The Most Important Enterprise Communications News from November 2019
The two big events between the busy fall and the sleepy winter seasons this year were Microsoft Ignite and Salesforce Dreamforce. Here are some high-level thoughts, with more granular details in the sections below.
Microsoft Ignite: Microsoft announced a number of incremental updates to Microsoft Teams, summarized below in this report. The big shocker was the redesign of Yammer. Microsoft announced Yammer as its first Office 365 app rebuilt with its new Fluent Design. Yammer is now the most state-of-the-art web app Microsoft offers. It’s odd because I wasn’t alone in thinking Yammer was done. That is, that Teams would eventually offer feature parity and actually or effectively replace Yammer.
I’ve given this a lot of thought and concluded that Teams cannot be the successful app that Microsoft originally envisioned. The app is positioned as the linchpin of O365, central to a firstline expansion strategy, and heir to SfB. Yet only 10% of O365 subscribers are using it daily. Even that figure is likely inflated as, by default, Teams auto-starts. Also, both meetings and telephone calls presumably count toward daily active users. Meanwhile, Facebook is making rapid inroads into Microsoft accounts with Workplace.
Yammer likely got a reboot to fend off Workplace, but I believe that Yammer could replace Teams faster and cheaper than Teams can replace Yammer — neither is true today. With Yammer, Microsoft is unlikely to build a better Facebook than Facebook. A better strategy is to combine the best of Teams and Yammer into a single, enterprise-wide application that offers the best of workstream collaboration and enterprise social networking.
I also find it odd that Microsoft appears focused on destroying Slack. Microsoft never released daily active users until last July when it initially beat Slack, and has already updated those figures (Microsoft is now reporting 20M DAU, and Slack last reported 12M). Microsoft is fueling a ton of we beat Slack posts, released a new guide to help Slack users convert to Teams, and ripped off imagery from Slack’s advertising.
Salesforce Dreamforce: Dreamforce, Salesforce’s annual conference, is billed as the largest software conference in the world. This year they were expecting over 171K attendees, and many more watch the livestream of the keynotes. Of course, there’s a ton of news at an event like this, so I will focus on what matters most to enterprise comms professionals.
Arguably, the biggest news was that Salesforce and AWS expanded their partnership. On the surface, this makes perfect sense: it combines the world's top cloud-delivered CRM provider with the world's leading cloud platform as a service. However, regarding contact center, the strategic alignment is curious.
First, the good news is that strong integrations, which will eventually open to other providers, pours cold water on the idea that Salesforce will attempt to unseat contact center providers with a direct service (in the near term). The new integration is requiring new APIs not yet open. The basic goal is to bring together digital channels, telephony, and CRM into a single console with customer data, interaction histories, and integrated omnichannel capabilities.
One-click partnerships are very attractive for those who don’t like to type. However, Amazon Connect is not a one-click CCaaS after that insta-integration click. Amazon Connect isn’t generally recognized as a CCaaS provider. Those who want one simple packaged solution for Salesforce are more likely to gravitate to providers such as Five9 or Vonage.
With this alliance, the contact center provider is responsible for handling the telephony and transcription services (Amazon Transcribe, Translate, and Comprehend). Salesforce Einstein can use information from the transcripts to give the agent recommended answers and other guidance within the Service Cloud console. It’s CTI 2.0 and it’s coming soon.
The key here is really transcription, which is used for AI insights, sentiment, and automated data entry. The problem is that transcription is still unreliable and difficult to customize for vertical jargon. Perhaps that explains why Salesforce has outsourced transcription. Most contact center providers are looking to Google instead of Amazon (and Einstein) for transcription and agent assistance. Salesforce says Google will also be supported, but few details were provided.
MS Teams Discovers Outlook: The first of many new integrations for Teams is with Outlook. It allows Teams users to move and share an email (and all of its attachments) into a chat channel. A new “Share to Teams” button coming to Outlook next year moves an email into Microsoft Teams. It’s not exactly the same as the full bridge that Slack is attempting as you won’t be able to reply to emails.
