Insider Report October 2021
The Most Important Enterprise Communications News from October 2021
October is typically the busiest month of the year in terms of UCC events, and 2021 didn’t disappoint. This month, I attended three in-person events. Coincidentally, that’s the same number of events I’ve attended all year. I also missed some great events. A very busy and good month.
Last month, I predicted some tough economic times ahead. However, October was pretty strong. Major stock indices are up, and so are crypto assets. But we are not out of the woods. There are some very mixed signals: Unemployment is high, but so are job listings. Prices are up, but it could be from shortages or inflation.
Two big issues have no resolution in sight: supply chains and labor. Western economies are built on a foundation of commerce. The economy will falter when products are not produced and sold. Tim Cook says supply constraints cost Apple $6B in Q421. Wait times on chips are getting longer.
Then there’s the labor shortage and the Great Resignation. Amazon says it can’t hire enough people. Severe labor shortages across the economy are impacting entire sectors, including child care, health care, automotive, restaurants, and transportation. A surprising number of employees would rather not work than get vaccinated.
That reminds me — there’s still a deadly pandemic occurring. Cases are declining overall, but there are plenty of hotspots (Russia, Eastern Europe, Colorado). However, I felt better about this pandemic actually ending after reading this post by Colin on TalkingPointz. Colin shows each variant of this disease dies out after 18 months. The only reason the pandemic hasn’t ended is because of new variants. Hopefully, Delta is the last big one.
General Industry News
Magical Moments: Gartner published two important MQs this month: UCaaS and Meetings. I always enjoy the MQs and read them thoroughly.
Every analyst has a different view of the vendor landscape, but Gartner has incredible data inputs. I don’t always agree with Gartner’s conclusions, but I respect the process. MQs are oriented toward large enterprise, Gartner’s customers. This impacts the inclusion criteria, evaluation criteria, scoring, and weights. Large enterprises and Gartner tend to favor large, proven vendors, and MQs are often similar to market share reports.
What I find most surprising about these new 2021 reports is how similar they are to their 2020 editions. Actually, all three enterprise comms MQs (UCaaS, Meetings, and CCaaS) are nearly identical to the reports published last year. It’s odd because there is so much happening in enterprise comms.
Also, the UCaaS and Meetings reports are similar to each other. My theory is that Gartner is not putting a lot of weight on voice in the UCaaS report. For example, Microsoft is rated very strongly in UCaaS, but it earned a caution that Teams does not address requirements for advanced telephony. Google, too, was rated very strong on ability to execute, but it hasn’t announced any significant updates to Google Voice in years.
I kind of agree with the importance of meetings and messaging, especially during the pandemic. But this is Gartner’s only MQ on enterprise voice. Also, there’s a separate MQ for Meetings (and both feature Cisco, Microsoft, and Zoom as Leaders).
Gartner is also predicting that “15% of organizations will rely solely on cloud office suites [for comms] ..., including telephony — a significant increase from 2% in 2019.” That’s an ominous prediction for the broader vendor ecosystem. When they say cloud suites, they are referring to MS 365 and Google Workspace, but they mean MS 365. Considering that Cisco, RingCentral, Zoom, and others intend to keep growing, that puts extraordinary pressure on a lot of providers.
Also, Gartner is predicting a significant shift away from hard phones. I agree, and I’m a hard phone bigot. The overall market may be shrinking, but companies such as Poly are reporting growth as the demand for SIP-based endpoints continues to grow.
Syniverse Hacked: Syniverse disclosed that it was the subject of a possible five-year-long hack. The provider supplies carriers like Verizon, T-Mobile, and AT&T wholesale messaging services. After completing its internal evaluation, Syniverse determined that the security breach started in May 2016.
The hackers “gained unauthorized access to databases within its network on several occasions, and ... login information allowing access to or from its Electronic Data Transfer (EDT) environment was compromised for approximately 235 of its customers,” the filing reads. That could include access to call records and metadata like phone numbers, locations, and the content of text messages.
This is another supply-side attack similar to Solarwinds. At risk are details about senders and recipients, SMS content, device identifiers, and their locations. SMS messages are a common form of 2FA and can be used to reset access to accounts. Syniverse’s 1,250 customers represent millions of impacted users. Note, SMS messages are not encrypted.
The hack was discovered as the company is attempting to go public through a SPAC. As covered in the March Insider Report, Twilio agreed to invest up to $750M and become a significant minority owner in a complex merger that values Syniverse at $2.85B. As that transaction has not closed, neither company was able to comment on if/how this hack impacts the arrangement.
Vonage Expands Reach of its CPaaS: Vonage announced a strategic partnership with Etisalat Digital, a business unit of Etisalat — a major comms provider in the UAE. Etisalat Digital will offer customizable communications APIs powered by Vonage.
