The Most Important Enterprise Communications News from December 2019
Another year (and decade) comes to an end. This month was rather slow, probably because of the midweek holidays. 2019 was a complex year. There were more transitions than usual. Enterprise communications continues to broaden and is (this is impressive) simultaneously becoming more mission critical and meaningless.
I think key themes for 2019 include video, transitions, and security (see more in the 2019 Annual Report). Transitions are everywhere — premises to cloud, growth to profit, real-time to async, channel to direct, etc. The disruptive nature of these transitions is not in the new technology, but in the ability to respond quickly. We have seen a tremendous number of leadership changes in 2019 (across most sectors). We are also seeing the commoditization of enterprise comms, and an increasing mindset that it’s not that important any more.
Here’s what you need to know in enterprise communications from December 2019:
Zoom Meetings Updates: Zoom announced two new security features for Meetings. The first enables administrators to limit sharing to applications rather than traditional screen share to eliminate accidental sharing such as popup toasts. The app will also flag the use of email domains that are not part of (and presumably should be part of) an associated enterprise domain. Other new Meetings features include one-way broadcast to participants in the waiting room, a new interpreter feature that reduces the presenter’s volume to background levels so the interpreter can be heard, and improved noise suppression capabilities.
Zoom also added integration with Box, support for Korea, and several new marketplace apps including Zapier and SendGrid.
Video-first communications involves more than prioritizing video, but video evolving to modern work styles. It’s so common and so irresponsible to have a confidential popup toast disrupt screen share. It’s good to see some solutions adapt.
Dog Food Award: Zoom is now using its own Zoom Webinar solution for quarterly briefings with financial analysts.
Amazon Chime 14: Amazon announced that Chime now uses 14 AWS Regions and 32 Availability Zones. Chime selects the region that provides a low latency for all meeting participants. Chime administrators can restrict options by opting in or out of AWS Regions. Amazon Chime meetings can now be hosted in the following AWS Regions: Northern Virginia, Ohio, Oregon, Northern California, Montreal, São Paulo, Ireland, Frankfurt, London, Paris, Stockholm, Singapore, Tokyo, and Sydney.
Video Interop: Last month, Cisco, Microsoft, and Zoom called a truce to the video interop cold war. This month, TalkingPointz published a detailed analysis of the announcements. I wasn’t even sure there was much to say, but it turned into seven pages. The news is really very significant — for each of the companies and the competitive landscape. The report is included in premium subscriptions and available for purchase here.
Updates on Teams: Teams users on Google Chrome can initiate and accept video calls with other Teams users. Microsoft is now muting notifications from the in-progress meeting chat. By default, meeting chats will now be muted until you either send a message in the chat or join the online meeting.
GlobalMeet Meets Dolby: PGi introduced a number of new GlobalMeet capabilities including enhanced audio with Dolby Voice, a redesigned iOS app, new local number access, and an easier bookings portal for customers to schedule large events. Dolby Voice gives GlobalMeet users significantly improved audio with better clarity and reduced noise. PGi also introduced a redesigned iOS app that’s more consistent with its desktop app. GlobalMeet also better lives up to its name with expanded dial-in numbers in Mexico, South Africa, Israel, and New Zealand. A new self-service portal for events and notifications was also released. All are reasonable and positive updates, but global companies don’t get points for releasing a new mobile client on iOS only. It’s bad enough in the US where Android has about 47% share, but worldwide Android has about 74% share.
Lifesize DaaS: Lifesize is the latest to join the device rental party. Lifesize Rooms-as-a-Service offers flat rate rental of video room equipment in the US and Europe — regional expansion expected. Prices start at $99 per room per month. The concept isn’t new, but it’s becoming compulsory, and that’s bad news for Lifesize. The vendor is under pressure from much larger providers such as Cisco, Microsoft, and Zoom, and its revenue and profits have historically been tied to hardware sales. The pressure to offer equipment as a service is at odds with increased pressure for cloud companies to be profitable. Lifesize had a small reduction in workforce earlier this month.
Poly Refreshes Medialign: Poly Medialign is a complete room system solution that includes the monitor, microphones, EagleEye Director II Cameras, speakers, and either a G7500 or Group 500 Codec. The bundle intends to simplify installation, integration, and support. The new Medialign systems are available in three models: Poly Medialign 65, Poly Medialign 75 (with a touch monitor), and Poly Medialign 86. My advice is to go with the touch monitor. I expect touch to become much more critical over the next few years.