This is long overdue, but still feels wrong to me. I think it’s odd that Outlook and Teams are separate clients (I felt the same about Lync/SfB and Outlook). A single conversation app that combines email, voice, and messaging plus calendar and contacts makes more sense to me. With a virtual monopoly on enterprise email, Microsoft could have created a unique Teams communications application. Many UCaaS providers are moving toward a unified app, and it was a key criterion in Forrester’s UCaaS Wave. But for some reason, email is never included in this unified vision.
Cisco Announces New Devices: Cisco announced two new devices to “intelligently transform” workspaces. The Webex Room Panorama is a next-generation update to its split-boardroom product. It offers a more immersive experience than its predecessor, supposedly one that splits more of the room (rather than just the table). The Webex Desk Pro is a new desktop addition to the portfolio. This one intrigues me, though I haven’t seen it yet. It’s a new class of device that I wrote about here. It’s a 27-inch, 4K touchscreen (USB-C) that is web-app enabled. It can be a display for a PC or phone, or a Webex console, a Webex Board, a simple desktop, or it can provide its display, camera, or speakers to other conferencing apps.
Both systems support Cisco’s suite of cognitive collaboration features such as Webex Assistant, facial recognition, actions and meeting summaries, and more.
8x8 Makes Video Free: 8x8 announced a free, stand-alone version of 8x8 Video Meetings. The new service requires no registration or downloads and imposes no time limits (for most users). Users have unlimited access to full functionality, HD video and audio, and multi-user screen file-sharing capabilities. The Jitsi-derived solution is built on WebRTC and optimized for use with Google Chrome and Firefox. It’s also compatible with 8x8 Video Meetings desktop and mobile apps.
8x8 believes that users will upgrade to paid 8x8 offers. This is a true test of my theory that enterprise comms has moved into a video-first period. It will be interesting to see if the conversion rate (conversation rate?) is sufficient for 8x8 to continue to offer the service for free. At least Zoom had the decency to limit its free service to 40 minutes. Remember when providers had to pay video royalties?
Zoom and Salesforce: Zoom offers SFDC users a new “best-of-breed” option to simplify and automate customer engagement. A new SFDC “deep integration” extends to Zoom Meetings, Zoom Video Webinars, and Zoom Phone. SFDC users can start Zoom meetings from a Salesforce event, lead, or contact page; make Salesforce events a Zoom meeting; move Zoom Phone contact details into Salesforce; and initiate an outgoing Zoom Phone call from within Salesforce.
The best-of-breed marketing is what Zoom, Slack, Google, and Salesforce commonly use to respond to Microsoft. Many of the same customers are highlighted by these vendors.
Automatic Video Captioning in Workplace: Previously announced, Automatic Video Captioning launched globally this month for all Workplace from Facebook customers. The feature pertains to uploaded videos, not video meetings. The feature automatically detects the language being spoken, and generates captions. Thirteen languages are supported: English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Arabic, Vietnamese, Italian, German, Turkish, Russian, Thai, Urdu, Malaysian. Translation is not supported, captions are in the language used in the video.
Live Captions in Hangouts Meet: Google announced Live Captions for Hangouts Meet for web and Android users. Now the feature is available for iOS users (web and Android earlier this year). They’re bringing that same captions support to the Meet iOS app.
RoomOS: It’s becoming more clear that peak PC (also peak Windows) is behind us. There are far more devices running mobile operating systems (iOS, Android, ChromeOS/Chromium) than there are running Windows. Clearly, our desktop workloads are moving over as well. "I don't even own a computer anymore," Marc Benioff, CEO of Salesforce said in an interview this month. Though I’m suspicious of his claim, the direction is correct.
The trend is clearly visible in meeting room hardware. Last month Poly announced PolyOS for its X Series, and Neat announced NeatOS. These products, along with Avaya’s CU360, are all using Android-derived operating systems. This month Cisco announced RoomOS, which also appears to be Android-based (unconfirmed). Perhaps the biggest shocker was Microsoft's announcement at Ignite to support new all-in-one “Collaboration Bars” for Teams. The Poly X Series (PolyOS) and the Yealink VC210 (also based on Android) are the first non-Windows-based solutions for Teams Meeting Rooms.
Android appears to be replacing Linux, which was dominant in the prior generation of (larger) room systems. Android leverages emerging and less expensive hardware, which makes these solutions cost-effective for smaller spaces. Though there is another option: hardware for Google's Hangouts Meet is using ChromeOS in its room systems, and the Dolby Voice Room System is built on Chromium. There are similarities and advantages to both of these Google controlled options. Chromium has native support for WebRTC and x86 processors. Android is attractive because existing Play Store apps are easily adapted to other Android-derived operating systems.
