The Most Important News from January, 2019
➤ This symbol signals opinion.
Avaya announced a series of enhancements to its Edge Channel Partner Program. The enhancements were designed to better promote/reward cloud solutions and simplify and streamline program requirements.
➤Most cloud providers have settled on direct sales and agent models. Avaya is working to leverage its dealer network, which arguably has more influence over the Avaya base than Avaya does.
I hope you liked the 2018 Gartner MQs for UC and contact center infrastructure (CCI) because they are the final editions. In a report issued in January, Gartner concluded enterprises of all sizes increasingly prefer cloud solutions (UCaaS and CCaaS) over premises-based solutions.
“The long-established Magic Quadrants for premises-based UC and CCI will be retired and replaced with Market Guides to better reflect the maturity of these markets.”
➤It’s not that the UC market is dead; it’s just mature. The MQ attempts to highlight key differences between vendor solutions, and there’s just not that many.
I won’t go as far as saying premises-based UC is a commodity, but the purchase decision tends to be related to factors other than vision and ability to execute.
The decision is more likely to be driven by prior investments, partner relationships, and bundled services (such as workstream collaboration, contact center, and office productivity apps). Meanwhile, significant differences exist in UCaaS and CCaaS offers.
Gartner uses its Market Guide reports in emerging and mature markets. They contain some of the same information, but without the comparative evaluation.
Market Guides are used for both emerging markets and mature markets. In emerging markets, user requirements are in flux; and in mature markets, the offerings are fairly interchangeable. In both cases, comparative positioning is difficult and less relevant.
The MQs are very influential because of this comparative analysis. So, reasonably the Market Guides won’t be nearly as important to vendors or buyers. I don’t believe many of the vendors will be particularly upset about this.
Changes to MQ for UCaaS and CCaaS
In the same Gartner report referenced above, we also learn:
“The UCaaS and CCaaS Magic Quadrants and Critical Capabilities will be refocused to only evaluate full-stack SaaS solution providers, where the application stack is developed, updated, managed, and controlled by the software vendor. The UCaaS and CCaaS MQs will no longer evaluate partner-hosted/managed solutions.”
➤As the cloud market grows, so does the number of providers. Two problems are complicating the Gartner reports:
- They have too many providers. In attempts to reduce the number of covered providers, Gartner has been tweaking eligibility requirements. That has caused the exclusion of market share-leading providers such as Vonage and Comcast.
- The other problem is that OEMs and their resellers are compared against themselves. For years, the major vendors such as BroadSoft did not have a direct channel, but that’s changed.
A “full-stack solution” is a lot easier as a concept than a definition. The cloud-delivered model is really about service; the tech features are secondary. This format runs the risk of overlooking important components such as reliability, self-service, bundled offers, ease of doing business, and more, which may be better at a reseller than an OEM.
It is expected that several top providers, including most carriers, will no longer qualify for inclusion. It’s unfortunate to see that some of the pioneers that created the UCaaS and CCaaS MQs will no longer be eligible.
New Plantronics Calisto
Plantronics announced the Calisto 3200 ($99.95) and Calisto 5200 ($149.95) portable USB speakerphones. Both models have 360-degree microphones, touch-sensitive controls, visual indicators, voice prompts, and mute alerts.
Both have USB for PC, Mac, and tablet devices, and the 5200 also connects to smartphone devices via 3.5mm cable. Both are compatible with Plantronics Manager Pro. They are available in the US now, and planned for global distribution.
➤I like that they support smartphones, but unfortunately, the headset jack is disappearing, and these devices don’t support bluetooth. But what can you do? USB is also becoming too complex with so many different connectors.
Avaya Headsets and Phones
Avaya announced a new line of headsets and enhancements to its Essential Experience J100 Series.
The new portfolio professional grade headsets initially includes five corded headsets with AcousticEdge technology. Contact Center staff will appreciate the quick disconnect option and monitoring features.
Avaya has expanded its support of BroadSoft features within the Essential Experience J100 Series SIP phones. Also, a new color Essential Experience J100 Expansion Module expands the display on selected models.
➤I do like the hardware coming out of Avaya, but fear it’s a tough market to crack beyond its own customer base. The BroadSoft ecosystem looks especially hard. Polycom lives there, Cisco is moving in, and there’s no shortage of low-cost overseas options.
