the process of changing how an organization works.”
Slack started with LoB leaders and other influencers, but Enterprise Grid is aimed at enterprise (enterprise IT specifically). The new program certifies expertise and provides tools for analytics, adoption, and integration. The Slack-certified program is available online to qualified candidates.
Slack Atlassian: There are the traditional tools, such as Microsoft Office, and another world of funny-sounding alternatives that include Slack, Atlassian, Jira, Smartsheet, and other Greek terms. Slack and Atlassian have a complex history of coopetition, but the two now are tight friends. Over the past two years, Slack and Atlassian shipped 11 product integrations, which now see about a million active users every month, with Jira being the most popular followed by Halp (now part of Atlassian). Several new Slack-Atlassian integrations were launched that integrate these apps so closely that the boundaries will be missed by many. The two companies are also expanding their co-marketing efforts.
Slack FedRAMP: Another sign of maturity, Slack has become FedRAMP Moderate-authorized. Meeting this level of security and compliance will obviously help with more federal business, and state, local, and even enterprise accounts as well. FedRAMP provides a standardized approach to cloud security, and cloud services must be approved before any federal agency can use them.
Teams Is Present: Microsoft finally improved the presence engine in Teams.
Not Persistent Enough: KPMG’s Global Technology & Knowledge (GT&K) group attempted to remove a single user account from an active retention policy on Microsoft Teams, but accidentally deleted all the personal chats of 145K users. It’s an embarrassing blunder for both KPMG and Microsoft. In July, Microsoft recognized KPMG as Global SI Digital Transformation 2020 Partner of the Year.
How could this happen? The long answer is: Teams’ records for personal chats are captured in user mailboxes and used for search, eDiscovery, and other data governance features. Office 365 retention policies use the Exchange Managed Folder Assistant (MFA) to process the records. Exchange Online synchronizes the deletions made by MFA to remove compliance records from the mailboxes to Teams, which then removes the items from its data store. The cycle completes when the deletions synchronize from Teams to clients.
The short answer is people, including admins, make mistakes. This type of scenario should involve multiple safety checks. Based on the warnings to other admins, I assume it was an easy mistake.
Bugs, Vulnerabilities, and Cash: Slack fixed a critical security vulnerability this month. The exploit enabled "access to private files, private keys, passwords, secrets, internal network access etc.," and "access to private conversations, files etc. within Slack." It was a wormable vulnerability that could have spread across teams and organizations. The bug was found externally, and voluntarily reported to Slack under the HackerOne bug bounty program.
This was a huge vulnerability, the kind that can take down companies and providers. The bounty payment of $1750 was a bit ridiculous in terms of relative value, and it was not a worthwhile endeavor for the researcher. The resulting social outcry caused Slack to change its payments on future remote code execution vulnerabilities to “$5000 and up." The bigger story is about the hacks that didn’t happen (yet). We are going to see a devastating hack that will bring down companies. Office 365 and G Suite are the big honeypots. Slack is a relatively small provider. And there’s a whole lotta companies in between.
Workplace Signatures: Workplace by Facebook now supports Docusign. As I’ve said before and will no doubt say again, it’s fascinating to watch Facebook simultaneously balance its consumer familiarity with enterprise requirements. They are steadily adding features that make Workplace more practical for enterprise-wide communications and workflow. Though I still think a digital signature is an oxymoron.
Messaging Backlash: There are two articles in the Goodreads section below that highlight unintended consequences of noise and rebellion of enterprise-wide communications. This should not be a surprise. I am not the only one who has lamented over Reply-All abuse, and team chat apps reach more colleagues more efficiently.
Enterprises are starting to feel the same problem we see in social networks. Facebook is filled with misinformation and falsehoods, but “Facebook” didn’t put it there. When you give people (or employees) a voice, sometimes they use it to say stupid or unsanctioned things. In the enterprise, the problems are content that is in conflict with organizational values, inclusion and fairness issues, harassment, and employee organizing. I predict that there will be a growing demand for more AI-powered monitoring and compliance tools as well as more need for consultative advising on best practices.
Ribbon Kandy: Ribbon unloaded Kandy to American Virtual Cloud Technologies (AVCT). Kandy is a CPaaS offering sold through providers. Kandy appears to be a solid platform, but has struggled to build momentum. Meanwhile, Ribbon has undergone some major transformation itself with a leadership change and massive acquisition. Evidently, some things had to go. It is not clear yet what AVCT intends to do with Kandy (or who they are).
Twilio Imps Along: When Twilio shared its second quarter results, we learned that the company quietly acquired Electric Imp a few months ago. It’s an IoT startup that had raised $44M. IoT isn’t exactly sexy these days (still no Chief IOT at most companies), but Electric Imp is one of the company’s fastest-growing units. Electric Imp’s technology helps enterprises connect IoT devices with data centers and third-party services. It aligns with offerings like Twilio’s Super SIM which has helped companies democratize access to cellular IoT connectivity.
