May 2020 Insider Report
The Most Important Enterprise Communications News from May 2020
“There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” ~ Vladimir Lenin
Situational timing can make this report difficult. Most of May was still about the pandemic, so I had prepared thoughts on its long-term impact on enterprise communications.
The pandemic has been a slow burn of disruption and chaos, and things suddenly got a lot hotter this month. As we anxiously wait for the all-clear, we are confined, stressed, and helpless to manage or control our environment. George Floyd’s last words and murder were the breaking point. The final six days of May were about protests and riots. And, there’s plenty to be angry about: race and class inequalities, high unemployment, a worsening economic crisis, polarized politics, a Boogaloo movement readying for civil war, and an emerging Section 230 battle. Tensions are high and summer heat is coming.
Political strife is going to get worse before it gets better. Many enterprise comms vendors swiftly responded to the pandemic with helpful offers, but the response to #BlackLivesMatter is more complex. Although, as Netflix tweeted, “To be silent is to be complicit.”
Regarding the pandemic, May is the month that the death toll in the US passed 100K. That’s 100K+ people in the US who were alive just a few months ago and are gone now. The death rate is still increasing in many regions. COVID-19 continues to spread, there’s no cure, and restrictions are lightening.
The new normal is emerging, and it is clear things are going to be very different. It is currently socially acceptable to walk into a bank wearing a robber’s mask. While that may not last, some changes seem permanent. Commercial real estate will see a major drop in demand for restaurants, retail, and office space. The office isn’t dead yet, but won’t be the same. Facebook announced that half of the company's employees could be working remotely by the end of the decade. Twitter, Square, Spotify, and Coinbase all established permanent WFH policies.
I expect this virus will be the final nail for premises-based UC. Don’t be fooled by the recent uptick — we’ve seen this reflex before. Blackberry saw sales increase for four years after the introduction of the iPhone. That’s an extreme example, but the iPhone was so radical that it took years to build out the app ecosystem, enterprise features, and routes to market. UCaaS is ready now, but enterprises needed fast WFH solutions, and it’s faster to upgrade than replace.
Prem-based CC will take a pretty big hit too — where it can. CCaaS doesn’t yet meet the needs of the most sophisticated contact centers. That’s ok. Five9, inContact, and Talkdesk are struggling to keep up with increased demand from the mid-market.
There’s a lot of caution out there. Gartner lowered its 2020 global tech spending forecast by 8%. Its new 2020 forecast for IT products and services is $3.46T, less than last year’s $3.76T. Enterprise comms fortunately plays in the digital transformation space: voice, meetings, messaging, and contact center are all part of the digital, collaborative, and distributed solution umbrella.
There’s also going to be a lot of M&A because priorities changed and cash strapped companies are cheap. Startups are more likely to be cash strapped, but Hertz reminded us that size doesn’t matter. In addition to cloud and digital priorities, expect security to be prioritized — distributed digital attracts thieves.
Crestron produces building and home automation solutions, and both divisions have recently embraced video conferencing. The business division announced the Crestron Flex MX, a tabletop controller and speakerphone. It can natively integrate with MS Teams and Zoom room solutions. It’s ready to go for Crestron room controls, and with the addition of a Crestron NUC and USB camera, it can be the control unit for meeting rooms. It’s kind of a cross between the Logitech Tap and the Poly Trio, but with Crestron control features. It also supports USB pass-through for other apps. Though Crestron claims this native and USB flexibility is “unprecedented among UC products,” similar functionality can be found on room systems from Cisco and Poly. This fits best in enterprises with existing Crestron room automation.
The residential division added Zoom video meetings to its HomeTime solution with an integrated Logitech MeetUp. HomeTime is much more than video, so the solution starts around $6K (plus the TV). For those willing to use their laptop and buy a MeetUp, a similar experience can be created for about $1K. I do like the Logi/Crest partnership as they are both increasing their paths to customers. Note that Flex (above) competes with Logi, but with HomeTime the vendors complement each other.
Webex Meetings: Several improvements to Webex Meetings in May. Some of the more intriguing ones include the host details from the Webex Meetings invite were removed to increase security, new media engine improvements were made to make the app more tolerant to packet loss, improved compatibility between the Teams and Meetings applications, and users can now stream Webex Meetings to other apps such as Facebook Live.
Poly updated the Microsoft Teams Room (MTR) solution with three new room system kits. The traditional MTR uses a Windows PC (usually a Surface Pro) as the tabletop controller. It is not particularly practical as it’s expensive, doesn’t use the built-in camera, and creates some cabling challenges. The new rooms separate the tabletop control and PC. The tabletop is the new GC8 and the computer is a hideable Lenovo PC running Windows 10 IoT. All three packages include these two devices plus cabling and mounting. Two kits include Poly cameras and accessories appropriate for different-sized rooms.
