Insider Report September 2021 #EC21
The Most Important Enterprise Communications News from September 2021
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September: We have passed the hottest summer on record, and the trees that didn’t burn are now turning colors. Fall is my favorite time of year. September 2021 wasn’t bad. It was a pivotal month for the pandemic. We started September with sunbelt ICUs full and a trend of increasing cases. We ended the month with US new daily infections down to about 114K — steady over the past few weeks. Presumably, related deaths will soon decline.
I am convinced Covid will never go away. It will persist at lower levels, and we are going to have to adapt to it. We aren’t returning to pre-Covid; in fact, that’s the term — “pre-Covid” instead of “normal.” Remember those great few weeks early in the summer when it appeared the pandemic was about to end? That was a great time. Now, many employers have pushed their return-to-office schedules, and of course, Enterprise Connect was abruptly virtualized.
My paranoia and concern is shifting toward the economy. We have a dysfunctional Congress trying to resolve a debt limit and a generational high of inflation. Meanwhile, numerous sectors are teetering on ruin. Things are going to get ugly — and this time, it’s going to be impact enterprise comms.
I actually feel bad for commercial realtors. They were already dealing with the death of retail and malls. I am confident offices will downsize. It’s for the same reason that corporations embraced open floor plans. It’s not because it’s necessarily better, but it’s cheaper. Cheaper always wins.
A massive reduction in office space is just beginning, restaurants are moving to cheaper ghost kitchens, movie theaters are dying, and as commutes die, so do all those related businesses: banks, cleaners, filling stations, tire shops, fast food, strip retail, and more. I think the only safe retail investment is smartphone repair.
Shortages and supply chain issues are wreaking havoc on other sectors. The chip shortage directly impacts enterprise comms, but not much as the automotive industry. GM has shut down production at nearly all of its NA assembly plants. VW and Ford are partially shut down. Toyota is expected to cut global production 40% this month. Subaru, Mercedes, and Nissan are all citing chip-related impacts. The repercussions are huge.
But it’s not just chips. All kinds of parts are in demand: metal, plastics, raw materials, even foods are facing shortages. I had to wait all summer for a simple bike part (finally found one used). Speaking of used, did you know that used car dealer Carvana has a higher market cap than Ford? I don’t fully understand the worker shortage, but it’s global, and it’s a big problem.
Then there’s a big increase in climatic disruptions. Once-in-a-century types of events are occurring a few times a month: storms, freezes, droughts, fires — all upsetting the economy. Stock tip: Sell your insurance holdings.
The biggest mystery of all of this is the optimism. “Great time to be looking for a job,” or “Get your holiday shopping done early.” There’s going to be a reality check soon, and it’s not going to be pretty.
Enterprise comms was largely immune to the initial pandemic-related slowdowns because everyone needed comms tools, but that problem has been solved. There’s some hope and optimism around hybrid upgrades for hybrid offices, but that’s increasingly seeming like a future opportunity.
The response so far is a big slowdown in R&D and innovation. Look at Apple for proof. This big recent reveal was boring. The new iPhone 13 looks a lot like an iPhone 12. The exciting new iPad Mini features design elements from the 2018 iPad Pro.
It’s Groundhog Day in enterprise comms. The EC21 keynotes were extremely similar. Facebook and Verizon are reinventing a VR meeting experience that Avaya had a decade ago. Most of the big announcements were “me too.” I am not complaining about this — it’s an observation, and it’s reasonable. The boom of the pandemic is over, but the crash isn’t.
General Industry News
Enterprise Connect 21: EC21 exceeded my expectations. I prefer content on demand, and I’ve enjoyed several tremendous sessions. The virtual format nails the sessions, but it’s a very different event. EC is the annual industry gathering, and I miss it.
I had several in-person meetings scheduled, and when the event went virtual, I was surprised how many people canceled. We can still meet, right? On the other hand, the meetings I had during the event seemed odd because there’s so much happening — why meet now?
We are a year and a half into this pandemic and remain totally confused about virtual events. Is there a dress code? Should sessions be pre-recorded or live? (Answer: live.) What’s the best time zone for scheduling? How does one interact in a session (chat, email, hand raise, or spoken over a microphone)? How do we make new relationships? How do audiences and speakers interact after the sessions?
I’m talking about virtual events, but really it’s the same in terms of work in general. We never questioned the office, we just went. Many of us can work at home or at an office, but what about the other stuff? It’s an odd predicament because the other things (hallways, commutes, water coolers, open cubicles, conference rooms) are what we thought we hated. There is a significant opportunity for the enterprise comms vendor that truly addresses success for distributed employees — beyond meetings.