No Strings: Metaswitch MaX UC
Metaswitch announced MaX UC – an in-network, mobile native UC&C solution.
MaX UC shifts the primary user interface to the native dialer for a seamless user experience. It ensures quality and reliability by leveraging mobile operator networks. Additionally, MaX UC provides simple onboarding and intelligent identity control to deliver a desirable mobile native experience.
➤Despite all the promise, enterprise UC and mobility are still largely on separate tracks. While UCaaS and wireless are destined to converge, it appears it will do so slowly.
This Metaswitch approach is along the lines of BroadSoft, Mavenir, and 2600Hz. Other approaches of interest include Tango Networks, Samsung Dex, and Avaya Mobile Experience.
There’s a tremendous number of moving parts here, including 4G to 5G, OTT vs carrier grade, iPhone dialer restrictions, what the carriers do directly (Verizon One Talk, T-Mobile Digits), Wi-Fi standards, carriers reducing towers, and more. Not to mention it’s not clear what users want.
On the other hand, the mobile UC client is a dismal failure. Few work well, even fewer get used.
Vertical and 8x8
8x8 announced that Vertical Communications has joined its strategic channel partner program. Vertical Communications will offer “One Vertical,” a complete line of networking services, phones, and cloud services. It allows Vertical to take end-to-end responsibility for a business’s complete communications solution.
➤An interesting twist on an old story. Many providers turned to resellers early on, but agents have become a preferred model over the past few years.
In this case, Vertical is reselling 8x8. It does the sale, installs the solution, bills the services, and performs ongoing support. 8x8 is wholesaling services to Vertical.
Vertical is largely focused on premises-based equipment targeted at retail, automotive, healthcare, and hospitality sectors. Evidently, it sees a cloud future.
8x8 gets into hardware, gains indirect feet on the street, and is positioned as a default upgrade path for Vertical’s base.
Vertical also has a product reseller agreement with Mitel stemming from its 2014 merger with Fulton Communications.
Update to Webex Teams
In January, Cisco released a new version of Webex Teams with several enhancements including:
- UI Improvements.
- Stronger integration with Microsoft applications.
- PSTN and wireless features for Webex Share.
- Expanded support for GIFs and emojis.
➤Cisco was pretty quiet about these updates, though details are available on the Cisco site. I expect that Cisco will be turning up the volume in February and March. In February there is a collaboration event for analysts, and SVP Chang will deliver her first customer-facing keynote at EC19.
Microsoft’s Firstline on Teams
Microsoft announced new features for Teams that target Firstline Workers. Features include customizable mobile-only features such as location sharing, a Graph API for Shifts scheduling, and the new Praise feature to recognize co-workers right within Teams.
➤Teams is both an app and a platform. Microsoft has created apps aimed at firstline workers. The intent, likely, is to position Teams as a powerful tool for enterprise-wide communications.
In the recent TalkingPointz for Microsoft Teams Research Note, there is a section on Firstline Workers. The use cases are solid, and firstline workers + knowledge workers represents a dramatic expansion of the addressable market.
Firstline workers will become a new battleground for enterprise communications. So far, the heavyweights in the ring are Teams and Workplace by Facebook.
Changes in Hangouts
Google announced that beginning on April 16, Chat will become available for G Suite domains that have classic Hangouts enabled.
Between April and September, Google says that Chat will integrate with Gmail and gain the ability to exchange messages with external users. These and other features from Classic Hangouts need to arrive in Chat before Google ends Hangouts in October.
➤Sure seems like a lot of manufactured drama. Like those house-flipping shows that make arbitrary deadlines that just can’t slip.
Classic Hangouts has been neglected. I assume Chat will come across as a version upgrade, but who knows what Big G is planning.
WhatsApp, Instagram, and Messenger Unite
The NYT reported that Mark Zuckerberg intends to integrate the back-end services of WhatsApp, Instagram, and Facebook Messenger by the end of 2020. The apps will remain separate, but will share a unified underlying infrastructure.
➤This is a complex one. First, there’s the issue of user acceptance and trust. Zuckerberg previously vowed to keep these apps separate. Then there’s lots of technical issues. For example, WhatsApp requires only a phone number; Messenger and Instagram require names.