The GC8 is clever. Rather than a separate tablet device, it’s essentially the PCs (touch) display. It connects to the PC over a single, 10m USB fiber cable, and provides control as well as input ports for tabletop screen sharing. Using Windows IoT is a step between prior gen MTR Windows 10 and the Android-based OS powering the Poly X Series. While I think Android is a better value, Microsoft likely prefers Windows 10, which can also leverage existing peripherals.
AWS Chime: Amazon announced custom chat retention policies for Chime and increased meeting capacity to 250 participants. Also, Chime now integrates better with on-premises Cisco phone systems. The Chime Voice Connector now supports real-time audio streaming for media forked from CUBE using Network-Based Recording.
Kaltura Meetings: Kaltura is entering the videoconferencing business. The cloud-delivered solution works in a browser and supports whiteboarding, shared meeting notes, and downloadable chats. Kaltura Meetings also includes the company's Video Portal, which allows users to manage, search, edit, publish, and automatically transcribe and translate meeting recordings. Kaltura Meetings will be able to support up to 100 participants.
With WebRTC and IaaS, the barriers to enter cloud-delivered video services have never been lower. Kaltura is simply leveraging its video application expertise. The devils are always in the details: scalability, security, room systems, AI-based enhancements, etc. Though this action may not have the best timing. As I’ve indicated before, I expect the industry is due for an implosion.
Zoom Security Updates: Zoom had an incredible May. It has become increasingly clear to me that Zoom’s superpower is speed. The company was in a situation that could have destroyed it. Zoom faced a series of concerns that escalated from minor to major to deceptive. The FBI put out a warning, it lost high profile customers, and switching costs are low with plenty of alternatives.
It’s too early to claim success, but Zoom’s responsiveness and transparency are increasing its odds. It is impressive how quickly Zoom has acted. Most notably Zoom changed/updated its encryption model with Zoom 5.0 in April. Support and compatibility of prior releases ended on May 30. Earlier this month the company made its first acquisition with the purchase of Keybase (see M&A section below). The Keybase Team, Zoom, and several consultants have already published (for public comment and review) a new encryption architecture. These are just the highlights. The company has shared many more details in weekly public briefings including open Q&A with the CEO.
At this time, all of the immediate security concerns identified in March have been resolved or mitigated. The published architecture will change Zoom’s security to a decentralized model for key creation that enables true end-to-end encryption. Zoom servers will not have access to the keys, nor will it use an EKM solution. In addition to encryption, Zoom is putting equal emphasis on secure authentication. The immediate priority is to secure Zoom Meetings, but the architecture will likely extend to other Zoom applications.
Twilio announced it will power electronic health record provider Epic's native telehealth offering. Providers will be able to click to launch video consultations, review patient history, and update documents directly within Epic, according to Twilio. Many other providers are offering integrations. Epic is a big kahuna, but healthcare is going to see some radical digital transformation over the next few years.
AudioCodes for Teams and Zoom Meetings: AudioCodes announced new video capabilities for its Room Experience (RX) suite of meeting room solutions. The RX suite, introduced last year, integrates with UC and IT management systems. The RXV80 is a purpose-built, video collaboration bar for small to mid-sized rooms with a single video screen, and it uses Dolby Voice and video technologies. The RXV80 includes a native Microsoft Teams experience built specifically for the collaboration bar device category. The company also announced the 400HD IP phones, Mediant SBCs, and One Voice Operations Center work with Zoom.
Room equipment vendors want to work with software-centric providers such as Microsoft, Zoom, Google, and others, but not Cisco. Last year Cisco added USB pass-through on some devices, and lowered its entry point. The emerging question is: does general-purpose hardware or purpose-built hardware offer a better experience? Zoom is playing both ends.
CU360 Updates: Avaya announced several updates to its CU360 Collaboration Bar. I believe Avaya was the first major enterprise provider to launch what’s now known as a collaboration bar — an all-in-one meeting room solution. The Android-based system’s new features include “Hot Rooming” similar to hotdesking with smartphone pairing, speaker tracking, face recognition, Miracast support, and POE. The CU360 has Play Store support, so it can run many more apps than most alternatives.
Highfive and Mimeo: Highfive struck a partnership with Mimeo, an online printing company. Mimeo will offer Highfive personal conferencing services to its customers. In addition to print content, Mimeo also offers a digital platform for online education which targets business users such as trainers, instructors, HR managers, and sales and marketing teams.