Ray-Ban Stories: Facebook came out with a clever device called Ray-Ban Stories. If you are going to offer consumers an in-your-face recording device, it’s probably best not to brand them Facebook — even if that’s the vendor. Everyone likes “Ray-Ban” and “Stories.”
The concept isn’t new. It’s very similar to (inspired by) Snap’s Spectacles, but the Ray-Ban Stories has many ancestors, including Google Glasses (2013). It’s not really ready for prime time yet, but it’s getting closer. Consider UCaaS has expanded from voice to video, and glasses are expanding from video to voice — there must be something in the middle that makes sense. Meanwhile, the form factor has potential, but it’s not there yet. Lucas Matney at TechCrunch wrote, “The glasses honestly don’t do anything particularly well — photo and video quality is pretty lackluster, the in-frame speakers perform poorly outdoors and calls aren’t the most pleasant experience.”
AppStore Suit: The court ordered Apple to let US developers bypass the App Store’s in-app payments with links or directions to “purchasing mechanisms” outside of the platform. Though a blow to Apple, neither Apple nor Epic got what they wanted. The winner in the lawsuit will probably be Microsoft.
Microsoft has attempted to create a Windows Apps store with lackluster results, though it has struck success with Xbox. I expect the big success will be the MS Android store. Android is a free, open-source operating system. Many firms have taken Android and made it their own, including Amazon, Huawei, Cisco, Logi, Poly, and more. Google monetizes Android via the Play Store. Amazon Fire devices don’t use the Google Play Store. They use Amazon’s own store. Windows 11 will support a Microsoft version of Android, and it will also use the Amazon Appstore.
My theory is Microsoft is starting with Amazon’s store, but this court ruling just made its own store more important. Microsoft will eventually make its own Android store. Let’s call it Microsoft Work as an alternative to Google Play. Windows 11 users will likely be limited to its “Work” store, but general Android users will likely have options for both Google Play and Microsoft Work. Basically, MS is going to hijack Android, and this isn’t the first time Microsoft borrows Google innovations: See web-based office apps and Chromium in Edge.
Meetings and Messaging
Zoomtopia: This was the second virtual Zoomtopia and the first on the new Zoom virtual events platform — and it worked well. The more significant announcements include: Video Engagement Center: This is Zoom’s first product intended for customer interaction. It’s not a CCaaS. They had little to say about things like call routing or queuing. I think it’s a logical and easy move. It’s basically a meeting client for visual customer service. It will be integrated with business apps such as a CRM. Considering Zoom already makes a visual app that integrates with business apps, it’s not clear to me why it won’t be released until next year. Actually, few of the announcements were GA at Zoomtopia. Whiteboard app: A new feature in the Zoom client. It’s emerging as a new core requirement for meeting apps. I get it, I like it — I don’t see how any vendor can really create a differentiated whiteboard app. E2EE in Zoom calls: It is so much later than expected that I was actually surprised. I do think it’s a significant upgrade. BYO Keys: Reasonable upgrade, not the same as E2EE. Zoom still has access to content. Transcription and Translation: Promised before, but this time it’s powered by Zoom (Kites).
What I like most about Zoomtopia is that it's fun. Most tech conferences are not fun. A little levity goes a long way in driving a message. I think the CEO should dance at every conference. The Zoom events app was refreshingly good. I get very frustrated by the tech with most virtual events.
Poly’s New Camera: Poly announced the X70 and E70. The key to both devices is the same camera. Dual 4K lenses, advanced framing. E70 ($3,499) is just the camera, and the X70 ($6,999) is an appliance/speaker bar similar to the X50 appliance. Poly launched these at Zoomtopia, but they will also be adapted to work with Teams. Both solutions support the Smart Gallery feature, which is pretty darn slick.
The Outlook for Gmail: Google continues to make Gmail the central hub for all things Google Workspace. Google Chat will now allow users to transition to video. Previously, users had to click on a Meet link. Yes, Google realized that the most basic, obvious feature might be a good addition to Chat. Note Chat and Meet replaced Hangouts, which provided integrated services since 2013. Google renamed Rooms to Spaces, and it’s now included for all Gmail and Workspace users. Spaces + Google Chat is similar to Slack. Spaces content can be discoverable to other colleagues (knowledge base).
