TalkingPointz Insider Report – May 2021
The Most Important Enterprise Communications News from May 2021
Teams Is the New Windows: Most people consider Microsoft Teams to be a communications and collaboration application. It is. Teams effectively replaced Skype for Business, which was also a communications and collaboration application. But Teams is not just a communications and collaboration application.
Teams is also an operating system. It’s not an intuitive concept since Teams clients are installed on operating systems. More accurately, Teams is a platform that appears to be the successor to Windows.
Windows is well past its heyday. The first major change Satya implemented as CEO was to de-emphasize Windows organizationally. The technorati seem to prefer Macs. Windows is no longer the most popular operating system (that would be Android). Apple has a higher market cap than Microsoft.
The writing is on the tombstone, and Microsoft knows it. Microsoft has made multiple unsuccessful attempts to extend and expand the Windows brand (Windows Mobile, Windows Embedded Automotive, Windows Media Center Edition, and Windows Home Server). I was intrigued by Windows 10X, a new, Chromebook-like Windows optimized for cloud-delivered services. Microsoft killed it this month. iOS and Android are more secure, more stable, and becoming more powerful thanks to a larger ecosystem of hardware vendors. Apple’s new Arm M1 chip reportedly runs Windows faster in emulation than Intel chips do natively.
Part of Windows’ decline is because operating systems are less important than ever. Consider MS Word: At one time, it only worked on Windows (before that, it only worked on DOS). Today, it is also available on macOS, Android, iOS, and even as a browser-based version. Word users no longer need Windows. I’m not the only one who has more apps on my smartphone than my Windows PC.
Still, saying Windows has peaked is not the same as saying Windows is dead. Windows remains viable and reliable in part because the alternatives have not fully materialized. Apple pushes its iPad Pro as a PC replacement, but it’s not. Samsung Dex is a great concept, but not great enough. This month Google improved the Chromebook with enhanced support for multiple displays.
Microsoft publicly stated in 2019 that “Teams is to the new Microsoft what Windows was to the old.” That’s why the news from its Build event this month is no surprise. Microsoft is opening up its crucial APIs, Teams Store, and tools to collaborative apps. This expands its dev-friendly approach to third-party apps launched last year. Teams becomes a browser-like platform, and apps built for Teams will work across Windows, Mac, the web, iOS, Android, and even Linux. Microsoft’s new Viva is an example.
Teams is the successor to Windows, with an important distinction: It is tied to the cloud. Unlike a traditional OS, Teams cannot be purchased or operated privately. It requires an active Microsoft (paid or free) subscription.
May Had Lots-o-Events: Including #8x8AnalystSummit, #Five9AnalystSummit, #GoogleIO, #PexipAnalystDay, RingCentral briefing, Slack EMEA, #MSBuild, #NiceLive21, Verint #Engage21, #ZendeskAnalystSummit, and #Zoom21. One take-away: Forget “cloud,” “platform” is in. These are all from May 2021:
- It’s not bundled; it’s 8x8 XCaaS: One platform, composed experiences, and super-powered teams.
- Cisco is announcing its intent to acquire Socio Labs, a modern event platform designed to power hybrid events of the future.
- The CCaaS problem with AI is that the cost savings are out of reach for most organizations. Five9 is working to democratize a digital workforce solution with a single platform for IVA, Agent Assist, and live agent AI.
- Google announces Smart Canvas, a new collaborative platform for creating Notion-style documents.
- We are excited to share with you all the great new features and tools we’ve built on the Microsoft Teams platform that you can use to build the next generation of collaborative apps for hybrid work.
- The new logo is yet another step in our journey to further focus and invest in CXone as a company. We built CXone as the industry’s only smart, complete, and proven customer experience cloud platform.
- Pexip provides a unique platform that allows for tight integration into existing business processes/workflows with flexible APIs ...Pexip as a platform has three levels of integrations.
- One factor enabling Collaborative Communications at RingCentral is its one platform for UC and CC together.
- Slack revealed that the number of apps built by developers for the Slack platform increased by 37% year-on-year since January 2020.
