Insider Report February 2021
The Most Important Enterprise Communications News from February 2021
On the pandemic front, February was one of the better months. New cases and hospitalizations are way down, more than immunizations can account for. Health professionals cite improved behavior (distancing, washing hands, masks, etc.) and a drop in travel and super-spreader events. There are places where cases are still increasing. For example, France and Poland have enacted new COVID-related restrictions.
The US health situation is perplexing. The CDC website shows fewer than 2,000 confirmed cases of the seasonal flu (nationwide, both types A and B) since September. That’s incredibly low, so all this staying home and indoors has been good. Or, since non-COVID-related deaths are higher than usual, especially those due to Alzheimer’s and dementia, perhaps all this staying home and indoors has been bad.
This month, the US crossed the COVID threshold of 500K deaths. That’s a staggering number, about equal to American deaths attributed to World War II plus the Korean and Vietnam wars combined. Surprisingly, though, total US deaths are below average in the past year.
There’s clearly some optimism that the worst is behind us. Though Dr. Fauci expects “a significant degree of normality” by fall, he recently said Americans may still be wearing masks outside their homes a year from now. Normal is a distant memory, and it ain’t coming back. This was the first global pandemic that affected so many in my lifetime. SARS in 2003 was similar to COVID but less contagious. The gap between the Asian flu and SARS was 46 years, and the gap between SARS and COVID-19 was 16. How long until the next one?
While there may be a light at the end of the pandemic tunnel, the economic future has many mixed indicators. It’s been a strong economy for over 10 years now. The stock indexes have long shed their pandemic blues. Most enterprise comms companies are reporting stellar results, real estate is doing well, and Bitcoin is doing incredible.
That Robinhood GameStop thing was a nice David and Goliath story, but no one earns points for finding (even dumb) stocks that go up right now. I’m OK with booming economies — just let me know when you find one. Unemployment remains high, Main Street and the airport are deserted, and I don’t expect business travel to recover quickly (CFOs now know that travel is optional).
I’m a bit uncomfortable about all this optimism. Yes, I’ve been accused before of being less than optimistic, but one thing I’ve learned is that nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition. We are on the cusp of some major economic shifts in retail, commercial real estate, energy, dining, and entertainment, to name a few. There’s a lot of moving parts with little margin for error. For example, supply chains are already stressed. A short-term spike in game consoles has caused Ford and others to stop building trucks.
Our infrastructure doesn’t have a lot of margin for error. The storms in Texas were incredibly disruptive, but weather-related calamities are becoming all too common. Last month, NOAA released the final 2020 update to its billion-dollar disaster report showing 2020 was a historic year of extremes, “shattering” prior records. And 2021 is off to a rough start, as an unprecedented coast-to-coast storm and historic cold snap hit large swaths of the US. The cold air was so widespread that you could have traveled nearly 2K miles from Mexico to Canada without leaving an area under a storm warning.
The global communications infrastructure is not prepared for extreme weather. We are seeing an increase of weather-related calamities (floods, droughts, hurricanes, tornados, fires, and heatwaves) disrupting communications, work, and life globally. There’s going to be a big shift in priorities, for vendors and buyers, from features to resiliency and operations.
General Industry News
5G Is Almost Coming: Last month’s record spectrum sale is celebrated as a win for 5G. Unfortunately, it did not contain any timeline commitments. After spending $81B for spectrum, who can afford construction? I expect years of horse-trading instead. The promised US 5G network (GB C-band covering 80% of Americans) will require about a million new cell sites at an estimated cost of $70B (2020 dollars).
Neutrality: Net neutrality content always requires a preamble. In the US, it died in 2017. Not by legislation, but by abandonment. The FCC determined it had no authority over the internet and opted to let the (mega) carriers set policies. California (Maine and Washington) opted to fill the oversight void with state-level neutrality laws. Good for neutrality, but state-level laws were bad for a borderless network. To stop California, the DoJ filed a federal suit, and several carriers filed state suits. The DoJ dropped its suit this month. Then, a California judge denied the telecom industry’s injunction.
Now it gets complicated. Federal net neutrality and FCC oversight haven’t been restored. Neither the DoJ nor the California judicial system interfered with a disastrous state-level patchwork future of rules. All eyes are on the FCC to avoid a patchwork of rules. The FCC is currently (politically) deadlocked. Biden needs to appoint, and the Senate needs to confirm, a fifth commissioner.
An Email Microblog: A few months ago, I wrote about Basecamp reimagining email with its new HEY service. I really like what they have done, and considering email’s popularity (and how stagnant its associated innovation is), there should be plenty of opportunity here.