Mitel Chimes In: Mitel and AWS teamed up to create the Amazon Chime software development kit (SDK) to create APIs for audio and/or video calling and screen sharing. Mitel also intends to use the Chime SDK within its own applications and as part of its CloudLink microservices architecture. There’s basically two stories here: Amazon Chime’s journey continues, and Mitel’s new video app.
Amazon quietly acquired WebRTC startup Biba in 2016. After a quiet period, Chime was launched as a video meeting service through partners Vonage and CenturyLink. It is also available as a usage-based direct service. Earlier this year, Amazon expanded Chime into telephony services. While the Chime service can make sense for AWS users, it hasn’t built traction as a stand-alone meetings service. Vonage will likely replace Chime with its own Vonage Meetings in 2020. It fits the AWS portfolio better as a set of APIs. Chime hasn’t been particularly successful as an app, but Chime APIs could be far more significant. The published rate for the Chime SDK is $0.0017 per user per minute.
Mitel has struggled with its video solutions. It hasn’t invested in creating its own stack, and instead, relied on various partners such as Vidyo and StarLeaf. But the industry shifted to video-first, voice optional. The alignment with AWS is bold. It allows Mitel to build (and control) its new video/team client without investing in video infrastructure. This is a new approach, as most UCaaS companies have built/acquired their own stack or resold apps (such as Chime). For Mitel, this approach comes with WebRTC benefits, massive scalability, and global reach.
Chime and Dolby: Amazon Chime has been weak in the area of room systems. About a year ago, a standards-based SIP solution was supported to select Cisco and Poly solutions. This year, Chime became more important (PSTN Services and APIs), as did the need for room hardware. This month Amazon announced that Chime is now supporting the Dolby Voice Room (with Alexa) as a room solution: “Alexa, start the meeting.”
The Dolby Voice Meeting Room solution keeps appearing in these monthly updates. It appears to have broader appeal than its original Dolby Voice audio-conferencing solution. Dolby initially saw its room video solution as a means to sell its Dolby Voice back-end. With BT, PGi, West, Highfive, and BlueJeans, it was an “all-in” Dolby experience that included Dolby’s high quality audio conferencing technology. Capitalizing on the explosion in video room demand, Dolby changed its model and made back-end audio processing optional. Amazon, for example, is using Dolby to solve its meeting room problem, but opted not to implement Dolby Voice. Dolby is effectively using its room system to create a Dolby Voice sales pipeline.
New Meeting Features in Teams: Several big announcements on Teams meetings. The first two deal with interop. Microsoft and Cisco agreed to make interop easier (and free). The first involves a cloud service similar to the Pexip, BlueJeans, and Poly interop service previously available for purchase. The second is a WebRTC gateway that simplifies interop with other providers similar to the way Highfive does it. This will work with Zoom, and other providers can be added.
I don’t know what is more surprising: the fact that they announced this or that it took this long. Both Cisco and Microsoft have been preaching the value of open and interop for decades. Although announced at Ignite, I understand it was Cisco that championed the interop, and it likely leverages the Acano technology that Cisco acquired (probably Acano on Azure). The interop is certainly an improvement, but no panacea. It’s not in-app interop, it’s gateway.
Microsoft also announced Collaboration Bars. These are neat all-in-one (audio, camera, and compute) devices that connect to a display. It’s conceptually similar to Cisco’s Room Kit and Room Kit Mini and specifically includes the new Poly X Series (announced at Zoomtopia) and the Yealink VC210. My impression is this was both inevitable and last minute (as in since Zoomtopia).
Until this month, Teams has only supported Windows-based room systems. They even went so far as to file a cease-and-desist with StarLeaf for marketing a Teams room that didn’t use Windows. I expect Logitech (and others) will introduce a collaboration bar within a few months.
In addition to background blur, Microsoft added “customized backgrounds” (virtual greenscreen) to Teams meetings. Microsoft also added live captions in Teams Meetings.
