September 2020 Insider Report
The Most Important Enterprise Communications News from September 2020
“Are you feeling down? Isolated? Uncertain about the future? Worried about what comes next? Then you may be suffering from ... consciousness.” A tweet from Sarah Cooper that captured September for me. It’s seeping into general awareness that this pandemic isn’t ending anytime soon. Remember when EC20 was pushed from the spring to the fall? Now it’s being pushed to the fall of 2021 — and that may be optimistic. Pandemics do end, and we are all anxious for the Fat Lady to sing.
The best mitigation strategy for a highly contagious virus remains social distancing and face masks. This is much harder than it sounds. Social distancing is incompatible with a vibrant economy. Political leaders seek to balance economic and public health risks — effectively, calculated losses, though not for soldiers but civilians. The world has done reasonably well in implementing safety precautions to keep essential services running, but as we move into general reopening, tremendous confusion and misinformation remain.
As a result of all these factors, the virus is climbing again. Coronavirus cases were largely on a downward trend from July highs, but that ended in September. More than half the states are reporting an increase in cases. The death toll has crossed 1M globally (with over 20% in the US). That’s more than malaria, influenza, cholera and measles combined. And there’s no indication things will slow anytime soon. For example, Florida, despite having the third highest number of confirmed cases and the fifth highest number of Covid-19 fatalities, is moving into Phase 3 of its reopening plan, which eliminates capacity restrictions on restaurants statewide — and prohibits communities from setting more stringent restrictions.
Despite this, there’s still a lot of debate over appropriate precautions and risks. Face masks are particularly polarizing. Health professionals insist they help, but there’s widespread refusal to accept the science. It’s not just the virus; there’s basically a general war against science. We are living through a golden age of both readily available facts and denial of those facts.
Name your poison. Would you like to debate face masks, evolution, whether US police officers mistreat Black people, or if vaccines cause autism? Are those too controversial? How about if Earth is flat? Despite scientific evidence and consensus, false information thrives. Kellyanne Conway was prescient when she used the term “alternative facts” in January 2017 in defense of Spicer’s inaugural attendance claims. There are indeed alternative facts available to anyone, for any side of any topic — validation has never been easier.
This brings me to the other big story of September: climate change. California, Colorado, and Oregon experienced another year of historic fires (and fire season is far from over). Many of these fires will continue to burn until it rains. Meanwhile, September brought multiple hurricanes with historic flooding in the Southeast. In Texas, a brain-eating amoeba in the water supply killed a 6-year-old boy. Most of these were reported as isolated, freak events.
The dangers of carbon to the global climate were documented in the 1950s. The term “global warming” goes back to the 1970s. Many of the dire predictions are occurring on or ahead of schedule and accelerating. Earlier this year, Bill Gates warned, “As awful as this pandemic is, climate change could be worse .... By 2060, climate change could be just as deadly as COVID-19, and by 2100 it could be five times as deadly.”
That leads to one dubious silver lining: The pandemic has made an impressive dent in carbon emissions. Many are predicting the new normal will include a hybrid workstyle (office/home). It turns out that video does enable reduced travel, a claim the industry used to cite. Enterprise comms is indeed a big part of the solution.
Spurred on by recent events, many tech organizations are now making impressive carbon commitments. For example, Microsoft committed to going carbon negative (wiping out the carbon it and its suppliers create). Apple, Facebook, and Google have also made bold claims, but the effort isn’t just for big companies. For example, Logitech has committed to carbon transparency. In September, Amazon announced sustainability certifications will be more visible in product searches. Microsoft and Shell announced a net-zero alliance. Best Buy joined the Climate Pledge. Even my tech companion Nespresso committed to making its products carbon neutral by 2022.
The pandemic is pushing enterprise communications to the next stage, which is to use technology to protect the people and the world around us. And that’s something that shouldn’t be debatable.
|Have you heard? Real-Time, Recorded is a new weekly short video about industry news. Sometimes news can’t wait for the Insider Report. Dave Michels and Zeus Kerravala provide what you need to know in a weekly 10 minute video.|
Big Tech Backlash: There’s a rebellion forming against big tech. September’s headlines included the following: Italy’s competition watchdog launched an investigation into Apple, Google, and Dropbox over cloud storage. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission launched an inquiry into Google and Apple’s app stores. Canadian lawyers filed a class action suit against Google for perceived abuses in how it handles personal information. Irish regulators started an inquiry into Facebook’s movement of data from European users to the US. Australia and Facebook are in a standoff over news. Even here in the US, it appears the Justice Department may file a suit against Google. These are largely governments vs. tech. There’s no indication yet that organizations or individuals are fed up, but I expect that will change.