- We believe customer experience is the heartbeat of Verint’s global brand. By infusing AI innovation across our application platform, we’re helping customers discover possibilities barely mentioned a few years ago.
- RingCentral with Verizon is an open platform that can be customized with joint professional services offering.
- Zoom is more than meetings; Zoom’s new charter is all about transformation into a platform company.
- The three key areas Zendesk is focused on are: 1. AI and platform flexibility, 2. conversations everywhere, and 3. Digital first.
This is evolution, not revolution. Vonage raised eyebrows when it acquired Nexmo back in 2016. However, the shift to platform is more than marketing. Platforms need to be more secure, scalable, and resilient than applications. They should offer advanced troubleshooting capabilities and multiple billing options. Also, expect to see more solutions powered by multiple providers. CCaaS providers, for example, offer multiple infrastructure and AI partners — it’s not about choosing one option, but any or all.
The industry is heading into a new level of API maturity, so the best bingo card has terms such as API economy, app store, CEBP, composability, CPaaS, customizable, extendable, extensible, orchestration, platform, SDK, webhooks, workflow integrations, and workstream integrations. Double score when combined with AI.
General Industry News
Sprint and Dish: The T-Mobile–Sprint merger isn’t exactly what the FCC and DoJ expected. It appears to be a lot more like what the economists and industry experts feared. The promise of no layoffs ended about 5,000 jobs ago. Dish is too busy hemorrhaging satellite TV customers to build a 5G network. Wireless rates, already relatively high in the US, are likely to go higher. Based on what we have seen in Canada, Ireland, and Germany, rates do tend to go up when competition is reduced.
T-Mobile agreed to operate the remains of the Sprint network for Dish, but evidently, the parties never agreed on the length of this obligation. T-Mobile thinks it’s been long enough and wants to shut it down. This will likely destroy Dish as the Boost network represents the majority of its subscribers.
Google IO Workspace updates: Google’s near-annual IO developer event took place in May. There was plenty of meat at this event, including significant changes to Android and a concept prototype of holographic meetings called Starline. Most significantly for enterprise comms were some updates to Google Workspace.
Google is better integrating its Docs, Sheets, and Slides apps. Not only is Meet becoming a native feature of these apps, but there’s improved integration between them. A new “Smart Canvas” function adds a framework for Workspace apps that supports smart objects called Chips that dynamically link content between Workspace apps. It’s a logical upgrade that overlaps with other solutions such as Teams, Asana, Zoom, and Slack.
It’s done through a familiar @ tag. An @ symbol offers a menu of people, content, templates, tables, and other elements. It will auto-populate smart tags for the attendees and any files attached to the calendar invite. We can expect these Smart Chips in the coming months. Google is also adding more “assisted writing” features that can warn users of offensive language, wordiness, or noninclusive language.
Net Neutrality Fraud (just as we expected): As you likely recall, the public comments docket for the 2017 Net Neutrality repeal attracted a record number of responses — 22M! Almost without exception, they supported the telecoms industry’s position that Net Neutrality should be killed. The New York Attorney General’s office was moved to open an investigation into the fraud, which Pai personally obstructed. The NY AG found that 18M of the 22M received comments were fake and that the fraud was a paid operation on behalf of telcos.
IDC WW CPaaS: IDC published a 2021 CPaaS report that covers 21 providers, six of which are designated as Leaders. Twilio stands alone in the upper-right corner. The other five Leaders are clustered together, including Vonage, MessageBird, Sinch, Infobip, and Bandwidth. “While the industry is marked by the continued addition of new market entrants, many existing software companies are increasingly pivoting to the provision of API platforms …. The industry grew by over 30% YoY in 2020, to $5.9B.”
Leadership Changes: Poly announced the departure of Tom Puorro, its EVP and GM of products. Tom spearheaded most of Poly’s newest products. No successor has yet been named. Verizon Business named Eric Spadafora as the new VP and GM of BlueJeans by Verizon. Spadafora got to Verizon through MCI and was previously VP of Vz Business Sales. He replaces Quentin Gallivan, who presumably just finished a one-year retention commitment post-acquisition.