MTRaaS: Microsoft announced Managed Teams Rooms. Here, Microsoft manages room hardware including monitoring, incident management, advanced insights, proactive security, and a variety of other related services. Microsoft claims the service already has over 1500 rooms (across 100+ customers) under management. Pricing starts at $50 per room. Managed Teams Rooms is now in private preview, and the service supports both Teams and SfB rooms. I am sure this is unrelated, but Microsoft also announced manageability improvements for Teams Rooms.
[Another] Zoom Vulnerability: Cisco posted a blog titled “Our focus on security in an open collaboration world” that reaffirmed its commitment to security and attacked Zoom for breaking it. The immediate threat has been addressed, but there are several important takeaways from this episode. Zoom’s response validated the Cisco post, as well as the immediate resolution.
We are more connected than ever, thus hacks are more common and devastating. Security does need to be a top concern, though this is often in conflict with ease-of-use. For almost two decades now, ease-of-use has been the priority for vendors and customers. Zoom has done well with simplicity, but I truly believe the game’s rules are now changing.
Cisco dominated video with its early acquisitions of Webex and later Tandberg. As the leader, Cisco is having to defend (and differentiate) its position. High-quality video is now assumed. Differentiation occurs in other ways such as AI, portfolio breadth, price, simplicity, integrations, hardware, and room systems, and now security.
Meanwhile, the video party is getting crowded. Microsoft and Zoom have emerged as mainstream enterprise video providers. WebRTC (finally) has reduced barriers to entry. Amazon, Fuze, 8x8, Highfive, Vonage, and many more intend to win in video. The good news for all of them is the demand for video is growing. The open question is which set of features will matter to customers the most. It won’t be just simplicity.
Another important factor that’s harder to measure is agility. Zoom is agile (and clever) and moves faster than most providers. Speed is important but inherently at odds with security. So far, each time Zoom has been slapped for security, it (a) fixes it quickly, and (b) claims there were no victims. In other words, the benefit of speed has so far outweighed the risk. This “ready, fire, aim” mantra is common across cloud-native vendors. However, it may be unsustainable as security continues to rise in importance.
Video conferencing is rapidly growing because it makes so much sense. It’s inexpensive, effective, and facilitates distributed teams and teleworking. As video becomes more mainstream (and advanced), it risks losing user trust. For example, it's common for people to self-censor themselves over public telephone calls (some things are best not said over telephones). If the industry isn’t careful, security concerns, AI captioning, and other factors may drive users back to in-person conference rooms.
Salesforce intends to CIMplify Cloud Interop: Salesforce wants to position itself as the single source of truth regarding customer data. It’s ambitious because not all customer data is within its databases. That means Salesforce needs a way to access external data, and it is using Customer 360 Truth as a data consolidation platform, which relies on the newly announced Cloud Information Model (CIM). As an application-agnostic data model, CIM is intended to simplify integration across applications.
Salesforce formed the CIM in partnership with AWS, Genesys, and the Linux Foundation's Joint Development Foundation. It’s similar to the Open Data Initiative launched by Microsoft, Adobe, and SAP a year ago (still in preview). However, the big difference is CIM is open source. It can be used by any vendor/provider. Ideally, the creators want developers to use CIM to create data lakes on AWS, train ML models on Genesys, and build a single view of the customer through Salesforce’s Customer 360 Truth. MuleSoft, which Salesforce acquired last year, enables the discovery of CIM data types and allows users to create CIM-compatible APIs and integrations.
CIM is not the only way to leverage Einstein. For example, Five9’s new Einstein Engagement Bot (on Salesforce AppExchange) empowers enterprise contact centers to engage customers with contextual interactions. The Einstein Bot can determine the intent of the call, provide quick answers, or if necessary, intelligently escalate to an agent.
Google AI for CC GA: Google Cloud’s Contact Center AI is now GA and available for customers today. The Virtual Agent solution provides automated chatbot interactions and transcriptions. Agent Assist supports contextual handoffs to human agents, identifies customer intent, provides agents with step-by-step guidance (recommended articles, workflows, etc.), and automates call dispositions. The majority of agents in the world use a CC solution that is intended to work with Google AI for CC (including Avaya, Cisco, Five9, Genesys, Mitel, and Vonage).