There’s also some confusion around encryption. Zuck wants the new solution to have encryption. WhatsApp encrypts all messages today, Messenger offers it as an option, and Instagram doesn’t offer it all. It was previously reported that Zuck wanted to discontinue end-to-end encryption in order to better monetize conversational content.
There’s also the issue that these three services represent more than 2.6B users. Technically, they were all the same company before, but the same backbone raises the questions of monopolies and competition. Imagine a world where Facebook Messenger had to compete against WhatsApp and Instagram.
Slack shared that it reached over 10M daily active users (DAU) that span across 150 countries. The number of paid customers worldwide has grown by more than 50% over the past year and now tops 85K organizations.
➤The company is likely sharing these figures for two reasons:
- The five-year-old company intends to go public this year.
- They believe these numbers to be impressive.
They are certainly impressive compared to previous figures. Last May, Slack reported 8M total users, of which 3M were paid users. They didn’t break out paid users this time, and the 85K organizations is a new reporting metric.
It’s not so easy to compare these figures to competitive applications. For example, neither Microsoft nor Cisco provide DAU metrics. Microsoft did recently report that Teams is in use at 329K organizations.
Growth and revenue are important, but the big test in 2019 will be real-time communications. Should a universal communications and workstream application support all conversations, or just text?
Slack customers rely on third parties to provide UCaaS and conferencing, and now many of the competitive offers (Teams, Webex Teams, Circuit, Vonage Flow, and more) offer real-time communications for chat, voice, and conferencing. Is this an application where the bundle makes sense?
RCS on Pixel Phones
Following Verizon’s lead, Google announced that it’s rolling out RCS Chat on the Google Fi cellular network.
Sprint and T-Mobile have also announced limited RCS support, but Verizon launched it on the Pixel 3 phones. Google is going broader, with RCS support on Pixel phones, the Moto G6, LG V35, LG G7, and Android One Moto X. RCS may work on other phones that download the new Google Chat app.
➤At first it seems odd that Google wasn’t first to launch RCS since it’s driving the service, but presumably, it couldn’t do it until after its MNO suppliers did.
RCS is intended to replace SMS, but this expectation is about a decade old now. Google has been spearheading efforts to accelerate RCS implementation and adoption. Google is pushing RCS with providers and enabling support on Android phones.
RCS supports hi-res images and video, Wi-Fi texting, typing indicators, read-receipts, and improved group chats.
I think RCS will happen — SMS is long overdue for replacement. Google has lined up support from 55 providers (including Twilio and Vonage Nexmo) and 11 OEMs.
Unfortunately, Google also has an impressive track record of failed attempts with messaging apps.
No More Tic-Tac-Toe at Slack
Slack gave its logo a makeover.
The original logo was a plaid octothorpe (AKA pound sign or hash symbol), which is also the character used to represent a Slack channel.
➤In Slack’s defense, its logo was older than the company itself. And, what a terrible logo it was: 11 colors, worked only on a white background, and was positioned at a precarious 18º angle. The new logo is modern, yet respectful of its octothorpe heritage.
In the old days we had to think about colors and printing costs, but modern printers don’t care about colors so why should Slack? Though there will be a tax to pay for embroidered shirts.
WhatsApp Limits Forwarding
Facebook’s WhatsApp is globally limiting the number of times a user can forward a message to five.
➤I’ve always felt that the reply-all feature of email should require a license. We may not be able to stop fake news, but we can slow it down.
WhatsApp has around 1.5B users. Because the app offers great encryption, it’s hard to track how messages spread.
Plantronics and Polycom
The dust is beginning to settle regarding Polycom’s acquisition by Plantronics. The company has organized the combined product portfolios into two major groups: Personal Systems (headsets and phones) headed by Shantanu Sarkar, and Group Systems (Trio and video) headed by Tom Puorro.
➤I always felt that phones were under-appreciated at Polycom, so hopefully they will get more attention in the new Personal Systems group.
Cisco also organizationally separates its room system and telephone endpoints.
Zoom Voice GA
Zoom announced general availability of Zoom Voice PSTN services for North American businesses with 50 or more employees.
Zoom Voice is a cloud-based service that uses the public switched telephone network (PSTN) to place and receive calls.