Meetings and Messaging
Workplace 7M: The Zuck shared that Workplace from Facebook now has 7M paid subscribers. This is up 40% from the last revelation last year. Workplace also added a new Q&A experience for online town halls, and some new integrations such as SharePoint. Workplace offers a free service for nonprofits, but the 7M figure specifically states paid users (Workplace eliminated its free tier). They did not specify daily active users, which is likely lower. 7M seems low — we are talking Facebook here, and Workplace offers advanced features and familiarity. One might conclude the Facebook brand is incompatible with private enterprise, or (more likely) that any brand requires actual enterprise marketing to succeed. Though 7M is nothing to sneeze at, especially since the vast majority of its R&D was handed to it.
Cisco Webex: Cisco introduced new work modes to Webex, so users have more options than the default messaging-view start. For example, a new calling view is more call-centric and will simplify migration/adoption for some users (adios, Jabber). Webex now lets users mark messages unread, a popular workflow feature for email users.
Webex released a number of new options regarding layouts and expanded host controls (including a new co-host designation). A new feature allows the host to push a custom view to all participants. Cisco also introduced more calendaring features and a new in-app scheduler. Cisco expanded the capabilities of in-meeting features in the Webex Linux client. Webex also released an advanced integration with Box to simplify content sharing for customers of both services.
As one of the few vendors that produce both cloud-delivered applications and hardware, it’s no surprise that Cisco is well positioned for the hybrid office. It has introduced several new products, namely the Desk Hub and the Room Navigator panel, and added new features to existing products, such as sanitation (alcohol-resistant covers for endpoints and metal grill covers) and occupancy tracking. Cisco collaboration is innovating and changing at a rapid pace. Webex was a meetings solution but has expanded to a complete SaaS collaboration suite.
Teams Updates: The most significant news from the Teams team are the collaborative apps APIs. The concept is better than the justification, which is somehow tied to the shift to hybrid work. Collaborative Apps allow Teams users to sync work without needing to switch contexts or applications, kind of like Slack. It’s really much more about maturing Teams with three new categories of APIs: an integration stage (whiteboarding, project boards, etc.), event APIs (for triggers), and Together Mode APIs (background APIs). Microsoft also positioned its Power Platform for low-code solutions within Teams.
Other improvements were more incremental. Teams has improved browser support (finally — though still far from feature parity), and they added dynamic view, presenter mode, and support for larger meetings. Content-sharing got some UI improvements including sound support for Mac users. Polls now support multiple-choice options. The participant list also got expanded into three sections (Lobby, Presenters, and Attendees) and can be searched by name or number. Teams recordings recently moved to SharePoint, and now view-only participants are restricted to streaming recordings. There are some interesting Zoom-bombing-prevention updates around managing attendees’ cameras.
The key takeaway is Microsoft continues to innovate/develop Teams faster than most applications. However, I contend that if they really want to simplify/improve meetings, they would focus on Outlook and calendaring.
Microsoft expanded Teams Connect to support up to 250 participants in a multi-org chat. Teams Connect is a significant upgrade but still severely limited compared to other applications for multiple companies. The flip side is that the lack of external users means reduced risk of spam.
WhatsApp and India: In an interesting switch, Facebook is suing over privacy. The core issue is that India wants to track originators of disinformation, so it can see the chain of forwarders when false information spreads. Facebook says that its E2EE (and India’s constitution) prevent it from complying. It’s certainly a case worth watching. It could be an even bigger case in the US as Section 230 protects providers against user-generated content, but without a trail, how do we know if it was user-generated? Can any individual country manage Facebook?
Section 230 is very complex. Unrelated to this issue in India, I highly recommend this balanced Wired Long Read.
Otter Assistant: Otter has released a new virtual assistant that can attend meetings for you. Currently limited to Zoom, but that will likely change. Otter assistant sees the Zoom meetings in your calendar and shows up even if you don’t. It records and transcribes the meeting. We are nearing the day where only the bots will show up to the meetings. The price is $30/user/mo.
