Insider Report for December 2020
Happy New Year! There’s always something magical about a new year. Of course, calendars are a man-made illusion. There’s no more difference between December 31 and January 1 than there is between January 1 and 2. Time is linear, but calendars, birthdays, anniversaries, and other annual rites provide a great opportunity to reflect on the past and plan for the future.
And the future looks bright for enterprise communications! The pandemic elevated it front and center. While 2020 was largely about adaptation and adjustment, the future will be very strategic and intentional. Things will reset a bit, but most of the toothpaste won’t be going back into the office.
While 2020 was a big year for digital transformation, it was reactive. Instead of well-thought-out strategies for improved workflows, it was about preserving workflows in a new way, in a word, survival. But we learned a lot, and more importantly, mental barriers were shattered. The concepts that were resisting change will not survive the pandemic, and strategic digital disruption strategies will fuel demand for new ways to communicate and collaborate in a post-pandemic world.
Looking Forward: The supply side of the industry is about to undergo some big changes. 2020 disrupted the vendor landscape in many ways. The assault on Section 230 has numerous potential impacts that could affect email forwarding policies, enterprise social, and social brand engagement. Oddly, it may also disrupt the growing interest in encryption. In addition, we end the year with a sudden surge in antitrust in the US and Europe.
5G is the next disruption on the horizon, and it’s approaching quickly. I’ve been downplaying its arrival for years, but 2021 could be the year that the new high-speed wireless hits the masses with radical new use cases. 5G will also disrupt the vendor landscape. Microsoft, Samsung, Qualcomm, T-Mobile, and Nvidia seem well poised. In addition to 5G, low orbit satellites are also ready to provide global, affordable connectivity.
It’s hard to believe now, but 2020 will be remembered fondly. It’s the year that everything changed: attitudes, perceptions, and expectations. We are going to be questioning a lot of things that we never questioned before, such as why do bank branches still exist? We have simultaneously realized our independence of and dependence on each other. There’s been plenty of coverage of the restaurant, travel, and entertainment industries, but realistically every industry is about to go through a cambrian explosion of innovation.
It seems like a good time to change up this newsletter too. It has been well received, but the number one complaint is the length. I’m looking at a number of changes (structure, content, and frequency) for 2021.
SolarWinds Hack Attack? SolarWinds is not (yet) an enterprise comms story but will likely grow into one. It’s that hack that keeps on growing. One of the most interesting aspects is the question of legality. Technically, it wasn’t a hack, but espionage — and not only is international espionage permitted, it’s something the US does to others. Hardly fair to call foul.
The SVR, previously known as the KGB, did what’s known as a supply chain attack that propagated vulnerabilities to SolarWinds’ customers (customers that pay SolarWinds for security). The compromised software was deployed to “fewer than 18,000” customers that included all five branches of the US military, the State Department, the White House, the NSA, and 425 of the F500. Microsoft says even its source code was accessed. Even more alarming is that none of these customers detected or at least reported the compromised software. That honor goes to FireEye, a security company that discovered it via an internal audit. How SVR managed to keep such a big hack from US intelligence is another interesting thread worth pulling.
There is no way to know how much information was compromised or even altered. Removing the vulnerability does not make systems secure again because the vulnerability provided the means to create additional vulnerabilities. Systems will need to be completely rebuilt with carefully cleaned data. That could take years.
There are several implications for enterprise communications. The first is we need to reconsider the value proposition of evergreen software. It’s been a key benefit of UCaaS and CCaaS from the beginning, but there’s no way to know if an update poses a security risk. Of course, manual updates have the same problem and are less likely to happen in a timely fashion.
The other issue is this ties back to encryption. The Treasury Department’s encryption keys were among the data that was compromised. This attack demonstrates the problem with the DOJ’s campaign to require US encryption to include back doors. Can the Feds (or any entity) be trusted with keys to the back door?
Section 230: Section 230 is now caught up in numerous, unrelated conversations including the National Defense Authorization Act and the Covid Relief Bill. It is a part of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that was written before Facebook and Twitter existed. It recognized that interactive media invites a different type of engagement than yelling at a newspaper. To facilitate the emergence of “interactive computer services,” Section 230 releases providers from liability associated with user-generated content. Individuals are still liable for what they say, but the providers are not liable for hosting it. Section 230 created the foundation of free speech on the Internet (in the US) and allowed sites that post user content (Facebook, Twitter, Hotmail, Craigslist, etc.) to flourish.