Vamsung: Huawei has lost its momentum in its once-booming 5G infrastructure business. This month Verizon awarded a $6.6B deal to Samsung to set up 5G networks in the US. The deal comes as the US government continues to impose sanctions on Chinese telecoms giant Huawei. The Trump administration banned the sale of chips using US software to the Chinese technology firm in August, restricting Huawei's 5G capabilities.
Warren Buffet Invests in Enterprise Software: Snowflake had a spectacular IPO this month. Maybe it was because the "data warehouse built for the cloud" lists Google Cloud, AWS, and Azure as partners. Or maybe because its regulatory filing revealed that Berkshire Hathaway (and Salesforce) would invest $250M immediately after the IPO.
Microsoft Duo Phone: Microsoft continues to come up with innovative smartphone failures. The Duo phone is an Android phone with three screens. It’s more expensive than a folding display phone and less practical at the same time. A mainstream Microsoft-branded Android phone seems like a no-brainer to me. #TooObvious?
NVIDIA and Arm: An interesting development in semiconductors (really). NVIDIA is offering to pay an arm and a leg to acquire Arm. To those who grew up with Intel, Arm is peculiar. It is more like a software company that produces microprocessor architecture designs for almost every company that makes mobile or IoT devices. It does not manufacture the chips. Instead, it licenses the Arm processor to companies such as Apple, Amazon, Qualcomm, Samsung, etc., which then optimize/customize the chips to their needs. The licensees then source manufacturing to a foundry for production. One of the largest and most state-of-the-art (5nm) manufacturers is TSMC in Taiwan (Apple has bought its entire 5nm production capacity). In contrast, Intel designs and builds generic processors. Arm (and TSMC) have unbundled and improved Intel’s model.
Arm already dominates mobility and is now expanding into desktops (with Apple Silicon) and datacenters (Amazon Graviton). We are witnessing a revolution in how computing is done. Should the merger complete, Nvidia will own key IP, both high end GPUs and super-efficient CPUs.
Apple Event Reality: Apple announced updates to its Watch and iPad lineups that were moderately interesting if you care about watches and iPads. More interesting was the underlying unspoken theme of augmented reality (AR). The new A14 chip in the iPad Air is a 16-core neural engine with advanced image processing. Even the A12 chip, now in the iPad 8th Gen is marketed for AR. The new Watch Series 6 has Apple’s U1 Chip with spatial awareness. The new djay Pro app uses gestures to control music and the SwingVision app analyzes your tennis swing. The new Apple Fitness + Watch is to provide personalized workouts.
New FCC Commissioner: President Trump nominated Nathan Simington for FCC commissioner to replace Mike O’Rielly who lost his re-nomination after expressing concerns over the FCC regulating content on social networks. Simington is currently a senior adviser at the NTIA.
CenturyLink Fade: CenturyLink gave itself a new global name: Lumen Technologies, AKA Lumen. CenturyLink is a very old brand largely associated with copper, which is deadweight during the 4th Industrial Revolution. CenturyLink has gone through numerous acquisitions, but Level 3 really changed the provider.
The End of the Global Internet: The borderless Internet continues to die. This isn’t particularly new, and I’ve written about it before — but it’s accelerating. The Internet is being replaced by regional nets. These things occurred this month: Russia proposed a new bill that outlaws encryption. Apple began removing RSS reader apps from its App Store in China (to block “illegal content”). The US took actions to block TikTok and WeChat from American app stores.
There’s also increased pressure on encryption. China has already largely eliminated use of it, and there are several bills, mostly associated with Section 230 revisions, that will eliminate or restrict encryption in the US. The EARN IT bill, which requires encryption back doors, continues to progress through the Senate. A new bill, Eliminating Abusive and Rampant Neglect of Interactive Technologies Act, also endangers encryption.
The TikTok Saga: What can be said? We know TikTok (and WhatsApp) are pawns in the US-China game. The security concerns are unclear and unlikely. The TikTok resolution with Oracle and Walmart is unclear at best, and also unlikely to address concerns. We don’t know the goal, so it’s impossible to analyze. We have a flurry of alternative facts from Oracle, ByteDance, and many others. It is pretty clear that Facebook benefits from the general confusion and malaise around these apps. The developments this month (a potential deal, payments, a legal structure, court orders, and more) have blurred the situation even more.