This month Basecamp announced a new idea for HEY: an email microblog. The idea is that people have content to share that doesn’t quite fit the existing channels. Email is exclusive, as it has to be specifically addressed. Personal blogs are complex. LinkedIn posts may be too public. Twitter is too short.
Email is the internet’s oldest self-publishing platform, but it requires the author to define a private audience each time. HEY World is where email meets microblogging. Send an email to HEY World and it becomes a discoverable, shareable post organized by author — and built directly into the email platform. It’s just an experiment now but seems logical.
Clubhouse: So much to say about Clubhouse. I’ve been participating and hosting events on Clubhouse and developed a few conclusions: First, it’s fun. Second, it’s doomed. I wrote a longer post about Clubhouse on TalkingPointz. A few key points: 1. It’s the first social network that has actual conversations in its chat rooms. The power of voice is undeniable. 2. It’s another pandemic winner as many of us are longing for more human interaction. 3. From a conferencing perspective, Teams, Webex, Zoom, and others offer more features than Clubhouse, but Clubhouse has a social networking aspect that gives users the ability to discover topics and users.
As much as I’d like to see Clubhouse succeed, having few protections and big competitors can be tough to overcome. This month Clubhouse got a taste of the other side of success as hackers penetrated conversations. Consequently, it was exposed for not encrypting communications and using a partner (and its servers) in China. Alex Stamos, director of the SIO and Facebook’s former security chief, said, “Clubhouse cannot provide any privacy promises for conversations held anywhere around the world.”
If you want to try Clubhouse, consider joining us for this conversation on the future of phones.
New Android Features: Google announced new features coming to Android, including a new password checkup tool, a way to schedule your texts, a TalkBack screen reader, and more. The notion of being able to schedule text messages is counterintuitive but logical. People like text because it’s fast/urgent, but there are many reasons to delay a text. Personally, I often schedule email to avoid the “why are you working so late” conversation. Texting is even worse because not everyone silences notifications for sleep hours.
Pixel for Business: Google wants more business customers and launched a Pixel for Business website. The site promises enterprise device management and security (the same benefits Samsung and Apple offer). It is a logical move for Google, but it’s oddly incomplete. Google offers office productivity, email, mobile phones, laptops (Chromebooks), cellular services, room systems, e-whiteboard, and more, all optimized to work together, yet the “Pixel business site” is just for Pixel phones (not even the Pixelbook made it). Google’s enterprise efforts continue to feel halfhearted.
I’m a Pixel fan (phones and chromebook), but am the first to admit the Android ecosystem is faltering. Apple has displaced Samsung and once again became the smartphone leader. I reported last month that LG wants to exit smartphones. Google has transitioned from high-end Pixel phones to midmarket models. Fortunately, Microsoft seems to be embracing Android, but I think Google needs to rethink its approach. I’d really like to see Microsoft set up a separate app store called Work, and let Google run with the Play store for consumers and Microsoft manage Work for enterprise productivity.
Ballmer’s Last Straw: It was 10 years ago this month that Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer made the move to acquire Nokia. Neither exists at Microsoft today. The transaction proved to be about an $8B mistake.
Google Calendar Shifts: Long overdue improvement: Google Calendar has a feature called working hours that helps signal colleagues on appropriate meeting times. The feature only had a single start and stop time, which didn’t work for me. I split my days into morning and evening shifts. Google Calendar Working Hours now supports multiple shifts. I’m taking credit for this enhancement, as I brought this to Javier Soltero’s attention when we met to record the TalkingHeadz podcast. But of course, it’s not just me. The full workday was designed around commutes. If you don’t have a commute, splitting the workday into shifts becomes more practical. I’m sure the feature can be attributed to the WFH transition.
Salesforce and Slack: The Antitrust Division of the DoJ has requested additional information from the companies regarding their merger. The companies said they still expect to complete the merger by the end of their fiscal quarters in July. I assume the DoJ wants to know how many duffel bags it takes to pack $27.7B.
Telestax Campaign: CPaaS provider Telestax announced the release of Campaign Manager. The application creates large-scale message blasts without complex development. Campaign Manager is designed to blast content to millions of phone numbers at the same time. It’s just another sign that the CPaaS space is rapidly maturing, with myriad providers entering the ring.
Brick and Morty: The hottest recent electronics item was the Sony PS5. So hot that Sony mostly limited it to online sales. Typically, vendors distribute in-demand products to their top partners, not based on how those partners sell the product.
This month, Best Buy laid off 5,000 workers and announced some store closures. No surprise there; brick and mortar was dealt a deadly hand by the pandemic. Fry's Electronics abruptly closed all of its stores (after 40 years of business). Best Buy, Apple, and many others are adapting to more online sales.