Facebook Finally Giving Us Something to Talk About: It was a really bad month for Facebook. On Oct. 5, Frances Haugen, whistleblower and former employee, went public on a “60 Minutes” interview, and things got worse from there. I’ve never seen so much negative press about Facebook.
The Facebook Papers have been revealing. NBC News shared how conservatives get pushed to QAnon. The NYTimes wrote about how Facebook employees sounded the alarm about election misinformation, but the company ignored it. I might suggest its summer PR battle with beloved Apple didn’t help either. The issues are not limited to the US. For example, the documents show similar problems in India — Facebook’s biggest market.
There’s a powerful report/podcast of Kara Swisher interviewing Nobel Prize laureate Maria Ressa where they discuss the dangerous results of social media and Facebook. It’s easier to see the abuses and misinformation in the context of a different country.
This is a complex issue because it doesn’t appear Facebook has violated any laws. The laws were written before Facebook existed, and need some revisions. The problem is solving problems requires a shared reality, which Facebook both denies and profits from doing so.
Near the end of October, Zuckerberg managed to change the topic. Forget Facebook; that’s old tech — look at what’s coming (it looks the same as what was coming a decade ago). Some are debating if Meta is a continuation of Facebook’s mission (to connect people) or a pivot. It’s neither: It’s a distraction.
The metaverse doesn’t exist, and there’s no indication it’s even desired. It’s interesting for dystopian science fiction (“The Matrix,” “Ready Player One,” “Avatar,” and “The Lawnmower Man”). It is fascinating conceptually, but it’s decades ahead of schedule. Meanwhile, there’s a dumpster fire that needs attention. Note, nothing has changed since Jan. 6. Though I do like the Meta logo — it reminds me of both Webex and Mitel.
All that said, I do believe metaverses are coming. The metaverse is a concept, not a brand. An earlier name for the concept was the Spatial Web. At some point most of us will be working there (hybrid work?). The issue isn’t whether it’s coming; the issue is who will build and control it. The wrong answers are Zuck, Meta, or any centralized authority. The right answer is a distributed ecosystem, descendants of what’s occurring now in the crypto sector.
As negative as I am on Facebook, I am not opposed to Workplace by Facebook. Though it’s now caught in a bind because its close association (and familiarity) with its parent has previously worked to its advantage. Workplace is a corporate tool without ads. There’s no incentive to incite or fragment. However, any enterprise comms tool can be used for unsanctioned conversations. See GoodReads #4.
Leadership Changes: UJET announced the appointment of Tom Puorro as its Chief Business Officer (CBO). Puorro is well known for his prior contributions to Cisco Collaboration (multiple leadership roles) and Poly (GM of Products). George Hu resigned as COO of Twilio. Hu arrived in 2017, and CFO Khozema Shipchandler was named as his replacement. Joe Manuele is departing Dialpad to launch a new video-related startup called NoFilter.
Meetings and Messaging
WebexOne: Cisco made several announcements at its WebexOne event. I am not a fan of all this talk about hybrid because it puts so much focus on office and home locations, which contradicts the “work is not a place” vibe. However, Cisco’s hybrid messaging is really about work from anywhere (WFA) — and that I agree with. (Roy Kent works here, there, he works everywhere.)
Cisco is using its broad hardware portfolio to differentiate its approach to WFA. Differentiated is an understatement. Every other meeting provider appears to want little to nothing to do with hardware. Pre-pandemic, Webex hardware was all about rooms. Over the pandemic, it expanded to include desktops.
To showcase the breadth of the Webex device portfolio, Cisco literally built a showcase of workspaces that included offices, meeting rooms, ad hoc and permanent home offices, a medical exam room, and even a coffee shop. It became obvious why Cisco is leaning into hardware. Keep in mind that most of these devices also work with Google Meet.
The other big announcement regarding WFA is an upgraded Webex calling experience on AT&T (and others soon) with Webex Go. It’s a simple concept that’s hard to explain, so see my TalkingPointz post on it. Cisco’s device lineup got broader with a small appliance and some big boards. The new Webex Mini is an enterprise-ready version of the Facebook Portal that’s colorful and manageable. Cisco also announced the 55" and 75" Webex Board Pro, two new all-in-ones with dual cameras and styli.
The Bang & Olufsen Cisco 980 is a premium co-developed headset. Hybrid is all about the melding of enterprise and consumer, so two premium brands with complementary skills made the sexiest headset I’ve ever seen. It’s got B&O acoustics and design in Cisco Desk Pro colors with Webex controls on the side. It’s not aimed at CC agents, but what a profound cure to turnover. Will have to wait until early next year to don one. MSRP $549.