Subsidized Wireless: AT&T is considering discounted wireless plans that are subsidized by advertising. It’s actually surprising such services don’t already exist. AT&T and Yahoo have plenty of advertising-funded services now, and the usage information it can collect as a wired and wireless ISP puts it in an excellent position to profile customers for targeted advertising. Several companies including Amazon, Virgin Mobile USA, and Boost Mobile have tested advertising-supported phone services before.
Time 100: Time published its list of 100 most influential people in the world, and the list contains two names from the comms world: Eric Yuan of Zoom and Sundar Pichai of Google.
I thought it was smart that they did not include Marc Benioff (Salesforce) since he owns Time. Pichai was largely off my radar as he personally seems somewhat distant from enterprise communications. Though I am surprised they didn’t include Satya Nadella (Microsoft).
Regarding Yuan, I was pleased to see that Time did not credit luck. I have heard this theory a lot over the years, especially during the pandemic. Luck is a wonderful thing when it happens, but it is not a reliable partner or strategy. I do know that if he had approached me a decade ago with his idea, I would never have invested or encouraged it. There was just no logic in attempting to take on Cisco, IBM, Tandberg, and Polycom, especially when Skype was giving away video — even if he did have a green card (which he didn’t).
Help! 911 services in at least 14 states experienced an outage on September 28, and there is disagreement about the cause. The smoking gun theory put the initial blame on Microsoft Azure, as it was having a major outage at the same time. The actual cause seems to be some glitch between Intrado (previously known as West Safety Communications) and Lumen (previously known as CenturyLink).
Outages occurred in cities in Arizona, California, Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Washington. Intrado has not made a public statement, but did cast blame on its “service provider” (Lumen) in a government report. Lumen says the problem was caused by “a vendor partner” (Intrado). Last year, the two companies agreed to a $575K settlement regarding a 911 outage in August 2018.
Microsoft for Operators: Cloud opportunities are transforming Microsoft from a B2B company into a B2C company — as in Business to Carrier. Microsoft launched Azure for Operators, a new initiative aimed at network operators that combines cloud, 4G/5G cellular, and edge. This is positioned for always-on, always-connected applications and devices — a category that’s growing now and that’s expected to accelerate with 5G. The solution uses acquired technologies from Metaswitch and Affirmed Networks.
Forbes 100: For the fifth year, Forbes published its Cloud 100 list of the world’s top private cloud companies. Composed in partnership with Bessemer Venture Partners and Salesforce Ventures, the rankings evaluated growth, sales, valuation, culture, and a derived reputation score. A few notable enterprise comms names on the list: Asana 17, Zapier 24, Monday 33, Symphony Comms Services 47, Podium 50, Talkdesk 53, Miro 57, Gong.io 71, and Front 94.
Microsoft Ignite: Microsoft hosted a virtual Ignite, its annual conference aimed at IT pros. Many of the announcements relating to enterprise comms are covered below.
Perhaps the biggest surprise didn’t come from the Teams team: Azure Communication Services now offers a new set of APIs that give developers access to video, voice, chat, and screen-sharing services. Microsoft suggested the new service is what powers Teams. (That’s a bit suspicious, as APIs can come to market much faster than applications built on them. For example, Vonage built VBC on its CPaaS infrastructure.) Also, Dynamics 365 and Azure Communication Services are introducing a voice channel. This development effectively adds omnichannel capabilities to Dynamics as a scalable, single-vendor solution.
When ACS becomes GA, Microsoft becomes a CPaaS provider. The category is mostly associated with Twilio and Vonage, but it’s getting crowded. Other CPaaS providers include Avaya, Bandwidth, Mitel, and Plivo. This initial version of ACS is largely limited to modalities found in Teams, so the headlines calling it a “Twilio killer” are premature at best. For starters, Twilio offers an extensive catalog of services and integrations such as WhatsApp, email, and advanced contact center technologies. Nonetheless, it’s an intriguing development from Microsoft.
I also want to touch on the new Wellbeing programs announced in Teams, which offer a fascinating intersection among Microsoft value propositions. Office 365 has always been about an integrated experience. The marquee applications of Outlook, Teams, Edge, and Office work together seamlessly, and the interactions provide valuable data. MS Graph makes use of that data, enabling AI-powered features and behavioral analytics. Microsoft is now using data to identify unhealthy patterns such as working too much — and that’s been a legitimate issue during the pandemic.