There’s real opportunity here for the emergence of high-touch online sales. I’m a fan of Costco Road Shows because they combine a low-cost, local shopping experience with knowledgeable product experts. In contrast, there’s no point in asking the local Best Buy associate about nuances between products; the company can easily squander its proximity advantage on the wrong product.
I don’t really care where the expert is, but I want to talk to one. Subject matter experts were disappearing before brick and mortar was, but they are not reappearing online. In-store video-chat kiosks or mobile/web apps that connect to SMEs offer the next retail/channel opportunity.
Most Admired: Fortune published its annual list of Most Admired Companies. The list includes Amazon (2), Microsoft (3), Alphabet (7), Salesforce (12), AT&T (79), Cisco (109), Gartner (150), ScanSource (262), and Vodafone Group (311). All of the FAANG companies were included except Facebook.
Making Tech Safe: The modern web has some serious problems around content moderation, misinformation, and surveillance. It turns out lying is the easiest way to build an audience. User A’s outlandish claims becomes user B’s news. B forwards the fake news to C-G, and they all further amplify. The loop is also propelled by discovery algorithms designed to stimulate engagement on social networks. Some misinformation can be fixed with real names and different algorithms, but those are inherently site policy matters rather than legislative cures.
The problem is getting worse, not better. For example, fake videos. It’s one thing to suspect a tweet or post, but it’s much harder to unsee something. For example, the TikTok account @deeptomcruise features some impressive deepfaked videos of “Tom Cruise.”
Much of the frustration is inappropriately attributed to Section 230. The logic is that 230 largely created the modern web, so fixing that must be the cure. There’s always room for improvement, but Section 230 is more about liability protection, and only indirectly impacts content moderation and misinformation.
Republicans have been showing their 230 ignorance for the past few years, and now the Dems are doing so. Safeguarding Against Fraud, Exploitation, Threats, Extremism, and Consumer Harms Act (SAFE TECH) was proposed by Senators Warner, Hirono, and Klobuchar. It largely eliminates 230 and instead introduces a new set of ambiguities (and inevitable lawsuits). It’s targeted at big providers but doesn’t exclude small providers. Because the bill is so complex, the senators created a FAQ filled with misleading information.
Leadership Changes: Avaya named Darcey Harrison as its VP of Cloud Acceleration in North America to assist partners and customers in their migration to the cloud. Joe Burton, previously of Poly, was named CEO of TeleSign, a provider of customer identity and engagement solutions. Jeff Bezos indicated he would finally step down as CEO of Amazon, and Andy Jassy, currently President of AWS, will become CEO in Q3. TPx named Ashley Arbuckle as Chief Product Officer (CPO) and Mark Roberts as CMO. Vonage named Savinay Berry as EVP, Product and Engineering. Lifesize announced Kim Niederman as its new CEO, succeeding Craig Malloy.
Meetings and Messaging
Poly’s Ps: Poly launched a new P Series line of products. If you thought the P stood for Poly or Professional, you’d be wrong. The P stands for Personal, and that’s a shift for Poly’s video solutions. The line includes three new personal devices: Poly Studio P5 Webcam, Poly Studio P15 Personal Video Bar, and Poly Studio P21 Personal Meeting Display.
The P5 is an HD webcam. Its specs and price are appropriate for mass market appeal. IMO no enterprise comms professional should be using the built-in laptop webcam as their primary camera. Also, laptops have (and many webcams) microphones and speakers. The P15 is the next level up and contains a better microphone and speakers.
The P21 is a new category of device that I call the AV monitor. Poly’s implementation combines a 21” monitor with a built-in microphone, speakers, and lights. The AV Display’s time has arrived, especially since the camera, mic, speakers, and display are all USB now — this does it all with one cable to the PC or laptop. The built-in lights are particularly clever. We have made huge progress in noise reduction and high-definition video, but lighting has been ignored by the comms industry. The P21 also seems targeted at the mass market. It might be the first AV Display. Cisco and Zoom/DTEN have products that can be AV Displays, but their all-on-ones are primarily intended as full standalone appliances. The P21 is not an appliance; that is, it requires a separate computer.
All three products are suitable for home or office. All three can be managed by the Poly Lens Desktop App. In addition to management, Lens offers personal health and wellness tips throughout the day (it can even suggest hydration breaks). Poly also announced Poly+, a personal device support service and extended warranty.
Zoom Rooms: Zoom announced a series of safety programs to facilitate the return to work. The “everywhere workforce” needs safe solutions. Updates enable easy smartphone pairing with room systems, people-counting analytics, Neat Sense for air quality monitoring, remote control over the presenter’s desktop, and whiteboard save to chat. Most of the vendors are coming up with various ways to accommodate a touchless (or touch via personal devices) meeting experience. The new virtual receptionist feature is an interesting twist. It adapts a room system to be configured as a kiosk. Visitors can touch it to connect with a remote receptionist or other resource.