Gmail is the central hub for multiple services. GMeet, GChat, GCalendar, GDocs, GSheets — see the pattern? That’s why they need to rename GMail to GOutlook. Outlook is Microsoft’s hub for email, calendar, and contacts; Gmail is Google’s hub for email, one-on-one chats, group chats, videoconferencing, and now calls. The email part of Gmail is now just one tab in a group of four (Gmail, Chat, Spaces, and Meet).
Google Series One, Take Two: About a year ago, Google announced the Series One room systems made by Lenovo. The equipment was interesting but not spectacular. It was yet another proprietary, single-app solution. Its ace was Google’s Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), which enabled it to do the same thing other brands do with their proprietary tech.
A year later, we have more Series One options with a new desktop all-in-one system (the Series One Desk 27) and a new Board 65. Google also intends to support the Rally solution from Logi. The moves are logical and slightly overdue. Industrywide we are seeing new desk systems. This unit looks similar to the Desk unit from Cisco and the Poly P21, but for a Google Meet shop. The Board offers a replacement/update to the Jamboard which was introduced in 2016.
Google and Cisco: The two companies announced their room systems will interoperate. This is essentially the same trick that Cisco and MS announced, and then MS and Zoom. It basically involves downloading the other vendor’s web client to the room system. Technically, this could work across all of these vendors, but they are choosing their friends and enemies. MS rooms can run Cisco and Zoom. Cisco rooms can run MS and Google. Zoom rooms can run MS. For some reason, Google is not supporting Cisco Webex E2EE on its room hardware systems. It’s a big deal for Meet as it’s had zero native interop since it launched. It also had the most limited options for room systems. It’s a decent win for the industry, though Pexip loses some of its allure.
Logi Dock: As the industry shifts its focus from rooms to desktops, Logi comes out with a new desktop video solution called the Dock. It’s essentially a USB hub with Bluetooth and a speaker for $399. The Dock features hard controls for audio and video mute. The Logi Dock includes two USB-A 3.0 ports at the rear; there are three USB-C 3.1 Gen 1 ports (two on the back and one on the side), a DisplayPort, a HDMI port, USB-C upstream, a Kensington lock slot, and a Bluetooth pairing button. IMO it lacks wireless charging and front USB ports.
It’s great to see the collab desktop expanding from webcams and headsets. There have been a few all-in-one devices (camera, speakers, compute, and display), but this is a new approach. I am particularly impressed with video mute (API controlled, not physical). USB ports are always in demand, and desktop wire management is a problem. Personally, I would like to have seen front ports and stereo speakers.
Webex: A quieter month than usual for Cisco, but then WebexOne is in just a few weeks now, and the Cisco folks are chanting, “I have a secret.” In September, Cisco announced Immersive Share in Webex Meetings. This positions shared content as a background. A new Optimize My Voice feature tunes gain and noise management per user, Cisco Calling Plans are now available in the UK, and Cisco integrated Slido into its Events offering. On the device front, Cisco has added real-time translation support to devices and gesture support to the Desk Pro.
Teams Updates: Lots of incremental updates from Microsoft this month. Here are a few that stand out. Two updates regarding PowerPoint: A new Present in Teams button in Powerpoint combines present and screen functions. Next year, Cameo will integrate the Microsoft Teams camera feed into your PowerPoint presentation. We’ve seen this a few times now: It looks like screenshare as a virtual background, but tied to PowerPoint. Apple released a similar feature to embed live video in Keynote per slide/template.
Several significant enhancements to the Rooms experience include a new dynamic view that intelligently arranges meeting elements, chat bubble notifications for messages sent by participants in a Teams meeting, and a presenter mode that gives the presenter more control over the layout viewers see.
Also, Teams users can now pin a message and reply to specific messages. And Teams Live Events now support up to 100k attendees.
RingCentral Meetings Updates: RingCentral announced several updates to its meetings platform at EC21. A new Meeting Summaries feature offers automatically generated notes. The RingCentral AI detects what it considers to be key points. Meetings now allows a smartphone’s rear camera to present full screen. RingCentral joins a few others with live transcription (no translation yet) and a new whiteboard feature. Other enhancements include improved analytics and expanded options for room system hardware.
Meeting innovation is occurring rapidly, particularly as it was the killer modality of enterprise comms this past 18 months. RingCentral has been updating at a frantic pace. Its Meetings capabilities are very robust, particularly when considering it launched just last year.
LinkedIn Meetings: LinkedIn expands into meetings. It has launched a new native meeting capability on the social network, allowing users to meet without leaving the application. “From an initial job search to a 1:1 conversation.” It is leveraging Microsoft's Azure Communications Services (ACS), which is the same CPaaS powering Teams.