Zoom also modernized its Meeting and Chat app as well as additional administrative controls for things like room management and multi-page whiteboards in Zoom Rooms.
➤Zoom Voice was originally positioned as a UCaaS service. This first release appears to be expanded PSTN services that complement Zoom meetings. I suspect a full blown UCaaS service will be launched (or acquired) after its IPO later this year.
Microsoft has rebranded its meeting room specification from Skype Room Systems to Microsoft Teams Rooms.
The upgraded specification comes with:
- A fresh take on proximity detection (coming), that is more logical — similar to what Cisco does.
- Mobile Companion, which turns a smartphone into a remote control.
- Support for dual screen rooms.
➤Dual screens as a new feature in 2019!
I will say the old brand of Skype Room Systems was outdated and confusing. It actually never even made sense — it should have been Skype for Business Room Systems (they didn’t actually work with Skype at all).
The bigger branding gap was that Teams is positioned as a more strategic solution than Skype and SfB. Teams also appeals to customers that don’t have any Skype solution.
Nureva and Zoom
Nureva announced that its HDL300 audio conferencing system is now a Zoom-recommended audio solution for medium-to-large Zoom Rooms.
➤The HDL300 system is a wall-mounted room audio that uses an interesting spatial technology to capture sound. Nureva bills it as “thousands of virtual microphones for true full-room pickup.”
I’ve been through the demo, but would love to “hear” some real-world feedback on its performance.
Zoom has grown from software-only to a full conferencing solution with its Zoom Rooms. These are all third-party vendors working with Zoom for seamless integration. Zoom also offers a room-booking system based on tablets.
Polycom Studio for Huddle Rooms
Polycom Studio is a new huddle room solution or “USB Video Bar.” This is a rapidly growing and important space.
The Studio brings its Eagle-Eye technology to the huddle room with a single, fixed camera. It also offers a microphone and stereo speakers in an all-in-one design.
➤It’s a nice offer. It seems mostly positioned against the Logitech MeetUp.
The Studio joins a crowded sector, but huddle rooms are the endpoints to watch in 2019. In the past six months alone, we’ve seen new offers from Polycom, Logitech, Cisco, Avaya, and Solaborate — all interesting and compelling.
The demand and economics make huddle room solutions very attractive. However, they are stymied by I/O ports: Lightening, USB A, USB C, HDMI, DisplayPort, etc. We can’t even rely on a headphone jack. (Thanks, Tim.)
There’s a nice trend of making the audio and video equipment less intrusive. The audio (more important) is getting much better at both pickup and noise abatement. The video breakthroughs are mostly around auto-framing. Cisco, Polycom, and Logi offer various forms of body detection.
It’s also not clear what to call this sector. Huddle rooms, USB Video Bar, or something else?
Zoom added an “ultrasonic watermark” feature to business meetings on its enterprise call and video service. The watermark gives each recording a unique audio fingerprint that can be traced back to a specific laptop or smartphone.
➤Now we will know who leaked the video to Fox News.
På Gjensyn Videxio
Videxio and Pexip confirmed the completion of their merger as of December 28. The newly registered joint company is called Pexip.
➤Pexip has positioned itself as an infrastructure partner for both Microsoft and Google. . . and now a competitor.
Customer Engagement News
Avaya hosted its largest customer and partner annual event, Avaya Engage, in Austin, Texas. This is a co-hosted event with its user group, IAUG.
Major announcements include:
- “Simplified” portfolio branding.
- A New Rapid Spin-up “Ready Now” private cloud service for 2K-200K seats.
- Updates and Testimonials for Avaya Mobile Experience.
- A new WFO Cloud in partnership with Verint.
- A voice and video integration with Slack.
- Partnership with 911 Secure for location data to PSAPs.
➤The Slack integration uses standard Avaya and Slack APIs. However, despite its own messaging platform, Avaya embracing Slack may prove to be a competitive differentiator.
Last year, many of the executives were new, and this year six key executives are on the job for less than a year. The following senior executives were hired (or re-hired) in 2018:
- Becky Carr, Head of Marketing
- Dino Di Palma, President Americas Sales
- Tara Dunning, was CRO, now Chief Digital Officer
- Chris McGugan, SVP Solutions and Technology
- Ed Nalbandian, President Avaya Services
- Gaurav Passi, President Cloud Business
As the team settles, I expect some big announcements in 2019. I also remain very intrigued by Avaya Mobile Experience.
