It’s that time again: time for the TalkingPointz annual report.
I take back all those mean things I said about 2020. 2021 was bad to the bone. It started bad, ended bad, and had a whole bunch of bad in the middle.
I complete this Annual Report from a hotel. I am currently evacuated from the #MashallFire in Boulder that started on Dec 30. It was an unpredictable fire in every way, yet somehow fitting for 2021. The fire started somewhere in Southwest Boulder sometime around eleven in the morning. By the end of the day, the fire had spread some 6,000 acres and destroyed 991 homes. The 991 is the current total, yesterdays’ news broke it down as follows:
- Louisville – 553 destroyed, 45 damaged
- Superior – 332 destroyed, 60 damaged
- Unincorporated Boulder County – 106 destroyed, 22 damaged
My home is one of the lucky 22. We got off easy. Most of the house is ok. Lots of property damage.
Ok, maybe I’m starting off too negatively. Let’s go back to January, oh the Insurrection. Ok, a rough start and a rough finish, but look we got vaccinated in 2021. yep, and new cases in the US just hit an all time new record.
I will offer (again) an optimistic wish that next year will be better. Last year, that wish was about the approaching end of the pandemic. Here we are a year later and still living the pandemic life. We did what we were supposed to do, stayed home and practiced distancing and good hygiene. Even got three pokes.
There was a glorious glimmer last summer when we thought we were past the peak. That’s when many of us started traveling again. I got my first vaccine shot in April 2021. Borders were re-opening, and I started flying again — even made it to Europe. Of course, it was a lot easier to be distant during the summer months.
In three months, we will (hopefully) have our third Enterprise Connect pandemic edition. Will it be a physical event? I miss the gators (something I never expected to write).
I went to five events in 2021 (I did 24 in 2019). NICE, REInvent, Avaya Engage, NetSapiens UG, and CommsVnext. I want to focus ont he first two.
The NICE analyst event was the first large event. It took place in Jackson Hole in October. It was a courageous move, not just because they hosted the first event, but because they broke several long-established rules — and it worked.
Most events like these have a dual purpose. It provided an excellent update and/or introduction to NICE and CXone. (There have been a lot of changes in the analyst community.) It also allowed the analysts to reunite. The UCC analyst community is a close-knit group, and honestly, we missed each other. We normally see each other fairly often.
That’s why it was so brilliant that they kept their scheduled presentations to half-days. What? Blasphemy in industry analyst events. The norm is to go pretty much all day in a big room with no windows. Events are expensive, and time is money.
But NICE is an engagement company, and they understood some changes were necessary. They planned some fun activities, which was, well, nice, but more importantly, they allowed the attendees to engage with each other and with the broader team at NICE.
During the pandemic, we nailed the basic PowerPoint presentation. I would even say those presentations are better online than in person. Yes, better. I often take pictures of slides at events, but I rarely get them into my notes and never get them into the right spot in my notes. I do when the slides are shared in an online meeting.
Getting together in person to watch a presentation isn’t all that logical. The reason to get together should be to interact, or as NICE would say, engage with each other. In other words, the leader in engagement created an engaging event. The result was impressive. I learned more about NICE in the afternoons than in the mornings.
The industry still needs to figure out how to make virtual, online meetings better for relationship-building.
This was demonstrated again, though accidentally, at the second event I attended: Amazon Re:Invent (I don’t understand their colon and can’t decide if I should omit it). Re:Invent is a big event that took place at the Venetian Hotel in Las Vegas. The Venetian only has 7000 rooms, so they hosted the analyst event at a neighboring hotel (Cisco does a similar model during its Cisco Live conference). This meant that the Re:Invent keynotes were in a different hotel.
At the analyst hotel, AWS offered a room where we could view livestreamed keynotes, but they had some technical glitches on the first day. On the second day, most of us chose to stream the keynotes from our hotel rooms. Eureka! I think we discovered a new form of a hybrid event.
I’ve watched a lot of keynotes in person, but believe remote viewing (hotel or home) is preferable. There are several benefits, and “desk beats lap” is among them. When the keynotes were over, we headed down for interactive engagements such as meals and analyst sessions.
I also attended Avaya Engage in December. It was a more traditional event, but was rich in covid-theater. Clear was providing wristbands to everyone that self asserted they were virus-free, daily. Clear had the brilliant idea that no one wants to carry around their vaccine card, so they offered to digitize it. However, you have to photograph the real card – can’t upload a photo. Missed it again Clear.
The fourth event I attended was the Netsapiens User Conference. I only briefly attended in order to moderate two sessions. I do think 2022 is going to be a big year for private-label providers.