Separately, Microsoft indicated that Teams Events will soon be able to be streamed on (Microsoft-owned) LinkedIn Live. It was possible to hack this together before, by using NDI to stream out (LinkedIn, YouTube, or other). Now it’s becoming a packaged feature accessible to more users.
Wal-Place by Facebook: Walmart revealed in a blog post that it now has 1M users on Workplace by Facebook. Even better, it was a post aimed at employees that opens with “Looking to further your career or connect with Walmart associates around the world? There’s an app for that!” Workplace offers a familiar UI that minimizes training costs. It’s well suited for enterprise-wide deployments, including frontline employees.
MyHive or Yours: MyHive enables a virtual conferencing capability. If you can’t bring the employees to the bricks and mortar office, bring the virtual bricks and mortar to the employees. It’s a cartoon office complete with the annoying open cubes and spaces employees think they miss. Just move your avatar near the person you want to waste time with to chat. The concept, as a standalone app, consistently fails. However, as a feature of a more robust solution, it has potential. Zoom announced Chat Huddle View at Zoomtopia, which has some overlapping concepts.
Meet in the Dark: Google Meet desktop (web) finally got the low-light mode feature that’s in Google Meet mobile. Evidently, Google figured out that people sometimes WFH in low light.
Slack at Dreamforce: I don’t normally cover Dreamforce, but I do cover Slack. I guess I now cover Dreamforce. I still can’t tell how independent Slack will remain as a brand. Slack did well at its first Dreamforce. The team got a lot of attention and even dropped some announcements. A considerable amount of the Slack presentations were introductory and aimed at CRM users.
The key message from Marc and Stewart was that Slack is central to a digital HQ, and they made some compelling points. “Communication is the most important thing we do,” said Stewart. “If you can transform the way you communicate, you can transform everything.”
However, it was some of the general demos that really showed off Slack. They repeatedly showed how Slack connects people. In one keynote presentation, they showed how a customer initiated a request via Slack. The team came together in a Swarm, accessed Tableau data, generated a quote, and got a signed order. Salesforce and Slack are certainly in the CX business; they are practically in the CCaaS business as long as no one touches a phone.
Salesforce has gone all-in on digital, remote work. That’s fairly bold considering Salesforce Tower is the tallest and most expensive building in San Francisco. Though its purchase of Slack cost about 25x more than the tower.
Surprising stat: More messages sent on Slack in a day than on Twitter. The two big announcements were an async video feature called Clips. It allows Slack users to record and post a video in the channel like audio, voice, and text (expected Winter 22). Slack is also making it easier for Enterprise Grid users to interact with external users via Slack Connect. Slack also extended Slack Connect, for Enterprise Grid users, to free Slack users. GovSlack is coming in 2022 for government-certified cloud environments.
Pexip Calls BYOC: The trend to BYOC continues. This month, Pexip announced support for BYOC on Oracle’s enterprise SBC (E-SBC). Users will be able to make external phone calls from any video endpoint registered on the Pexip Service. It doesn’t really seem like a feature. Couldn’t SIP devices make calls before via SBC? New feature or not, it makes sense.
Verizon Spaces Out: Verizon used the virtual EC21 to introduce a new virtual collaboration solution called BlueJeans Spaces. The idea is that employees go into a BlueJeans Space between moments of productivity. It’s Verizon’s answer to the virtual water cooler. “Easily strike up an audio-only conversation with those around you … or pass through virtual hallways to simply hear what everyone’s talking about.” Sooner or later someone is going to be successful with this concept, guessing it won’t be Verizon.
I haven’t tried this particular incarnation, but I have found that other versions of these virtual metaphors take too much effort. The water cooler is natural. We all get thirsty, and we are social creatures. We don’t need “a cup of coffee at the virtual cafe.” Spatial audio, which is designed to mimic natural conversations, does not provide for a natural conversation. It’s a tired concept, but Verizon did improve it with Message+. This adds to Spaces an async element for messages, files, and emojis. Another inbox is exactly what was needed — I hope it also has smartphone notifications.
FB Portal Improved: Facebook announced two new Portals. There’s a new 10” Portal Go portable for $199, and the Portal+ for $349 with similar components and a speaker function. Both available in October, and both will support MS Teams, Zoom, Webex, and more. This is really odd to me. Facebook is the most closed company on the web, but its video endpoints are stellar values. They offer industry-leading features and interoperability.
