Insider Report July 2023
The Most Important Enterprise Communications News
Welcome to summer 2023. Normally, summer kicks off in June, but June was intense. July was actually event-free. Too hot to do much, so this issue is a little shorter.
Meta Had a Good Month: For July, I have to give a hat tip to Zuck and Meta. Talk about transformation. Meta had a good month. If you have to choose a billionaire, it seems Zuck is in and Musk is out. This month, Zuck launched Threads, open-sourced a large language model (LLM), and beat the street with excellent results.
It wasn’t that long ago that Zuck was accused of election interference, and even more recently, we had the Facebook Files. That’s when Frances Haugen blew the whistle by disclosing tens of thousands of Facebook's internal documents to the SEC and WSJ in 2021. After Zuck changed the name of his company and then burned a whopping $39B on building a fantasy, it seemed like he had famed out.
Let’s not get too carried away: Meta is still losing money. However, it did just report its best quarter since 2021. Reality Labs, its virtual and augmented reality division, lost $3.7B during the second quarter of 2023. Otherwise, it was a strong quarter for Meta, which reported $32B in revenue, up 11% YoY.
Threads: Meta launched a micro-blogging site similar to Twitter called Threads. A few important takeaways: First, there is very high frustration with Twitter, and Twitter users are hungry for a viable alternative. How hungry? 100M downloads in five days. This makes it the fastest-growing app in history. Twitter had 206M DAU last November.
But social networks take time. Within weeks, Zuck reports, more than half of those users left. I’m not sure what that means — users are users and not necessarily daily active users. But certainly, Threads is not Twitter. Building a following takes time, and Threads doesn’t make it easy. I would use Threads more, but it doesn’t support #hashtags or offer a web UI (yet). It’s very hard to find your community.
Zuck wants to get to 1B users and will likely pull it off. Let’s face it, Zuck knows a few things about social networks and has the funds, incentive, and capability to build something great. When? We don’t know. Realistically, we knew 1B was ridiculous with V1.0, but he’ll get there. Musk has predictably responded to Threads with a tantrum (that includes dick jabs) and lawsuit threats.
Threads becoming a huge success aligns nicely with Meta’s schadenfreude approach to success. Reels is finally getting traction because of distrust of TikTok. Zuck is seizing the opportunity that Musk is creating by continuously angering employees, advertisers, and users. The whole rebranding to X actually came after Threads (and the X and Threads logos look confusingly similar).
It’s not clear what Zuck is building yet. I doubt it will actually be what Twitter was, nor will it be what Instagram or Facebook are. It’s going to be something new. Many of us would like to see BlueSky become successful (Jack 2.0), but Threads may have closed that window.
Zuck and Musk (and Nadella with LinkedIn) believe users want a fancy AI-powered algorithm to determine what appears in their feed. I disagree. I think what made Twitter 1.0 great was that the feed is 100% based on who you follow.
Meta Opened a Can of AI: Meta also released its Llama 2 LLM as open source. Even more importantly, it released the training and fine-tuning weights that work it. Zuck even threw in a commercial license so everyone (except Google and Microsoft) can use it. (The free license is for companies with fewer than 700M MAU.)
Llama 2 is the first openly released model on par with ChatGPT. Llama 2 likely cost millions to create, so what has occurred here is quite extraordinary. It will both accelerate AI (as if we needed that) and cause some serious headaches for OpenAI/Azure/GCP and others.
Zuck’s move is disruptive but not completely original. AI has blossomed as a field because company researchers, academics, and other experts have been willing to share notes. Google built and publicly shared the transformer model that has become foundational in the newest AI research. Now, some of the most advanced AI in the world is available to more companies, students, and countries.
Open-source models allow researchers to better find not just security flaws but more qualitative flaws in LLMs. Open-sourced generative AI just might be what is needed to improve AI limitations such as bias, hallucinations, and other problematic content.