President Trump wants Section 230 repealed or reformed. Exactly why is less clear. The President has personally benefited from 230 with his masterful use of social media. There’s a perception that Section 230 prevents sites from being objective (or favors bias) and that it limits free speech. It has nothing to do with neutrality. Each site can moderate content based on its own rules and policies. 230’s only connection to free speech is that it facilitates it. There appears to be confusion between 230 and the First Amendment. There’s also a perception that 230 only helps big companies, but it’s the opposite. Big companies have layers of legal protections that can manage a post-230 world.
Online content moderation can be improved. For example, less anonymity, clearer guidelines on content, and algorithms that are not designed to provoke could improve online experiences. We rely on competition, not legislation, to drive market innovation, and this brings us to antitrust. For additional information on Section 230, see “Section 230 is Good, Actually.”
Antitrust: Facebook and Google are now members of an elite club of antitrust defendants that includes Kodak, Xerox, IBM, AT&T, Intel, and Microsoft. It’s actually an impressive milestone. Facebook went from startup to antitrust in about 15 years.
The complaints against Google are centered on search and advertising, not enterprise communications. That’s an embarrassment! Google moved into hosted telephony with its 2007 acquisition of GrandCentral. It was a pioneer in online video and chat (Google Talk). It was also very early with cloud-delivered office productivity, calendar, and email, not to mention mobility. Yet, none of those have turned into anything that antitrust regulators care about.
The complaints against Facebook are much more relevant to enterprise comms. But this is very complex because antitrust is mostly focused on past behaviors. That’s why I don’t fault regulators for failing to block the acquisitions of Instagram (2012) or WhatsApp (2014). Free messaging didn’t seem that important way back then, particularly to a growing social and advertising company. The Feds think Facebook should split off WhatsApp and Instagram. They are right, but it’s too late.
Facebook is making a massive pivot from advertising and social networking to messaging and ecommerce. The blueprints came from WeChat, which is effectively the Internet in China. It connects buyers to sellers (advertising) and facilitates transactions and payments.
Facebook is working to expand into messaging-centric storefronts, and WhatsApp is the primary vehicle. Today, this is largely a consumer play, but enterprises tend to show up wherever consumers happen to be. The biggest opportunities are in emerging markets that are now coming online.
WhatsApp has over 400M MAUs in India alone. In a 2019 blog post, Zuck stated, “I believe the future of communication will increasingly shift to private, encrypted services.” There are already companies in Asia that exist almost entirely on WhatsApp — sales, customer service, marketing, etc. Facebook made a $5.7B investment in Jio Platforms, a major provider of cellular and internet services in India earlier this year. Facebook is working to position WhatsApp with messaging-centric storefronts, payment services, and earlier this month acquired Kustomer for messaging-centric customer engagement.
As a result, it’s hard to view the US antitrust case as nothing more than a nuisance suit. The US is simply too small and too mature of a jurisdiction. I do believe that seeing companies like Microsoft, Facebook, and Google made smaller would stimulate innovation. We saw this play out the last time the DOJ was serious about antitrust: in the 80s with Bell. AT&T did a lot of good for the US, but it clearly stifled competition (and the Internet) by controlling every aspect of our national network. The breakup of AT&T resulted in an explosion of innovation.
Android Enterprise Essentials: Google introduced a new mobile management and security solution with a misleading name: Android Enterprise Essentials. It looks like a great product, but it’s clearly aimed at SMBs. That’s fine, though, because most smaller organizations don’t have an MDM solution. Android Enterprise Essentials offers basic MDM features including remote wipe and policy enforcement for options like a lock screen and encryption. It will be released in the UK and US first. Oddly, the low-frills service is being distributed through partners only.
Holy Mobility Batman: Apple reported that it sold 195M iPhones in 2020, up from 185M last year. That is staggering, especially considering the world faced an unprecedented decline in employment and mobility in 2020. I still contend that the government giving everyone an iPhone would have been a more efficient stimulus.
Apple introduced four new iPhones this year: iPhone 12 Mini ($699), iPhone 12 ($799), iPhone 12 Pro ($999), and iPhone 12 Pro Max ($1,099). For a pandemic, I would have bet on TVs for home entertainment (shows, games, and movies). The Consumer Technology Association estimated a meager 38.6M TV sales in 2020. That’s five+ iPhones for every TV. How did Quibi fail?
And Along Came Metrigy: Analysts Robin Gareiss and Irwin Lazar, previously associated with Nemertes Research, announced the launch of their new research and advisory firm, Metrigy. The new firm will focus on digital transformation and digital workplace, UCC, AI, and CC and CX.