Cisco Acquired BabbleLabs: There are two interesting stories here. First, as described by Cisco, the BabbleLabs technology is indeed the next generation of noise suppression. Over the past decade, we’ve been hearing a steady barrage of noise suppression announcements (yes noise). It’s hard to differentiate or qualify them. Cisco believes BabbleLabs is different. Rather than suppressing noise through creative muting, BabbleLabs is removing the noise. That may sound similar, but it’s not. It’s not just muting; it’s separating the speech from the noise and enhancing the speech and quashing the noise. If it works, it’s not an incremental improvement, but a generational leap. See my Tweet Thread on BabbleLabs.
The other story here is that Cisco Collab is executing. The team has seen some significant leadership changes this year, and typically during these times it’s all about maintaining services — not enhancing them. To pick up an acquisition is impressive. The BabbleLabs Team will report to C-Collab Leader Javed Khan (been in that role for about two months), and it was Jeetu Patel who did the briefing — who has been at Cisco for less than a month.
Lifesize Acquires Kaptivo: Lifesize announced the acquisition of Kaptivo, a digital whiteboard company. The meeting room whiteboard is clinging to its analog past despite all the eboard alternatives that have come to market. Third-party eboards are tough to integrate with video, and the video solutions are often not friendly to offline use cases. The Kaptivo board isn’t a board at all — it is a device (camera) that installs above an inexpensive or existing whiteboard. The obvious benefits are cost and familiarity. Eboards can be intimidating — especially the ones with cameras in them.
The downside of the Kaptivo design is remote participants can’t contribute to the board — at least not until the image is digitized. But it’s still attractive for classrooms, and the software does have some clever versioning, OCR, keystone correction, and translation capabilities. It seems like a logical acquisition for Lifesize that didn’t have a solution for boarding.
Smartsheet and Brandfolder: Smartsheet will pay approximately $155M to acquire Brandfolder, a startup that sells digital asset management software. Brandfolder helps companies with their content management across departments. Smartsheet said the deal will help bolster its collaborative work management platform. I don’t understand Smartsheet, but some of my colleagues consider them a collaboration (and content management) company.
ConvergeOne and Atitvon: ConvergeOne provides the latest example of consolidation that is occurring in the contact center reseller space. Altivon is an Arizona-based Genesys Gold Partner.
Intrado and OnSIP: Intrado announced that it has acquired Junction Networks, DBA OnSIP.
TTEC and VoiceFoundry: TTEC CXaaS acquired AWS partner VoiceFoundry. The deal will create an end-to-end CX delivery solution for Amazon Connect.
Parsable raised $60M in a Series D round. The Parsable Connected Worker Platform provides modern digital tools that help connect frontline workers. The funding will enable Parsable to “accelerate its growth including Asia, EMEA and Latin America; invest in its rapidly expanding network of global partners and integrations; and further deepen the enterprise depth and capabilities of its platform, with the ultimate goal of increasing safety, productivity and quality output for essential industrial frontline workers.”
Gong.io: For the third time since last February, Gong has raised funds. It announced it raised $200M on a $2.2B valuation. Gong CEO Amit Bendov says his company is trying to create a category they have dubbed “revenue intelligence.” It is trying to transform that process by capturing both sides of customer interactions and then using AI to transcribe and analyze. Gong.IO and Prodoscore were both featured in Innovation Showcase a few years ago.
American Well and Google: Telehealth company American Well filed to go public in what has become a huge year for companies that deliver healthcare over the internet. As part of the IPO, we learned that Google is making a $100M investment in Amwell at the IPO price. Google Cloud business will host Amwell's technology and partner with the company in digital devices.
Amwell's S-1 filing provides a detailed look at its financials, risks, and vision for the future. The company revealed it is also investing in remote patient monitoring, advanced analytics, lab services, drug delivery, and various applications of machine learning. More than 20% of Amwell's business comes from Anthem. Related, we recently saw rival Teladoc make an $18.5B bid for Livongo, a chronic care company.
This Month’s Goodreads
- The Pandemic Workday Is 48 Minutes Longer and Has More Meetings
- The Workforce Is About to Change Dramatically
- Bill Gates on Covid: Most US Tests Are ‘Completely Garbage’
- TikTok and the Sorting Hat
- Zoom has found a way to outsource censorship of its video calls in China
- Huawei: Smartphone chips running out under US sanctions
- When lectures go online, who gets to keep the copyright?
- The Zoom era has radically transformed political speechcraft. For the better
- Coronavirus pandemic could be over within two years - WHO head
- Why a Slack Backlash Is Inevitable
- Slack Has Made Remote Office Communication Easier. It Can Also Be Less Civil
- We were not hacked, a clever criminal convinced us to give him our data – Experian SA CEO
- Jerry Seinfeld: So You Think New York Is ‘Dead’
- Engineer admits he wiped 456 Cisco WebEx VMs from AWS after leaving the biz, derailed 16,000 Teams accounts
- Hypocritical AT&T Makes A Mockery Of Itself; Says 230 Should Be Reformed For Real Net Neutrality
Listen to the two TalkingHeadz Podcast interviews of August: Stewart Butterfield CEO of Slack and Alan Duric CTO of Wire.
As Director of the Innovation Showcase at #EC, I’m proud to recognize the following four companies that were selected (by judges) for their capabilities regarding secure communications: Journey, AGAT Software, Theta Lake, and Wire.
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