Transcription technology, magical just a few years ago, continues to be highly disruptive. Transcriptions enable search and translation and open conversations to more magic such as sentiment analysis and forms of automation. I continue to find new use cases for Otter. Most transcription services are limited to a specific app, but Otter is a pure-play of sorts.
This also introduces a sticky issue around call recording. The industry seems to be assuming transcription is different enough from call recording that it isn’t subject to those arcane laws from a different era, but Otter transcribes and records. It notifies users that it is recording via Zoom Chat.
PGiConnect: PGi announced the launch of PGiConnect, a new brand that intends to differentiate with high-quality audio. The first PGiConnect offering gives Microsoft Teams users a dial-in option with 24/7 support. This is a tough sell as Microsoft has been improving meetings and webinars in Teams: Webinars are now included in most M365 subscriptions, PowerPoint Live rolled out this month, and several other video features were introduced over the past year. Go PGi, but PGiConnect is likely doomed (Teamed). It fixes some international dial-in blind spots, but so does Operator Connect — which was expected in May (crickets).
Zoom Events: Zoom announced that a new solution to produce virtual experiences is coming this summer. As we all know, online virtual events surged this past year. While it’s certainly possible to produce an online event with general meeting or webinar tools, the category has evolved, and new solutions like Zoom Events will include ticketing, advanced analytics, and more. This looks to be an enterprise version of OnZoom (OnZoom will become a part of Zoom Events).
Related: Microsoft Teams added a custom attendee registration page for meetings and webinars. It supports custom questions and images. After registration, attendees will receive a confirmation email and calendar invitation. LogMeIn announced that GoToWebinars can now be livestreamed to third-party services such as Facebook Live and YouTube Live, as well as virtual event platforms like CVent, Intrado, Socio and others. See also Cisco acquired Socio in Acquisitions below.
Pexip + Avaya: Pexip announced that its video service now supports Avaya endpoints. This means Avaya customers can now benefit from many of Pexip’s advanced services, including video interop with Cisco, Microsoft, Google, Zoom, and other services. Avaya offers several video-enabled devices including its Vantage phones and the CU360 room system (one of the industry’s first Android-based room systems). Coincidentally, Pexip and Avaya are the two video heavyweights that have embraced Nvidia Maxine for cloud-delivered video AI services. Avaya doesn’t need Pexip for normal use cases, but the advanced interop could be just what the agent ordered for visual customer service.
Logi Scribe: Logitech has its first whiteboard solution, and it’s a camera. Mounted over a traditional whiteboard, Scribe captures whatever is on it, including Post-it notes. It works with Zoom Rooms today, and support for Teams is planned. It’s conceptually similar to the Huddly Canvas and Lifesize Kaptivo. Digitizing whiteboards has proven to be more difficult than most expected. There are three basic approaches: camera on top, digital boards (Webex Board, Surface Hub, etc.), and app-based (Mural, Miro, etc.).
Konftel Kit: Konftel released a Personal Video Kit with the Konftel Cam10 webcam and Konftel Ego speakerphone. A desktop app allows users to customize settings before connecting to a conference application. Konftel is an Avaya company.
G CCAI Chat Assist: Google Cloud announced Agent Assist for Chat, the latest update for its Contact Center AI (CCAI) conversational AI suite. It enables Smart Replies for quick AI-suggested responses, and Knowledge Assist provides suggestions to agents as the conversation progresses. It’s in public preview and costs 6 cents per session.
Amazon Connect SFDC Buttons: The Amazon Connect CTI Adapter for Salesforce (Lightning and Classic) now enables customers to extend their Contact Control Panel (CCP) with customizable buttons called CTI Actions. These buttons, configured in Salesforce, simplify common actions such as start/stop recording.
Covid was the Cure for Flat Sales: Synergy Research Group this week released statistics indicating that the global UCaaS subscriber growth rate increased to 41% in 2020, up from 27% in 2019. The growth, it reports, was dominated by Microsoft and Zoom, which increased their subscribers by about 10%. Double-digit growth at providers such as 8x8, Mitel, and Cisco was not enough to qualify as share growth. Overall, the number of UCaaS subscribers tallied to more than 15 million, or double the number from mid-2018, Synergy said.