From a software perspective, the most intriguing development was Webex Hologram. It’s not quite the Hologram from Trek TNG, but it’s far more interesting than ANY VR meeting app that I’ve seen. This isn’t a next-gen of video meetings; it’s more of a first-gen for 1:1 conversations about a thing, like a prototype. I did get to try it, and it’s real. It delivers 3D video in that changing one’s viewing angle changes what you see. There will be specialized use cases that benefit from it, but most of us will wait until version 3.
Zoom Meetings: Zoom announced auto-generated captions (live transcription) are now available in English (more languages coming). The feature is now available on most Zoom accounts, previously only paid meeting accounts.
Microsoft Teams: Microsoft Teams had a relatively quiet month, likely the calm before the storm, with the Ignite conference occurring in November. The big news is the Teams Whiteboard got a major update. Lots of new features such as templates, sticky notes, reactions, and more are now supported on the whiteboard. Tablet users got a new look, but mobile users still can’t create. There’s been a lot of whiteboard activity from all of the major meetings providers.
Also, Microsoft announced Live Transcript in unscheduled meetings, and meeting organizers now have more control over breakout rooms. Chat Supervisors can now delete messages.
8x8 Meetings: 8x8 XCaaS enhancements this month advanced moderation features, in-meeting polls and emojis, and meeting analytics with real-time insights.
Google Cloud Next: Google made some enterprise comms announcements at its Cloud Next event. Many of the announcements at the event were covered in previous Insider Reports (when they were initially announced). But to be fair, Google has accelerated its improvements to Meet. Perhaps the most significant Meet enhancement is planned support for client-side encryption (CSE). Google currently supports CSE in Drive, Docs, Sheets, and Slides.
CSE is similar to E2EE, but the encryption keys are generated and stored in a cloud-based key management service. There are advantages to this in that admins can revoke a user’s access to keys, but centralized management can be abused. It was not clear to me if Google itself requires access to the keys or key server.
Google also announced DLP services (beta) for Google Chat. This provides additional tools to protect sensitive data from external users. Gmail is getting a refresh that includes more powerful search, inline topic threading, robust security, and admin tools for improved content moderation.
Google Backdoors into Enterprise Comms: Google announced and released the Pixel 6 this month. It’s a pretty significant step in terms of the evolution of Android. The Pixel 6 has several features regarding popular toll-free numbers. It can tell callers the current hold time for popular toll-free numbers, displays IVR options on the screen, and has a form of virtual hold. It appears Google is crowdsourcing the data, similar to how it navigates with Waze.
Additionally, Google is enabling E2EE on Google Fi (its MVNO) calls between Android devices. Google also has a call-screening feature that queries the caller about the purpose of the call and displays responses in real time on the phone’s display. Previously, Google announced E2EE on RCS messages. It is surprising how few UCaaS services support E2EE on in-app calls.
Poly Signs: Poly announced an integration with Appspace for digital signage on its Studio X Series and G7500 devices. eSignage and wayfinding are a logical use of unused room displays, but they’re also problematic because important messages are gone when the display is used.
Amazon Ringing Chime: There hasn’t been much to report about Amazon Chime this year. But things are changing quickly. Slack used the Chime SDK to create Huddles, and suddenly Chime is ringing again. In 2021, there were 10 Chime-related press releases — half were in October and all about the SDK. The Chime SDK now supports more customized media, background video blur, content sharing, push notifications, and call recording.
HP Wants a Bigger Slice: HP’s on-again/off-again relationship with enterprise video conferencing is on again or, more accurately, expanding. In 2018, it positioned its Slice PC as an option for Teams Rooms. In 2011, HP exited enterprise video by selling its Halo unit to Polycom. HP believes that its new Presence portfolio can make Teams and Zoom meeting rooms better. The portfolio includes a Mini Conferencing PC, 4K AI Camera, an audio-video bar, HP Presence Hub (controller), and HP Presence Talk Satellite Microphones. There’s also HP Presence Control software.
Clearly, HP sees an opportunity here, but I’d like to see their work. With Logi, Neat, Poly, and Microsoft itself, it’s already a crowded sector, and many of these peripherals are low margin. HP hasn’t indicated anything notably better or cheaper than existing alternatives. Maybe the perceived opportunity is to create a single-vendor room solution, at least for Microsoft Teams (Logi and Poly use third-party PCs). That works for Microsoft, but Zoom has embraced Android-powered appliances (which are not offered by HP). Zoom will likely only support HP’s equipment as peripherals. Neither Microsoft nor Zoom has certified the Presence line yet.
Personally, I think Android makes more sense for room systems. It’s easier to support, built for touch, easier to maintain, and has lower hardware requirements. Logi, Neat, and Poly (and Cisco) have all created their own versions of Android for their room appliances. Microsoft is justifiably Windows-first, and they are the only vendor with a single-vendor solution (the Surface Hub). I’m not convinced that a single vendor bundle is important to Teams admins, but we are about to find out.