Chrome Enterprise for CCaaS: At EC21, Google Cloud announced a new Chrome Recommended track for CCaaS with seven launch partners: 8x8, Cisco Webex, Edify, Five9, Genesys MultiCloud, RingCentral, and Vonage. The Chrome Enterprise Recommended program was launched last year with several certified partners in categories or tracks. For example, the Communications Track includes Cisco Webex, Slack, RingCentral, and Zoom. These partners have Chrome- and Chrome OS-ready solutions.
The difference between Chrome (free) and Chrome Enterprise (paid) is a collection of administrative and management tools aimed at IT. Chrome Enterprise, for example, offers features such as SSO, remote wipe, and granular device controls. These features apply to both the browser app and the browser operating system and can be particularly relevant for distributed teams, such as agents working at home. Web apps are a viable alternative to software clients in large part due to Google, namely Chrome browser and extensions, WebRTC, and progressive web apps (PWA).
The CCaaS track today is more aspirational than technical as most CCaaS providers support Chrome. The opportunity is a single UI for user admin that addresses application and endpoint (browser and/or device). Chromebooks are particularly well suited for agents at home as a single device can replace a PC (compute, keyboard, display, and AV) and phone. For additional information, see this TalkingPointz paper.
Google Dialogflow CX put several new features into public preview. Too technical to list in detail here, but I’m certain they will make many virtual agent developers giddy.
NICE RPA: NICE launched RPA Version 7.5 with a new architecture, optimized for cloud and on-premises deployments, that uses Dockers and Kubernetes. Also features Automation Finder to learn from an organization's data and a deeper integration between the NICE Employee Virtual Attendant and Enlighten AI.
Vonage AI: Vonage launched AI Virtual Assistant at EC21. It was built on and for the Vonage Communications Platform (VCP). It offers self-service spoken and textual interactions with or without a contact center. Self-service technologies such as this provide assistance for scalable operations. The AI Virtual Assistant offers a no-code user interface.
Amazon Connect Upgrades: Amazon made several announcements regarding Connect at EC21: Voice ID (a voice biometrics solution for authentication and fraud detection) and Wisdom, an augmented agent solution, are now generally available, and a new high-volume outbound solution (calls, texts, and emails) is in public preview. Amazon had a simple outbound API before, but this new development is a far more robust, omnichannel commitment to outbound (expected sometime next year). Additionally, Amazon Chat can now pass contact names and other attributes through the UI, real-time insights are available in Canada, and eight new languages were added to Amazon Contact Lens. Also in the EC21 keynote, Amazon reminded us that Chime is powering Slack Huddles.
Perhaps most significantly, Amazon shared that Connect has “tens of thousands” of AWS customers supporting more than 10M contact center interactions a day. Connect is also increasingly winning deals with non-AWS customers.
8x8 Frontdesk: Last year, I combined Meetings and Messaging into a single section. UC and CC may be next. 8x8 announced at EC21 the general availability of Frontdesk. This is part of the 8x8 XCaaS family and likely the next big evolutionary phase of enterprise comms. First there was voice, then UCaaS, then came CCaaS, WEMaaS, and CPaaS. We are now seeing the suites (bundles) of these services. Frontdesk is likely the start of a blurring rather than bundling of services. Frontdesk fills the gap between UC and CC by giving receptionists a set of advanced routing and queuing features. It also offers status and availability of an entire organization (across both 8x8 and Teams users).
2600 Teams: 2600Hz and TeamMate came up with a new way to support direct routing with Microsoft teams. Microsoft Teams direct routing offers a SIP trunk integration from Teams to KAZOO for inbound and outbound calls. With the TeamMate Connector, any KAZOO service provider now has an automated tool that enables a Microsoft Teams dialer as an option. The partnership includes multi-level support, branding, and a Teams Application.
In terms of winning over partners, Teams has been far more successful than SfB ever was. It seems like every competitor is willing to embrace Teams for a fractional slice of that pie. It makes sense, but it’s remarkable. In just a few years, the majority of competitors (including carriers and UCaaS providers) are in some way endorsing Teams.
Fuze teams with Teams: Fuze expanded its Teams positioning with a new Direct Routing option, expanded click-to-connect, and new add-on enhancements such as an expanded contact list. It can’t be much longer until Gartner requires Teams integration for inclusion in the UCaaS MQ.
Hola RingCentral: RingCentral announced another service provider partnership with MCM Telecom. The companies will launch a co-branded service called RingCentral for Symphony in Mexico. It’s RC’s first Mexican partnership.