Cisco Webex: Cisco continues to release features and products outlined at December’s WebexOne event. There were quite a few updates in January and expected in March, but February was a light month. The improvements are associated with its stated objectives of creating inclusive, online meetings that are 10x better than in-person meetings.
Enhancements this month include the Webex Assistant Summary feature to better capture in-meeting content. The new Webex Desk webcam began shipping, Webex clients became more consistent across its device portfolio, meeting analytics were expanded, and there were new bots and integrations. Enhanced meeting layouts. Webex Edge for devices lets businesses connect premises-based equipment to cloud-delivered services such as Webex Assistant. Cisco also closed on its IMImobile acquisition.
Two main takeaways: Cisco is developing Webex across many dimensions. It’s no longer just a meetings app, but a suite of collaborative services bound together with common management, analytics, compliance, and AI. Cisco intends to deliver additional workloads in its Webex suite. Also, Cisco is working at a much faster rate of innovation than before.
Cisco intends to tightly integrate and include its Slido acquisition into Webex meetings. It will be free because Cisco believes it drives engagement on Webex, and Cisco wants to broaden the value of its suite with additional workflows. On the other hand, Cisco’s NLP-powered Webex Assistant feature is an add-on purchase. Every vendor (and every analyst and every consultant) has to evaluate when to charge and when to give something away. The bundle proposition is arguably the hardest product management question, in part because it requires constant reevaluation. We see this frequently with freemium providers. For example, LastPass this month announced it’s moving features from its free plan to paid subscriptions.
Workplace Moderation: I’ve written a lot about content moderation. The topic is primarily associated with social networks but pertains to enterprise systems as well. Facebook is often accused of changing its rules, but Workplace by Facebook allows company administrators to set their own policies. A simple but obvious new addition for Workplace is posted rules. Admins can now create and share a set of Workplace rules. Coworkers can see the rules with a click of the Help icon. The rules can also be shared or referenced by a unique URL.
Workplace also added Japanese to the list of automatic captions available for prerecorded videos shared through Workplace. Captions make video content more accessible and easier to consume.
Microsoft Teams: Microsoft’s February was calmer than usual. The Ignite conference takes place in March, so announcements are likely queued, though I imagine the pace of Teams announcements will be slower this year. The product has made significant strides in the past year, and the gaps are filling. The bigger topic is how UCaaS providers complement Office 365 (and Google Workspace) when meetings are not only “free” but well beyond the minimum viable product of the past?
In February, the big news was Viva, the new “Employee Experience Platform” that is (partially) built on Teams. I wrote about Viva on NoJitter. I like the concept but question the distributed architecture. Teams expanded the capability to pop out multiple windows over the past several months — starting with chats and meetings to now personal apps and tabs.
Microsoft’s got a new codec named Satin. It’s an “AI-powered” audio codec designed to accommodate poor network conditions. Satin can deliver super-wideband speech with just 6 kbps and full-band stereo with 17 kbps. It can also withstand very lossy network conditions. Satin is already being used for all Teams and Skype two-party calls, and will roll out for Teams meetings soon.
A Direct Route to Teams via AudioCodes and Twilio: Audiocodes and Twilio team up to create a direct-routing offer for Microsoft Teams. It pairs AudioCodes SBCs and Twilio Elastic SIP Trunking. It’s an interesting twist in direct-routing evolution (carriers, UCaaS providers, to CPaaS providers or super-carriers). Through the AudioCodes Live for Microsoft Teams program, customers can consume AudioCodes’ Direct Routing SBC connectivity as a managed service subscription.
RCV Rooms: RingCentral announced it will support room appliances from Poly (Studio X30 and X50) and Logitech (Logitech Rally family) later this year. I have a strong preference for room appliances over USB solutions for small and medium rooms. RingCentral also announced tasks can now be created directly from a Glip message.
TrueConf: TrueConf introduced a portfolio of all-in-one huddle room devices. The new TrueConf Videobar appliances come in two sizes and work with the TrueConf meeting platform.
Masergy Unifies Communications, Collaboration, and Networking: Masergy is likely the first of many BroadWorks providers making the application transition from UC-One to Webex. The new Webex Client supports a hybrid configuration with provider-hosted telephony and Cisco-hosted meetings. Service providers can leverage and differentiate their voice expertise, and customers have more options. Masergy is bundling its advanced networking expertise (managed SD-WAN and security) into its UCaaS offers.
