My 2018

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It’s that time again, time for my longest post of the year – my annual report post. This is where I attempt to sum up the past year of activities and trends.

You can see previous annual reports by modifying the year in the URL,

Tweets

@DaveMichels tweeted 4,636 times in 2018, or 12.7 times per day (ended 2018 with a total of 38,148 tweets)

Conferences

Here’s my (chronological) list of 2018 attended conferences:

  1. Avaya Engage, NOLA
  2. ITExpo, Miami*
  3. Enterprise Connect, Orlando*
  4. ATOS AR Event, Boston
  5. Cisco Collaboration Summit, Phoenix*
  6. Avaya Partner Event, Singapore*
  7. Genesys CX18, Nashville
  8. Avaya Partner Event, Manchester
  9. UC Expo, London*
  10. Cisco C-Scape/Cisco Live, Orlando
  11. Avaya Partner Event, Mexico
  12. Google Next, San Francisco
  13. Slack Frontiers, San Francisco
  14. CenturyLink Analyst Event
  15. Microsoft Ignite, Orlando
  16. Mitel Analyst Event, Phoenix
  17. Gitex, Dubai
  18. OpenTalk 18 (Talkdesk)
  19. Cisco Connections, FLL
  20. Vonage AR, Phoenix
  21. Vidyo Healthcare Summit, Scottsdale

* Speaker.

Combined with ongoing travel between events means, for the first time that I am starting the new year with elite status on two airlines.

The larger themes this year were: meetings (what we used to call conferencing), customer engagement (what used to be boring), AI (what we used to call algorithms), integrated workflows (what we used to call CTI), SD WAN (productized OTT), and cloud (what we used to call public cloud, hosted, and timeshare).

Videos

Last year I committed to doing more videos, and I did. This was much harder than I anticipated. Video preparation forced me to put my thoughts together sooner. Production was far harder than expected. I had lots of glitches such as audio and lighting. Yet, it was a good experience and intend to keep doing them. This year, I plan to trade my travel laptop for a Chromebook, so I’m introducing some new variables in this workflow. 

Quipz and Research Content

2018 was the first full year of my “premium subscription” content (December recap goes out to subscribers tomorrow). My freemium model has three levels. The free level is a weekly emailed recap of post content from various sites. The two paid levels are: the Quipz newsletters alone (12/yr) or Quipz newsletters combined with TalkingPointz Research Notes (about 8 per year, so about 20 pieces of content in a year). It’s a lot of work, but paid newsletters are the evolutionary trend of blogs.

Posts

Although there is still weekly content on TalkingPointz, I write fewer posts than before. I have maintained 2-3 posts per month on No Jitter. I write TalkingPointz to an industry insider audience, where my No Jitter content is written to a broader audience.

My subscription content has forced a reduction at other sites including UCStrategies/BCStrategies and Network World. I ended my IoT coverage  because it has matured to a point that requires sector specialization (manufacturing, retail, etc.), and I prefer to remain broad.

TalkingHeadz Interviews

In 2018, Evan Kirstel and I started TalkingHeadz. Initially, these were video interviews, but we switched to podcasts. The podcast format is easier to create and easier to consume (plus Evan has a face for audio). Actually, Evan is a great collaborator. He’s lived up to his “influencer” title. For example, He’s influenced me to buy three watches in 2018. I enjoy doing these podcasts. You can subscribe via most podcast directory services.

Other Content

I get lots of unusual requests. The ones I can share include: a video series with Unify, a few “battlecard” projects, a few paid blogs (on vendor sites), a few MQ related projects, events planning, “Industry According to Dave” briefings, white papers, and a road show. Unfortunately, one obituary. RIP Brian. 

Reflections on 2018

2018 was, in a word, frantic. The vendors are diverging. There’s a simultaneous consolidation and broadening with new entrants. Plus, while ”telephony” is well defined, “collaboration” is not. In an always-connected era, apps are increasingly finding a collaboration angle.

For example, Evernote, Asana, and Monday represent how collaboration is expanding. I never paid much attention to Yammer, but Yammer competes with Workplace, and Workplace competes with Teams. (Bonus points to anyone who can explain why Yammer still exists without using the word “loop.”)

What really stands out in 2018 is the faster rate of change. For example, this year little Plantronics’ doubled in size and tripled in presence while IBM disappeared. We also saw both Zoom and Google announce net-new UCaaS offers (not acquisitions), and three young companies became enterprise communications unicorns (Talkdesk, Afiniti, and Asana).

2018 Themes 

Transition

If you look at that conference list above, you see I attended three conferences each for Avaya and Cisco in 2018. These two companies are examples of the big transitions that occurred in 2018.

  • Avaya returned as a leader (quite literally in the MQ CC). I’m particularly impressed with its energy, commitment, and roadmap (Avaya Mobile Experience is among the most interesting developments in 2018). Avaya was an industry punching bag in 2017. I’m very pleased with changes in leadership and have developed newfound respect for its ability to service large contact centers. I don’t believe any company that I follow has undergone more change (mostly positive) in 2018. Their upcoming conference is in Austin. Phoenix would have been more appropriate as it rises from the ashes.
  • Cisco had two transitional cycles in 2018. In April, at its Collaboration Summit, we saw the end of Spark and the birth of Webex Teams. This was more than a branding change; as it resulted in a consolidation of infrastructure that strengthened both its conferencing and messaging stories. The great presentations from Rowan and Jonathan were in fact farewell performance. Leadership changes always bring tremendous change, and this represents Cisco’s second transition that is still underway. There’s been a steady flow of leadership changes during the second half of 2018. The new leadership team will be hosting its first analyst event in February.