Vonage and HIPAA: Vonage now supports HIPAA-compliant SMS and video APIs. It took a pandemic, but healthcare has finally discovered Telehealth. Enterprises and providers have been slow with Video APIs, but I think their time has finally come. Vonage acquired video API pioneer TokBox in 2018.
LogMeIn VideoMail: LogMeIn announced at EC21 a new Video Messaging feature. It’s a simple concept, but the term now has several interpretations. In this case, it’s voicemail with video. It’s meant to be an internal solution similar to what Zoom announced. It is different from Cisco Vidcast, which allows video messages to be shared with internal or external users.
Talkdesk is Calling EC21: As the murmur of CCaaS + UCaaS grows into a chorus, the question becomes how will the CCaaS pureplays respond? NICE CXone defers to partner RingCentral, Five9 says Zoom Phone, and Talkdesk is now the first CCaaS pureplay to launch an integrated phone service called Talkdesk Phone. That’s not to say it’s the first single-provider solution — there are many. However, several CCaaS providers do not address UC natively, including AWS, Content Guru, and Genesys.
Talkdesk Phone is positioned as an upgrade for legacy PBX users. It is only sold as an add-on to its CCaaS, and pricing is not publicly shared. Td Phone does not support video conferencing, team chat, or SMS, and has no hardware partnerships or programs (Td Voice supports open SIP endpoints). It’s currently available in the US and Canada with geographic expansion planned.
The challenge for Td will be competing against UCaaS providers with basic dial tone. It will have to show that the strengths of its integration outweigh its limited features. UCaaS is hard to build, but Td has proved itself in comms as a service. We know it's possible to do as Zoom announced earlier this month that its Zoom Phone service reached 2M paid subscribers in just 2.5 years. The CCaaS MQ Leader has a ways to go to just qualify for inclusion in the UCaaS MQ.
Tommy, Can You Hear Me? Suddenly, it’s all about voice. I was surprised (and pleased) how much attention voice got during the EC21 keynotes, especially from Cisco, Microsoft, and Zoom. Voice has been the punchline of UCaaS for too long. The big topic this year is BYOC. Ironically, it undoes one of the initial drivers of cloud-delivered communications. Same ol’ trope: The next generation of tech is always simpler until we enhance it.
BYOC offers customers a lot of flexibility. It’s surprisingly hard to implement as most UCaaS offers were designed as a bundled service. There are, of course, degrees of BYOC. Perhaps the most significant undertaking is this new offer from Microsoft called Operator Connect. I wrote about it here. Microsoft is driving carriers around the globe to implement APIs consistently.
Callin: A new social podcasting app launched this month called Callin. What’s a social podcasting app? Hmm. Callin lets users create, discover, and consume live and recorded audio content. It’s Clubhouse with a podcast, on-demand angle. It has discoverable conversations in real-time or not. The app announced it completed a $12M Series A. It’s an impressive combination of tools and services such as conferencing, recording, storage/hosting, editing, transcription, and more, combined with creator tools for editing and syndication.
Zoom’s Third Neat Idea: Zoom made its third investment into Neat. The investment and partnership makes sense because tightly integrated hardware is a competitive requirement. There are risks if Zoom were to acquire Neat, so it's likely hoping an investment won’t upset partners — specifically Logi and Poly for Zoom, and Microsoft for Neat.
It certainly communicates to Poly and Logi that some partners are more equal than others. Right now Poly and Logi need Neat, so there’s not much risk. But there is a risk that Neat gets too big. Neat is now worth about half a Poly, and Poly’s market cap is down about one Neat.
Microsoft, on the other hand, could walk away from Neat. Microsoft added Neat to its MTR portfolio last June. Microsoft got a new, competent supplier and put more competitive pressure on its existing partners. Neat got a bigger TAM and was able to position its hardware as a multi-vendor solution. However, partnerships require mutual trust, and that just got harder.
Fin Series A: Fin, a work insights provider, raised $20M. The idea is to measure productivity by examining workflow data across multiple apps. The company itself is doubling and tripling its customers and revenue each year. Fin is likely benefiting from distributed work, which is causing employers globally to reevaluate how they measure productivity.
GS and Nextiva: Goldman Sachs’ asset management arm is making a $200M investment in Nextiva, giving it a valuation of $2.7B. The investment positions Nextiva for an IPO, but the company has not made any commitments to do one. Nextiva’s first outside funding caps a year of growth with $250M in ARR, continued product development, and market leadership as the largest privately held business communications provider in the US. I interpret the move as an indication that Nextiva was undervalued, and GS sees a quick return via IPO.