Avaya Branding Changes
Avaya announced significant changes to its portfolio. Initially, the changes are more about the names and brands, but the product changes are coming too.
Avaya is moving away from pretty names to a more logical structure that reflects what the products do. There are three major branches:
- OneCloud: The cloud solutions will be known as Avaya OneCloud. This includes all of its current cloud offers that span UC and CC as well as premises (private), hybrid, and public deployment models. This also includes the Ready Now cloud.
- Avaya AI: for Avaya AI related initiatives including bots, partnerships including Afiniti, and conversational intelligence.
- Avaya Intelligent Experiences (AIX): includes AIX Digital Workplace (clients, phones), AIX Digital CC, AIX Mobility (Avaya Mobile Experience, Identity solutions), and AIX Services (consulting, professional services, support).
➤I think this is good, but the launch was confusing. It will simplify things for newcomers to Avaya, but without a decoder ring, experts will find it difficult to follow. Basically, everything is being renamed and reshuffled, and old brands will fade.
Google's conversation AI platform Chatbase continues to evolve. Chatbase was first brought to the public as a chatbot analytics platform (at Google I/O 2017). This service expanded and rebranded as Chatbase Virtual Agent Analytics.
This month, Google announced Virtual Agent Modeling as a new Chatbase service (pilot program only). The tool helps customers design more versatile virtual agents. Furthermore, Google has also leveraged machine learning to analyze live-chat transcripts.
➤Last summer, Google launched AI for Contact Centers. Nice, but it didn’t fully address initial or ongoing training — and that’s kind of important with AI technologies. The tech is difficult to productize, particularly for indirect channels.
Virtual Agent Modeling can reduce development times of a voice or chat virtual agent by a factor of 10. More important, the resulting virtual agent can handle 99% of interactions.
RingCentral Dialing for Dollars
RingCentral acquired Connect First, an outbound/blended contact center solution. It’s a small company, with some impressive clients. Connect First was built on AWS using a microservices, scalable architecture.
Key features of Connect First include dynamic scripting, WebRTC-based agent desktop, and open APIs.
Connect First’s platform is deployed by ASPCA, Carnival Cruise Line, Party City, PBS, United Way, and Business Process Outsourcers (BPOs) for large service providers such as Charter Cable, Comcast, and SiriusXM.
➤RingCentral adds a third leg to its Contact Center stool. The anchor application is RingCentral Contact
Center, an inbound contact center with WFO powered by inContact.
Last October, it acquired Dimelo, which is now known as RingCentral Engage. It provides for digital customer engagement and omnichannel communications.
Connect First is a surprising acquisition. After Dimelo, it seemed RingCentral was going to acquire components that could be stitched together into an inContact replacement. However, Contact First doesn’t fit that theory. RingCentral stated Connect First will complement is inContact offer.
RingCentral is hosting its analyst event in March.
Mobile Carriers Are Location Aware
Four of the major US wireless carriers announced plans to end the sale of location data after a report by Motherboard showed just how easy it was to access the location data of their customers.
The carriers responded by voluntarily agreeing to stop selling location data collected from smartphones to data brokers. Exceptions include roadside assistance and fraud protection programs, but require user consent.
In the Motherboard investigation, a reporter gave a bounty hunter $300 to discover the real-time location of a phone, which was promptly located and tracked. The report highlighted that the carriers are selling customer location data in the unregulated black market.
➤The voluntary action means the problem was solved without new laws or protections. There’s no reason to believe the carriers won’t rediscover the lucrative value of this data.
Bonus: FCC Chair Ajit Pai was asked to explain the security breach to Congress, but declined.
Verizon Offers Free Spam Protection
Verizon announced free spam and robocall protection to its subscribers starting in March. The Call Filter service, which was previously available as a $3 add-on, will soon be offered for free.
Verizon says it has blocked nearly 1B spam calls to date, and it identified more than 300M numbers associated with robocalls. Details on how to subscribe to the service are not yet available.