Webex Events: Cisco expanded its Webex Events portfolio this month, now that it has completed its integration of Socio (acquired in July). Webex Events now offers Webex Webinars and Socio hybrid events. The twist with Cisco is that it’s pushing hybrid events (up to 10K attendees for webinars and 100K for webcasts). The events solution spans management capabilities, including badging and printing, monetization, and networking. Cisco has integrated its Socio acquisition (for polling, quizzing, and Q&A) into Webex Meetings, Webinars, and Socio.
Zoom Events: The service that hosted Zoomtopia last month went GA in October. Zoom Events now supports multi-day and multi-session conferences. Zoom also expanded international coverage, and events can now be hosted in Brazil, Hong Kong, Italy, the Netherlands, Singapore, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Events Galore: Most meetings providers are expanding into bigger events, including Cisco, LogMeIn, Microsoft, RingCentral, and Zoom. Events are closer to webinars than meetings but still different. Events require specialized services such as registration, managing sessions, managing itineraries, managing sponsors, managing speakers, recording and sharing, content distribution, surveys, and of course, analytics.
As a regular attendee of virtual conferences, I can say there is significant opportunity for improvement. There’s general frustration around networking and session management (one URL, or does each session have a URL?). My personal frustration has to do with Q&A and access to recorded content. Q&A varies dramatically — type or speak, use a “question” feature or put your question in the chat stream? Is it type the question and listen for the answer or read the answer? Are there multiple ways to ask questions? Are they recorded for playback or download? Will one model emerge?
There’s also an opportunity to create some best practices. We are in early days, and the vast majority of organizations have yet to host a virtual event. When does polling make sense? How to manage noise and distractions? Can we ban pre-recorded presentations?
Zoom Reacts: Delivered as promised last month, Zoom announced that React Native for Zoom’s video SDK is GA. This allows developers to build video-based applications that work across mobile and browser frameworks.
Digital HQ: I dissected Stewart’s Dreamforce keynote on the Digital HQ powered by Slack. It’s a good presentation on hybrid work that never mentions the H word.
NICE, CXone, CXi: NICE nailed it with its analyst event — for several reasons. NICE pulled out all the stops in terms of an event to remember. However, the lavish event was only a portion of why it was so good.
Probably the most significant factor was that it was, for many of the analysts, the first in-person event in about 20 months. If you really want your event to stand out, have 20 months of virtual events precede it. We were all anxious to get to an event again as well as see each other (the comms analyst community is a close-knit group).
I will briefly touch on the key announcement of CXi, or Customer Experience Interactions. It’s a framework that utilizes several technologies and initiatives to help organizations meet customers where their journey begins. CXi is an attempt to consolidate and integrate everything that matters in CCaaS, including routing, WFO, analytics, AI, digital, and self-service. In some ways, CXi is just another term for CXone, or why CXone remains so relevant.
CXi was well covered after the event, I recommend Blair’s comprehensive post and videos. Here, I want to talk more about the event itself. I truly appreciate a good event, and I understand how much goes into them. It was clear NICE put an extraordinary into the planning of the event, but also to walk the talk — personalization, the value of conversations, engagement, and more. It was a Mary Poppins event (practically perfect in every way): the venue, attendance, weather, the season (fall colors), meals, logistics, and more. If there were any mishaps, I missed them.
It was also an excellent balance between formal sessions and informal gatherings. A full day of sessions was reasonable, but this may be something else the pandemic (at least temporarily) has changed. We’ve had enough of the formal presentations, so NICE limited them to half-days. They used the remainder for informal gatherings, and this “playtime” was surprisingly effective. There were plenty of NICE representatives within the group to ensure productive conversations. Also, it was classy and appreciated to invite Art and Ken for a proper retirement send-off.
I learned a lot about NICE and met a lot of people. I better appreciate why Drew has them in the upper right of the CCaaS MQ. I took away a far better understanding of their vision and strategy than I typically take away from an analyst event.
Twilio Signal: I’ve been attending Twilio Signal events since they started, but this one was a biggie. It had the usual announcements, motivating keynotes, and live coding, but this one had a rebirth — Twilio 2.0 was born, and it’s not an incremental upgrade.
When Twilio launched Flex, it appeared that it was heading toward CCaaS, or what they might call a traditional application or SaaS. At the same time, CCaaS and UCaaS providers are evolving toward CPaaS. My assumption was that these sectors were converging. That’s not the case. Twilio is indeed heading up the stack but skipping the SaaS.