The big event in December was AWS Re:Invent. I still have trouble classifying Amazon as an enterprise communications company. I doubt they even think of themselves that way. They basically have two major comms products and several surround technologies: Amazon Chime and Amazon Connect, along with most of AWS platform services and a broad suite of AI-related APIs and services. There was a flurry of announcements at Re:Invent. Here’s what mattered:
- AWS announced Contact Lens for Amazon Connect, a set of ML capabilities for Amazon Connect that gives contact center supervisors and analysts the ability to understand the content, sentiment, and trends of their customer conversations. Contact Lens will be generally available mid-2020, and is currently in early release.
- Connect is now available in the APAC, increasing the number of AWS Regions where Amazon Connect is available to seven.
- Amazon Transcribe Medical is designed to convert clinician and patient speech to text.
- Amazon Kendra is an ML-powered enterprise search service.
- Amazon Fraud Detector is a managed service to identify potentially fraudulent online activities, such as online payment fraud and the creation of fake accounts. Evidently, not counterfeit goods.
- Amazon Augmented AI (Amazon A2I) builds the workflows required for human review of ML predictions, such as content moderation and text extraction from documents.
Verint Splits: Verint announced plans to separate into two independent publicly traded companies: Customer Engagement and Cyber Intelligence. Apax Partners (@apax_partners) will invest $400M as part of the process in two tranches of $200M each. The first tranche is targeted to close by this April 30. The second is expected to close soon after the separation (after January 2021), and will be made into Verint, the entity holding the customer engagement business.
Engagement on Zoom Phone: In addition to Five9 and Twilio, Zoom Phone announced network peering with some Genesys cloud contact center solutions.
New CEO at Sabio: Sabio has appointed Jonathan Gale as CEO. Gale’s background includes leading NewVoiceMedia as CEO from 2011 to 2018. During his tenure, license revenue grew seventy-fold with a head count of 500. Before Sabio, Gale served as SVP Product at Mimecast, and prior to that, he ran Product Management at Symantec Cloud Services. Andy Roberts will transition to Vice Chairman. Sabio has completed six acquisitions in the last three years.
Teams CC APIs: Microsoft has shared “much of the package of APIs to enable” contact center solutions. The APIs include phone system Direct Routing, Microsoft Graph Presence, and the ability to create online meetings. More APIs are coming. We have gone from a fire alarm to smoke, but still no fire.
Zendesk Connect: Zendesk announced a go-to-market bundle that combines Amazon Connect with its Zendesk Talk Partner Edition. The new integration leverages AWS’s AI and ML services for agents. This is how Amazon wins, not as a CC solution itself, but as a tool set that other vendors use to strengthen their applications.
Zendesk claims AI-enabled teams see 21% faster resolution times while handling about six times the volume of requests. The suite leverages Amazon Lex, Amazon Polly, Amazon Transcribe, and Amazon Comprehend. AWS Service Delivery Program-accredited Amazon Connect SI partners, including Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), VoiceFoundry, Mission Labs, USAN, Conn3ct, and tecRacer, will be able to integrate an existing contact center solution with Zendesk Support using Talk Partner Edition, in all major geographies globally.
Zoom9: Five9 announced its first joint customer based on its partnership with Zoom. The customer, a provider of restaurant point-of-sale (POS) equipment, is now using Zoom Phone and the Five9 Intelligent Cloud Contact Center which features a cloud-to-cloud integration that supports seamless routing between the services. Zoom has announced that it is working with several cloud contact center providers, but it seems that Five9 is already working. Both Five9 and Zoom are also using each other’s services internally.
Poly Headset News: Poly introduced the EncorePro 300 headset and MDA 500QD Series audio processor for modern contact centers. The EncorePro 300 joins the EncorePro 500 and 700 as a new entry-level model. There are six different models in the 300 series family. The MDA 500QD Series connects a headset to both a PC and a telephone. All of these are supported by Plantronics Manager Pro for inventory management and analytics.
Poly and Zoom: Several Poly Headsets (including the Voyager, Blackwire, Savi, and Calisto lines) are now certified for Zoom Phone (and Zoom Meetings). Remote call control (RCC) allows users to answer incoming calls and meeting invitations, mute their line, and control volume directly from the headset. The battery level and mute status can also be made visible on the taskbar. This news follows several Poly-Zoom announcements earlier this year regarding Zoom Room equipment.
Zoom Phone News: Zoom announced that Ireland, New Zealand, and Puerto Rico have graduated from beta to GA. All three markets support local calling, local number assignment, number porting, and emergency services. Zoom has limited beta support for Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Switzerland.