➤Blocking robocalls is tricky. I really like the Google/Pixel 3 call screen approach which uses a chatbot to screen calls. The caller’s responses to the chatbot are live transcribed to the phone’s display. Let the robots talk to each other.
Verizon’s move comes after similar actions from T-Mobile and AT&T.
US-China Trade War Expands to 5G
➤So far, the US has imposed tariffs on $250B Chinese goods, but now the arrest of a Huawei executive is escalating into a networking war with China.
The US government has filed criminal charges against Huawei and Huawei's CFO Wanzhou Meng (already in custody in Canada), alleging conspiracy to break sanctions on Iran and to cover this up.
The US has been pressuring major carriers not to use Huawei equipment on national security grounds.
Smaller US carriers are pushing back. The Rural Wireless Association (RWA) claimed that the costs associated with dumping Huawei products would be substantial. “Estimated rip-and-replace costs vary by carrier, but are significant across the board.” The RWA argues that the FCC should provide funding for any required change in equipment.
Verizon Puts 5G Expansion on Hold
Verizon announced that it is delaying expansion plans of “5G TF” fixed home service beyond the initial four launch markets until the second half of 2019.
➤Textbook example of effective trolling.
Although 5G TF does employ some core 5G tech like millimeter wave, it’s really Verizon’s own interpretation of 5G. This has been the subject of ridicule from T-Mobile and its CEO John Legere. Verizon now intends to wait for industry-backed 5G NR.
5G hype was a recurring theme at CES earlier this month. Consumers have no idea what this is or why they think they want it.
I typically only include CEO changes in Quipz, but Twilio is hiring so many execs, it warrants a mention.
In January, Twilio named:
- Chee Chew as Chief Product Officer
- Chetan Chaudhary as Global VP of Partners
- Paul Rincon as VP of LATAM Sales
- David Parry-Jones as VP of EMEA Sales (Dec)
These follow a string of executive announcements in 2018. Twilio is clearly gearing up its enterprise focus.
➤Chee Chew brings experience from Amazon, HP, Google, and Microsoft. He was VP of Consumer Engagement at Amazon, and he was VP of Engineering responsible for Google’s real-time communication efforts.
➤Vonage soft-launched a new Nexmo applet called Icebreaker that combines calendaring info, contact info, and location info with messaging.
“Hi Lisa, Looking forward to our meeting. I’m 10 minutes away.”
It is primarily targeted to sales staff for prospect engagement but has other uses. It’s part of a trend at Vonage of adapting its CPaaS tools to non-technical enterprise use cases.
Microsoft released MyAnalytics, a “fitness tracker for work.” The new app is available for all Office 365 subscribers, as well as Microsoft 365 Enterprise and Business suite users with Exchange Online.
MyAnalytics provides a summary of the hours users spend in meetings, using email, “focusing,” and working after hours. It can also use AI to analyze your emails (automatically creating to-do items based on commitments contained in your messages).
MyAnalytics collects data primarily from the use of Outlook, Skype for Business apps, Teams, OneDrive, and SharePoint.
➤Remember when software was clueless about other apps? Office 365 is evolving into a cloud operating system. It has the ability to track productivity across apps and, with some AI, can associate topics and relationships.
A goal of MyAnalytics is to help users avoid burnout at work, and it does so by tracking app usage and patterns. This is unprecedented data collection.
Minority Report? Imagine being able to fire a salesperson for the pre-crime of losing an account.
Despite the ubiquity and proven value of analytics, we are still early in the game. Most analytics focus on what has already happened. That’s changing now as we examine data across organizational and application silos to understand trends and predict outcomes.
|The theme of the Innovation Showcase at Enterprise Connect 2019 is Actionable Analytics. We are looking for tools and applications that use communications APIs to create actionable insights. Deadline: February 22, 2019.|
100M Alexa Devices
Prior to CES, Amazon finally revealed that it has sold more than 100M Alexa-enabled devices. The admission came from SVP of Devices and Services, Dave Limp, in a CES-related Verge interview.
The 100M figure includes both Amazon devices and partner devices such as the Sonos One speaker and the LG V35 smartphone. There are about 150 different Alexa-enabled products.
➤Amazon and Google are battling over NLU and speech technologies, and Amazon is in the lead. Microsoft has pulled back on Cortana, and Siri has lost its voice.