Five9 and Zoom: You have probably heard by now that Zoom’s acquisition of Five9 isn’t going to happen. I wrote about this on TalkingPointz immediately after the news broke. Now that it has set in, a few additional thoughts. Zoom was willing to spend A LOT (not enough but a lot) to get into CCaaS. There is no reason to think that has changed. Nor would I dismiss that creating its own CCaaS will take five years. Zoom is fast. It is plausible that Zoom could build (proven expertise) a viable CCaaS alternative to Five9 faster than it could integrate (no expertise) an acquisition of this size.
Five9 needed Zoom more. I am not long on CCaaS pureplays. There’s probably room for a couple. Talkdesk clearly agrees, but attempting to build out UCaaS is foolish. Far more have failed than succeeded. The problem is there are not a lot of UCaaS pureplays to mate with. Five9 also has to contend with partner Zoom possibly buying or investing in a competitor. That would be Neat, as in what Zoom did to its Poly and Logi partnerships.
There’s also a possibility that Zoom swallows Five9 in a different way. There were a lot of headwinds against this particular merger. Even if the intent remains to acquire, it might be easier to lose and start over than try to fix. Some big Five9 shareholders had their boxing gloves on; they weren’t in a deal-making state of mind.
If the merger was still on, we could all relax while the two companies spent 2-3 years sorting out an integration. That respite is gone. Zoom is now a hand grenade with its pin pulled. It can acquire virtually any CCaaS company (or asset) it wants (OK, not Amazon) and won’t miss twice. Five9 will likely resume acquiring companies, but hopefully in a way that expands its GTM reach.
This would have been the biggest acquisition in CCaaS, second only to Slack in terms of M&A in enterprise communications. The deal went down (as in crashed) without a fight. Curiously, I don’t sense a lot of tears at either company. What saddens me the most is I was looking forward to a future Five9 virtual event hosted on a decent platform. Oh well.
Google and Playspace: The Google Workspace team acquired the Playspace team. Playspace rooms offer a whiteboard, text scratchpad, and audio clip capabilities. A “Magic Screenshare” tool “teleports everyone to your desktop for collaborative editing and annotation.” That standalone version of Playspace will discontinue, and Google plans to introduce its features within Workspace — though does that mean Gmail, Spaces, or Meet? Nobody knows. Link.
Microsoft and Clipchamp: Microsoft acquired a video editing software called Clipchamp. The basic idea is that now that everyone has cameras on their PC, laptop, and phone, there’s more demand for video editing solutions. It’s a logical adjacency, but at least initially, it’s not about meetings. It’s more about social networking, YouTube, and TikTok. I still expect that meeting companies will expand into video editing. I shared that during prior coverage of Mmhmm.
Video editing can be done in the cloud; it’s text messaging that requires a local client. In other words, Clipchamp is SaaS. The service offers features such as trimming, cutting, cropping, rotating, and speed control. The videos need to be exported before they are shared. Microsoft didn’t disclose the acquisition price, but Clipchamp had raised over $15 million in funding.
Dialpad Kares: Dialpad made another move to bolster its CCaaS, this time an acquisition of Kare Knowledgeware. The Dialpad CCaaS already has inbound routing and WEM but needed a self-service capability. Kares brings Dialpad AI and NLP capabilities that could enable contextual, self-learning bots. The tech also appears complementary to other Dialpad services and its Voice Intelligence transcription tech. See my coverage on NoJitter.
TTA Acquires PGi: Telecommunications Technology Acquisition LLC (TTA) appears to be an LLC related to Realization Services, headed by CPA extraordinaire Barry Kasoff. Siris Capital acquired Premiere Global Services Inc. ("PGi") in 2015 for about $1B. The price TTA paid for PGi is unknown, but presumably much less. Realization presents itself as turnaround experts. It is expected that TTA will separate PGi’s webcast (GlobalMeet) and conferencing and Collab (PGiConnect) businesses.
VOSS and LayerX Tech: VOSS Solutions announced that it acquired LayerX Technologies, a provider of advanced data analytics and monitoring software for UC and networking. Additionally, VOSS raised $15M from existing investors and shareholders to complete the transaction. VOSS intends to expand across the full lifecycle of collaboration platforms (discovery, migration, orchestration, fulfillment, performance monitoring, management, analytics, and reporting). But the key is automation.