It’s an interesting note on how things are changing via the pandemic. First, it’s a nontraditional channel. Mimeo was using Highfive internally during the pandemic and realized its customers could also benefit from the service. Second, the pandemic has caused a widespread adoption of distance learning. They were already supporting that sector and opted to double-down by adding conferencing services. Mimeo has 50+ active companies using its digital learning services with over 187K registered users.
On Teams’ 75M DAU: Microsoft is boasting that it now has 75M daily active users on Teams. It’s a big number and 70% higher than the 44M boasted six weeks ago. The growth is reasonably attributable to a spike in conferencing.
Other than comparing to prior benchmarks, it’s not a very meaningful figure. I’m sure it’s smaller than say Outlook’s or Word’s DAU, but Microsoft doesn’t share those figures (why would it?). Comparing it to Slack or Zoom isn’t particularly useful because the apps are dissimilar. Microsoft 365 now has 258M paid users, so at most Teams adoption is 29% of the subscriber base, but that’s unlikely because Teams has free users too. Also, meeting attendees, particularly across the 183K educational institutions now using Teams, likely include participants that are registered as neither free nor paid users. Microsoft is winning a DAU race against itself, and its mysterious boasts feel more about insecurity than triumph.
Opentalk 20: Talkdesk hosted a virtual Opentalk user conference in May, and they put on a pretty good show. The company rebranded its CCaaS suite to Talkdesk CX Cloud. The key message here is that Talkdesk is expanding its notion of CCaaS to include multiple adjacencies. This includes agent training and recruitment (CXTalent) and WEM. With prem, separate vendors made more sense. For example, the PBX, carriers, and conferencing providers were generally separate and independent decisions. In cloud, UCaaS offers voice, carrier, and meetings — everything is a service, so providers are offering broader portfolios to simplify purchasing, integration, and adoption.
CX Cloud offers an umbrella for CC, WEM, collaboration (light), AI, and analytics. Key features include built-in WEM portfolio, real-time dashboards, 60+ integrations, one-click app store, and collaboration with SMEs. It’s a logical and reasonably bold vision for such a small provider. Talkdesk is still young, small, and immature in many ways and is attempting to do an awful lot on its own. See my Tweet Thread on OpenTalk20.
Five9 made several important announcements this month: new packaged applications built on the Five9 Whendu workflow automation platform, Five9 Digital Engagement, and Agent-Expert Consultation. Zoom Phone is perceived as the next major UCaaS platform — one that doesn’t have its own CCaaS.
Five9 acquired Whendu last November, and I wrote in that Insider Report “the goal is to optimize what has been conflicting goals of making contact centers infinitely customizable, fast to implement, and easy to maintain.” Basically, it is searching for the sweet spot between build v. buy regarding contact center implementations. Whendu provides Five9 customers the tools necessary to react intelligently to real-time events with automated workflows. Five9 introduced four packaged applications: Operational Intelligence Dashboards, Proactive Notification, Digital Outreach, and Social Engagement.
Operational Intelligence provides operational visibility and transparency with a set of predefined dashboards based on contact center best practices. This enables business agility and performance consistency by giving executives, managers, and supervisors actionable information in real time. The intent is agile solutions to drive positive business outcomes. Note: that’s four new capabilities from an acquisition made six months ago.
The Five9 Digital Engagement suite provides a set of digital channels that facilitate administration and management of digital channels. It is fully integrated with Five9 inbound and outbound voice to create connected customer journeys across voice, email, SMS, webchat, video, and social messaging apps like Facebook Messenger, Twitter, WhatsApp, WeChat, and others through a single agent interface.
Five9, along with several other providers, is building an integration with Zoom Phone. The integrations are being built as quickly as the APIs are being created, but Five9 has a slight advantage as it uses Zoom Phone and Zoom uses Five9. Agent-Expert Consultation provides Five9 agents with a consolidated directory showing all Zoom Phone users and presence in the company, organized by department. The combined solution also includes direct network peering over a private network and seamless/free transfers between the services.
Genesys and Zoom: Genesys joins Five9 and inContact to create a seamless CCaaS integration with Zoom Phone. Genesys also plans to integrate with Zoom Meetings. Key features of the Zoom and Genesys Cloud integration include a unified directory and presence, seamless transfers between services, and internal video communications with agents. Genesys Cloud users can also take advantage of Zoom recording and screen share.
All three providers also integrate with MS Teams. I am curious which provider (MS or Zoom) has built better API functionality for CCaaS. Along those lines, Verint announced its compliance recording solution now works with Teams.