Fuze unveiled several enhancements to its UCaaS service for enterprise customers. Fuze continues to strengthen its mobile client. New features include improved escalation from video to screen share, a new mobile agent capability, Quiet Mode, Fuze Checkup (device and bandwidth check), and MMS support.
Fuze Named Brian Day Its New CEO. Also, Rob Scudiere was named President and COO, and Tom Siegel was named Chief Sales Officer. Brian Day has been the Fuze CFO for three years. Previously, he was CEO at Apperian (acquired by Arxan Tech).
Day announced his appointment in a short blog post that mentions “enterprise” nine times. He explained to me that his first strategic action is to refocus Fuze on enterprises with 500+ seats. Fuze (formerly ThinkingPhones) has roots as an Enterprise UCaaS provider and was expanding into smaller customers (most providers go the other direction). Unfortunately, Fuze’s high-touch, direct support model didn’t align with smaller businesses. Yada-yada-yada Colin Doherty and Chris Doggett departed Fuze.
Google Voice in Ireland: As previously announced at Google Cloud Next ‘19 UK, Google Voice is finally available in Ireland. At this rate, Google Voice will be available across Europe by 2040. Zoom has changed expectations on the rate a UCaaS provider should add countries. New Irish numbers can be assigned to G Suite users. Porting is not yet supported, but coming.
Amazon Creeps into Premised-based PBXs: Ribbon announced it is now a Select Partner in the AWS Partner Network (APN). Its SBC Software Edition is available in AWS Marketplace. Enterprises can now use the Amazon Chime Voice Connector to record streaming audio from their on-premises PBX or Contact Center systems to leverage Amazon’s features such as transcription and sentiment analysis.
Dialpad Coach: Dialpad has implemented an interesting new feature in its UCaaS soft client that provides coaching during the call. For example, it notifies if you are speaking too much or too fast.
Native Federation: Teams has been largely an internal-only tool. This is slowly changing, and this month the big news is Native Federation. The feature allows two Microsoft Teams users to communicate even though they are in different companies. It requires that both organizations be in the TeamsOnly upgrade mode.
Other upgrades for Teams include that Microsoft is adding the ability for chat users to add a participant. Currently, chats created within a meeting can’t be extended.
NextPlane Interop and Federation: NextPlane announced intra-domain interoperability for its ConverseCloud service. This patented technology allows unified communications (UC) and/or team collaboration (TC) users to communicate and collaborate across different platforms. ConverseCloud recognizes traffic from different platforms on the same domain and routes it accordingly. It is shocking to me that none of the providers are actively, directly addressing interoperability. NextPlane cites that almost two-thirds (64%) of IT professionals report that collaboration platforms are now the de facto tool for communicating with colleagues.
Zoom Chat Updates: Users can now respond to messages with emojis. Contact profiles were expanded to include more organizational information, and selected users can now send broadcast announcements. Groups and channels are getting smarter too. Users can now link to other channels with _channel. And clicking on @mention opens the user’s profile.
Teams for Geeks: Microsoft announced a public preview of Microsoft Teams for Linux. It’s a consistent move. Teams is central to Office 365, and that’s a broad base that includes iOS, Android, and Linux users. I’d rather see Microsoft prioritize the web client, but Teams is inherently a traditional client/server application. Teams is the first Office 365 app that’s available for Linux.
Google's Founders Finally Admit They Were Bored: Larry Page and Sergey Brin stepped down from running Alphabet, which elevated Google CEO Sundar Pichai to holding company chief. There was no immediate impact as Page and Brin were already MIA, but change is inevitable as Pichai makes himself comfortable at the top. I hope it means less blue sky and more focus on things that are getting traction despite the attention deficit founders. I doubt Pichai’s celebration lasted very long. The founders snooze at the wheel has put Google in a precarious position with antitrust challenges, a portfolio of broken companies, declining growth, revolting employees, and a mess at YouTube, to name a few.
Verizon and AWS: Verizon announced a new AWS Wavelength and Verizon 5G Edge partnership that enables development of a wide range of latency-sensitive use cases such as ML at the edge, smart cars, and augmented and/or virtual reality. AWS Wavelength lets customers deploy the parts of an application that require ultra-low latency to the edge of the network and then seamlessly connect back to the full range of cloud services running in AWS.