Twilio is for builders, and Twilio Engagement is meant to help organizations understand their customers in order to build personalized solutions. Twilio is connecting platform and programmable with customer engagement. It is an (untapped) adjacency. The beauty of this move is that it’s a strikingly similar conversation to other CCaaS providers (conversations, customer journeys, omnichannel, conversational AI, orchestration, etc.), but it targets developers. Instead of an application, it’s a set of customizable tools. Twilio is expanding from comms to Mar-Tech, intended to create real-time, personalized engagement models. It’s not really a pivot, but Twilio just became a very different company. Here’s a rundown of key announcements:
Twilio Engage leverages Segment (acquired last November) and gathers customer data from over 50 sources. It is a platform that sits alongside Twilio Flex and Twilio Frontline. It is in a limited pilot now, with GA expected in Q1.
Regarding understanding conversations, Twilio had two announcements: IVR Now and Twilio Intelligence. IVR Now is for low-value, tactical solutions. Cloud-delivered, elastic, and easy to manage. Twilio Intelligence for Voice is for high-value conversations intended “to turn voice into data, and data into meaning.” Conversations represent the golden thread in CCaaS vision today. The first hurdle is accurate transcription. The second hurdle is making sense of the accurate transcription.
IMO, speech tech isn’t there yet. But it’s getting better and works better in a narrowly defined scope. Twilio did demonstrate how it can understand different phrases that mean the same thing, and how phonetically spelling a confirmation number doesn’t confuse it. A key value prop Twilio emphasized is that the tech can be molded to specific use cases. Though not a compelling differentiator, it’s an important aspect of Twilio’s vision around personalized experiences (for its customers and theirs).
Twilio also announced the MessagingX Platform that integrates trust into the messaging API with an integration into the new Twilio Trust Hub for verified business messaging. Also, Flex One offers a single API for all channels, including email.
WebexOne CX: Cisco provided updates at WebexOne regarding its Webex Customer Experience solutions. A new Customer Journey Data Service connects the entire customer journey across channels and touchpoints (shopping cart to a chat, to a call, to an email). The service can track journeys across different interactions.
Cisco has been hinting at a Webex CPaaS since it acquired IMImobile last February. Cisco has been merging IMImobile’s enterprise APIs with new Webex APIs into Webex Connect. This new service of APIs and SDKs for customer and employee engagement is expected to GA in early 2022. Available now is a new developer Sandbox for building, testing, debugging, and prototyping.
While there were not a lot of CC announcements at WebexOne, the company did allocate half of the event to CX. Cisco has now promoted its cloud-delivered Webex Contact Center as its lead CC solution. But both the company and the solution are in a listen-first mode of operation. Cisco is migrating customers (of all sizes) when they are ready, and Webex CC has several listening tools at its core, including Voicea, CloudCherry, and IMImobile. Combining those assets with cloud calling, collab, orchestration, outbound interactions, and marketing automation results in a very elaborate CX suite.
CG storm Access: Content Guru announced new updates to storm Desktop Task Assistant (DTA) agent desktop with UI and accessibility improvements. The new updates will enable improved workflow, greater accessibility for disabled users, and a more flexible interface. The meetings providers are all tripping over themselves with inclusivity, but I haven’t heard a lot about more accessible agent desktops. CG’s storm DTA is WCAG 2.1 AA-compliant.
The challenge for all conversational AI companies is to distinguish themselves from the crowd, but there are significant differences. We featured Gridspace in a prior TalkingHeadz interview podcast. In November, we’ll meet with Philipp Heltewig, the CEO and co-founder of Cognigy.
Amazon Connect: Amazon continues to steadily release new features for Amazon Connect. In October, Amazon released APIs for hours of operation and real-time messaging. Connect is now available in the Seoul AWS region, and Tasks are now HIPAA eligible. Amazon re:Invent is in about a month.
Plivo: Plivo gets into the contact center business with Contacto, “the omnichannel, mobile-first contact center platform.” Key features and benefits include conversational chatbots, in-app chat, native voice calling, omnichannel platform services, sentiment analysis, and CRM and service integrations. Why not? It’s the most lucrative area of enterprise comms, but there’s going to be a shakeout.
MarketScape on Conversational AI: Conversational AI is driving the majority of innovation in the engagement sector. I don’t know how many platforms there are, but it’s more than I can count, and it’s hard to tell them apart. So it was nice to review the IDC MarketScape vendor assessment on conversational AI published this month. Eight of 15 vendors included in the report were considered Leaders. Cognigy (Avaya), Avaamo, and Amelia (NICE) are in the top positions. Verint and Microsoft are also recognized as Leaders. The next rung, Major Players, included Google, Avaya, and Nuance. In November, we’ll meet with Philipp Heltewig, the CEO and co-founder of Cognigy.
8x8 CC Updates: 8x8 announced expanded interactive analytics and customer reporting. New wizards assist users in creating, saving, and sharing custom metrics. Messages are now contextualized to assist agents.
Avaya Experience Builders: Avaya announced a new Experience Builder program to align partners, developers, and channel partners.