This took a lot longer than I expected. Cisco completed the acquisition of BroadWorks in early 2019, but at the time the company focused on what was known as BroadCloud, now Webex Calling. While many UCaaS offers have expanded to include video and messaging, a much smaller set has truly embraced networking services. Masergy UCaaS with Cisco Webex includes a management portal with a unified view of UCaaS, WAN edge devices, network analytics, and application performance.
The Tale of WebRTC: Tim Panton posted a 20-minute, G-rated video of an insider’s perspective on the evolution of WebRTC — WebRTC was both an amazing success (impact) and abysmal failure (expectations and timeline). Personally, I think Tim was too nice. Though components of WebRTC thrive in many solutions, it didn’t deliver what we expected. I think part of this is because we thought Google wanted to change the world, but more likely it wanted to reduce its reliance on external video providers.
The dominant solutions in enterprise video (Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex, and Zoom) are all client-first solutions. Newer video offers from 8x8, RingCentral, Vonage, and others are indeed browser-based, WebRTC solutions. Clients bring more features and work well in enterprise settings. The browser angle is more elegant and simpler in ad-hoc/on-demand situations. Note that MS Teams claims interoperability with both Webex and Zoom via WebRTC, but Google Meet, built on WebRTC, has no native interop with any service. #GoFigure.
Zoom CC: Zoom will enable closed captioning for free accounts with the intent of making its service more “inclusive” for its English-speaking customers. The service is currently available to its paid subscribers. Speaking of CC, a few media reports suggested Zoom is considering getting into CCaaS. I’d be shocked if they weren’t, though the articles were speculative.
Naked Detection: Here’s a tech we need more of in the enterprise. Chatroulette is making impressive strides on its AI-powered detection of nudity in video. Chatroulette entered the scene in 2009 with a clever video chat service that pairs participants randomly. Unfortunately, many of these participants lacked modesty. The quick fix was a feature that allowed users to easily flag inappropriate behaviors. However, crowdsourcing is inherently the wrong approach to nudity detection. They needed what I call a pre-penis approach.
Users desperate for conversation during the pandemic gave Chatroulette a second chance, and the provider saw its traffic increase throughout 2020. It partnered with Hive for moderation assistance. The result is a new set of video AI algorithms that automatically detect nudity. Only a little more than 3% of its millions of monthly interactions now contain explicit material. We will have to wait to see if this helps or hinders usage.
Bose Video Bar: The Bose Professional Videobar VB1 is now GA. It is an “all-in-one” USB conferencing device that features: “beam-steering” microphones, a 4K autoframing camera, and proprietary inducers for room-filling sound. It is Microsoft Teams-certified and can be configured with Bose Work Configuration software.
Like other “all-in-one” USB bars, the VB1 still requires a PC (or smartphone), display, and conferencing application. The all-in-one appliances like the Poly Studio, Neat Bar, and Logitech Rally Bar only require a display. The all-in-one P21 from Poly only requires a computer and app. The all-in-one desktop devices from Cisco and DTEN are all-in-ones.
Quill: There’s a new messaging app in town, and it’s called Quill.chat. It looks like your basic team chat/Slack killer messaging suite offered under a freemium model. The new angle is distraction-free messaging. That’s a bit of a contradiction as I’m sure it beeps and notifies like the others, but the creators worked to reduce the noise that burdens so many team chat apps.
When Team Chat was new, it was much more efficient than email, but of course as the users and traffic moved to chat, its signal-to-noise ratio plummeted. Many complain that Team Chat requires too much energy to monitor. Quill has “Structured Channels” that force some structure to threaded conversations. Automatic sorting in the app prioritizes active conversations, and finally there is an app that limits notifications. Video chats are supported in a sidebar. It also gives users more control over the layout and where messages are stored.
Five9 WFO: Five9 announced a tighter integration with its Virtual Observer acquisition. Five9 WFO capabilities are integrated into the Five9 Agent and Supervisor Desktop applications. Supervisors can better observe team activity and monitor voice calls in real time, view and manage team schedules, review and edit interactions, and view performance and quality metrics.
Genesys Gigs: Genesys announced a partnership with Limitless, a pioneer in Gig Customer Experience (GigCX). The companies want to help businesses extend their contact center teams with gig workers. Limitless believes there’s a gap to fill by providing ad-hoc, trusted brand advocates for support. For example, if a consumer requests assistance about a product they recently purchased, AI automatically assigns the call to a Limitless Expert to troubleshoot and provide advice. If during the exchange a full agent is needed, the inquiry can be passed back to the brand's contact center with context. Under the partnership, Genesys is making a strategic investment in Limitless in a recent Series B financing that valued the company at $10M.