Twitter X: Elon has, at least for now, changed the name of Twitter to X. In 2022, the day Musk announced that he was dropping his lawsuit to get out of buying Twitter, he also said, “Buying Twitter is an accelerant to creating X, the everything app.” X is not a new obsession. He calls his kid “X.” His second company was X.com, not to mention SpaceX and the Tesla Model X.
The theory behind X is that Twitter needs to evolve into something much more. Musk cites WeChat, the all-encompassing communications and commerce app. WeChat is an aspirational vision, but sure, why not. There’s no question that Twitter can and should evolve, and most services do evolve. Twitter was originally designed for SMS before evolving to a more web-centric app. So much so that the original text limitation for SMS was expanded years ago. It’s added videos and live events too. Did it need a new name? No.
I don’t believe for a second that he’s really dumping the name Twitter. It’s way too valuable as one of the most popular destinations on the web and has the coveted brand-as-a-verb status. Musk is very good at controlling the headlines, and the story switched from Threads to X overnight. X, like Meta and Alphabet, will likely become a holding company, and I expect that Twitter will return — and when it does, it will dominate the headlines again. #CantLose
Nobody knows what’s next for Twitter, but its users remain loyal. Frustrated but loyal. It doesn’t seem likely that Twitter will run out of money and disappear (and if it does run out of money, Musk will buy it out of bankruptcy), although Musk’s tenure as owner has been chaotic. So far, he’s harmed his reputation, lowered Twitter’s and Tesla’s value, and damaged Twitter in numerous ways, including revenue, morale, retention, and trust. Eventually, Musk will do something right and claim it was his plan all along. It would really be bad if he weren’t a genius.
Copilot Pricing: Copilot is moving quickly — or is it? It was announced last March as a concept; now it’s a brand. The first demo I saw was at Enterprise Connect. I think it’s fascinating that Microsoft has pricing already — keep in mind the product is in beta and has no release date yet. Usually, Microsoft gives stuff away and then figures out how to monetize if it sticks. But then Copilot isn’t just a software license — each customer consumes Azure resources. It’s harder to be generous when there’s a real cost.
Considering enterprises pay around $6–$57 per user per month for M365, $30 is quite an uplift. Microsoft 365 Copilot is the first of many Copilots. Enterprises may subscribe to multiple Copilots, such as Dynamics Copilot or the Power Platform Copilot. At Microsoft Inspire, the company said AI will be its fastest business to reach $10B in revenue.
Copilot won’t be easy, though. There are two big issues: trust and whom it benefits. Copilot works best with lots of data. Especially data that used to be private, such as what’s in your documents, emails, and messages. Many employees may not respond well to their new Big Brother, especially since Copilot is not a personal assistant.
The personal AI assistant is coming, though — that’s part of Open AI’s vision. Personal assistants represent a specific user. An AI personal assistant will advise on everything from well-being to career development. The problem with personal AI assistants is that they are compute-intensive. Copilot assists the organization. There will no doubt be times when what’s best for the organization is not what’s best for the individual. Will employees see Copilot as Big Brother, a mentor/coach, or a trusted advisor?
Is Copilot worth it? It’s way too early to tell, but if at all, probably only for heavy desktop users that leverage the full M365 subscription. However, that’s not the way it’s being sold. It’s an all-or-none proposition. Really, MS should give Copilot away as a loss leader, as it will drag more M365 usage. The more data in M365 (Office, Sharepoint, Teams, Exchange), the more useful Copilot becomes.
Bing Chat: Microsoft also announced Bing Chat Enterprise. No, it’s not a competitor to Google Chat; it’s a competitor to Google Search. Bing + ChatGPT (GPT-4) + internet = Bing Chat. Bing Chat + commercial data protection = Bing Chat Enterprise. Commercial data protection means Bing doesn’t save or learn from chat data. Bing Chat Enterprise will run about $5 per user per month.