Mitel and Five9: Five9 and Mitel struck a new strategic partnership. Mitel will now offer Five9 services to its customer base for those seeking a CCaaS solution. The basic story is that without an advanced CCaaS solution, Mitel is vulnerable to customer attrition, so it struck an arrangement where it can monetize and potentially retain customers that require CCaaS. Mitel will earn a referral fee, but this is not a Master Agent arrangement. Channel partners will work directly with (and get paid by) Five9.
Mitel remains committed to private cloud CC offers for the midmarket and intends to launch a revamped Mitel One solution later this year (see February Insider Report). Mitel has already integrated its call control with Five9.
The arrangement looks good for both companies. Mitel can offer and monetize an advanced CCaaS offer while focusing on its vision and strategy around its midmarket base. Five9 gets access to both a large base of prospects and a global partner network. The arrangement is contained today, but it could expand. For example, Calabrio might want to bolster its WFO partnership.
This is the revised, enlightened arrangement. In 2019, Mitel and Talkdesk struck a CCaaS reseller arrangement. There was some confusion about roles and Mitel’s CC commitment. The products were never integrated, and a judge was required to preside over the divorce.
Talkdesk Shopping: Talkdesk has launched another vertical: Talkdesk Flexible Shopping. It offers omnichannel communications for agents at a retailer, such as curbside pickup (contactless experiences). It doesn’t appear to have any features different from Talkdesk.
Cisco CC Enhancements: Cisco introduced several new features to Webex Contact Center, including Agent Answers (augmented agent) and call transcription. Cisco also updated the clients for Jabber and Finesse and introduced nestable gadgets for the desktop. UCCE, PCCE, Webex Contact Contact Center Enterprise admins saw some new administrative enhancements in May’s 12.6 release. Single-instance implementations now support up to 36K agents.
Slack Update: Slack hosted its EMEA version of its Frontier conference this month. The company has been relatively quiet as Salesforce works to complete its acquisition. The company did expand Slack Connect last March. We learned this month that Slack’s UK sales grew 31% YoY, and its paid subscriptions grew 94%. 74K organizations are now using Slack Connect; that’s doubled over the past year. Connected endpoints grew 245%.
Stewart Butterfield specifically cited customer support as a major driver of growth. “People are finding it so much easier to support customers using a shared channel. … A lot of the world’s biggest purchasers are on it because they want to receive that level of responsiveness and support.”
Butterfield also attacked meetings: “If the majority of your employees are spending most of their day in meetings, why are you doing that? Why are people spending half of their time on basic acts of communication and coordination? … When you start to move to a digital-first approach, it’s an opportunity to re-examine the ways that you’re working.”
Verint: Verint hosted its Engage event this month, and a considerable part of its messaging overlaps with what CCaaS providers are saying. Verint promises that its cloud platform connects workforce, data, and CX silos across all touchpoints. Pop quiz: Name a CCaaS provider that doesn’t promise the same? Verint’s key announcements were essentially the same as what we’ve heard from every CC and CCaaS provider — basically AI-powered forms of augmented agent and IVR.
Verint has thrived in premises-based CC, and that remains a large business. Some customers keep their implementation of Verint even after moving to the cloud. Five9, a featured Verint partner, confirmed that they mostly see Verint when customers migrate from CC to CCaaS. Five9 is playing both sides: working with Verint and also offering its own suite of WEM (WFO) services.
Verint is obviously well established, and we are still in early innings, but the standalone WFO market is shrinking. We’ve already seen lots of CCaaS providers acquire WFO providers and sector consolidation (Calabrio and Teleopti) — I expect more. I also expect CCaaS providers to continue penetrating larger accounts and expanding their capabilities.
Hyper Nice: Nice launched Enlighten AI Routing at its Interactions Live event. Guess what it does? It applies AI to customer engagement data to enable personalized routing, services, and insights into agent performance. Blah blah blah. AI can indeed be useful, but the way you win with AI is better data. Most providers assume the data is there and just needs a new CCaaS to leverage it.