I’ve been very excited about the potential future of gig agents. The idea is that augmented agent technology can enable a gig agent to be useful. This has not occurred yet, as augmented agent technology is still immature and various self-service options are getting better (leaving the harder stuff for agents). Additionally, the shift to agent-at-home simplifies on-demand scheduling by eliminating commutes.
This was a discussion topic in a Clubhouse conversation that I hosted in February, where Megan Neale, the founder of Limitless, joined the conversation. Her approach of providing brand ambassadors is an interesting twist — it uses a sub-agent concept to fill a gap between a bot and agent. I’m not sold on the concept, but find it very intriguing that Genesys is investing in the company. If we do ever get to a Gig agent reality, I wonder if it will be the CCaaS providers or the BPOs that provide the talent.
Observe.AI: Observe announced a new partnership with Microsoft Azure. The automation and AI company has largely targeted CCaaS providers and saw its ARR increase 600% in 2020. It analyzes voice and chat interactions, extracts actionable sentiment insights, and automates workflows.
The new partnership with Microsoft allows deeper integrations with Microsoft services. The Observe.AI platform can integrate with customers’ existing CRM and business intelligence tools via API, and data can be imported into data visualization tools, such as Microsoft Power BI. Enterprise customers can purchase Observe.AI’s Contact Center AI solution today on Microsoft’s Azure Marketplace and on AppSource.
New Headsets! Poly introduced the Savi 7300 Office Series, its newest DECT headset. Designed with enhanced DECT for better security, clarity, and range, it also features Poly's Acoustic Fence technology. It is MS Teams certified and runs around $400. The EPOS new Adapt 100 Series is designed for hybrid environments and Teams certified. For reasons I do not understand, products designed for hybrid environments are cheaper. The series includes four headsets: ADAPT 130 USB II, ADAPT 135T USB II, ADAPT 135T USB-C II, and ADAPT 160 USB-C II, that range between $60 and $80.
UJET Gets More Intelligent: I’m so glad I wrote an AI bot that can complete this sentence: [Blank] announced a new partnership with Google CCAI that will revolutionize virtual agent services. Here it goes: UJET announced a new partnership with Google CCAI that will revolutionize virtual agent services. I do get and appreciate the importance of an announcement like this, but neither Google CCAI nor Amazon’s CCI is that useful. The pitches among providers are too similar, and they all basically brag about how the conversation is passed to the agent when the AI inevitably fails to resolve the issue. It’s not clear to me if that’s actually helpful. I think it’s a toss-up if it’s faster for the agent to read the chat history or the customer to retell it. I do expect the CCaaS AI story will get much better over the next few years.
Amazon Connect CTR: The contact trace records have been expanded to include disconnect reason for Voice Calls and Tasks to indicate if the disconnect was initiated by agent, customer, or network. It’s never the agent. A little passive anger game I play is not to hang up when finished with an agent. It’s kind of fun to hear them squirm.
RingCentral CRM: RingCentral announced the release of in-app calling for Salesforce. The new feature enables sales agents to make, transfer, and control phone calls directly from Salesforce. Users can select their preferred caller ID number, organize multiple calls as separate tabs on the browser, and manage incoming and outgoing calls across devices without having to download any additional software.
RingCentral announced some updates to Glip aimed at agents. There’s a new Ask an Expert button to locate SME. Also, the RC CC Virtual Agent will allow organizations to integrate their own self-service bot applications into the IVR experience. RingCentral does not have its own native CCaaS offer, and instead partners with inContact. That hasn’t seemed to limit its CCaaS sales expansion. It has several CCaaS services, including omnichannel services and outbound services. The Salesforce integration is a logical and aggressive yet indirect expansion into the CCaaS arena.
Dialpad Counting Minutes: Dialpad announced its Voice Intelligence technology now has more than 1B minutes of voice calls under its belt. Dialpad Vi NLP is used for call coaching, automated note-taking, sentiment tracking, and transcription analysis. The provider reports that its accuracy outperforms the industry standard. Dialpad’s Vi can detect and protect PII. Its UCaaS can provide transcription on all calls.
Dialpad also announced enhancements to meeting moderator controls and additional layouts for Uberconference participants. A new Filmstrip view displays every participant and shared content. It also added a Heatmap feature to its contact center solution to assist with scheduling. And Live Coaching now supports custom moments for simpler tracking. Clients can take advantage of custom moments for historical trend reporting, reviewing calls, coaching, and real-time manager alerting. Dialpad has notably accelerated features, development, and hiring, likely attributable to its recent fundraising.
RingCentral: Embeddable for RingCentral Video enables developers to integrate RCV meeting capabilities such as scheduling, joining, and hosting directly from their custom enterprise workflows. Also, there’s a new Call Supervision, Monitoring, and Streaming API enabling real-time transcriptions and AI services. The RingCentral App Gallery (app store) received some updates and new themes such as “Work from Anywhere.”