The new Bing Chat may or may not be better than Google Search. What concerns me more is that Microsoft appears to be restarting the browser wars. They lasted for years and stifled internet innovation the whole time. The war ended when Microsoft embraced Chromium and created Edge. Edge and Chrome were effectively compatible but used different wrappers. Many of Chrome’s features, such as bookmark synchronization, are associated with a Google user ID. Edge’s features are associated with a Microsoft user ID.
Microsoft Bing and Microsoft Bing Enterprise only work with Edge. There’s even a new sidebar in Edge that goes directly to Bing for answers. Microsoft intends to ignore the default web browser on Windows and only open Outlook and Teams links in Microsoft Edge. Organizations that have standardized on Chrome may have to rethink that decision if they deploy Copilot and Bing Chat.
MS Antitrust: The European Commission has opened a formal investigation to assess whether Microsoft may have breached EU competition rules by tying or bundling Teams to Office 365 and Microsoft 365 subscriptions.
The Commission said it’s “concerned” that Microsoft may effectively be forcing customers to include Teams with their Microsoft 365 subscriptions. No shit. That’s why Slack filed the initial complaint (3+ years ago!). Perhaps if the EU had acted sooner, Slack would still be a viable standalone vendor — though at least they acted. Where was the FTC?
This will amount to nothing for Microsoft for two reasons. First, Teams already won. The giveaway stage was great while it lasted, but that has predictably ended. Heck, even Microsoft has moved past giving it away and has engineered premium licenses and Copilot as creative fees on its free product.
The second reason is that the competitors have packed up and disappeared like the Lorax. The providers need to convince the customer to (1) pay for the apps and (2) not use the apps they already paid for. Cisco, Google, and Zoom all have robust chat apps that can compete against Teams. Most of the UCaaS chats are bundled with UCaaS (the exact opposite GTM strategy as Microsoft). There are quite a few chat apps if we expand our search to include Discord, Chime, and others, but most gave up on the mainstream enterprise adoption pre-pandemic.
It will fizzle, but it’s open season on big tech firms. In an Op-Ed in The New York Times, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Lindsay Graham (since when do they agree on anything?) proposed creating a Digital Consumer Protection Commission charged with “licensing and policing” the biggest tech companies.
Meetings and Messaging
WhatsApp Video Mail: This feature simply makes sense. Popularized by Loom, supported in several UCaaS apps (RingCentral, Webex, and more), and now in WhatsApp. The new feature was personally demonstrated by Zuck. Unlike audio recordings, WhatsApp video messages are limited to one minute and will autoplay muted.
Collaborative Notes in Teams: Notes are back. I started as an Evernote fan and never could understand why none of the meeting apps acquired Evernote or introduced collaborative note-taking. Evernote is long past its sell-by date, but note-taking apps are in vogue. Last year, Slack introduced its Canvas applet. Notion is breaking out. Microsoft can’t seem to decide if it wants to be Evernote (OneNote), Notion (Loop), calendar-centric (Outlook), automated (Copilot), or perhaps something Teams-centric.
Collaborative Notes in Microsoft Teams Meetings is now in public preview. It allows meeting attendees to co-create in real-time on the meeting agenda, notes, and follow-up tasks. These capabilities are integrated across Teams, Loop, Planner, To Do, Office.com, and OneDrive for Business. Collaborative notes are a Loop component and always stay in sync. Collaborative notes can also manage tasks and assigned tasks.
Breakout Shuffle: Breakout rooms were one of the best meetings innovations of the pandemic. Most likely, room and virus breakouts are part of the new norm. What seemed so complete when launched has proved to be a good platform for continued innovation. Now, in Teams, organizers can randomly assign participants to rooms before or during the live meeting. The feature also allows selective shuffling, so only unassigned participants are shuffled.
MAXHUB: Microsoft has approved MAXHUB as its newest hardware partner for the Teams ecosystem. No doubt, this is welcome news to anyone who felt there weren’t enough suppliers in this highly selective marketplace. I am not yet familiar with MAXHUB, but MS emphasizes that MAXHUB provides affordable Windows-based devices.