This Month’s Goodreads
- Nearly 1 in 3 Americans experienced a weather disaster this summer WAPO: Americans’ growing sense of vulnerability is palpable. Craig Fugate, former head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Florida’s Emergency Management Division, has never known a summer as packed with crises as this one.
- Bosses turn to ‘tattleware’ to keep tabs on employees working from home Guardian: Remote surveillance software like Sneek, also known as “tattleware” or “bossware,” represented something of a niche market pre-Covid. But that all changed in March 2020, as employers scrambled to pull together work-from-home policies out of thin air.
- AI startups claim to detect depression from speech, but the jury’s out on their accuracy VB: A team of scientists at the Center for Psychological Consultation (CPC) in Madison identified several “viable biomarkers” — quantitative indicators of changes in health — to measure and assess depression.
- Collaboration Overload Is Sinking Productivity HBR: “Collaborative overload is not just a problem of volume. It has an invisible but equally sinister counterpart in cognitive switching costs created by the diversity of demands.”
- The effects of remote work on collaboration among information workers A new study finds that Microsoft’s companywide shift to remote work has hurt communication and collaboration among different business groups inside the company.
- RIP Google Hangouts, you deserved better Google Hangouts was one of Google’s best chat apps. Tens of millions of people used it all around the world, and many refused to leave until Google forced them to.
- An Inside Look at the Spy Tech That Followed Kids Home for Remote Learning — and Now Won’t Leave An unprecedented look into how one school system deploys a controversial security tool that grew rapidly during COVID-19 but carries significant civil rights and privacy implications.
- AT&T Hopes You'll Ignore It Routinely Finances Terrible Politicians Doing Terrible Things AT&T has been pushing all kinds of marketing missives about its breathless support for women, while simultaneously throwing giant wads of cash at politicians for whom that hasn't been much of a priority.
- The latest chapter in a 100-year study says AI’s promises and perils are getting real In the past five years, AI has made the leap from something that mostly happens in research labs or other highly controlled settings to something that’s out in society, affecting people’s lives.
- Say Goodbye to Your Manager Many office workers — particularly those in industries that rely on the skill or creativity of day-to-day employees — are entering a new world where bureaucracy will be reduced not because executives have magically become empathetic during the pandemic, but because slowing down progress is bad business.
- How UC flexibility can overcome hybrid workplace challenges While UC tools can help employee collaboration and workflows, employees must be trained on the appropriate use cases to ensure they're using the tools successfully. “The office will never die,” said Michels.
- Tech giants quietly buy up dozens of companies a year Companies across all industries have sought to buy or merge with others worth at least $92 million almost 3,000 times — roughly 40% more than before the pandemic in 2019.
- How Good Is Your Company at Change? Researchers studied corporate change efforts for more than a decade, tracking which programs worked and which didn’t. That research identified nine common traits and abilities that make companies excel at change.
- You may get more work done at home. But you’d have better ideas at the office Research suggests that a switch to permanent remote work would make us all less productive.
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- Mike Tessler on UCaaS Heading True North
- Is That a BlockChain in Your Pocket? @HugoFeiler of @minima_global
Real-Time, Recorded is a weekly short video about industry news now on NoJitter. Sometimes news can’t wait for the newsletter. Dave Michels and Zeus Kerravala provide what you need to know in a weekly short video discussion.
Featured Enterprise Comms Rising Star
Overview: 2600Hz, a wholesale cloud communications company, has built a unique UC solution that thrives between UCaaS and CPaaS. The company has created a hybrid solution that brings together all the pieces of the puzzle, making it easy to create a custom solution — or not. The solutions are mostly aimed at providers, but applicable to enterprises too.
Product: KAZOO offers pre-built telecom applications that can be used immediately and provides developers with over 300 open APIs to build their own integrations — enabling 2600Hz’s partners to customize every part of their UC solution. This includes control over pricing, branding, features, and more. KAZOO is a true end-to-end white-label solution designed to scale and addresses UCaaS, CPaaS, and CC in one platform.
Partners: KAZOO integrates with Microsoft Teams, Salesforce, HubSpot, Slack, Duo, OneBill, Xarios, Zapier, and more.
More info: 2600hz.com
Why: Providers often choose between building from scratch (hard) and agent models for services they can’t control or customize. 2600Hz provides another option. KAZOO’s open APIs and suite of pre-built tools make it easy to bring a custom communications solution to market quickly, differentiate your brand, and become your customers’ one-stop provider.
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