Techsas: There have been some recent high-profile defections from Silicon Valley to Texas (mostly Austin), including HPE, Tesla, and Oracle. The casual observer may falsely conclude this is a new major trend. Austin has been a growing tech hub for decades, and less crowded and expensive than SV. These announcements don’t involve major relocations, nor would that jive with WFH. Yes, employees are moving, but not necessarily to TX. This LinkedIn study shows that most fleeing Silicon Valley are heading to places like Madison, WI; Richmond, VA; and Sacramento, CA. The stories here personal tax strategies for executives, polarization is causing CEOs to align with red and blue states, and/or TX is now more attractive for corporations than DE.
Twitter Arms for Future: Twitter made two big moves this month. It has opted to shed its private data centers and move to AWS. That’s not too surprising; get in line. But it’s a shorter line because Twitter specifically intends to move to Graviton2 CPUs, Amazon’s proprietary arm-based processor platform. Arm chips already won the mobile front, are rapidly encroaching on desktops (Apple M1), and now appear poised to revolutionize clouds and data centers too. It kind of makes sense — they are cheaper, faster, generate less heat, and consume less power — though this trend could be described as a Kodak Moment for the good folks at Intel.
The iCar: Nothing to do with enterprise communications, but I can’t resist. The folklore around the Apple car may have more longevity than the Loch Ness monster. There is already demand for an iCar even though it doesn’t exist, and realistically it’s one of the few product categories that could indeed impact Apple’s revenue. To be clear, the facts around this mythical car are as solid as those around the Scottish monster. My favorite part of this trope is that it’s built on battery tech. Apple’s new battery tech will supposedly radically reduce costs and increase range.
Such a breakthrough would be better realized as a battery company, not a car company — a battery company that could supply every major EV rather than compete with them. But the bigger issue is the incongruous history of Apple and batteries. There are so many great things we can say about Apple, but batteries don't come to mind. The battery is the weakest part of the iPhone experience. iBatteries are fast to drain, slow to charge, and difficult and expensive to replace.
On the other hand, the timing is right. When I was a kid, cars were open platforms (like PCs). Owners changed their stereos, gauges, engine parts, and so on. Today, software restrictions make cars closed and proprietary. Even stereos are so tightly integrated into vehicle systems that they can’t be replaced with third-party products, and that has Apple written all over it. I hope the iCar will support Android Auto.
Microsoft Productivity Score: In the last Insider Report, I mentioned the new Microsoft Productivity Score app. The general public had a similar reaction (uproar), and Microsoft opted to curtail some of its features.
The Productivity Score is a new tool, on by default, for businesses that use Microsoft 365 services. The app tracks and compares what workers are doing across 73 metrics including activity times, app usage, and interactions. Although enterprises can turn it off, there is no way for individual employees to opt-out. Microsoft has since determined it is best to aggregate the data and remove usernames from the feature (for now).
Employers can see a lot about employee activities and behaviors — that’s not new. What’s new is that Productivity Score simplifies it and provides more granular visibility. But the sticky part is that Productivity Score surfaces this information to general business contacts (managers, HR, etc.).
With great power comes great responsibility, and IT system administrators are largely disciplined and aware of their responsibilities. Additionally, software vendors have been working to curtail administrative abuses for decades. For example, accessing a user’s email is possible but requires changing the password — it leaves a trail. Productivity Score begs the question: are the managers of AnyCorp ready for this much visibility into their employees' behaviors?
“I’ll tell you the problem with the power that you’re using here. It didn’t require any discipline to attain it.” - Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park. The databases of user behavior + AI can unlock a dystopian future that should concern more than Dr. Ian Malcolm.
As fascinating as Productivity Score is, it’s clearly not the headlines Microsoft wanted. The company has some very clear priorities to grow Azure and Microsoft 365. Productivity Score is a distraction. However, it’s not going away. We are going to have to contend with it and other forms of cloud-delivered surveillance at work. A good place to start is clear expectations around what is private and what is corporate. Employee monitoring tools will be a booming category as cloud enables it and WFH fuels it. Productivity Score is on the right track, but it’s incredibly broad.
The TikTok Clock Stopped: TikTok’s Chinese parent had until December 4 to sell or shut down its US business. The US government opted to ignore that (encouraged by a court order) despite its threat to US national security. In other news, Ratatouille: The TikTok Musical will have an all-star cast.
Responsibility: Newsweek and Statista compiled a list of 399 companies recognized as America's Most Responsible Companies (2nd annual). Inclusion criteria included publicly traded and a published corporate responsibility report. The evaluation included a review of environmental and governance categories and the results of a survey about social responsibility perceptions. The list included: Microsoft (3), Cisco (4), AT&T (98), and Avaya (347).