MS Graph watches more than hours logged. It also gauges who you are interacting with, how frequently, and the tone used. There’s a Big Brother feel to MS Graph that is in conflict with “Microsoft believes privacy is a fundamental human right” — a line touted in several Ignite sessions related to customer data belonging to the customer. Microsoft does not sell customer data or use it for targeted advertising. But can a company that analyzes every keystroke still tout privacy?
Along these lines was the new Customer Key feature for Teams. Customer Key allows IT managers to secure data stored in Teams with their own encryption key. It’s an added layer of protection that can help with compliance matters — but there is still no way to keep your Teams data secure from Microsoft.
Twilio Signal: Twilio went all out at this year’s Signal conference. The program lineup included Barack Obama, Trevor Noah, and Bill Nye. There were five major announcements: WebRTC Go, Event Streams, Microvisor, Flex Ecosystem, and Frontline. I didn’t hear “monolithic” in any of the keynotes.
WebRTC Go is a new offer to simplify 1:1 video. It’s a simplified/productized implementation of WebRTC, optimized and secure for enterprise uses. The Flex Ecosystem offers a collection of partners ready to make Flex better. Launch partners include Google CCAI, Salesforce, Zendesk, and Calabrio (plus 26 more).
Developers can now subscribe to a stream of updates. Event Streams supports multiple types of events. Initially it works only with AWS Kinesis, but other systems will be added. Microvisor simplifies networking for IoT devices. This is associated with Twilio’s acquisition of Electric Imp — identified in last month’s Insider Report. Looks like Twilio is expanding into embedded systems.
I think most interesting is Twilio Frontline, a mobile app (not an SDK) for deskless use cases. It leverages the Twilio Conversations API (launched last year) and provides a way for customers to directly connect with frontline (essential) workers. These routes can be fixed or just-in-time. It allows a customer to directly reach a particular employee or employee role. The app supports voice, SMS, wireless connectivity through Super SIM, TaskRouter and more.
MS Ignite Meetings: There were a number of announcements related to Teams meetings at Ignite. However, Teams played a less dominant role than prior Ignites. Most of the improvements are evolutionary. For example, the ability to create tasks from chats, stream playback improvements, and more Together Mode backgrounds. Microsoft improved the ability to customize meeting layout. Among the more significant Teams announcements are a new survivable gateway solution, a meeting recap feature that automatically collects and centralizes content and artifacts from meetings, a prejoin experience to select and test A/V settings, and an improved search capability.
There were several announcements that seemed inspired by the pandemic. These include touchless at-office meetings facilitated by the use of a personal smartphone as a controller, voice control through Cortana, and Teams casting for wireless sharing. There were some wellbeing features that leverage MyAnalytics to identify personalized recommendations intended to improve productivity and wellbeing — such as a virtual commute(?) at the start and end of the business day. Also, there were several announcements related to firstline workers (now redubbed “essential workers”), including scheduling tools and a walkie-talkie feature. Microsoft Whiteboard — separate but integrated to Teams — now supports sticky notes.
With a look to the future, Teams will soon support break-out rooms. This is a critically important feature for distance education. A more streamlined/integrated approach to live events and webinars is coming later this year. New apps were released for (Windows and Android) MTR.
Microsoft continues to roll out new features on Teams, particularly related to Meetings. While the client is becoming very rich, the meeting experience on a browser remains very limited.
New Hardware for Teams: Poly announced its G7500 is now Teams Certified. New collaboration bars were announced from AudioCodes and Yealink. Lenovo announced the ThinkSmart Hub room controller which is already packaged in a new AudioCodes MTR bundle. Microsoft announced Intelligent Speakers that supposedly enable speaker attribution in shared rooms. Microsoft launched a FastTrack program for meeting rooms along with a device as a service (US) program. Still no collaboration bar from Logitech, though it seems inevitable. Still surprises me that Google itself does not support Android-based room systems.
Microsoft also previewed a new solution for panels that can be mounted outside a meeting room. The panels display room reservations and can also assist with space management. The device shown at Ignite was the next generation of the Crestron panel. It’s an Android-based tablet built for purpose. This is an incremental upgrade for Crestron’s Flex line, but those panels typically run Crestron software. In January, the panels will be able to run Microsoft Teams software. Yealink and others are expected to join the party too.