Congrats to Amazon, it has won the competition for best clock radio and kitchen timer. Now what?
NLU technology is the most significant of the “AI” technologies when it comes to UCC, especially contact center. Lex is one of the few areas where Amazon Connect has a legitimate advantage.
There’s an extraordinary amount of hype around NLU in the contact center, especially with regard to chatbots and assisted agent technologies. I’m still waiting for a transformative example.
Apple and RCS?
RCS may never evolve past its promise of being a future messaging standard, but there’s been more visible progress in the past few months than the past decade.
Google is a key driver behind RCS. Motives are unclear, but it does offer an interesting carrier-based alternative to closed chat systems such as iMessage and WeChat. Verizon, Sprint, and now Google Fi have announced limited support for RCS.
Evidently, Apple might be interested in RCS too. A post on Reddit showed an image from a recent GSMA RCS event that indicated Apple is considering bringing RCS to iOS devices. Discussion and commitment are different things, but interesting nonetheless.
➤It’s newsworthy because there is a widespread presumption that Apple would not endorse or enable RCS in order to protect iMessage.
I disagree, and think this makes sense for Apple.
RCS has a ways to go, but carriers and Android smartphone makers will eventually embrace it. Yes, it’s a reasonable not-as-good alternative to iMessage. So why would Apple legitimize it?
Apple’s far more concerned about WhatsApp, Messenger, and even Instagram (all owned by Facebook). Apple supporting RCS doesn’t dilute iMessage; it strengthens it.
Metcalfe’s law makes iMessage stronger with an RCS gateway to every Android phone. Apple would expand the number of people its user can reach — with rich text and support for longer messages.
RCS would enable Apple to retain a superior solution as native iMessage-to-iMessage chats are encrypted, where RCS messages are not.
Orbita, Inc. provides possibly the only enterprise-grade platform for powering secure voice and chatbot applications in healthcare. The company announced new tools that enable designers to develop conversational dialogues without coding skills. The approach is comparable to the use of wireframe designs for websites and mobile apps.
➤Messaging apps are working their way into vertical solutions. Healthcare requires additional tools for security and compliance.
Conversational AI at Zoho
Zoho has integrated conversational AI capabilities into its suite of products with “Zia,” an intelligence-enabled assistant and analytics engine.
At “Zoho Day,” the company shared how Zia is becoming increasingly threaded into the company’s suite of CRM and other applications. “Zia Voice” uses NLU and AI-enabled conversation assistants to service customers.
➤NLP and conversational technologies are fundamentally changing workflow — in the office and out.
AWS launched Amazon WorkLink to simplify secure network access. For $5/mo/user, WorkLink allows one-click access to internal data — in AWS or not.
WorkLink works with standard desktop and mobile browsers. A WorkLink server converts content into vector graphics. Nothing is stored or cached on the phone. It can replace a corporate VPN or work with one.
Neither Google nor Microsoft offers a directly comparable service. Google offers Cloud Identity-Aware Proxy as a VPN alternative, while Microsoft offers a number of traditional mobile device management solutions.
➤Cloud services have grown with standard networking protocols, but the stakes are getting higher. VPNs secure transport, but they don’t secure the data that may reside on user endpoints. Amazon WorkLink uses a “Zero-Trust” inspired architecture.
I expect cloud companies to expand networking offers. This has already started with VPNs, but that’s motivated by cost. Expect secure networking to become more central to cloud-delivered services: cost, security, QoE, QoS. . .
Remember, the cloud is dependent on great networks. It seems obvious, yet it is easily forgotten.
PC Shipments Fall
IDC reported that shipments of traditional PCs came in at 68.1M units in the fourth quarter, down 3.7% from a year ago. (The decline was the largest since Q3-2016.) For the year, PC sales were down 0.4%, or roughly flat. Gartner expects demand to improve in 2019 as CPUs become more available.
In terms of market share, Lenovo was No. 1; HP and Dell were No. 2 and No. 3, respectively. Apple market share fell in the fourth quarter globally compared to a year ago, but slightly increased in the US.
➤It seems that I keep writing this story. Though there was more drama this time. PC sales were actually on the upswing, then came a trade war with China and processor shortages, so the story ends with yet another quarterly decline.