GDPR and the Cookie War: Twitter became a victim of a long sentence. It’s the first US company to be fined for violating GDPR. Twitter was fined $546K for failing to note or alert regulators within 72 hours of discovering a data breach over the 2018 holiday period. The Twitter hack was bad, but I doubt the threat of GDPR fines was a factor in any way. GDPR does have some good, like increased transparency and granting customers the right to have their data deleted. It was a decent first attempt. What’s next?
The Internet has a love/hate relationship with privacy. GDPR seemed like a great idea at the time as it was real legislation that prioritized privacy. Yes, there have been a few high-profile wins, but rather than reduce tracking, it has likely just increased intrusive/annoying prompts to accept tracking. The world’s Internet citizens spent a collective fortune to make their websites worse.
Most GDPR warnings are about cookies. Google and Apple intend to curtail cookies. Apple is moving more aggressively in protecting user privacy by requiring developers to obtain permission to track for advertising purposes. These new prompts have already started showing up in the iOS 14.4 beta.
Apple’s approach is a bold, reasonable, and easy way to increase privacy, but it’s a threat to advertisers. Facebook started an anti-Apple advertising campaign (good luck with that) with full-page ads in the NYTimes, WA Post, and WSJ. The ads blast Apple for changing the “Internet as we know it — for the worse.” Apple responded that its approach does not prohibit tracking or targeted advertising but requires users to be given a choice. Apple will win. Not just because it’s right, but because it controls the App Store.
Meetings and Messaging
Free Workplace: Workplace by Facebook is discontinuing its free Workplace Essential plan in Feb. The Essential tier offered a Workplace Light experience with some feature and storage limitations. Paid plans run $4 or $8 per user per month. This is surprising as the free Essential plan just launched in the summer of 2019. Also, Facebook built its empire on a free app. Existing Essential users will need to upgrade (or go to Yammer).
The official explanation is to better focus its engineering resources to benefit paid users, such as video, remote presence, and employee well-being. Though I don’t think they had a lot of resources (none?) dedicated to new features for Essential. More likely they haven’t found a strong pattern of conversion. Enterprise social is still a relatively young concept. With the competitive pressures from Microsoft, Cisco, and Salesforce/Slack, it seems odd to kill the freemium option. Another option is to use Work Groups on the free Facebook app, however this option comes complete with Facebook surveillance and targeted advertising.
It’s also strange to suggest engineering resources need to focus on video. Workplace by Facebook was featured at the recent WebexOne event earlier this month. It also has a strong partnership with Zoom and BlueJeans. Facebook has video savvy resources but has (so far) relied on video partners for rooms and events.
RingCentral Glip: RingCentral re-introduced Glip as a free, unlimited, standalone, freemium solution for messaging and video. Glip was the standalone messaging company that RingCentral acquired in 2015. The new Glip includes both messaging and meetings (RingCentral Meetings).
Although I had nothing to do with it, I will take partial credit. I’ve been critical of RingCentral (and other UCaaS providers) for not offering messaging and/or video as standalone services. The UCaaS sector has a history of adding features to telephony, meanwhile several providers have done fine with messaging and/or meetings without requiring phone services (Slack, MS Teams, Cisco Webex, Zoom, to name a few). Messaging-only works for more users, such as firstline workers. Video doesn’t have the regulation hurdles that telephony has. The full bundled offer with voice remains intact. Any RingCentral user (including its co-branded partners) can “Glip” to another RingCentral user.
In addition to giving users a bundled or unbundled option, it’s a freemium model too. RingCentral Glip Pro is free (Pro is a bad name for the free version), and the limitations are mostly integrations — not meeting length or message history. For a detailed look at RingCentral, check out this recent TalkingPointz Research Note on RingCentral.
Telegram Strikes Back: The Russian instant messaging app Telegram is “approaching” 500M users, and its founder is looking to recover his investment. The service will introduce its own ad platform for public one-to-many channels. Telegram has also built a voice chat overlay (floating widget) for Android devices. It lets you see who’s talking as well as have background control over the microphone. Currently, Telegram is audio-only but video and screen-sharing capabilities are planned.
A messaging app called Telegram is a great illustration of how everything old becomes new again, but in a word: STOP. Telegram’s security has been criticized for years, and data thought to be secure has shown up publicly. Its E2EE is not on by default and only applies to some messages — on mobile.
Nureva: Nureva HDL300 and Dual HDL300 audio conferencing systems are now certified for ClickShare Conference by Barco. It seems that the traditional business of room content sharing has run its course. The future of rooms requires support for remote participants, so the Barco types are turning to comms players for assistance.