Vonage Unification: Vonage announced an integration between its VBC UCaaS and VCC CCaaS suites to ease communications between business users and agents. The integrated experience provides SSO, common call control, presence, and directory sync. UCaaS has expanded from voice to include messaging and meetings. A fully integrated contact center is next.
UJET announced integrations with Identity Management providers Okta, OneLogin, and Microsoft ADFS. Additionally, UJET offers dedicated integrations via OpenID Connect that enable user authentication and SSO into any Federated Identity Management service via SAML. In addition to the new integrations, UJET offers dedicated integrations via OpenID Connect that enable user authentication and SSO (Single Sign-On) into any Federated Identity Management service via SAML.
Same ol, SAML. We should be hearing more from UJET with Vasili Triant as its Chief Business Officer. Though, accepting that role probably required him to resign his month-long post as Advisor to the Talkdesk BoD.
Amazon Connect now automatically changes agent status to Offline upon logout (oops) and Connect now supports Lex in its Frankfurt, London, and Singapore regions. Even better, customers can now interrupt Lex chatbots. Amazon Connect lowered its telephony prices.
ALE Akio: Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise and Akio, a French customer service and contact center company, announced a partnership for multi-channel customer relationship management in the cloud. The two are offering a hybrid cloud architecture to enable ALE’s OmniPCX to connect to Akio's cloud-delivered services, or simply an ACD plus multi-channel services. Of course, there’s also a Rainbow UCaaS element available. Agents will be able to collaborate with each other and with experts using group IM, file and screen sharing, and conferencing. Availability in France and Germany is planned for 2H20. ALE reports that its contact center solutions service over 250K agents in Europe.
OneCloud CCaaS Gets Digital: Avaya has added digital to its OneCloud CCaaS offering. The public cloud service, available in the US and Canada, now includes voice, digital, self-service, AI, and workforce engagement capabilities. The OneCloud platform offers CCaaS, UCaaS, and CPaaS capabilities.
RingCentral Jupiter: RingCentral unveiled Project Jupiter to be a complete rewrite of its unified desktop client. The new RingCentral desktop provides a modern UI for RingCentral’s MVP (Message Video Phone) services. Also, it supports real-time switching across modes of communication and provides improved device switching, improved/expanded search, and several third-party integrations including G Suite and MS calendaring. This is a native web app, and mobile clients are based on the same code. It also offers administrators the ability to enable/disable features or modalities — this is commonly missed on unified apps.
LogMeIn: announced a new version of GoToMeeting for Healthcare with emphasis on easy-to-use video conferencing with robust security. These features plus HIPAA compliance readiness positions the offer for telehealth applications. It’s a logical quick fix during the pandemic, but I expect the healthcare sector will see some major disruptive changes over the next few years.
Vonage Service Now: Vonage announced Vonage Contact Center for ServiceNow. This integration creates a unified platform with contextual workflows. Key features include embedded call controls via the contact pad, screen pops, click-to-dial, event logging, and call recording. The integration is available with ServiceNow’s Madrid, New York, or Orlando versions and is compatible with either the Classic or Agent ServiceNow workspace.
Fuze 6&G: Fuze announced the launch of the Fuze 6 platform. Key benefits include improved resiliency and scale, UX, integrations, and security. The new Fuze Integrations Ecosystem features a developer center (APIs and documentation), a marketplace that enables integration with applications, and personalized integration solutions built for specific use cases. Fuze has been steadily adding new features and services specifically aimed at enterprise customers.
Fuze also announced a suite of Google product integrations that enable a more seamless experience between these services. For example, the browser extension delivers dial pad access so that users can directly dial a phone number from the toolbar.
Google Voice Within GMail: There’s a new theme of common sense coming from Google Cloud. The B2B division of Google keeps taking logical baby steps toward a consistent vision — this is new. This month we learned that G Suite customers will be able to make Google Voice calls right from Gmail. G Suite’s clear vision is that Gmail should be the center of the universe. This is very different from Slack, Microsoft, and others. For example, Slack doesn’t offer email (or use it for internal communications). Microsoft has a light integration between Teams and Outlook, but they remain separate apps, and UCaaS is tied to Teams. These and other competitors also favor clients instead of browser-based apps.
The vision is logical as email remains central to workflow for most professionals. Other apps are eating into email, but nothing can actually replace it. The kink in Google’s armor is that its apps remain very limited. Google made a similar move with Meet last month. Both Google Voice and Google Meet are relatively simple offerings.