Beyond MAXHUB, there are several improvements across Microsoft’s hardware ecosystem, but the AudioCodes RXPad for Microsoft Teams Rooms Android — a touch controller for AudioCodes meeting room solutions — stands out.
Vonage Adds Conversation to Conversational Commerce: Vonage updated its conversational commerce technology (from its acquisition of Jumper.ai). The mobile app now includes live chat features. Also, a new Attentive Widget allows businesses to embed IM into websites. Vonage continues to converge what were separate apps into a broader, mobile-centric suite. Vonage also launched the Vonage Protection Suite, which offers several counter-fraud products and solutions to help enterprises protect against fraud with carrier-grade tools.
Theta Zoom: Theta Lake and Zoom offer an integration that allows businesses to capture and store contact center recordings securely. This technology effectively redacts sensitive information such as credit card numbers. Theta has the most certified compliance and security apps in the Zoom Marketplace.
Solgari for Teams: CallTower launched Solgari, a Microsoft Teams-integrated contact center. Solgari for Teams is accessible within the Teams app and includes call recording, IVR, advanced routing, and omnichannel features like chat, email, and SMS. Real-time analytics and reporting tools are also included.
UJET and ServiceNow: UJET and the Google CCAI Platform announced an integration with ServiceNow. The integration enables a secure, encrypted, real-time data exchange between UJET and CCAI Platform with ServiceNow’s Customer Service Management (CSM) solutions. This integration stores all customer data and personally identifiable information (PII) in ServiceNow as opposed to the CCaaS. An embedded agent adapter simplifies workflows, with all information presented in a single tab with extensive customization options.
Copilot in Teams Phone: Billed as the first UCaaS solution that incorporates generative AI capabilities in phone calls, Copilot in Teams Phone provides features such as real-time summarization and insights on ordinary phone calls. Copilot drafts notes during calls and highlights key points. Stay focused on the conversation and let Copilot take notes, capture relevant questions, and summarize calls.
Shared Lines in Teams: The story never gets old. Modern IP platforms obsoleted the TDM-based PBX. It didn’t have all the features, but the story back then was, who needs them? Turns out, lots of folks. New, modern UC platforms keep adding them back. This month, it’s Teams adding shared lines. Imagine a single line being shared across several users and desktops. It’s the future (again).
Teams Phone Mobile Expansion: I still contend that UCaaS Mobility 3.0 is the biggest innovation in UCaaS in 2023, 2023, and probably 2024. Some folks are reusing the term FMC (fixed-mobile convergence), but that’s a bit tired as it used to refer to local wireless solutions such as PBX to Wi-Fi services. Microsoft (and Cisco) have solutions for both MNO (mobile network operator) and MVNO (its virtual sibling). The MNO solutions are typically offered with one in-region cell provider (for now). There are 5 MNOs today. This month, two existing MNO partners expanded their availability: Telia expanded into Denmark and Norway, and Swisscom expanded into Liechtenstein.
Windstream Expands Digital Workspace Services: Windstream Enterprise, a known player in the #UCaaS space, announced a new managed workplace services portfolio powered by ATSG.
Proximus/Route Mobile: The Belgian operator Proximus will purchase a 57.56% stake in India’s Route Mobile. The intended or stated goal is to create the world’s third-largest CPaaS. The acquisition is being made via Proximus’ enterprise-focused subsidiary Proximus Opal, which itself is the parent company of Proximus’ CPaaS business Telesign. Combined, the two businesses will generate an annual revenue of around €900M.
NEURA’s Collaborative Robotics: NEURA Robotics is a German startup that produces cognitive robots. These are machines that can collaborate with people (“cobots”). It has raised $55M from Lingotto — an investment management company that is part of PE firm Exor N.V. — plus Vsquared Ventures, Primepulse, and HV Capital. The valuation is not being disclosed.