Pexip Private Cloud: Pexip discovered the cloud, sort of. It launched a private cloud offer that makes its interop-friendly video platform opex and easier to deploy. Key features include the ability to control where data is hosted, interop with Google Meet, and detailed audit trails. The offer makes perfect sense even though it’s a few years late.
Vyopta: Added Google Meet to Collaboration Performance Management (CPM) Analytics.
Avaya Spaces: Avaya continues to expand and improve Spaces. Updates in December included the ability to test/configure settings before joining a meeting, geographic expansion into DR of Congo, Madagascar, and Mauritius, and dark mode support.
Teams Updates: Microsoft changed the look of its meetings AV settings, and now allows users to pin a channel for easier access to selected conversations. DND now has an until option, and there’s a new high setting (11?) for noise suppression.
I’d like to figure out how to compare noise suppression capabilities as it’s becoming such a common (noisy) claim and presumably there are differences.
Zoom Email and Calendar: The Information reported that Zoom is working on an email and calendar service. The gossip site believes Zoom will unveil an email service early in 2021. It’s certainly a plausible theory, and even logical.
Zoom has not validated the speculation, nor would I expect them to comment on unannounced products. Email and calendaring are key to collaboration, and the apps could use some innovation. It’s shockingly primitive to coordinate meetings when participants are at different companies. We have all digitally transformed, but integration options are very limited.
There’s a common response that it’s a waste of time to improve email and that we should just move on (to messaging — more silos). I disagree. Email is universal, and it should be better. Basecamp’s recent launch of Hey! offered several innovations, for example, being able to edit inbox content. It’s my inbox, my email, why can’t I make notes in it?
Because enterprise email and calendaring are a duopoly, the most likely reward for innovation is imitation. It’s going to take either a headstrong company (like Basecamp) that’s intent on fixing email or a powerful player (such as Zoom or AWS) that can break the duopoly. IBM tried this with a Watson-inspired Verse back in 2014 but didn’t have the influence (or the AI) to pull it off.
There’s another reason for Zoom and any UCaaS or meetings provider to be thinking about email. Not long ago, UCaaS and meetings were complementary to Microsoft’s and Google’s office suites. As those companies have expanded into UCaaS, meetings, and chat, the arrangement has changed from complementary to competitive. Almost every UCaaS prospect has an enterprise agreement with Microsoft or Google.
Illumy Hyper Comms: Illumy came out of stealth with a “hyper-communications” service that is freemium (ad-free), browser-based, and combines (unifies) voice, messaging, meetings, contacts, and email. The company has a lot of industry experience within its management team.
The inclusion of email reduces its customers’ need to use Microsoft and/or Google as described above. It also offers a broader vision of unified communications as conversations morph modalities, and it creates a more open messaging experience (non Illumy users can participate in group chats via email).
Zoom’s China Act 2: The US has charged a former China-based Zoom employee with acting on behalf of the Chinese government. The employee evidently misrepresented details to Zoom colleagues to justify turning off accounts that had used social media to promote an event critical of the Chinese government. The accounts in question were largely China-based accounts, although some were for users living in the US. This all took place in May and June of 2020.
This is bad for Zoom as it’s not its first Chinese security drama this year. However, there have not been any charges or accusations that Zoom’s China-based staff had direct access to western Zoom accounts or content.
Zoom’s response is that it supports the US government's commitment to protect American interests from foreign influence and that it terminated this China-based employee for violating company policies. Zoom stated in a blog post that at this stage in its investigation, it does not believe this former employee or any other Zoom employee provided the Chinese government with user data of non-China-based users beyond those specifically related to this matter.
Zoom has taken action to prevent this from reoccurring. It enhanced its internal access controls, including restricting visibility of its global network from its China-based employees, and implemented geo-fencing procedures around its mainland China data center. Zoom has also created a Government Requests Guide to formalize potential future interactions. Last October, Zoom implemented support for E2EE encryption.
The incident highlights two issues (issues bigger than Zoom). The simpler issue is internal controls. Cloud providers serve a far bigger, global customer base than traditional data center operations. Admin rights and responsibilities are significantly amplified which creates a new set of control and privacy challenges. Wrongful admin issues can be accidental (Microsoft’s outage last year due to an expired DNS entry) or deliberate (a Cisco employee was sentenced to prison last month for the sabotage of Webex services). Administrative controls are the new single point of failure in cloud-delivered services. Cloud providers are going to have to implement “two key” types of checks and balances.
The other issue is the increasing impossibility of operating in China and western markets. The Chinese government imposes rules that are not limited to its citizens or borders, and these can be in direct conflict with other sovereign rights and laws. Several companies including Marriott, the NBA, and Google have been caught in these conflicts. These conflicts are impacting both trade and operations.