Panels have historically been separate but integrated solutions. In the cloud era, adjacencies are becoming logical service expansions. It’s a reasonable move for table-top controller manufacturers to move to the exterior wall. With Crestron it’s quite literally the same hardware. I expect to see more vendors make the same journey.
BlueJeans and Microsoft: BlueJeans by Verizon announced its next generation of the Microsoft-certified BlueJeans Gateway for Microsoft Teams (BlueJeans Gateway). The latest updates include large event support, localized IVR, 7x7 Gallery, and more. BlueJeans also announced an integration with LinkedIn to facilitate interactive networking. Users can initiate ad hoc meetings or booking for a later date within the LinkedIn scheduler for BlueJeans.
Poly and StarLeaf: The newest StarLeaf meetings services are now available on the latest video tools from Poly. This is a surprising change as StarLeaf previously controlled its own hardware. But hardware is moving much more quickly now, creating more pressure to innovate and cut costs. The Poly X Series offers a fast path for any vendor with an Android client to a modern room system. One could assume that StarLeaf is mulling an exit from hardware. StarLeaf’s comprehensive solution deserved more visibility than the provider got, largely due to its ongoing attempts to force its way into the Microsoft ecosystem.
Google Series One: Google introduced Series One room kits for Meet. Each kit includes a (regular or XL) 4K camera, an Intel i7 ChromeOS compute unit, an audio bar, and either a 10” touchscreen controller or IR remote. The audio bar uses 8 beam-forming microphones. Currently, Lenovo is the only hardware channel partner. The system has 4 TPU processors for AI-enhanced audio and speaker tracking. It reasonably compares with a current offer that utilizes the Logitech Rally solution. Compared to the existing Logitech Rally bundle, the Series One offers more processing power at a lower price, but the Logitech Bundle has an optical PTZ camera and has more versatility in both cable management and interoperability. Hat tip to Google for touting sustainable packaging in its launch.
The Other Together Mode: The previously announced Cisco Webex Video Integration with Microsoft Teams is now live. Cisco is now a Microsoft-certified Cloud Video Interop (CVI) provider. Teams requires a CVI provider for interop with standards-based video endpoints. This initiative was originally announced at Ignite 19.
Amazon Chime SDK: Developers can now allow end-users to test their device before they try to join a meeting with new meeting readiness checker APIs in the Amazon Chime SDK. This is simplified with common users experience modules available in the Amazon Chime SDK React Component Library.
Avaya Spaces: Avaya announced several updates to the meeting components of Spaces, including improved screen-sharing for higher resilience, improved diagnostics, enhanced meeting cards, an “embed password in link” option, and more.
Zoom and Lumen: The two companies announced Lumen will offer Zoom as part of its Unified Communications and Collaboration Suite. Zoom continues to use Lumen’s network to deliver its service, but Lumen previously did not resell Zoom.
Webex Classroom: Cisco Collaboration announced a preview of Webex Classrooms, a new solution designed to address the needs of online learning. Webex Classrooms provides a classroom structure where students and teachers can organize classes, review syllabuses, schedule and launch classes, host virtual office hours, and more. Students can connect with each other or access course resources.
Reviews: See these TalkingPointz video reviews of the Poly Eagle Eye Cube and the Cisco Desk Pro on TalkingPointz. Facebook Portal Review coming soon. Also, see Put Teams Devices on Hold on No Jitter.
CX Summit: Five9 hosted a virtual CX Summit and announced the GA of Agent Assist and Virtual Agent and a new framework for recording dubbed VoiceStream. Agent Assist and Virtual Agent are becoming familiar topics, at least in terms of websites and brochures. Despite the power of Google CCAI, virtual agents and agent assist solutions remain limited. Five9 is working to cross the chasm with its own integration of CCAI and Inference Studio to simplify the use of virtual agents. Regarding agent assist, Five9 developed a summarization capability (assisted summarization) that could improve logging and reduce post-call agent work.
VoiceStream is a new cloud-to-cloud framework that will enable partners to request audio, text, or intents via API calls. While recording is more common than ever, it’s not easy to securely share the content. It will be interesting to watch how VoiceStream matures and whether the architecture expands beyond Five9. More on No Jitter.
Twilio Flexed: Twilio also saw a major COVID-19 digital acceleration across sectors. It has powered a number of high-profile projects relating to contact tracing, mass alerts, telehealth, remote agents, distance learning, and contactless delivery to name a few.