The McBot: Interesting conversational AI development with McDonald’s this month. It’s not a CCaaS story, but it’s a good example of how conversational technology is changing CX. The story began when McDonald’s bought AI speech vendor Apprente in 2019 and then renamed it McD Tech Labs to test automated order-taking (AOT).
McDonald’s saw decent results but also got sued over privacy (biometrics in IL). The AOT solution only required human intervention for one in five orders. McDonald’s wants to take it to the next level and this month announced a partnership with IBM. McD Labs transfers to IBM, and the two companies will co-develop a Watson-powered AOT solution. I’m guessing that McDonald’s wanted more expertise, and IBM can help with a major rollout. IBM gets a highly visible use case for Watson that can extend to other businesses.
It’s a strong use case for conversational AI. There’s a reasonable expectation of what customers will request. Confusion can be mitigated by displaying the order. Burger King will have a tougher time as it’s still associated with “special orders don’t upset us.”
The problem, of course, is not all customers are accepting it. There are concerns about jobs and automation, privacy, skills, and lack of personality. I suspect this reaction will fade as people remember their goal of simply placing an order — not chatting. There are actually several potential benefits, including scale, multilingualism, and even privacy (relative to the next door neighbor’s kid).
7 Updates: The 7.ai Engagement Cloud got a few updates in October. A new Offline Cards feature allows agents to send custom visual content as a text message instead of an Active Share session. Automatic Model Monitoring (AMMO) now provides continuous monitoring of intent in real time. The shift to text may be a precursor to RCS messaging. Rich graphical messages will be supported on all three carriers this year with Android phones. My question for 7 is how it got a four-letter acronym (AMMO) out of three words?
Zoom and Five9: The breakup occurred on Sept. 30, and I covered this in the September Insider. However, the dust settled in October. The revised history is that the merger never made sense. The technologies belong together, but not the companies. There’s a decent argument that Five9 was too big. That the integration would take years. Zoom can build or swallow a smaller firm much quicker. It has the funds and abilities. Zoom was willing to spend a lot to get into CCaaS, and I doubt that has changed. Five9 has a tougher road but still has lots of options. It is a heavyweight in the sector and knows how to acquire.
RingCentral UCPaaS: RingCentral announced new capabilities and APIs for hybrid work. A new call performance analytics API and audit trail API are now in public preview. RingCentral allows customers to customize their solutions with no code, low code, and pro code methods. RingCentral is moving toward CPaaS: See The Application Becomes a Platform on NoJitter.
Webex Go: Cisco announced a new Webex calling option with AT&T that deserves some recognition. Cisco is marketing it as a solution to the two-phone blues, but it’s more significant than that. It may be the first UCaaS calling app with calling quality comparable to native cell phone calls.
Currently, it’s limited to AT&T, but Cisco says more partners are coming. For an explanation of Webex Go, see this post on TalkingPointz.
XCaaS: 8x8 announced the expansion of XCaaS in Canada. This includes the full suite of services for CC, UC, Video, Chat, and CPaaS APIs, which can be procured as a bundle or a la carte. It also includes 8x8 Direct Routing and CC for MS Teams. The enhancements enable data-sovereignty adherence with multiple levels of resilience. 8x8 also expanded into Japan, Russia, and Puerto Rico. 8x8 Global Reach now offers full PSTN replacement in 46 countries and territories.
MS Teams: The big news is the GA of Operator Connect. This is more than the evolution of Direct Routing. It’s the API-ification of carriers. Microsoft is creating an administrative control panel for carriers. I expect the carriers will embrace it as well as they have Direct Routing, but it’s much more ambitious. I wrote about Operator Connect on NoJitter. Also, Teams Users can now make 1:1 calls with the Safari browser.
Jabra Evolves: Jabra announced the Evolve2 75, which is somehow engineered for hybrid workers. It’s the first Evolve headset with “Jabra Advanced” ANC.
Crexendo NetSapiens: I attended the NetSapiens User Group (service providers) meeting this month. It was the first time the team met since Crexendo acquired NetSapiens. Everyone was in a good mood, possibly because wholesale UCaaS solutions are doing well. NetSapiens reported crossing the 2M seat threshold with a CAGR of 39%. Crexendo/Netsapiens also announced that it is releasing v42, the next major version of the NetSapiens SNAPsolution UCaaS platform. New features include enhanced 911, call center improvements, Ubuntu 20 Support, Apple SSO, HD Audio, and more.
RingCentral Rise: RingCentral has already made several co-branding partnerships with service providers. RingCentral Rise is a new, productized program for service providers that includes a service provider portal, a channel harmony program, and a dedicated service provider team.