Bluescape, Mural, and Miro: All made integration announcements this month with Teams, Webex, and/or Zoom. These providers are part of the emerging visual collaboration space.
For the past few years, customers and vendors have struggled with how to digitize whiteboards. Several e-boards are available with some very clever approaches, but none have really nailed it. The pandemic turned the idea upside down — instead of digitizing the board, virtualize it completely with apps and touch-screens (or a mouse). An added benefit of solving visual collaboration with a third party is it works across meeting ecosystems.
Crestron Teams with Microsoft on Room Panels: Room Panels will move into the center ring in 2021 with fresh competition from Crestron, Microsoft, Cisco, and Zoom/Neat. Crestron has two dogs in this fight, and both are based on its new 70 Series hardware. The device can be configured with Crestron software or Microsoft Teams software. Both integrate with Microsoft Teams and Exchange and provide simple booking and availability information. A TalkingPointz Research Note on Room Panels is in the works.
WebexOne: Cisco hosted its first WebexOne event dedicated to Cisco Collaboration’s SaaS future. There were lots of announcements, but the most significant were a new unified app, gestures, templates, a new CCaaS, and new devices.
Webex is now a single app for messaging, calling, and meetings. Today it combines Webex Meetings and Webex Teams, and soon UC-One and Jabber. Cisco also announced several new features including the ability to visually detect gestures and new templates that facilitate/enforce different meeting structures.
Perhaps most significant was the launch of a new cloud-native CCaaS solution. If/when Cisco delivers, it could be very compelling — especially for Cisco single-tenant CC customers. Several new devices were launched, but the Desk Hub was the most intriguing. It represents a new type of device that is a personal yet shared, video-first, desktop endpoint.
The most important takeaway from WebexOne is that rumors of Cisco Collaboration’s demise were greatly exaggerated. Some armchair quarterbacks saw Microsoft and Zoom gain share and expected Chuck to throw in the towel. With new leadership, acquisitions, “hundreds of millions spent” on CCaaS, increased marketing, and numerous other announcements, it’s safe to say Cisco intends to stay in collaboration.
The game plan is to migrate most of its 3M agents to its CCaaS solution, a sector currently dominated by smaller providers. Cisco still holds a significant share in meetings, and its new calling solution is unified and easier to procure. Cisco has a very broad portfolio (suite), a strong sales capability, integrated and innovative hardware, and global reach. For more information, see this WebexOne Research Note or listen to this podcast with Javed Khan on WebexOne.
Amazon Connect Updates: At its annual conference, re:Invent, Amazon made several announcements related to Connect: a unified customer profile, intelligence capability, voice ID, task automation, and real-time analytics updates for Contact Lens. None of these capabilities are unique or innovative, but part of a steady march of how DevOps savvy organizations can create a more robust, CCaaS-like customer engagement solution.
These are all standalone services, or APIs, optimized for Amazon Connect. Customer Profiles aggregates customer information like contact history, contact information, and recent orders. The information is served to agents based on customer phone number or other identifier. The feature extends and leverages information within Connect into a connected repository or lightweight CRM. Connect Wisdom combined with Contact Lens makes relevant information available during a conversation. Wisdom analyzes stored customer information using ML to bring content to an agent in real-time. Wisdom is Amazon Connect’s version of Google CCAI. Amazon Connect Voice ID is the first Amazon-native option for voice biometrics for Connect. The service can be deployed with passive enrollment and can authenticate customers, agents, and supervisors. Amazon Connect Tasks allows agents to automate, track, and manage tasks including follow-ups.
Amazon Connect is a good example of how AWS is bridging the gap between APIs and applications. Connect lies somewhere between these two business models. Amazon is moving toward applications via API-first features.
Genesys Digital: Genesys created and launched a new business unit called Genesys Digital. This more formally unbundles digital customer interactions from the traditional CCaaS offers. It can be more cost-effective for an organization to add/upgrade its digital engagement solutions than to replace a legacy contact center. It formalizes a digital-first GTM, which Genesys was already seeing. Genesys appointed Barry O’Sullivan as the EVP and GM of Genesys Digital and AI. John Hernandez will replace O’Sullivan with the new title of EVP and GM of Genesys Multicloud Solutions.
None of that seems too surprising. Genesys has three key businesses: Genesys PureCloud, Genesys Multicloud, and Digital. Each is a viable (complementary or standalone) business. What’s suspiciously missing from this lineup is the Genesys WFO business, which remains buried within Genesys Cloud. I can’t say I recall WFO getting much attention in last month’s analyst event either. If Genesys was serious about WEM, it would have it as a separate unit that complements Cloud, Multicloud, Digital, and also potentially for sale on its own.