Mitel Flex: Mitel announced MiCloud Flex, its latest generation of private cloud/hybrid UC. The big difference here is Flex was designed and built for Google Cloud. Most hybrid solutions are cloud agnostic, which means they can’t fully leverage advanced provider services in the design. Mitel Flex designed redundancy within Google Cloud, and can actually offer a higher SLA than Google Cloud does.
The solution is complementary to Mitel Connect UCaaS. The solutions can be combined, but more realistically will appeal to different users. Flex customers will likely be larger organizations that want full control over their UC implementation. UCaaS has broad appeal, but can’t offer the same level of customization and control as private cloud implementations favored by larger and technically savvy organizations.
It also gives channel partners an opportunity to brand, control, and manage a cloud UC offer. MiCloud Flex on Google Cloud provides partners new recurring revenue opportunities. Partners in all three geographies can deliver customized private cloud deployments and adjacent communications applications, including contact center. See my Tweet Thread on Mitel Flex.
Ooma Connect: Ooma Connect is a new “double play” solution that delivers both internet and UCaaS services. The solution consists of the Ooma Connect Base Station and the Ooma LTE 460 Adapter, which provides wireless internet through the Sprint/T-Mobile network. Available now in the United States, Ooma Connect is priced at $599.99 or $30 a month as a rental.
This is a new, yet overdue concept. It’s not uncommon for businesses now to have faster Internet access over wireless than wired networks. Connect provides a wireless plug-and-play network solution. It can be used with Sprint/T-Mobile alone or combined with a wired service, and either service can be failover. But the real play for Ooma is UCaaS. This is likely targeted at retail chains and other small offices without local IT. It’s a single solution (and a single device) for both network access and UCaaS.
NEC UNIVERGE BLUE 2.0 Connects: Last month NEC and Intermedia announced a new partnership for UCaaS and CCaaS. This month the new service is generally available from NEC partners in the US. Though US only today, the service will supposedly be available in Canada and Europe later this year, and APAC in 2021. You can learn more about NEC UNIVERGE BLUE CONNECT and NEC UNIVERGE BLUE ENGAGE in this TalkingPointz Research note.
Vyopta Updates UC Monitoring: There’s a quick window here for improved management related to distributed workers. Vyopta introduced several new features in its Collaboration Performance Management platform, including improved visibility to external network performance; updated tracking of adoption, capacity, and quality; and expanded support for Cisco and Pexip solutions.
Google Voice in Canada: Google Voice is now available in Canada. Google Voice customers in Canada, as well as international customers with Google Voice Premier edition, can assign numbers with Canada country codes (+1) to users. Porting support coming soon.
Poly continued its regular cadence of project launches. The new Blackwire 8225 is a corded plug-and-play USB headset for general UC use cases with advanced noise reduction features. A Teams version is also available.
Teams Updates: Microsoft Teams had a big month in terms of features, many of which were announced at the Build conference aimed at developers. Major updates included customizable templates, chatbots, meeting scheduling features, and the ability to broadcast events. Custom templates come with predefined channels, apps, and guidance. The Power Virtual Agent app will simplify the creation and use of chatbots. A new integration with its Power Platform opens no-code/low-code apps. Teams is getting Network Device Interface support, as well as Skype TX interoperability for “broadcast quality” experiences.
I’m particularly intrigued by scheduling improvements with the Microsoft Bookings app. Calendaring functionality has barely evolved at all (by Microsoft or Google), and numerous add-on tools are filling the void. This new app, optimized for Teams (not Outlook?), will facilitate external appointment bookings. More updates can be viewed here.
Microsoft strongly promoted Teams as a development platform at its Build conference. Microsoft sees Teams as the glue that binds together its 365 suite. Attracting and managing developers is an area where Slack still likely has a lead. I will say, after attending Build, that Teams is not a great platform for hosting virtual events. It’s not really intended for inter-organization collaboration. I had three separate logins for different aspects of Build, and Microsoft recommended using Incognito/InPrivate mode on the browser.
Webex Teams: Cisco made a lot of updates to Webex Teams in May. I will highlight just a few: A new space check feature helps users reuse existing spaces. The big difference between Team Chat and IM is that the same group of people can exist in multiple (subject matter) teams. Now, when a group is created, Webex Teams identifies other teams with these same people to avoid recreating a group if a suitable one exists. In-app calling now rings all devices (single number reach) with voicemail, new icons, “seen by” receipts, and fewer clicks. These updates are good as I felt Webex Teams has been neglected and didn’t leverage its early mover advantages. I think we can expect more too as Cisco also enabled more admin controls over update frequency.