In a word: finally! Google initially announced this in April 2018. When it comes to AI, I’m not really sure what GA even means — AI apps and integration will be in beta for the next decade. It’s a smart play for Google, which is leveraging its AI leadership. While the partnering CC vendors will have identical services from Google, expect differentiation with the degree of integration, initial and ongoing AI training, and field support.
Two New Notable Teams Integrations: Salesforce announced plans to build a new integration between its Sales Cloud and Service Cloud product and Microsoft Teams. The goal is to enable mutual customers to search, view, and share Salesforce records directly within Teams. Expected availability is late 2020. It may be similar to the Slack integration released in October. NICE expects to soon complete integration and testing of Microsoft Teams and NICE’s recording solutions in the first half of next year, allowing NICE to be able to reliably record and reproduce all communication modes and media sources exchanged through Teams.
Five9 Marketplace: Five9 announced the availability of the Five9 App Marketplace which offers 10 categories (AI, CRM, UC, WFO, Messaging, Compliance, Lead Management, and Virtualization/Dashboards/Automation) for partnerships that integrate into the Five9 platform.
Chatdesk: Talkdesk and Passage AI have partnered to deliver AI chatbot technology for use with Talkdesk’s cloud contact center platform. The Passage AI platform is available in Talkdesk AppConnect. Over 20 different types of channels are supported, including mobile apps, websites, messaging platforms, and IVRs. Passage AI chatbots attempt to understand English, Spanish, German, Portuguese, Japanese, and Mandarin Chinese.
Aspect (Remember Them?) AR Event: The new (or newest) Aspect hosted its first analyst event. Acquired by Vector Capital earlier this year, it is still a reasonably large CC/WFO player. Aspect reports 2.19M agent seats (Avaya and Cisco claim about 5.5M and 3M, respectively). Also, Aspect reports that it’s growing.
Aspect’s core strategy is to revive core Aspect products (without forced migration). This means transitioning Aspect Via to a deployment and cloud-neutral platform. It’s also on the same bandwagon as most of its competitors with a promise to support public, private, and hybrid deployments, to use Kafka for distributed analytics, to implement best-in-class APIs, and to deliver it all through a modern single stack code base.
Cisco Unified Client: Cisco announced that it has consolidated its apps into a new unified AND modular client. The app supports calling, messaging, meeting, devices, and contact center workloads. The single app supports multiple deployment models and end-to-end encryption.
Unified apps make a lot of sense but have a big disadvantage: sometimes you don’t want it all. For example, consider a Webex Meetings shop that uses Slack for team collaboration (Webex and Slack are integrated), a unified Cisco app could create confusion with a secondary messaging service (Webex Teams). Because unified apps can create confusion, a modular approach is better — albeit rare. In the case of Cisco Webex, IT administrators determine which modules are active.
Webex Supports More Deployment Models: Cisco now supports a BYO carrier option. Selected providers can directly connect (no SBC) to the Webex Cloud. A new CUCM as a service offer allows customers to accelerate cloud adoption with minimal disruption. Cisco is also allowing customers to connect existing third-party PBXs to the Webex cloud to create an on-net, enterprise-wide, and centrally managed service that preserves existing investments. The service is called Cisco Webex Edge (not an intuitive name). Cisco is systematically removing barriers to Webex (and cloud) Calling.
Talk to the @Hand: AT&T expanded its relationship with RingCentral promoting Office@Hand (powered by RingCentral), to a lead UCaaS offer. AT&T intends to collaborate with RingCentral on new capabilities and improved integration with the AT&T network. Office@Hand is a reseller agreement. Avaya Cloud Office by RingCentral is an agent agreement.
Dialpad Has a New Look: “Our brand was starting to feel—not so modern. We wanted to develop a logo that reflected a shift away from a one-dimensional audio wave—to a new image that underscored more than just dial-tone.”
I believe that Dialpad is largely underappreciated, so any increase in marketing is probably good. I am generally not a fan of rebrands, and I liked the old logo (all real-time conversations have waves). If you consider the pre-Yahoo Dialpad, the young company has gone through more rebrands than GE.
Avaya Engage: Avaya International hosted Engage in Dubai, its annual partner and customer event. It provided follow-up to the major announcements in October at Gitex (CCaaS in UAE, subscription pricing, Onespace, and Avaya Spaces). For more information, see this post.