Vaccine Support: The global rollout of the Covid-19 vaccines creates unprecedented logistical challenges. No country or company has experienced this magnitude of logistical and communications challenges. Companies of all sizes across numerous sectors will support the mass vaccine deployment.
There’s opportunity for communications solutions that are aimed at facilitating the rollout of the vaccines. Avaya is flexing its CPaaS capabilities with a new suite of digital services designed for healthcare providers. The Suite assists with identifying and reaching priority populations; collecting, tracking, and reporting key measures of progress; appointment management including second dose facilitation; and other vaccination support processes. Genesys and Nuance launched the automated solutions (Genesys Covid-19 Vaccine Rapid Response and Nuance Vaccine Solutions) to help provide automated, real-time information about vaccine availability. Twilio is playing both angles with CPaaS and chatbot guides optimized for vaccine communications.
Dreamforce: Salesforce held its first virtual Dreamforce, and IMO it was better. The cloud provider with the silly name has now reached the $21B revenue milestone. They haven’t announced a direct CCaaS offer yet but continue to step closer to being a customer engagement provider with three notable announcements: Service Cloud Workforce Engagement (AKA WEM), Customer 360 got promoted (361?), and Einstein for Dummies (low code).
As everyone knows, every CCaaS provider is adding WEM, so Salesforce opted to add it too (sans CCaaS). Service Cloud Workforce Engagement offers its customers assistance with forecasting (scheduling and capacity planning) and helps agents with automated coaching and training. Customer 360, which received a lot of attention at Dreamforce last year, now connects to more Salesforce services and was promoted to the mega-menu. Einstein Automate brings the power of automation to everyday users with a low code UI. Fortunately, Salesforce remains aloof to actually talking to customers.
Lifesize CxEngages: Lifesize announced a major release for its CxEngage platform (previously known as Serenova). The companies merged earlier this year, and this is the first set of major updates as a combined company. New features include language localization (now 18 languages and screen recording). New or expanded integrations include AutoReach (progressive dialing), CallMiner (now with sentiment analysis), Ivinex (agent scripting), Observe.AI (coaching), Omilia (virtual assistant), Plecto (reporting and visualization), Salesforce (routable work items), WhatsApp, and Zappix (IVR).
Extorting FreePBX: Sangoma was a victim of a Conti ransomware attack — it may be the first such attack on an enterprise comms vendor. The attack resulted in 26GB or more of stolen data posted online including some financial and accounting reports and some salary and benefits information. Sangoma has been reassuring customers that there is no evidence that customer accounts or Sangoma products were compromised.
The whole idea of ransomware attacks is incredible. The old school hacker attempts to profit from stolen data, but it turns out that the high bidder is usually the owner of the data. Yes, I know it’s wrong and illegal, but it’s a brilliant example of evolutionary thinking.
Ooma DR: Ooma joins the Direct Routing for Microsoft Teams club of providers.
Meet Work: 8x8 announced that the app previously known as 8x8 Virtual Office (and Virtual Office Mobile) shall henceforth be known as 8x8 Work. The UCaaS app is available for desktop and mobile (find Work in the Play store). The provider rebranded a few other products too: Video Meetings is now 8x8 Meet, Meeting Rooms is now 8x8 Spaces, and Configuration Manager is now 8x8 Admin Console. 8x8 Meet (based on its Jitsi acquisition) is a browser-based app, freemium app that supports E2EE. 8x8 Spaces is based on its Sameroom acquisition.
While I agree that Meet and Work are more intuitive than Virtual Office, I am not a fan of general nouns and common verbs as product names — though it’s certainly a trend (Google Meet, Microsoft Teams). I am waiting for Budweiser Burp.
8x8 announced Dave Sipes replaced Vik Verma as its CEO. Previously, Sipes served as the COO at RingCentral for 12 years.
Wonder, which offers video-based groups to meet up, network, and collaborate, while also having a bird’s-eye view of a larger space, announced it raised $11M (€9 million) in a seed round. Wonder claims it has 200M monthly users, and its customers include NASA, Deloitte, Harvard, and SAP.
Teams Calling: Microsoft announced a series of Teams Calling enhancements. I’ve been critical of Teams in the past for having such limited calling features. It has taken a few years, but the gaps are closing. Many of the new features are just gap fillers, like the ability to merge (PSTN and VoIP) calls and improved number lookups. A few features are more notable including detection of spam calls (I thought “spam” was just used for email, but sure) and call transfer ring-back. One thing that really gets me in the PBX world is the pre-transfer “I might lose you.” The ring-back avoids the drop and rings back for another attempt on a failed transfer.