Google Reorg: Another example of common sense now coming from Google Cloud these days (which I wish would speed up) is Google Cloud reorganized all of its major communications products into a single unit under Javier Soltero. He had Hangouts and Chat, and now he has responsibility for Messages, Duo, and the phone app on Android. Soltero moved from Microsoft to Google last October, and he is likely responsible for Meet releasing significant updates last month. Duo will be getting some new features including group video calls and AR effects.
Microsoft Discovers Benefits of Windows: Microsoft pleased Teams users with the promise that the app will soon support separate windows for meetings and calls. Teams currently uses a single window within the Windows app. "Multi-window experiences" for Teams meetings and calls are expected in June.
Slack updated versions of its mobile apps for iOS and Android. The updates build on Slack's recent revamp of its desktop client. Highlights include new navigation icons at the bottom of the app and a new compose button that lets users write, send, and save messages more quickly. Slack also added swipe gestures to the mobile app. A swipe right lets users view workspaces and a swipe left lets them view the last channel or direct message they were in.
Workplace Updates: This month Workplace reported it reached 5M paid users. It also announced several new paying customers, including Petco, Adeo, Sephora, and Virgin Australia. Note: Workplace by Facebook and Work Groups on Facebook are different. The former is the enterprise communications and collaboration app, the latter is a light work-oriented component of the consumer social app.
The 5M can be compared to 3M last October. Note: Workplace reports “paid users,” not DAU or MAU, however, the company has a usage-based pricing model. That means that MAU is actually higher than 5M because of the free plans (Workplace for Good for non-profits and the Essentials free plan introduced last July).
Workplace also adopted the new Facebook Video rooms solution. Workplace rooms is a new video collaboration offering that provides planned and ad hoc video meetings from a PC, mobile device, or FB Portal device. Workplace also got expanded Live Video capabilities for improved production quality and interactivity. Live Video captions now support six languages. The FB Portal is a personal video device, not quite a huddle room solution intended for shared use. Workplace users who require room solutions should explore options from a Workplace partner such as Zoom or BlueJeans.
Workplace also announced an integration with Facebook’s Oculus for Business program. The VR solution could be used for training. The integration is really around the Workplace Identity engine and its Graph capabilities.
Blink publicly launched this month with over 100 customers already using the London-based app. Blink allows employers to send out information to frontline workers (updates, digital forms, pay slips), gives workers a space to send feedback to management, and enables social connection among employees who likely don’t work in the same physical space. The provider claims 60K enterprise users in the UK, US, and Australia that open its app more than 15 times per day on average. Firstline remains a big void for most enterprise communications companies. Microsoft talks about it a lot, but it is Workplace by Facebook that seems to be addressing it the most comprehensively.
Channels and Carriers (new)
ALE and SYNNEX: Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise introduced SYNNEX as its newest distributor in North America. SYNNEX will have a dedicated concierge team in place to support partner onboarding and enablement. ALE reported 23% growth in cloud-delivered services in Q1, and Rainbow now has about 2M users.
Teams Certifications: To assist with remote work initiatives, Microsoft has made two new advanced specializations available: Teamwork Deployment and Calling for Microsoft Teams. Partners must first obtain the Gold Cloud Productivity competency. The Teamwork Deployment competency focuses on achieving business value from Microsoft Teams, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online, and Yammer. The Calling in Teams specialization requires the partner to demonstrate a broad set of skills involving network remediation, O365 service deployment, telephone number provisioning/porting, and device deployment.
T-Mobile RCS: T-Mobile subscribers can now send RCS messages to users on other phone networks, though end-to-end encryption is not assured. RCS is meant to be the successor to SMS. Most have dismissed it somewhere along its decade-plus move to the market, but Google has been invigorating its progress over the past few years. T-Mobile, and few others, began supporting RCS years ago, but only between peers on the same provider. It also required a special app. Now, T-Mobile is supporting RCS Universal Profile 1.0 which supports cross-carrier messaging; but, of course, only with other providers that support it (none). RCS interop needs more carriers and more smartphones with an RCS messaging app.
AT&T unveiled its new AT&T Cloud Contact Center, based on Five9. AT&T touts the solution’s AI capabilities, out-of-the-box integrations, flexible licensing, rapid implementations, and low code customizations. These are indeed powerful benefits, and they are available from AT&T or Five9. Oddly, the press release makes no mention of AT&T’s networking capabilities.
AT&T also became Salesforce’s largest customer. The provider will deploy Salesforce Customer 360 to create a single view of every customer across every point of contact. AT&T intends to leverage Salesforce’s entire portfolio, including Sales Cloud, Service Cloud, MuleSoft, Tableau, and Einstein.