Five9 Update: Five9 hosted a comprehensive analyst event in May. The company canceled its event last year, so the updates were significant, including a new mission, much larger customers, expanded partners, integration of acquisitions, and considerable progress with AI and automation. The company has launched a ReimagineCX campaign that features vertical-specific maturity models. We will explore further in June as CEO Rowan Trollope will be our next TalkingHeadz Podcast guest.
Verizon and RingCentral: Verizon Business announced RingCentral with Verizon, a new UCaaS offer aimed at Verizon enterprise customers. It’s effectively RingCentral Office bolstered by additional Verizon services such as networking, 5G, professional services, and SD-WAN. It is an addition (not a replacement) to the Verizon portfolio, though it overlaps with many other Verizon services including One Talk, Webex, BlueJeans, and Verizon Direct Routing. As a result, Verizon intends to focus the new offer toward enterprise and international customers. Like other RingCentral provider partnerships, this is a resale (not agent) arrangement.
8x8 Updates: 8x8 announced Experience Communications as a Service (XCaaS) that intends to “erase” (blur?) the boundary between UCaaS and CCaaS. Many of the UCaaS providers that also offer CCaaS have been reporting increased traction/demand for a combined service. 8x8 is taking it a step further than a bundle by converging the offers into a single service. The vision, to bring the employee experience and customer experience back together, is sound, though it’s easier said than done. I anticipate the trend to acquire CCaaS from the UCaaS provider will continue to grow and place increased pressure on the CCaaS pure-plays.
8x8 also announced its integrated UCaaS + CCaaS services are now better for multinational customers that operate in China (at least for now). Its Global Reach service, being delivered in partnership with China Mobile, is hosted in a new China-based data center.
8x8 Voice for Microsoft Teams got a few upgrades, including support for SMS, MMS, and fax capabilities. The new 8x8 Voice for Microsoft Teams app lets Teams users access messaging, voicemail, call queue management, and call settings.
Dialpad Speaks: Dialpad announced Channels, a topic-based (chat or voice) messaging function within the Dialpad app. Voice Channels is an intriguing, always-on audio chat room. A “down-the-hall” voice channel can replicate in-office ad-hoc interactions. Channels is expected to be GA in June. Dialpad also integrated with Intercom to enable its users to switch between messaging and voice from the Intercom client. Dialpad will also live-transcribe each call and provide real-time coaching prompts to the agents. And Dialpad launched direct routing with Microsoft Teams. It gives Teams callers access to the Dialpad 100% uptime SLA and its Voice Intelligence capabilities via a companion applet that provides real-time transcription and coaching.
Alianza BCC: Alianza launched its Business Cloud Communications solution. It is a voice-first solution aimed at service providers, and it includes a cloud PBX platform, softphones and meetings. This new offer includes the CounterPath softphones — it acquired CounterPath last March. “Business Cloud Communications” as a name seems to describe all of its competitors, and “voice-first” seems anachronistic in 2021. The new UCaaS offer expands the vendor’s portfolio that already includes POTS replacement Business Lines, SIP Trunking, and Business Text Messaging.
Teams Updates: Microsoft updated the calling UI so that it now displays contacts, voicemail, and calling history together. Also, the app now allows calling users to merge two separate calls into one. There’s also a new survivable feature of branch office phones.
NEC Univerge WITH and FOR Teams: NEC leaked two upcoming programs for MS Teams. Univerge Blue Connect “With” MS Teams and Univerge Blue Connect “For” MS Teams. The “With” program appears to be direct routing, and the “For” program extends UCaaS features of Univerge Blue to Teams users. More info coming soon.
Poly’s New Voyagers: Poly released the Voyager Focus 2 UC ($280-$300) and Voyager Focus 2 Office ($330) headsets. Both have Poly’s Acoustic Fence technology and “Mute Alert.” The Voyager Focus 2 headsets are compatible with Zoom and are Microsoft Teams-certified (mute function sync between app and headset controls). Both support BT. The Voyager Focus 2 Office also supports a telephony interface and USB-A.