I covered the main Twilio Signal announcements in the General News section above. Regarding Flex, Twilio signed Deloitte Digital as its first global solutions integrator. DD will integrate and resell all Twilio offerings, but Flex seems to be the real opportunity. The partnership is with the HUX team (Human Experiences) at DD which helps large customers “modernize and humanize customer outreach.” Deloitte Digital presented at Signal (and the Five9 CX Summit). Workplace by Facebook also announced an alliance with Deloitte (Future of Work group). Deloitte appears to be accelerating its efforts on digital and remote/distributed work.
Genesys Updates: Genesys continued with organizational changes this month: a new CFO, significant restructuring of marketing, and a new “VP of Multicloud Commercial Operations.” In a TalkingHeadz podcast this month, CEO Tony Bates explained that many of the recent changes were to position Genesys for significant growth. Also this month, Genesys Cloud introduced Sentiment Analysis with the claim that 700 customers used it to analyze 2.7M words in one hour (my general experience with TTS has me thinking it was 2M words that sound similar to what was spoken).
Verify This: Aspect announced an integration with the new Google’s Verified Calls program. Google’s service gives businesses a way to convey validity and purpose of the call. Verified Calls requires businesses to participate with one of Google’s verification partners (such as Neustar, JustCall, Telecall, Zenvia, Prestus, Aspect, Five9, Vonage, Bandwidth, IMImobile, Kaleyra, Quiubas Mobile, or Datora). Currently, the verification pops up on the caller’s Android smartphone. Verified Calls is launching first in the US, Mexico, Brazil, Spain, and India, with more countries to follow. Twilio launched a similar Verified service last year.
Google also introduced a feature called “Hold for Me,” which is an implementation of virtual hold built into its newest Pixel smartphone. When put on hold, the feature will stay on the line and then alert you when someone eventually picks up.
CC Events: There were four contact center events in September: Five9, NICE inContact, Twilio, and Aspect. All of them stressed significant changes and digital acceleration related to the pandemic. There were no significant announcements from NICE inContact or Aspect this month.
Cisco VOC Ripens: Cisco introduced a few enhancements to Webex Experience Management, its cloud-based solution to understand customer journeys. Cisco announced a new integration between Webex Experience Management and Webex Teams that enables real-time notifications of customer feedback. It also enables notifications on specific feedback. Experience Management now supports additional channels, including web chat, email, and voice. The Webex Experience Management product stems from Cisco’s 2019 acquisition of Cloud Cherry.
AWS Connect APIs: Two new APIs for Connect were announced. The first lets users programmatically create or update routing profiles. This can enable dynamic routing conditions. A contact flows API allows admins to programmatically configure and test contact flows such as among development, staging, and production environments. Amazon also lowered outbound telephony rates globally.
Talkdesk To Go: Talkdesk made two announcements regarding remote agents: Talkdesk Remote and Talkdesk On The Go. Remote is a simplified bundle to enable secure remote agents, including access to staff through Talkdesk CXTalent. Talkdesk On The Go enables mobile agents or field staff (including firstline workers). Employees can move between desktop and the (BYOD) mobile client. All of the contact center companies saw a major surge in demand for remote agents during the pandemic. That rush is over, but these packages make sense for what should be long-term post-pandemic demand for remote agents.
Avaya CRO: Stephen Spears was named the Chief Revenue Officer at Avaya. Spears will have ownership of the company’s revenue-generating organizations, customer lifecycle, and client functions, including global sales and marketing, partner management, and channels. Spears spent 17 years in a variety of key senior leadership roles at SAP.
Mitel CRO: Scott Peterson was promoted to Chief Revenue Officer at Mitel. Peterson will be responsible for driving Mitel’s global revenue growth via the execution of its go-to-market strategy and through its channel ecosystem of value-added resellers, service providers, distributors, and master agents. Peterson joined Mitel in 2019, and was previously SVP of Sales for the Americas.
Calling Changes in Teams: Microsoft expanded the availability of calling plans into 6 European countries (Austria, Denmark, Italy, Portugal, Sweden, and Switzerland). Calling plans for Teams are now available in 16 countries, though I contend Microsoft prefers customers go with Direct Routing options.
Last July, Microsoft added a requirement for an “advanced communication License” regarding contact center and recording use cases. This month, Microsoft dropped the requirement, likely due to pushback on the price.
Cisco Flex: Cisco introduced major changes to its Flex subscription program in September. This is the third iteration of the program, now much simpler with aggressive discounts on calling bundles.