Liberty Global and Telefónica to Merge UK Operations: The 50-50 joint venture brings together Virgin Media and O2. The combination creates a stronger fixed and mobile competitor in the UK market. The joint venture is expected to deliver synergies valued at £6.2B.
Telarus Partners: Telarus Canada will be a master agent for Avaya Cloud Office by RingCentral in Canada. ACO went GA in the US in March, and Telarus expects to launch in Canada in June. Also, Moro Hub in the UAE launched Moro Connect, a UCaaS and CCaaS powered by unspecified Avaya technology. I’m guessing this was planned to be announced at Gitex 2020 (now virtual). Gitex is Avaya’s second biggest annual event.
Twilio announced it will provide comms for NY’s contact tracing initiative. The city will deploy a cloud-based contact center on Twilio Flex and leverage Twilio SMS and Voice as key parts of its COVID-19 tracing program.
Huawei Ban Extended: President Trump extended his executive order banning US companies from working with or buying telecommunications equipment from companies deemed a national security risk until May 2021. Though Huawei is not specifically mentioned, Huawei has been severely impacted by it.
Low Code, No Code, and SFDC: Low-code and no-code tools have steadily gained popularity as organizations aim to digitize workflows despite a shortage of developers. The market for low-code and no-code tools is expected to swell to $52B by 2024. This month Salesforce released low-code tools to simplify digitization and automation efforts. Dynamic Forms and Dynamic Actions are now add-ons to its drag-and-drop app builder. This is another milestone along the “make SaaS extensible” highway that’s headed straight for enterprise communications.
5G Coalition: This month 31 mostly US-based companies created a coalition to push for new, software-centric 5G infrastructure. Specifically, it calls for less complex (Chinese) hardware and more sophisticated US software. Meanwhile, Huawei is denied US chips and Microsoft makes two acquisitions of 5G software companies. See the TalkingPointz Research Note: Microsoft Acquires Metaswitch.
Spell-Check Improvements: Google and Microsoft worked together to improve spell-check in Chrome and Edge. Chrome has previously used the Hunspell open-source speller, but has now switched to the built-in Windows Spell-check. The switch benefits Chrome and Edge users, and will improve web-based composition apps. This is one of the numerous benefits of Microsoft’s bold and brilliant decision to end the browser wars and adopt Chromium. Other contributions from Microsoft include improved scrolling and tab management.
Omilia, yet another Innovation Showcase alum, raised $20M in its first funding round. Omilia offers a customer care virtual assistant that uses machine learning to offer what it claims is a more “human-like” experience. It works on all platforms – phone, web chat, social networks, SMS, email, smart speakers, and apps – and integrates with existing customer support systems. The technology has also been adapted for 21 languages, including regional dialects and accents.
Workvivo raised $16M in funding this month. The company was initially backed by Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan. Workvivo provides an internal communications platform for companies to engage and connect with employees. Employees can post content to company activity feeds alongside other tools like shout-outs, links to company goals, and the ability to create online community spaces. Workvivo is an interesting hybrid between intranet and chat.
Aircall: French call center software startup Aircall SE raised $65M in a Series C funding round. This brings its total amount raised to north of $100M. Aircall’s CCaaS ACD can ring multiple agents at once or route calls through a specific agent order. It integrates with other popular apps such as Salesforce, Zendesk, and Zoho.
Pexip ended May as a public company with a market cap of 8.8B NOK. The company completed its IPO on May 14, and is now listed on the Oslo Stock Exchange. On its first day of trading, shares went as high as 97 NOK, but ended May at 87. Taking advantage of its own technology, Pexip conducted an all-virtual roadshow as the first European company to complete a remote IPO.
After months of lockdown, lots of companies are on sale, and the megacorps are buying. Alphabet, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and Microsoft have announced 19 deals this year as of May 26, representing the fastest pace of acquisitions since 2015.
Microsoft and Metaswitch: Microsoft surprised many of us when it announced that it signed a definitive agreement to acquire Metaswitch Networks. I’ve known Metaswitch as a UCaaS enabler to second tier-providers, though it offers much more. It is a private UK-based company that designs, develops, manufactures, and markets telecommunications software used by service providers, equipment manufacturers, and large enterprises. Regarding the acquisition, neither company has much to say beyond the scripted response about 5G.
There are two theories about this acquisition. The first is that it truly is about 5G. The second is it’s a move to bolster Microsoft’s UCaaS capabilities. My initial assumption was the latter, but currently aligns with the former, and 5G is the opportunity that compelled the acquisition. Though I’m sure some elements from UC will find their way to improve UCaaS such as the Teams-ready SBCs play or some of the UCaaS engineering talent.