Poly Launches Voyager Office Headsets: Poly launched its Voyager Office Series Bluetooth headset systems. Similar to the Voyager 4200 UC and 5200 UC Series, these connect to a desk phone, PC, Mac, or mobile phone. These headsets also feature built-in Amazon Alexa. Of course, they are producing a separate version for Microsoft Teams with Teams buttons on the base and headset. It can be managed from the Plantronics Hub. Here’s a sign of the times: tap to answer is now supported in Zoom video meetings.
Separately, Poly began selling its DECT headsets (Savi) in the Philippines. That’s a surprise to me, as such a large number of contact centers are based there. Better late than never.
Digium No More: The Digium.com website is gone, and users are being redirected to Sangoma.com. They are also phasing out the “Digium - A Sangoma Company” branding. Sangoma Technologies is the brand now for open source telephony. I’m sad to see it go. Digium Asterisk was modeled after Linux, but missed the impact. Open Source telephony remains very complex.
Cisco 700 Headset: Cisco announced the Headset 700 series, which features Bluetooth and noise-canceling technologies. They can be managed from Webex Control Hub and integrated with Cisco collaboration apps and devices.
LogMeIn Down Under: LogMeIn announced GA of its GoTo suite in Australia. Last September, GoTo launched in the UK, Germany, and Ireland.
Teams Updates from Ignite: Although Teams wasn’t in the Ignite spotlight this year, the “hub for work” did receive a number of updates at Ignite this month. I’ve been saying for years that Teams is the linchpin to O365. That was made abundantly clear when M365 CVP Jared Spataro said, “Teams is to the new Microsoft what Windows was to the old.” It’s a single app for chats, meetings, calls, files, apps, and workflows (but not mail, calendaring, or contacts — see above). It’s not really a single app, but a portal to many apps. Here’s what’s new:
- Private channels: These are secure sub-team channels that are only accessible to invited participants.
- Multiple chats at the same time: Teams discovers windows and multi-tasking.
- Upgraded tasks: Singular view of tasks (personal, assigned to me, tasks from different workstreams) with multiple views. It unifies the tasks within Teams, but not tasks from other apps.
- Yammer integration: The new Yammer app is integrated into Teams. This is very intriguing because I thought that Teams was poised to replace Yammer. Instead, they are continuing with the inner/outer loop types of conversations. The difference is now you can connect with team members and organization members in the same app via integrations.
- Outlook integration: This makes it easier to share conversations from one app to another.
Microsoft also announced improvements to deployment scripts and compliance management. A new counterintuitive feature is the ability to block communications and file sharing among users. Retention policies can now be set to one day. PowerShell got a boost so more can be done with fewer commands/scripts. The new Certified App Catalog centralizes integration information.
Microsoft also used Ignite to re-emphasize that Teams is a platform. To encourage ecosystem development, Microsoft will prioritize integrations that facilitate workflows in select verticals. The firstline initiative demo was largely the same as last year. Though a few new features were introduced including delegated admin (for shift managers), SMS sign in (eliminates email requirement), global sign off (SSO?), and the ability to block users from accessing Teams outside payable hours.
FACEBOOK: Workplace by Facebook is now Workplace from FACEBOOK. This is part of a larger branding campaign impacting most FACEBOOK brands for improved consistency and to separate the parent (FACEBOOK) from the app (Facebook). It’s not as simple as all-caps, it’s actually a wordmark with a custom block font with rounded edges (I wonder what that cost). It seems simple enough, but the announcement from the beginning of the month actually said that the new name for “Workplace by Facebook” was “Workplace from Facebook” (lower case) and the Workplace home page still says “Workplace by Facebook.” So much for “clarity” as the stated design goal.
Webex Teams: The new unified client from Cisco (see above) did more than consolidate apps. Webex Teams finally received some needed updates. It now has the same host controls as those found in Webex Meetings. More importantly, the messaging app now supports chat in meetings. In other words, users of Webex Teams no longer need to use Webex Meetings for meetings.
Wire: This month we learned that Wire, an end-to-end encrypted messaging app and service, quietly raised $8.2M earlier this year. It is believed that Wire intends to introduce a freemium tier to its existing consumer service (which itself has .5M users) and is looking to raise more funds for expansion in private enterprise messaging. Wire names 700 enterprise customers, including Fortum, Aon, EY, and SoftBank Robotics. Wire is now a US company, but its servers are in Switzerland.