UCaaS continues to expand. What started as voice expanded into messaging and meetings, and the journey continues. Now the boundaries between UCaaS and CPaaS are blurring.
Mitel One: The company of many products came up with One more: Mitel One, previewed at its partner conference this month and expected to be released this summer. Not many details are available, but it appears to offer a unified experience that spans across UC, UCaaS, and CCaaS. The new app combines/replaces the separate apps for MiCloud Connect, Mitel Teamwork, and MiTeam Meetings. Widget support accommodates further extensibility. From a CCaaS perspective, the client can support omnichannel, BI, and WEM services in a unified workspace.
Vaccinated Phones: Poly recently announced a partnership with Microban, and the Poly Rove wireless phones are the first products to get the new antimicrobial protection. These DECT IP phones are aimed at frontline workers and are purported to “stay cleaner longer.” Mitel announced two new desk phones, 6920t and 6930t, that feature antimicrobial-treated plastics. Mitel reports the technology inhibits virus and bacteria growth by up to 99.9%. The phones also sport Mitel’s new handset with fewer nooks and crannies for bacteria. The 6920t has a 3.5” color display. The 6930t has a 4.3” display, device charging port, and integrated Bluetooth. Both models are generally available.
Zoom Quality: UC and video quality are difficult to objectively evaluate. It’s reasonable to assume there are differences among providers, but a) most people don’t have multiple services to compare, and b) it’s hard to know if issues can be attributed to the provider, network conditions, or other factors.
I saw two data points this month that give Zoom a comparative nod. The first was a tweet from Steven Sinofsky that read, “Why is my audio on Teams so much worse than on zoom or hangouts? Same exact setup. Test calls moments apart. First install of Teams. Teams sounds like I’m talking from a bathtub. Others sound ‘perfect’.” Steven was President of Microsoft’s Windows Division 2009-2012 and was responsible for the development and marketing of Windows, IE, and Outlook.com.
The second was a Wainhouse Study that evaluated multiple providers for voice and video quality. The study looked at different types of calls and meetings under different networking conditions. Zoom consistently scored the highest, and Microsoft Teams was usually the lowest.
Konftel: Konftel announced a new partnership with Barco ClickShare for wireless meetings (the connection between the laptop, conference camera, display, and speakerphone is completely wireless). Barco has made other partnerships to expand its ClickShare program into online meetings. All Konftel CX products are ClickShare approved. Konftel is a Swedish-based, innovative producer of endpoints. It was acquired by Avaya in 2011.
Google’s Voice Accelerator: Google has a new 10-week accelerator designed to stimulate innovation in voice AI. It announced the 12 companies it selected for participation. This is Google’s version of Amazon’s Alexa Accelerator. The dozen companies will showcase their work on May 20 at 12:30 p.m. Eastern during a livestreamed demo day. I expect many will emerge on the enterprise comms scene within a few years. The companies are:
Babbly: provides parents insights on their child’s speech and language skills. Bespoken: automated testing, training, and monitoring for voice applications and devices. ConversationHealth: enables conversational agents for patients and health care professionals. Nēdl: hosts a live call-in radio station that transcribes, amplifies, and monetizes the audio creator’s words. Oto.AI: “non-semantic” insights (e.g., intonation, emotions, and laughter) from voice streams. Piffle: a voice gaming platform that aims to nurture wellness through conversational gameplay. Powow AI: to transcribe and analyze meetings. Simbi: combines learners’ narrations with the text of a story to create audiovisual books. Talkatoo: veterinary and medical dictation software. Tinychef: a voice-first “Culinary AI”platform. Voicify: a platform to design, build, and deploy voice apps and chatbots. Vowel: aims to bring productivity and communication platforms into a single, integrated meeting tool.
Rocket.Chat, a startup and open-source-based platform of the same name used by banks, the US Navy, NGOs and other organizations, has raised $19M ($27M total). The platform offers team chat, customer service, collaboration platforms, conferences, and more. The company plans to use the funding to continue adding more customers and expanding the platform’s functionality, including more security features, a way to use the service over federated blockchain architecture, apps for marketplaces, options for bots, and more social media and omnichannel customer service integrations, and potentially facilities for virtual events.
Reddit doubled its valuation to $6B when it raised $250M this month. Its last funding round was in February 2019. I wonder if the executives at GameStop are gaming Reddit?