Undock, an Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator-backed startup, recently closed a $1.6M seed round. It offers a Chrome extension that allows users to see mutual availability from within their email. Users who don’t yet have Undock can temporarily link their calendar to the individual meeting request to automatically find times that work for everyone in the group.
Papercup, which translates people’s voices into other languages, raised £8M in paper funding. Papercup is building out an AI- and ML-based system that it says is capable of translating a person’s voice and expressiveness into other languages. Unlike a lot of text-to-speech, the startup claims the resulting voice translation is “indistinguishable” from human speech, and, perhaps uniquely, it attempts to retain the characteristics of the original speaker’s voice.
Broadvoice announced a minority investment from Crestline Investors, Inc. that will facilitate its UCaaS and CCaaS expansion.
Qualtrics International Inc. filed for what could be one of the first US IPOs of 2021, just over two years after it was acquired by German software giant SAP SE. The customer survey software company has filed SEC paperwork that could value the company as high as $14.4B.
Intermedia launched Easy-IVR, a wizard-based tool for building or modifying interactive voice response systems (IVRs) in “as little as five minutes.” Easy-IVR is generally available with Intermedia Contact Center Pro and Elite packages.
Ooma now includes its new Ooma Meetings in Ooma Office Pro subscriptions.
Facebook and Kustomer: Facebook bought Kustomer for $1B. Kustomer makes customer support and CRM that integrates into social and messaging apps. For example, it can help a WhatsApp user check the status of an order.
Intrado and Asparia: Intrado acquired Asparia, Inc., a SaaS provider of patient engagement solutions for health systems, hospitals, and medical practices. Asparia delivers patient engagement capabilities across the patient care journey. Key features include EHR integrations, embedded check-in, chatbot services, and support of multiple languages.
Cisco Acquires Slido and IMImobile: At the WebexOne conference, Cisco announced two acquisitions. Slido will help make Webex meetings more interactive and engaging. Cisco intends to keep Slido available as a standalone app as well as a native, built-in function of Webex. IMImobile will bring a mature set of omnichannel capabilities to the newly announced Webex Contact Center (CCaaS). It will also continue to be positioned as a digital-only/digital-first solution for non-contact center, customer engagements in marketing, customer service, and other departments. More on this in the TalkingPointz Research Note on WebexOne.
Dubber acquired UK mobile recording business, Speik. The acquisition is valued at $38M. Speik offers PCI compliant and call recording solutions.
Pushy Bird: CPaaS provider MessageBird acquired Pusher in a deal worth $35M. Pusher enables developers to integrate real-time functionalities into their software, including push notifications and in-app messaging. The acquisition comes two months after MessageBird announced $200M in funding, valuing the Netherlands-based company at $3B. It is planning an IPO in 2021 (I bet it gets acquired first).
Sirius and Champion Solutions: Sirius Computer Solutions, Inc. (Sirius), a leading national IT solutions integrator, announced it acquired Champion Solutions Group, Inc. to expand its Microsoft 365 and Azure cloud services. This marks Sirius’ ninth acquisition since 2014.
RingCentral and DeepAffects: RingCentral announced that it acquired DeepAffects, a leading conversational intelligence, voice biometrics provider. DeepAffects brings with it emotion recognition, multi-speaker recognition and voiceprints, and accent detection.
This Month’s Goodreads
- The Verge speculates: How Microsoft crushed Slack
- Good overview of Section 230: Section 230 is Good, Actually
- China's WeChat blocks Australian PM in doctored image dispute
- The SolarWinds Hack Is Unlike Anything We Have Ever Seen Before
- A moment of reckoning: the need for a strong and global cybersecurity response
- I Was the Homeland Security Adviser to Trump. We’re Being Hacked
- Google fully explains what caused Monday’s multi-service outage
- Discord has a lot of potential for collaboration...and virtual events
Discord Gaming Parties Are Better Than Zoom Meetings
- Who knew that being named CEO would be a full-time gig in fighting antitrust
“Regulation can get it wrong”: Google’s Sundar Pichai on AI and antitrust
- Facebook Gets Paid
- Does working from home make employees more productive?
- Oracle is actively supporting changes to Section 230 and Antitrust suits against Google
Oracle: If you can't innovate, litigate
- A collaborative escape room in GDocs
You can escape this room, but you’ll never escape Google Docs
- Video Chatting Became Popular in 2020, and Improved Along the Way ($)
Listen to the two TalkingHeadz Podcast interviews of December:
Next month’s guests include Anand Janefalkar of Ujet and Jeff Teper of Microsoft.
On Deck: Room Panels.
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