There is a TalkingPointz speculative research note on this acquisition. Also, see 5G Coalition above.
Zoom and Keybase: Zoom announced it acquired Keybase, a startup with encryption expertise. Even acquisitions happen at hyper-speed at Zoom. The company was under pressure for security flaws and needed to act quickly. The entire courtship took only weeks, and the CEOs never met in person (pandemic blues). A new Zoom encryption architecture paper, spearheaded by Keybase, is already posted. It’s an impressive pace especially considering that this is Zoom’s first acquisition. To date, Zoom has always opted to build vs. buy, but this situation was too urgent. Now Zoom has to build its acquisition integration engine.
Keybase has a lot of security credibility and appears to fit like a puzzle piece. The leader of Keybase shared that its vision remains the same and that Zoom is actually providing the means, the platform, to deliver it. Financial details were not disclosed.
SAP EOM: M&A activity has generally slowed down in the weeks since the novel coronavirus took a grip on the world, but there have been some pockets of activity in the tech industry when the price is right or when the divestment/acquisition just makes sense.
Sinch is acquiring SAP’s Digital Interconnect messaging business. Sinch is a Swedish cloud voice, video, and messaging company that originally spun out from Rebtel. It is paying €225 million (around $250M) on a cash and debt-free basis for the business. The Digital Interconnect business is headquartered in Silicon Valley, so the acquisition gives Sinch a foothold in the US market.
Sinch has 1,500 enterprise customers that use it for various messaging services, such as the now-popular option of running “omnichannel” conversations with customers over SMS, push, email, WhatsApp, WeChat, and Viber. It also has messaging technology for carriers.
Sinch has been on an acquisition spree in the last month, and other deals have included Latin American messaging provider Wavy for $119M and ChatLayer for $6M.
Halp: Atlassian announced that it's acquiring Boulder-based Halp, an automated ticketing and answers tool built within Slack. Atlassian sees chat messaging replacing email for many types of internal communications. Terms were not disclosed, but it was likely a relatively small deal. Halp just launched its product a year ago and raised $2M in seed funding. Halp's 14 employees will all join Atlassian.
This is proof-positive of Slack’s usefulness as a platform. Halp turns Slack into an internal help desk solution that works for any team that fields questions via workplace messaging. It creates a ticketing system within Slack and integrates with Jira and Confluence. Atlassian intends to build an integration to other messaging tools.
Prodoscore announced that it has closed a Series A funding round led by serial entrepreneur and venture capital investor Troy Carter. The funding will go toward sales and product development as the company moves into a rapid growth phase related to COVID-19. Prodoscore’s software facilitates management and analysis of employee communications. They were featured in the EC18 Innovation Showcase. Prodoscore is integrated with numerous cloud applications including Vonage, RingCentral, G Suite, and Salesforce.
Apple and Inductiv: Apple acquired Inductiv, another ML startup. As usual, Apple did not disclose its purpose or intent. Inductiv's technology uses AI to correct flaws in data. Bloomberg reports that Inductiv's engineering team is working on Siri, data science, and machine learning. Apple Siri is competitively behind other offerings. Apple did release some Siri improvements in iOS 13 which promoted Siri from assistant to an AI layer that lives in Apple's software.
This Month’s Goodreads
- Front-line workers with more tech tools are more productive, study finds
- Facebook Messenger Adds Safety Alerts—Even in Encrypted Chats
- The New Class of CEOs at Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile
- House changes its rules during pandemic, allowing remote voting for the first time in its 231-year history
- Gartner Predicts IT Spending Will Plummet By $300 Billion In 2020 As CIOs Slash Budgets
- Facebook's remote-working plan is doomed
- Slack CEO on Competing with Microsoft, The Future of Work, and Managing all Those Notifications
- Is Google finally managing its messaging mess?
- Gartner Forecasts Worldwide Device Shipments to Decline 14% in 2020 Due to Coronavirus Impact
- What you need to know about Section 230, the controversial part of an internet law Trump targeted in a new executive order
- Pandemic Organizers Are Co-opting Productivity Software
- COVID-19 Employer Information for Office Buildings (Spoiler: Just WFH)
- Cisco Live (Virtual)
- Ribbon Perspectives (Canceled in Jan)
- Google Cloud Next ‘20 OnAir (July 14-September 8)
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Listen to the two TalkingHeadz Podcast interviews of May: Del Currie of Sneek on Persistent Video and Antony Passemard of Google CCAI.