Fireflies: Fireflies.ai announced a $14M raise led by Khosla. Fireflies provides recording and transcription services and can integrate the voice data into other applications for automation and task creation. Previously, the company had raised around $5M. The company claims some 35,000 organizations in its user base. It also has an unusual hybrid model of SaaS and usage-based pricing.
Hyro announced the close of a $10.5M Series A with participation from Twilio. Hyro provides voice chat or text to healthcare applications. “Twilio coming into this round and the partnership we’re trying to develop around contact centers really attests to the differentiation of our approach, to the scalability and the modularity of our approach,” said co-founder Israel Krush. Hyro healthcare customers include Carroll, Mercy Health, University of Rochester Medical Center, and Weill Cornell Medicine, and the company intends to expand into other verticals. This latest round brings Hyro’s total funding to $15M. Hyro was previously known as Airbud.
IntelePeer announced it raised $110M in new funding that builds on a recent credit facility of over $60M. IntelePeer will use the funds to expand its go-to-market team globally and to further its development of the Atmosphere CPaaS platform.
Loom: Andreessen Horowitz made a $130M investment into Loom, giving the video messaging startup a valuation of $1.5B. Loom’s video platform allows people to send recorded video messages at work. Its customers include Netflix, Atlassian, and Twitter. Loom said more than 10M people across 120K companies use its product.
Rewatch completed a $20M Series A round. The company is building a video archive “system of record” with organization and search features.
Sendbird-House: Sendbird, a platform that companies such as ServiceNow, Reddit, and Korea Telecom use to embed voice, video, and messaging features into their apps, has updated its API to support group calls (Clubhouse effect). The launch comes just weeks after the San Mateo-based company announced a fresh $100M in funding at a $1.05B valuation.
Sharpen: CPaaS providers Sharpen secured $14M in funding. Bridge Bank and Multiplier Capital led the investment round, which puts the total amount raised to over $55M. Sharpen claims its business doubled in revenue last year.
SightCall: The company, which produces an AR platform to help field service teams, announced a $42M funding round. The AR technology can be embedded and integrated into service-based applications from Microsoft, SAP, Salesforce and ServiceNow to provide pointers and other information in a video stream. SightCall has already built up a sizable business across a pretty wide range of verticals. The company started as Weemo, a WebRTC video chat service. SightCall has its own IP that works both with telecoms hardware and software.
Sinch: Sinch, a Swedish CPaaS provider optimized for customer engagement, announced a $1.1B direct share issue, with significant chunks from Temasek and SoftBank. Its Shares are traded at NASDAQ Stockholm with a market cap of around $11B and will issue 7,232,077 more shares. SoftBank took a $690M stake in Sinch last year. The company is profitable and active in more than 40 markets and, via its Inteliquent acquisition, has a strong foothold in the US.
Vonage Stake: Activist investor Jana Partners sees an opportunity at Vonage. We don’t know what its intent is, but the hedge fund revealed that it built a 2.3% stake in Vonage. Jana favors parts. I’m sure CEO Reed is delighted to have an additional activist shareholder. Perhaps Jana Partners will distract Legion Partners.
AT&T Discovery: AT&T discovered an exit from media services. If the regulators approve, AT&T’s WarnerMedia will be spun off and combined with Discovery in a new standalone media company. It’s a fantasy come true — HBO Max, CNN, and discovery+ combined into a single streaming service. This is a creative and sophisticated way for AT&T to exit its WarnerMedia (Time Warner) venture. Discovery CEO David Zaslav will run the new company. Bonus: AT&T is now among the world’s most heavily indebted nonfinancial companies.
It’s pretty clear that enterprise comms and entertainment are incompatible. AT&T and Verizon have hatched escape plans for their misguided adventures in entertainment. And then Amazon buys MGM. WTF? Here it’s not a pivot. Amazon is already in the entertainment business. The acquisition is likely about content rights and competing with Disney. Potentially, it’s also a vertical disruption play; we’ll know if they acquire theaters, which seems appropriate after its successes with bookstores, department stores, and groceries.