Poly: The Poly Lens management app now works with its CCX Series desk phones. The app facilitates onboarding, provisioning, remote management, and reporting.
RingCentral Expands in Europe: RingCentral announced a new datacenter in Frankfurt and a new office in Hamburg, Germany. As UCaaS providers expand globally, there’s a chicken-egg thing with opening new markets. RingCentral’s alliances (Avaya, Atos, and ALE) reduce the risk associated with expansion.
Germany, in particular, has a number of requirements. RingCentral’s new datacenter in Germany will offer customers local data storage and the ability to keep voice and video call media local. All team messaging, voicemails, audio and video recordings, call logs, faxes, and analytics data will also be stored locally. Additionally, RingCentral complies with the European Union’s requirements of Cloud Computing Compliance Criteria Catalogue (C5), which is a baseline of security controls that was developed by the Federal Office for Information Security in Germany.
Unify Office Available: Atos and RingCentral announced that Unify Office is now available in France and Germany with availability in Austria, Belgium, Ireland, Italy, Spain, and The Netherlands coming soon. Unify Office by RingCentral can be purchased directly from Atos and will be available from its in-region partners, including Itancia and BusinessCom.
ACO Expands in Europe: Avaya and RingCentral announced the expansion of Avaya Cloud Office by RingCentral across Europe, with the solution now generally available in France, Ireland, and the Netherlands. The companies also announced their first seven-figure deal with a large United Kingdom-based Government customer. Curiously, Avaya did not include Germany in its announcement. Avaya does intend to take ACO to Germany (and more countries), but until then, continues to offer the Avaya UCaaS service launched in Germany last year.
More Patents Fuzed: Fuze announced that it had received two patents in May. US Patent No. 10298752B1 is for intelligent routing of inbound communication requests based on recorded user history. The call and history are sent to contact center agents. US Patent No. 10645088B1 provides a method for intelligently determining availability status of a user by aggregating that user's activity across multiple devices. The provider has already announced three other patents this year.
Numonix and Ribbon: Numonix and Ribbon announced their recording experience for Microsoft Teams. Both services (IXCloud and SBC SWe Lite) are offered on Azure. The solution can record audio, video, and screen-sharing.
Facebook Campus: Facebook launched a new social networking product aimed at universities called Campus. Campus is designed for students to interact with peers; access a Campus-only News Feed; and join Groups, events, and group chat rooms, called Campus Chats. There’s also a “Campus directory” where they can find and friend other students. It appears to be ad-funded.
Microsoft Teams Gets Messaging Updates: Microsoft announced that later this year Teams will increase its maximum members on a team from 10K to 25K. This is a significant increase of a significant limitation, and it should make Teams more suitable for firstline employees at larger companies. Also, now that the Teams Client can cache and queue content, it can be used offline. Microsoft also improved the search experience within Teams to display messages, people, and files in one view.
There are a few improved O365 integrations: Now, there’s a new way to quickly send a task in Teams to Planner. Microsoft Lists for Teams is now GA, and can be used to track and organize work. Administrators can now create custom templates that help standardize team structures.
Productive Teams? Microsoft Teams now integrates with Prodoscore. This will give managers better visibility into (distributed) team productivity. Prodoscore provides a productivity score after passively assessing conversations across multiple channels (including email, voice, CRM activities, and messaging) and applications. Prodoscore’s suite of integrations also includes Dialpad (this month), RingCentral, Vonage, Salesforce, and G Suite.
Cisco Messaging FedRAMP: Webex messaging apps received FedRAMP authorization. This completes the set as Webex Calling and Meetings were already FedRAMP authorized. Webex Teams supports end-to-end encryption for messaging, including files and whiteboards.
Avaya Spaces: Avaya introduced more updates to the messaging components of Spaces. Participants can now see if a user is typing. Also, there are new filters, dashboard improvements, improved notifications, new UX colors, and Dark Modes.
Dialpad and Highfive: Dialpad announced that it acquired video conferencing provider Highfive. It’s a nice fit. Both are cloud-native, Silicon Valley companies. Dialpad had a limited video capability within its UberConference brand, but Highfive brings a more robust solution based on WebRTC and a very innovative approach to room systems. Dialpad has a robust telephony solution, AI from its 2018 acquisition of TalkIQ, and now a strong video capability. Highfive was rumored to be in play. Verizon acquired BlueJeans just a few months earlier. Meetings technology has become critical in 2020, and most expect WFH to remain popular for years to come. Terms were not disclosed.