Fuze UC: Fuze had a few announcements this month and also hosted its productfest update event. Several platform enhancements include improvements to Call Flow Manager, expansion of emergency services, and new STIR/SHAKEN technology. Fuze also strengthened its manufacturing vertical focus with Fuze Walkie-Talkie Mode and support for RealWear wearables. Walkie-Talkie mode is always a winner, and it’s surprising how many providers don’t support it. Fuze’s implementation adds an asynchronous element that allows messages to be queued for playback. RealWear offers industry-leading wearables that allow users to conference while working. It has a front-facing HD camera for photos or videos and hands-free audio that can facilitate remote assistance.
Fuze also reported a stronger integration of the contact center solution across its applications. The contact center solution is part of Fuze’s vertical strategies. Fuze also has a broad approach for improving Microsoft Teams implementations, including presence sync, improved contact list, its own dialpad, and agent tab for Teams. New UI improvements include swipe to reply to messages.
RingCentral Medical: RingCentral expanded its health care vertical with three ISV partnerships: Ascom, ChronicCareIQ, and ELLKAY. The partnerships span RC’s MVP and CC services. Ascom will offer message, video, and phone capabilities within complex clinical workflows. ChronicCareIQ (CCIQ) will enable one-click outbound calls from its CCIQ platform as well as automatic tracking and documenting phone activity. ELLKAY will leverage RingCentral’s contact center for screen pops with EMR data (i.e., billing, PCP, appointment history).
Poly Act B: Poly launched the Edge B Series of entry-level IP phones. The B10 and B20 devices each support two hard-line buttons and feature Poly’s Acoustic Fence Tech for noise reduction. Chip shortages have made it hard to find Poly endpoints, but these new Edge B endpoints are designed to use components that are less constrained.
LogMeIn Legal: LogMeIn launched a new solution for lawyers, GoToConnect Legal. Someone needs to love lawyers.
Genesys IPO: Bloomberg reported that the PE owners of Genesys are considering an IPO and aiming for a valuation as high as $20B. Permira and Hellman & Friedman may have held talks about a US IPO in the 1H22. It’s a reasonable strategy. Five9 reminded us that there are not that many big-ticket buyers. Also, the premises-based portion of the business (I mean Multicloud) will scare cloud-purist bidders. Permira acquired Genesys from Alcatel-Lucent in 2011, and Hellman & Friedman bought a share in 2016.
Zoom Invests in DTEN: Founded in 2015, the device manufacturer specializes in cheap, all-in-one devices. This is the second time Zoom has invested in a hardware partner in two months (after Neat). It’s an odd move. I’d rather see Zoom invest in Logi and/or Poly.
BlackBox Raises: Technology solution provider BlackBox raised $32M to scale its SaaS offerings. The company intends to expand in Europe, the US, and Asia.
Dialpad and Koopid: I covered this more thoroughly on No Jitter. Koopid is an AI-driven platform for digital, multichannel conversations. Key takeaways are that acquisition bolsters Dialpad’s CCaaS and potentially its UCaaS. It brings with it some impressive tech, patents, and talent. This is the third major announcement for Dialpad CCaaS in about three months. Koopid is only a few years old but has already worked its way into some large contact centers. Koopid is a clever company. I’m surprised Avaya let this one get away.
I’ve remarked before about Zoom’s incredible pace of innovation with both meetings and UC. During the Five9 courtship, there was some discussion about how CCaaS is different, that Zoom has to acquire because innovation isn’t enough. We don’t know Zoom’s plans, but we do know Zoom was willing to drop $15B on CCaaS. I’d love to be a fly on that build v. buy wall.
Vonage and Jumper: I covered this more thoroughly on No Jitter. We know the contact center world is rapidly shifting to conversational technologies. Most of this “conversation” has to do with chatbots, transcripts, sentiment, coaching, and augmented agent solutions. Jumper is about conversational commerce and turns social networks and messaging apps into cash registers. Jumper is an Asian company, and Asian markets are the most advanced with conversational commerce. Jumper can complete a purchase, including details like payment, inventory, and shipping.
Genesys Acquires Two: Genesys filled a few gaps with two acquisitions this month. The first one is Pointillist, an orchestration platform. Pointillist is slated to improve Genesys’ predictive capabilities using ML to optimize experiences with “next best action.” Exceed.ai is a conversational AI solution for IVA — evidently, Genesys’ IVAs don’t work as well as the demo, so another acquisition was needed. Genesys also expects Exceed will facilitate its expansion beyond the CC with use cases in marketing, sales, and CS.
MS and Ally.IO: Ally.io has become a part of Microsoft to help organizations realize deeper connections. Ally.io is an OKR (objectives and key results) company. Its technology will become a part of Viva, Microsoft’s employee experience platform. Ally.io has been adopted by over 1,000 businesses across more than 80 countries. The company launched in 2018.
Sinch and Pathwire: Sinch, a Swedish CPaaS provider, announced a definitive agreement to acquire email delivery platform Pathwire for $1.9B. The buy gives Sinch the email products Mailgun and Mailjet.