I also made a brief appearance at the CommsVNext event in Denver. This is a grassroots Teams event that Microsoft supports. This was a high quality, small group event.
The word hybrid is poised to be the star of 2022. Hybrid-work, hybrid-events, hybrid-x. It seems like every enterprise comms company is talking about hybrid work and hybrid events. It’s an important acknowledgment that the future is not in-person OR remote, but some mixture of the two. The hard part is predicting what this mixture will actually look like. I think we are going to see a lot of interesting models. Interesting in that some will fail spectacularly.
I strongly believe that hybrid work is equally about place (home, office, etc.) and time (async and synchronous). The industry is heavily leaning into place (WFH). Time, and async work, needs more emphasis. Async work is not new, or as new as email. However, async workflow is new. This is being best communicated by Slack.
2022 is about Codetermination
Frustration levels are very high. You can see this everywhere. If 2020 was about adaptation, then 2021 was about mental health and survival. Let’s review: The coronavirus itself generated fear, stress, disruption, and loss. Multiple pillars of society have been damaged: trust in elections and democracy; an attempted coup; ongoing police violence (especially against Black Americans); mass shootings (including right here in Boulder); doubts about science such as face masks and vaccines; economic recession, inflation, and shortages; extreme-weather disasters including heat waves; numerous new restrictions to voting rights; and so much more.
The great resignation and the spike in unruly air passengers are among the symptoms of the stress.
Thus the future of work is no longer about just what the executives decide. For the first time, the future of work requires execs to sell it and for employees to accept it. This will create a new level of codetermination like we have never seen before. Is it good for you?
Will the Pandemic End?
It seems that each strain of this coronavirus lasts about 18 months. The pandemic should have ended already, but new strains keep resetting the clock. There’s some hope that the new strains will get weaker, and we are seeing this with the omicron variant. It’s also contributing to herd immunity. Now, the herd is becoming immune via vaccine and via survivors of omicron.
So, quite possibly, 2022 will indeed be the end of this particular pandemic, but life isn’t going back to 2019. No way, no how. But before looking forward, let’s celebrate the present. The enterprise comms sector, along with healthcare professionals and the wizards of vaccines, are the true heroes of the pandemic.
The world shifted to distributed, online paradigms practically overnight, and the industry (my industry) abides. The world largely discovered what the industry already knew: that most employees could be equally productive remotely.
Some refer to the pandemic as a giant experiment in distributed teams, but it wasn’t an experiment. Experiments have hypotheses, controls, and measurements. This was plain ol’ survival. The good news is that most of us (individuals, companies, and industries) did survive. Now, let the experiments begin.
Enterprise Comms in 2022
Meetings: Online meetings have accomplished the impossible. Online meetings are now normal and mainstream. It happened rather suddenly after decades of slow progress. Some believe that online meetings will once again become the exception, post-pandemic — but they are wrong. It only takes one remote participant, and as I’ve said before: the toothpaste isn’t going back into the office (yes, I really like that quote).
There’s been tremendous innovation in online meetings over the past 20 months. There’s also been a lot of fast following. It’s difficult to distinguish meetings apps from a features perspective. The differences driving decisions are price, bundles, and to a much lesser degree, security. The traditional UCaaS suite (voice, meetings, and messaging) is under fire from broader bundles (CCaaS, CPaaS, Office suites, shared drives, and more). However, I believe comms will remain video-first for 2022 — not voice-first, not mobile-first, but video-first.
CCaaS: CCaaS has emerged as the star of enterprise comms. It’s lucrative, innovative, sticky, and growing. And there are still large differences in offerings. The gap between the leaders and the pack is slowly widening. There are several trends here to watch:
- AI AI AI AI AI AI AI AI AI AI AI
- Low code/no code: The CX team is tired of being on hold with IT.
- More adjacencies, especially Integrated WEM and other areas (API API API API)
- UI that doesn’t suck
- At least two IPOs: Genesys and Talkdesk
- Big co’s: Amazon is the first megacorp to arrive to CCaaS, and it’s already shaking things up. Google, too, but less so as it’s partnering more than competing. But more big corps are coming. Watch Cisco, Microsoft, Salesforce, and Zoom. They will disrupt via both an accelerated pace of innovation and bundles.
The CCaaS solution is expanding. It’s expanding out of calls, out of the contact center, out of CX. The contact center was so nicely defined, CX isn’t. A Google search can impact CX. Personally, I think the problem is too big to solve. For example, I never know how to express my frustration in these surveys. The agent was fine, but the experience itself – the need to talk to an agent was terrible. The chatbot was terrible, but they didn’t ask me about that.