Dynamic Gmail: Taking a note from messaging apps, Google is making email more actionable with Dynamic Gmail. This lets users take actions directly from within the message such as an RSVP, form completion, or response to a comment. Actions are becoming a trend, a reasonable response to app-overload.
Twitter is Opening for Business: A new group within Twitter called Bluesky is tasked with developing an open-source, decentralized internet standard that the social platform will eventually adopt. We know this because Twitter CEO @Jack tweeted it in December. Revolutionary or evolutionary? Twitter famously closed what was once an open platform. Jack explained that social networks and the available technologies have changed. Today, Twitter is largely about curated and recommended content, yet content moderation isn’t effective. An open, decentralized standard used by many different platforms could relieve Twitter of this impossible task. If Bluesky develops a viable open solution, Twitter could enable developers to create alternatives with Twitter's tools, features, and recommendation algorithms. This is essentially a potential pivot that positions Twitter as a SaaS provider instead of an advertising platform.
TRACED Act: Congress approved the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED). It’s the first anti-robocall legislation to pass in decades. Congress acted swiftly, and there was bi-partisan support for looking effective regarding robocalls. President Trump is expected to sign the bill in January.
Robocalls are indeed a problem. Traced doesn’t make robocalling illegal though. Its focus is on spoof calls. Robocalls are hard to define, but spoof calls are easy. So this election year, you can still expect a ton of robocalls, but they should be properly identified (PAC, candidate, party, etc.) rather than a mysterious local call.
This anti-spoofing will be accomplished by making the controversial STIR/SHAKEN a carrier requirement. It doesn’t require that caller IDs be callable numbers. But it does look good on paper. Traced also increases the fines and statute of limitations on robocall offenses. It also requires the Attorney General to convene an interagency task force to look at the prosecution of offenders.
I hope it won’t deter some of the real work being done to combat robocalling such as Verified by Twilio.
Proton Calendar: Encrypted email provider ProtonMail has launched an encrypted calendar (beta). The move is part of the Swiss company’s broader push to offer privacy-focused services (email, VPN, and calendar). ProtonMail offers a freemium email service with client-side encryption. ProtonCalendar encrypts event title, description, location, and participants so neither third parties nor ProtonMail itself knows the details of one’s calendar. ProtonMail is profitable and reports 20M users. The company has a professional subscription tier aimed at businesses. Calendaring is ripe for innovation; both Microsoft and Google seem focused on other areas. The timing seems right with so many recent data breaches, abuses, and scandals.
Gong: Gong raised $65M in a funding round led by Sequoia Capital, bringing its total raised to $134M. Existing investors Battery Ventures, Norwest Venture Partners, Israeli businessman Shlomo Kramer, Wing Venture Capital, NextWorld Capital, and Cisco Investments also participated in the round. Gong uses AI to help businesses understand customer interactions.
LogMeIn Gets Acquired: LogMeIn has entered into a definitive agreement to be acquired by private equity investors. The transaction, led by affiliates of Francisco Partners, includes Evergreen Coast Capital Corporation, the PE affiliate of Elliott Management Corp., and equates to $86.05 cash per share. This values LogMeIn at approximately $4.3B. Well, LogMeIn (or GoTo) survived a whole year in UCaaS. It was a big year too — lots of changes and expansion. The acquisition was a surprise. My guess is the PE team intends to split up the unusual collection of properties. There are three separate product groups: IT Access and Security (flagship is LastPass), Engagement and Support (flagship Bold360), and UCC (flagship GoTo). Francisco Partners was a long-term investor in Mitel before Searchlight. They are not known for deep-pocketed invest-and-flip plays.
This Month’s Goodreads
- FCC Says Wireless Carriers Lie About Coverage 40% of the Time
- The PC was supposed to die a decade ago. Instead, this happened
- Trump reportedly uses unsecured phone lines. Cybersecurity experts explain why those are 'so easy to hack it's scary.'
- Google AI chief Jeff Dean interview: Machine learning trends in 2020
- Bernie Sanders’ Broadband Plan Is Comcast’s Worst Nightmare
- Senators threaten Apple, Facebook with mandated encryption backdoors
- A Facebook worker reportedly accepted thousands of dollars in bribes to restore banned accounts
- Evernote Gave Dark Web Dealer’s Notes to the DEA
- The fight over encrypted messaging is just beginning
- Microsoft details the most clever phishing techniques it saw in 2019
- Google Spent 2 Years Researching What Makes a Great Remote Team. It Came Up With These 3 Things
- CenturyLink AR Event, Florida
- Avaya Engage NA
- Cisco AR Event
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