RingCentral Events: RingCentral announced the acquisition of “select assets” from Hopin. This probably means RingCentral will be expanding into virtual and hybrid events. Hopin was a breakout events startup during the pandemic, and its Events solution is an all-in-one event management platform that enables planning and producing virtual and hybrid events. The acquisition includes technology assets, customer relationships, and engineering, product, and go-to-market talent from Hopin. Terms were not disclosed.
Hopin intends to be a strategic partner of RingCentral, and continue to operate as a standalone business with its remaining products: StreamYard for livestreaming, Streamable for video hosting, and Superwave for “community building.”
Scott Wharton Leaves Logitech: Scott had a great 8-year run at Logitech, and I agree it’s a good time to leave. He wanted a CEO role and found one at Tandem PV. It’s also a good time to be getting into solar, one of the few industries that might actually do well in our increasing volatility of climate change. It’s a big loss for the comms industry, especially video comms.
Daniel Dines of UiPath traded his co-CEO title for Chief Innovation Officer, leaving Rob Enslin as CEO. Zendesk named Kelly Waldher as its CMO. Kathie Johnson is no longer the CMO of Talkdesk, nor is Cameron Weeks the CEO of Edify.
- Shopify Shames Employees With Cost Calculator for Pointless Meetings Time is money, and Shopify Inc. wants its workers to understand that maxim applies to meetings.
- Where Does Intel Stand Now? The mighty has fallen, but can it get up?
- 4 Unlocks on the Generative AI Horizon A16Z speaks with some of the leading generative AI researchers about near-term technological breakthroughs for LLMs.
- Google restricting internet access to some employees to reduce cyberattack risk Even a company whose existence depends on the internet is finding it may be safer to restrict it.
- Microsoft wants you to pay for Windows from the cloud — good luck with that If Microsoft has its way, not only will people pay an annual subscription for Windows, but they’ll also load Windows directly from the cloud rather than on their own PCs.
- The working-from-home illusion fades A gradual reverse migration is underway, from Zoom to the conference room.
- Transformers: the Google scientists who pioneered an AI revolution Fascinating look behind the curtain. Innovation and retention lessons here.
- Twitter becomes X Like graffiti, this was an act of cultural vandalism.
- Why China’s “super-apps “ will never succeed in the US Elon’s X-rated WeChat fantasy caused me to revisit this post from 2018. The Guardian takes a fresh look and more or less reaches the same conclusion.
- A New Attack Impacts Major AI Chatbots — and No One Knows How to Stop It Researchers found a simple way to make ChatGPT, Bard, and other chatbots misbehave, proving that AI is hard to tame.
- Large language models, explained with a minimum of math and jargon
- In this video, Frontier Airlines takes a bow for eliminating inbound voice.
Other Recent Stuff
- NoJitter: NICE ElevateAI, Microsoft Tango and MVNOs, Why NPS, ChatGPT Hallucinations
- NICE Interactions Videos: Neeraj on ElevateAI, Greg Weber CTO Eventus, Kathy Sobus GTM ConvergeOne
- Verint Engage: Jaime Meritt CPO and Avaya Experience Platform on Verint
- Avaya Partners Cognigy and Journey Expand Customer Service Capabilities
- Vonage Protection Suite Offers Counter-Fraud as a Service
- Security Concerns Penetrating Enterprise Communications
- TalkingPointz Research: EC23 Research Note and Conversational AI 2023.
- TalkingPointz Research: Does CCaaS Matter? [spoiler alert: no]
- CXToday Video: Microsoft vs. Google: The Race to CCaaS Contention
- Slack Elevate Enhances Efficiencies, Adds Workflow Capabilities
2023 Insider Reports
- Insider Jan 2023
- Jan Insider Lite 2023
- Insider Feb 2023
- Insider Feb Insider Lite
- Insider March 2023
- Insider April 2023
- Insider Lite April
- Insider May 2023
- Insider June 2023