CPaaS: Some use the term SDK, some simply say APIs, some call it composability, and of course, some promote CPaaS. Whatever you call it, the mission is extensibility. Enterprises can add comms to their own solutions or sprinkle comms on their existing SaaS apps as desired. It’s been remarkable to watch CPaaS transition from a sideshow to critical in just a few years.
In the UCC space, we have seen several providers expand into CPaaS, including Amazon, Avaya, Cisco, Microsoft, RingCentral, and Vonage (to name a few). There are also quite a few network providers expanding into CPaaS. As more providers enable these features, it will become harder for providers to differentiate. Prices are also dropping.
There was a time where it appeared the comms SaaS providers were heading toward Twilio, and Twilio was heading to SaaS (with Flex). However, Twilio isn’t heading toward SaaS. Twillio is heading higher up the stack (especially with regard to customer data) but continues to target developers.
UCaaS: This sector continues to consolidate and commoditize. We lost 3.5 great UCaaS providers in 2021: Star2Star, Fuze, Mitel, and Vonage (Vonage is a half point because its UCaaS future is uncertain).
Microsoft is rapidly growing in this space, forcing most UC/UCaaS providers to embrace Teams. The problem is that by touting direct routing with Teams, they are validating/endorsing their rival and digging their own graves. Yes, they are adding value to Teams, but only for now. Spoiler Alert: Microsoft Teams is young and will mature in ways that eliminate the need for partners.
While UCaaS providers are embracing Teams, they still seem to view Slack as a competitor. Salesforce is actually a double-barrel shotgun that can complement both CCaaS and UCaaS. Salesforce hasn’t clearly communicated its interests in CCaaS or UCaaS, so the providers are cautious. We do know that Salesforce doesn’t want to buy Five9 — that was made abundantly clear during the Zoom courtship.
- We will see more consolidation, but we are running out of smaller providers.
- The big players are getting bigger: MS, Cisco, Google, and RingCentral are very big companies. Even pipsqueak Zoom has a market cap near $55B. Who might soon be calling? Amazon? Ericsson? Oracle? Salesforce?
- We are going to see the rise of Private Label solutions. Cisco initially fumbled its acquisition of BroadSoft regarding private label solutions, and this opened an opportunity. We are seeing significant changes/consolidation/enhancements in private labelling – watch Crexendo, 2600Hz, and Destiny. Meanwhile, Cisco reinvigorated its GTM with BroadWorks.
General Industry Themes
- I think an important narrative is emerging around post-Windows and post-(desktop) clients. We started playing this tune with the smartphone about a decade ago. The desktop survived, but its OS is much less important. I do pretty well in a browser. I move between devices with ease, and my primary vendors don’t build multiple apps that an enterprise would need to install/maintain. Microsoft understands this and is positioning Teams as the OS of MS 365 (“Teams is as important to Microsoft today as Windows was to Microsoft before”). Most UC/CC/meeting apps now work fine in a browser, and vendors developing clients need to evaluate why.
- Video everywhere. Meetings are important and an obvious use case, but there are all kinds of meetings. Expect to see many more video use cases — new apps and existing apps with video. A good example is job site Indeed, which now offers integrated video interviews. Other new use cases are Cisco Vidcast and NoFilter.
- Green teleworking: The pandemic has distracted us from a far bigger problem: the world is getting hotter. There’s a disconnect occurring as enterprise comms have a big role to play here. The IT industry has become green, reducing carbon (Amazon and Microsoft) and reducing styrofoam (Cisco and Poly). However, the greenest thing the industry can do is reduce/eliminate commuting and travel. We saw last year that there were huge, positive environmental impacts. Reducing commuting and travel is our opportunity to contribute. Yet the comms industry is silent on this perspective.
- We are at a breaking point on InfoSec: Nothing can be trusted. It is shocking how low security is in enterprise comms, especially compared to consumer alternatives. This has become more important with async treasure troves of info from the likes of Teams and Slack. End-to-end encryption is heating up but is still the exception. That’s just the beginning. Other techs, like voice biometrics and zero knowledge approaches should be embraced by the enterprise comms sector. Unfortunately, that’s not a prediction.
I end 2022 with about 42,100 followers on Twitter and a new total of 55,630 tweets, though I definitely see the conversation shifting toward LinkedIn. I wonder if that will change with new leadership at Twitter?
With that, I bid you and 2021 farewell, and may 2022 be a grand year.