LivePerson Acquires Two: Conversational AI company LivePerson acquired VoiceBase and Tenfold. VoiceBase provides speech recognition and conversational analytics, while Tenfold develops a platform for integrating communication systems with CRM and support services. VoiceBase turns unstructured call data into structured, enriched data for analysis. The platform can automatically detect and redact sensitive data from audio and transcripts and analyze calls, email, and system records.
Not exactly a pivot, but a transformational move. It seems that conversational AI will be the primary technology in CX for the next several years. Acquiring companies not only accelerates transformation but denies assets from competitors. These acquisitions allow LivePerson to move from its text/chat silo to broader conversations.
Exotel and Cogno: Exotel acquired Cogno.AI to create an AI-powered, cloud-delivered customer engagement platform.
Blue Prism and Vista: Blue Prism, an RPA vendor, is having its own Five9 moment as its shareholders push back against Vista Equity’s $1.5B takeover bid. Activist investor Coast Capital thinks Blue should remain independent and that the deal has multiple conflicts of interest.
Companies in Play: Rumor has it that Avaya is shopping for investors to allow the company to go private. The company was effectively forced to go public to exit Chapter 11 at the end of 2017. Investors will have to negotiate with RingCentral as it earned a board seat after its investment in 2020. Atos revealed it was in advanced talks to sell Unify, its UCC division that generates €600M in revenue (revenue was about €1.2M when Atos acquired it in 2015). Atos likely acquired Unify to better support Siemens AG but has since migrated those 235k employees to Microsoft Teams. It’s not clear what remains: Circuit IP went to RingCentral, and its HiPath and OpenScape families are legacy brands. Initially, Atos absorbed Unify but then reintroduced the brand a few years ago. Vonage may be in acquisition talks with Salesforce. This comes from Stephen Fisher stepping down from the Vonage BoD per a Salesforce policy (his employer). I can definitely see a fit. Salesforce getting into CCaaS seems inevitable, and it denied interest in Five9. Vonage’s market cap is less than half of Five9’s (less revenue) but has one of the best CCaaS integrations with Salesforce and comes with CPaaS, UCaaS, and video.
This Month’s Goodreads
- How AT&T helped build far-right One America News A Reuters review of court records shows the role AT&T played in creating and funding OAN, a network that continues to spread conspiracy theories.
- Starlink — The Billionaire Elon Musk’s Dream for Broadband from Space is Still in Infancy Yet… Speedcheck carried out a series of speed tests over the last couple of months to measure the performance of Starlink.
- CIA Funding Arm Gave Encrypted App Wickr $1.6 Million The CIA poured more than $1.6M into encrypted messaging platform Wickr before Amazon purchased the company.
- How Slack and Discord became tools for worker revolt How employees are organizing via social tools. Each tool serves a different purpose. For example, a group uses Facebook Groups for crowdsourcing information, a private Slack for everyday communication, and Signal for confidential discussions.
- Company That Routes Billions of Text Messages Quietly Says It Was Hacked Syniverse quietly disclosed that hackers were inside its systems for years, impacting more than 200 of its clients and potentially millions of cellphone users worldwide.
- Facebook Says AI Will Clean Up the Platform. Its Own Engineers Have Doubts. Those responsible for keeping the platform free from offensive or dangerous content acknowledge that the company is nowhere close to being able to screen it reliably.
- The Pixel 6 and 6 Pro can make calling customer service less nightmarish The new phones from Google can tell you the current hold time for a business’s 1-800 number before you even dial, as well as the projected wait times for later in the day or week. The Duplex-powered Hold for Me feature is expanding to Pixel owners in Australia, Canada, and Japan.
- Facebook’s new Portal go is great for video calls, but not much else The irony of a product that purports to bring people together being made by a company whose algorithms often drive people apart is not lost on anyone.
- If China’s economy keeps stumbling, it won’t just take down Beijing — the whole world will collapse with it China’s economy — the second-largest in the world — is teetering on the brink of disaster.
- The recent rise in inflation, explained in 600 words US prices are up. What’s less clear is if it’s temporary or a longer-term shift.
- The global market valuation of sectors How different sectors seized their opportunity to thrive during the pandemic. Most notably, high tech jumped to a market value of over $13 trillion.
- SolarWinds Hackers’ New Attack Is ’Another Wake-Up Call’ For Microsoft Partners Microsoft said the latest campaign is focused on resellers that customize, deploy, and manage cloud services and other technologies on behalf of their customers.
- Twitter Spaces hosts can now record conversations and share them in tweets Twitter is now allowing hosts of Twitter Spaces chats to record and share their broadcasts.
- Zoom, Slack, Google Hangouts and More: The Hidden Risks of Remote Work Remote-work technologies are reshaping work relationships in unexpected ways.
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