Those are just two big examples, but transitions were a major theme in 2018. We are seeing huge shifts across the ecosystem in leadership, portfolio, roadmaps, and channels. Also look at Vonage, Twilio, even Google.

Contact Center (aaS)

Contact center, customer engagement, customer experience, or whatever you want to call it has become one of the most interesting segments of enterprise communications. Here’s a shortlist of some of the bigger announcements (in chronological order) in 2018: Avaya Mobile Experience, Twilio Flex, new leadership at Five9, Talkdesk becoming a unicorn, Vonage acquiring NVM, RingCentral acquiring Dimelo, and Cisco’s proclamation that no one will outspend it on CCaaS development.

There are several reasons why this space has become so innovative. First, everything is in play, including customer requirements, vendor capabilities, channels, architectures, core technologies, and scope of service. The very nature of customer interaction is changing – the devices, networks, and modalities are all changing.  

CC to CCaaS is similar, but bigger than the UC to UCaaS shift. That started as a deployment conversation, but the service model forced a change in scope. For example, conferencing moved from an add-on to a core component. In CC we are seeing adjacent services becoming part of the solution, for example Twilio Pay. In this TalkingPointz Research Note I explained how CC, CRM, WFO, AI, analytics, recording, QM, payment processing, and more are converging into the so called engagement center.

That’s the result, but recipes differ. Consider these three solutions and strategies: NewVoiceMedia has focused on CC within the CRM within the Salesforce ecosystem (Vonage will likely expand that). Twilio leads with integration and customization via web APIs. Genesys has focused on common microservices to support its three separate, fat applications. Other variables include professional services, IoT, automation, and dedicated instances,

In CC, the market leaders are clear: Avaya, Cisco, and Genesys. In CCaaS, it’s not so clear. Every provider sees a huge TAM that is fueling significant investments.

AI

No technology is more over-hyped than AI. The big enabler in enterprise comms is natural language understanding (NLU). It drives chatbots, transcriptions, command/response, and more. While chatbots are exciting, I have yet to meet one I didn’t hate. Both Google AI for CC and Twilio Autopilot, though, have potential if they can solve ongoing training.

One of the more exciting applications of AI has to do with augmenting CC agents. Self-service is important, but there are tremendous challenges to reducing agent turnover. Turnover can be reduced, but not eliminated. Fast food restaurants have high turnover, so they created processes, training programs, and automation that ensure a consistent burger.

AI via augmented agents can reduce the impact of turnover. We have the technology to to get newly hired agents “better, stronger, faster” than the agents before — yes, bionic agents. The challenge is to tie together “six million” sources of data. The big issue now is accessing, leveraging, and even improving customer experience data.

Outside the CC, Google Smart Replies are my favorite AI example. They are useful, contextual, and easy to ignore or personalize. I am also very impressed with Call Screen on Pixel phones, and wonder if/when UC companies can adopt it.

Consolidation

I reported a surprising number of mergers and acquisitions in my monthly Quipz newsletter. Here are 10 that I consider the most transformational:

  • Avaya and Spoken
  • Blueface and Star2Star merge
  • Dialpad acquires TalkIQ
  • Polycom and Obihai
  • Ooma and Voxter
  • Slack and competitive assets of Atlassian
  • Slack and Astro
  • Vonage acquiring both New Voice Media and TokBox
  • Twilio and Sendgrid
  • 8×8 acquires Jitsi

See more on the above mergers in my No Jitter post.

A Few Disappointments

2018 had its share of disappointments, too.

Amazon: Both Connect and Chime disappointed me in 2018. I was excited about Amazon’s entry into enterprise communications, but they just don’t seem to have their heart in it. That’s reasonable as Amazon has its foot in everything else. Both apps saw only minor improvements in 2018. As a contact center application, Connect is laughably limited. Its real value is the library of DIY services in AWS. The big update from Chime this year was a WebRTC client (which I think Biba had before being acquired by Amazon). I get the impression that both of the original launch partners for Chime, CenturyLink and Vonage, are disappointed with it.

FCC: The FCC was a constant source of disappointment in 2018. It repeatedly took positions and actions that favor a few major carriers and hurt everyone else. Each time with a contrived explanation of how the proposed changes will improve competition. The big one in 2018 was the elimination of net neutrality — not just the change in Internet classification, but the mockery of its public review process, which we now know was 97.7% against the change. The disappointments go beyond neutrality, but there are too many to list. Just recently, the agency expanded the logic by reclassifying text services.

Google: Google fails to realize its potential. This is nothing new, and hopefully its new leader, Thomas Kurian, will do better. Google Cloud includes both the IaaS services that ineffectively compete against AWS and Azure, and G Suite, which ineffectively competes against Office 365. Both services have lost their first-mover advantages over Microsoft. Google AI for CC is interesting, but the solution has some significant gaps. Google should be stronger in conferencing but continues to confuse everyone while Zoom, Cisco, and Microsoft pull further ahead. Regarding its new UCaaS, it will be years until Google makes a dent in telephony (should have acquired). The merger of Chrome and Android is taking too long. I preordered my new Google Slate, but returned it unopened after seeing so many negative reviews.

The Social Quagmire: Facebook had a tough 2018, but it will recover and be better than it was. The company is guilty of doing exactly what we always knew it was doing — monetizing its users. The anger stems from the realization that we are so easily manipulated. In 2018, Facebook single handedly moved us from the false comfort of better ads to a democracy ruled by a minority. Now, what to do about it is far from clear, and the scope is much bigger than Facebook.

 

A big thanks to the many other contributors to TalkingPointz – especially regulars Colin and Sandra.

Live long and prosper and may 2019 be communicative, collaborative, and engaging. 

Dave Michels