Deepgram, a Y Combinator and Innovation Showcase (EC18) graduate that builds custom speech recognition models, announced it raised $25M in series B funding. CEO and cofounder Scott Stephenson says the proceeds will bolster the development of Deepgram’s platform, which enables enterprises to process meetings, calls, and presentations in real time. Deepgram’s real-time streaming capability lets customers analyze and transcribe speech as words are being spoken. Meanwhile, its on-premises deployment option provides a private, deployable instance of Deepgram’s product for use cases involving confidential, regulated, or otherwise sensitive audio data.
Otter.AI: Otter.ai raised $50M in a Series B. Otter’s NLP services work with video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Google Meet. The funds will be used to triple headcount across a variety of positions. Otter reported that its revenue increased more than 800% in 2020, and it transcribed more than 100M meetings spanning 3B minutes in 230 countries. Most NLP companies I cover are in the acquisitions section. My Otter coverage is consistently about its growth. I’ve been successfully evaluating Otter as a standalone app for transcribing all kinds of conversations, such as non-integrated video meetings, YouTube videos, and phone calls.
Box and SignRequest: Box acquired SignRequest for $55M to develop Box Sign, natively integrated electronic signatures within Box. Physical signatures are obsolete. They were more valuable when most of the population was illiterate, but signatures are pretty flimsy as a form of authentication. While that’s been true for decades, it’s the physical aspects of the pandemic that are killing handwritten signatures. Smart move for Box, storage to workflow. Though not particularly original: Dropbox acquired HelloSign for $230M two years ago.
Copper and Sherlock: Copper, a CRM tool built on top of the Google Workspace, purchased Sherlock, a customer experience platform, to create a CRM that is “focused on action.” Sherlock surfaces the intentions of prospects and customers in order to drive action for sales, as well as account management and customer success professionals.
Ribbon sheds QualiTech: Ribbon will sell its QualiTech division to Hermon Laboratories, a testing, measurement, and certification vendor. QualiTech operated as an independent division of what was ECI Telecom (now part of Ribbon). The transaction will allow Ribbon to focus on SBCs, global IP optical networks, and its cloud and edge businesses.
Alianza Expansion: The acquisitions took place earlier and the announcement was March 1, so coverage in the February report seems reasonable. Alianza quietly made two recent acquisitions: CounterPath and Message Hopper. Combined with its core IP telephony stack, the provider is relaunching its wholesale UCaaS for service providers. The solution stack includes residential telephony services, SIP trunking, UCaaS, business text messaging, and now with CounterPath, its own softphone and video collaboration service. The provider claims 26 quarters of growth and over 600 customers mostly in NA (not including CounterPath).
Providers are revaluting their options due to the number of changes that have occurred regarding UC for service providers. Cisco acquired BroadSoft, Microsoft acquired Metaswitch, and Ribbon changed its focus with the acquisition of ECI. RingCentral has announced some big provider wins. Cisco just created a new hybrid offer for BroadWorks and Webex (see Masergy news above). Sangoma has a new UCaaS/CPaaS/CCaaS/iPaaS solution with a wholesale angle. And 2600Hz offers providers (and large enterprises) a stack that blurs UCaaS and CPaaS.
This Month’s Goodreads
- Elon Musk just showed how Clubhouse can succeed
- How COVID-19 has us doing more in less time
- A Home Security Worker Hacked Into Surveillance Systems to Watch People
- Clubhouse, a Tiny Audio Chat App, Breaks Through
- Texas Power, Phone Outages Again Highlight How Infrastructure Underinvestment Will Be Fatal Moving Forward
- Why webcams aren’t good enough
- Subscription-based pricing is dead: Smart SaaS companies are shifting to usage-based models
- “Mark Changed The Rules”: How Facebook Went Easy On Alex Jones And Other Right-Wing Figures
- Calling Dunbar’s Numbers
- Australian law could make internet ‘unworkable’, says World Wide Web inventor
- Why vendors are building clouds for every sector
- HSBC plans to nearly halve office space over long term
- Spy pixels in emails have become endemic
- New Million-Dollar Question: Do We Really Need an Office?
- A personal branding expert shares what it takes to build a successful reputation
The TalkingHeadz Podcasts are interviews with the movers and shakers of enterprise communications — plus we have some interesting guests. Subscribe on your favorite podcast app. The two interviews of February:
|Real-Time, Recorded is a new weekly short video about industry news. Sometimes news can’t wait for the newsletter. Dave Michels and Zeus Kerravala provide what you need to know in a weekly short video discussion.|
Looks like March is off to a strong start. As is often the case when the first falls on a Monday, I’ve already got stories queued up for the next report. Twilio and Google started March with a bang, and I expect there will be some news out of Microsoft Ignite. That will all be covered in the next Insider Report. March is usually the biggest month of announcements (due to Enterprise Connect). I wonder how the gators are doing.
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