Verizon Unloads Yahoo!: This is a decent outcome for a disastrous investment. Verizon never should have acquired AOL and Yahoo. The only positive thing that can be said was that the blunder wasn’t as bad as AT&T’s acquisition of DirecTV. Apollo Global Management may have actually made a reasonable deal. The assets are tarnished but not worthless. Apollo is paying about $5B, which is 44.4% less than what Verizon paid.
Invoca and DialogTech: Invoca, which provides conversational intelligence solutions, acquired DialogTech (previously known as Ifbyphone), which uses AI for call tracking and analytics. It’s an interesting merger of competitors that will likely shift Invoca deeper into the contact center space. Both companies have a marketing heritage, and that has helped customers understand which activities generate engagement. The combined company will have +2K customers, +300 employees, and customers include many familiar brands, including ADT, AutoNation, Dish, and Home Depot. DialogTech divested its Swydo unit. Transaction terms were not disclosed.
Alvaria to provide a new Aspect to CC: Aspect Software and Noble Systems are merging into one company called Alvaria. The merger makes sense, but the new name is odd (sounds like a pharma co). CCaaS is expanding (overtaking) WEM, and standalone WEM is slowly facing doom. Aspect may be a tarnished brand, but it is strongly associated with the contact center. The new company will be led by the Aspect leadership team, including CEO Patrick Dennis. It is an Aspect takeover, but don’t tell that to Alvaria (side effects may include diminished brand recognition). Abry Partners is the majority owner, and the total value of the transaction was over $1B.
Cisco and Socio: Cisco announced the intent to acquire privately held, US-based Socio Labs, a modern event technology platform that provides event organizers with everything they need to successfully host in-person, virtual, or hybrid events. Virtual events are a new category and expanded form of webinars that includes live streaming, sponsorship, ticketing, polling, and real-time translation. Zoom also announced a virtual event solution is coming. It’s a logical adjacency. Cisco and Zoom came to different conclusions on the build vs. buy debate (as they usually do). The acquisition is expected to close in Cisco’s Q4. The Socio Labs team will join the Webex Customer Experience team led by Omar Tawakol.
NWN and Carousel: NWN acquired Carousel Industries. Jim Sullivan, previously CEO of NWN, will be the CEO of NWN Carousel. These two SIs specialize in UC, CC, networking, and security. Jeff Gardner, CEO and co-founder of Carousel, will hold a seat on the board. Jim Marsh, co-founder and CRO of Carousel, will stay on as CRO. Both Carousel and NWN already ranked among the largest solution providers in North America. Exeter, R.I.-based Carousel held the No. 59 spot on CRN’s Solution Provider 500 for 2020, while Waltham, Mass.-based NWN ranked at No. 80 on the list.
Twilio and Zipwhip: Twilio announced its intent to invest $850M in Zipwhip, which offers free text messaging from landline phones, VoIP services, toll-free numbers, and several services for mobile providers. Zipwhip raised almost $100M and claims 30k customers. Zipwhip will be merged into Twilio’s messaging business unit when the deal closes later this year.
This Month’s Goodreads
- Everything You’ve Heard About Section 230 Is Wrong
- In-Person vs On-Screen
- FCC’s net neutrality rollback overwhelmed by bogus industry comments, investigation finds
- The battle for the future of “gig” work
- Helping all your [Android] devices work better together
- Microsoft and Apple Wage War on Gadget Right-to-Repair Laws
- This is Microsoft’s vision for the future of meetings
- After Media Detour, AT&T Confronts Old Problems
- Apple and the End of the Car as We Know It (it’s software, stupid)
- Employees are feeling burned over broken work-from-home promises
- WeWork’s CEO said people who are most comfortable working from home are the ’least engaged’
- Microsoft Teams opens up to new collaborative apps that plug into meetings
The TalkingHeadz Podcasts are interviews with the movers and shakers of enterprise communications — plus we have some interesting guests. Subscribe on your favorite podcast app. Check out the two interviews of May:
Upcoming Research: In June, TalkingPointz will publish a report on Surviving Teams. There’s no question that Teams is significantly impacting the enterprise communications industry, and its growth is an existential threat to many providers. This report looks at the various strategies and risks for success.
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