Workplace Goes Wide: Workplace made some changes to the UI to better support screens wider than 1,920 px. The update reduces the amount of white space within the Workplace interface, and it gives maximum size to group cover photos. A Display Options setting toggles the new view on and off. I actually wonder if this was driven by mobile or desktop users.
Google RCS: Google is now rolling out support for Rich Communication Services (RCS) messages in the Android Messages app. This allows the next generation of SMS to more effectively compete with popular OTT messaging apps such as iMessage and WhatsApp (though without end-to-end encryption). Meanwhile, no word on Hangouts Chat or any of Google’s other messaging apps. People love to (rightfully) poke at RCS as a huge failure. But the technology is definitely better than SMS and appears to be coming to both a carrier and Android phone near you. RCS messages will appear as SMS messages on iPhones. The near-term winners are likely Twilio and Vonage, as RCS messaging could be a lucrative business. Though near-term in RCS years is probably long-term for other messaging apps.
Legere to Depart T-Mobile: T-Mobile has announced that its trash-talking CEO, John Legere, will depart next year. Legere has been fun to watch. He made T-Mobile cool and shook up the industry in startling ways such as ending contracts. I think his timing is perfect. He’s leaving on a high note as a charming and revered turnaround executive. Unfortunately, the cool, low-hanging fruit has been picked.
There’s also a little irony here as T-Mobile was indirectly born from the DOJ’s decision to block AT&T from buying T-Mobile in 2011. AT&T was forced to pay a $4B break-up fee which was critical to T-Mobile’s success. Now a company that was born out of government opposition to wireless consolidation is pushing for one of the most controversial megadeals in industry history.
On May 1, 2020, Mike Sievert, T-Mobile’s current president and chief operating officer, will take over as CEO. I suspect his first order of business will be to raise prices.
AT&T Leasing Its Last-Mile Network to Telefónica: AT&T will permit Telefónica to use its last-mile networking equipment in Mexico and agreed to provide access to 3G, 4G, and any future network technologies across Mexico for at least eight years. So, after regurgitating its recent investments in DirectTV and other businesses it knows nothing about, it effectively sells off its most valuable assets (towers and last-mile monopolies) to competitors to pay off debt. Genius at work.
JEDI Protest: Last month the Pentagon awarded Microsoft its $10B Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure (JEDI) cloud contract. This month Amazon filed a formal protest claiming the bidding process was improperly influenced by the White House. The protest was filed under seal, but an exhibit lists videos of the President making comments about the contract. Amazon was largely considered the front-runner.
Bezos, the second richest man in the world (divorce cost him the number one spot), just got an incentive to become active in politics. Bezos, like many CEOs, hides his political views. His largest political contribution so far has been to a non-profit that helps put military veterans into office. However, $10B is a lot of money, and that’s just the start. The contract winner is also expected to receive considerable complementary revenue from defense contractors. The revenue and associated requirements will also propel Microsoft (even further?) ahead of AWS.
What can Amazon or Bezos do in politics? Amazon can certainly fund candidates that it believes to be friendly (or that compete with unfriendly candidates). This is a common business practice. But Amazon is not an ordinary business. It can drive action like few others (think of HQ2). It can sink to ads on Amazon, flyers in packages, even commercials on PrimeTV. Bezos also has the Washington Post. My point is he can do whatever he wants. Just for grins, he could buy Twitter to quiet the President. Amazon just spent $1M on a Seattle election to help create a more business-friendly city council. We have learned not to underestimate Bezos. The force is strong with this padawan.
Help Wanted at Ribbon: Ribbon announced the departure of its President and CEO, Fritz W. Hobbs. Steven Bruny, EVP, Global Sales and Services, and Kevin Riley, EVP and CTO, are acting as Interim Co-Presidents and Co-CEOs. One Degree Partners has been retained to recruit a new CEO for Ribbon. Intriguing timing — just two weeks after worse-than-expected third-quarter results and just as a major merger is announced.