Ricoh and DataVision: Ricoh continues to move from products to services, most recently with its acquisitions of DataVision, an AV & Workplace integrator with over 100 employees located across 10 sales and service offices in Germany. The acquisition will enable Ricoh clients across Europe to gain access to DataVision’s experience and expertise in UC, AV, and Workplace Management Solutions.
CoreDial and eZuce: CoreDial acquired the assets of eZuce, a privately held video collaboration and communications technology vendor. The acquisition of eZuce accelerates CoreDial's strategy to provide its partners with a more comprehensive communications offering. As part of the acquisition, CoreDial will support existing partners and customers of eZuce's video, UC, and contact center solutions.
Avaya Debt Changes: Avaya took advantage of low interest rates to restructure some of its debt. This was previously announced and now closed. The unit closed an offering of $1B in senior first-lien notes due 2028, bearing interest at 6.125% per annum. Proceeds were used to repay outstanding indebtedness under its existing senior secured first-lien term loans due December 2024. And $800M of those loans that were not repaid or repurchased extended maturity to December 2027. Avaya has also extended the maturity of its asset-based revolving facility to September 2025, from December 2022, and reduced commitments there to $200M from $300M.
Avo announced that it has raised $3M in a seed round led by GGV Capital, with participation from Heavybit, Y Combinator, and others. The startup helps businesses better manage their data across teams. As companies collect more data, it becomes inefficient and difficult to manage.
Asana enjoyed a double-digit rally on its first trading day (September 30) with shares settling at $28.80, giving it a $4.86B market valuation. The software provider for tracking group projects was given a reference price of $21 before it listed directly on the NYSE.
Class for Zoom: ClassEDU Inc announced its launch and the closing of $16M in seed financing to bring its initial product, Class for Zoom, to market. It’s an education application built on/around Zoom. This is a stand-alone company built for teachers who need to find a way to create more engaging, live-synchronous learning.
A New Frontier: Frontier Communications received court approval on its bankruptcy exit financing. The court approved that Frontier can borrow up to $5.9B across a term loan and new first-lien or second-lien notes to fund its emergence from bankruptcy. Also, Frontier will be able to increase its debtor-in-possession (DIP) revolving credit facility from $460M to $625M. Frontier Communications filed for bankruptcy on April 14 to start a prearranged $10B debt restructuring. The company expects to emerge from Chapter 11 early next year.
Replicant announced it raised $27M in a Series A round led by Norwest Venture Partners with participation from returning investors Bloomberg Beta, Costanoa Ventures, and founding investor Atomic. Replicant offers contact center automation with human-like interactions. Replicant was founded on the belief that machines are ready to have useful and complex conversations with people to transform customer service. It’s Co-Founder and CEO, Gadi Shamia, was previously associated with Talkdesk.
Observe.AI raised $54M in a Series B round led by Menlo Ventures, along with participation from Next47 and NGP Capital. The startup provides AI-based transcription and analytics software for call centers. The latest round brings the total capital raised by Observe.ai to $80M.
This Month’s Goodreads
- It's Time To Regulate The Internet... But Thoughtfully
- Apple Delays Privacy Change Amid App Publishers’ Concerns
- A year later, Amazon’s voice assistant alliance still hasn’t attracted any of its rivals
- Nothing to see here, folks News outlets continue to ignore climate change in articles about California's record-breaking weather
- Pagers, Pay Phones, and Dialup: How We Communicated on 9/11
- Zoom Invests in Big Messaging Upgrade in Challenge to Slack ($) (refuted by Zoom)
- A fight over freedom at Apple’s core ($)
- My semiconductor conspiracy theories
- Facebook Says it Will Stop Operating in Europe If Regulators Don’t Back Down
- Bill Gates Just Explained How He Used 'Negative Praise' to Lead Teams at Microsoft, but Only the Best Leaders Can Copy It
- Facebook adds more guidelines for internal employee speech, banning political images in profile pics
- Did Alexa ever stand a chance?
- The looming legal minefield of working from home ($)
- What the Hell Happened to Skype?! (video)
Listen to the two TalkingHeadz Podcast interviews of September: Noreen Allen, CMO of Bandwidth and Tony Bates, CEO of Genesys. Subscribe to TalkingHeadz on your favorite Podcast app.
Next TalkingPointz Research Note: A Deep Dive on RingCentral
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