Just Twilio: Twilo was named one of America’s Most JUST Companies of 2020, according to Forbes and JUST Capital. Twilio ranked 9 out of 52 software companies and 77 out of 1,000 of the largest publicly traded companies in areas that matter most to the American people, including fair pay, ethical leadership, good benefits and work-life balance, equal opportunity, customer treatment and privacy, and community support. The JUST Capital Rankings evaluate the 1,000 largest public companies in the United States. This is well deserved. I’ve always been impressed with how Twilio has maintained its missionary, entrepreneurial culture from startup through IPO to today.
Productiv: Founded by former head of Google Analytics Jody Shapiro, Productiv just raised $20M in Series B funding, just six months after raising its Series A. Productiv helps companies look at what software and services their employees are using and how they are using them — so they can decide which of the subscriptions and suites they're paying for are actually adding value, and which can be cut.
Twilio Oops: I normally don’t include quarterly results in this report, but Twilio’s fiscal fourth-quarter guidance deserves inclusion. It significantly missed Wall Street's expectations. Insult to injury, a few days later management said “oops.” A "simple math error" made the disappointing numbers better than they actually were.
I know The Street hates when a company misses its numbers. Thanks to Twilio, now we can confirm math mistakes in reported results don’t go over well either — even when attributed to “growing pains.” Realistically, the double foul created a nice buying opportunity, as Twilio's long-term story (what CEO Jeff Lawson really monitors) remained intact. The stock has slightly recovered, presumably faster than the associated ego bruises will heal.
RNG on Sale: Avaya intends to sell its 1,750,000 common shares of RingCentral, Inc. (RNG). RingCentral will not receive any of the proceeds. Avaya got these shares as a result of its strategic partnership with RingCentral.
Five9 and Whendu: Five9 announced its intent to acquire Whendu’s iPaaS platform. Whendu’s iPaaS platform provides a no-code, visual application workflow tool, optimized for contact centers. To date, Whendu has 50+ out-of-the-box application connectors that are ready to use.
The old story was contact center applications (Five9, Avaya, Cisco, etc.) that require heavy customization by administrators. An emerging option is contact center tools so that enterprises can develop their own custom contact centers (Twilio, Amazon). The even more emerging story is apps + tools (Five9, Vonage). The goal is to optimize what has been conflicting goals of making contact centers infinitely customizable, fast to implement, and easy to maintain.
Ribbon and ECI Telecom: Ribbon Communications entered into an agreement to acquire ECI Telecom Group Ltd ("ECI"), a global provider of end-to-end packet-optical transport and SDN/NFV solutions for service providers, enterprises, and data center operators. Ribbon will acquire ECI for 32.5M shares of Ribbon common stock and $324M cash. ECI stockholders will also receive approximately $31M from ECI's sale of real estate assets. Post-acquisition, Ribbon’s anticipated combined annual revenue will be over $900M, serving customers in more than 140 countries, with 4,000 employees worldwide. Furthermore, the combined company will be better positioned to serve the 5G market.
AGs: Well That Settles It: This month the Texas Attorney General agreed to drop its lawsuit opposing the T-Mobile and Sprint merger. Previously, Colorado, Nebraska, and Ohio dropped out. The basic formula is the new T-Mobile settles by committing to state jobs and/or coverage. The press release assures Texans who work for Sprint and T-Mobile that they will have “substantially similar employment” once the merger closes.
The case is set to go to trial in December with NY and CA leading the fight against the merger, claiming the combined company will cause higher prices. That seems pretty obvious, but it’s not relevant. The motivation for the combination has nothing to do with prices, but rather 5G. And that’s a horse of a different color — a horse that doesn’t really meet expectations, can’t travel through buildings, or really offer anything particularly useful anytime soon. The lawsuit is the only remaining barrier to the merger, as the Justice Department approved the deal last month.
This Month’s Goodreads
- Machine Learning for Translation: What’s the State of the Language Art?
- T-Mobile's John Legere Was Never a 'Cool CEO'
- Weather forecasters lost the battle for strict interference limits on 5G
- Sexy Chatbots
- The advantages of video calling drive business competition
- Google & Samsung fix Android spying flaw. Other makers may still be vulnerable
- Tim Berners-Lee unveils global plan to save the web
- SMS Replacement is Exposing Users to Text, Call Interception Thanks to Sloppy Telecos
- Genesys AR event, Ireland
- CenturyLink AR event, Florida
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