It’s interesting to see Lenovo in the top spot. Lenovo was created when IBM exited the PC business. Had it kept it, would it be number one?
While there will be ups and downs, the PC peaked a decade ago. The PC alternatives aren’t there yet, but are getting better. Hat tips to iPad Pro and the Google Pixelbook.
Google provided some updated numbers on its education business. Google Classroom, a tool for teachers to share homework and lesson plans with students, has 40M users — up from 30M last May. Google also shared that 30M Chromebooks are in use in education, up 5M.
➤The Chromebook has come a long way. They have a low TCO, are easy to share, and are increasingly useful for content and apps. I think they are under-appreciated for teleworkers and contact center agents.
The Wrath of Apple
➤Apple gave us all a reminder that what it gave us, it can take away.
Zuck and Cook have a relationship similar to Trump and Pelosi. Skipping the details of what provoked the recent spat, Apple responded by decertifying Facebook’s enterprise certificate used for its internal enterprise software on iPhones.
Apple’s actions effectively broke all of Facebook’s internal enterprise apps on iPhones. It caused two days of chaos and lost productivity at a company with 25K employees. The “abusive” behavior that Apple was blocking was relatively minor and contained.
The appropriateness of Apple’s reaction can be debated, but Apple’s ability to pull this particular lever deserves more attention. We are invited guests in an increasingly mobile-centric world — and that invitation can be withdrawn simply, efficiently, and without appeal or process.
Many consider the cloud more robust and more reliable than traditional data center architectures, yet single-points-of failure do exist.
A smartphone without its cloud-apps is just a phone.
Google Assistant will soon be able to automatically insert punctuation when you dictate messages. Rather than rely only on rules of grammar, Assistant will also sense pauses and voice inflections.
Of course, iOS users won’t get this as a native experience. They will have to use the Assistant app to get this feature.
➤I have zero confidence in this.
Half the time when I dictate “period” or “question mark,” it actually writes the word not the symbol, so not much to lose.
I’m more confident that we, as a society, will just eliminate punctuation altogether — at least on mobile devices.
I just had a recent situation where Siri interpreted “orange peel” as “orange peal.” So forgive me for not having a lot of confidence in mastering the far more difficult challenge of punctuation.
Collaboration software such as Zoom and Slack, as well as communications tools like Twilio and Zendesk, appear to be gaining enterprise traction. We can see this in expense report trends, but the big winners in 2018 are Uber, Lyft, and Starbucks.
➤In the cloud era, we can get industry insights from unusual places. Expensify's Spend Trends report has lots of information. The January report analyzed more than 200M transactions.
Of course, this is just a barometer. Expensify only sees what is being expensed, not how corporate IT writes checks.
Other observations: Twitter advertising is getting more experimentation. Twitter receipt growth surged 361% in Q4-2018 YoY. Google still beats Facebook in expensed advertising.
Thinking Outside of the Dropbox
Dropbox is acquiring electronic signature start-up HelloSign for $230M in cash, moving Dropbox into competition with Adobe and DocuSign.
HelloSign users can apply their signatures to digital documents and ask for signatures from others. The technology is available inside products from Google and Salesforce, as well as Dropbox.
➤This is great out-of-the-box thinking. Dropbox considers itself a collaboration company (shared content) and will use HelloSign to expand into workflow. This is a less competitive (and highly complementary) approach to tackling the digital transformation of collaborative workflow.
Aspect Goes to PE
Aspect Software announced a definitive plan to be acquired. Vector Capital will invest more than $100M in Aspect’s business.
➤This one confuses me. Evidently, it’s an “acquisition” as Vector will own a controlling interest, but what percentage is unknown. It’s unclear if Golden Gate Capital is out.
Also, will Vector invest its $100M in operations or something else — like reducing debt? Hopefully, the new owners will do something more compelling with this one-time contact center jewel.
Smartsheet Gets Slope
Smartsheet announced the acquisition of TernPro, Inc., makers of Slope, a collaboration tool designed for sharing creative assets. Smartsheet launched in 2005 and raised over $113M before going public last April. Slope was founded in 2014 and has raised $1.4M.
Financial details were not shared.
➤Smartsheet approaches collaboration from a project management perspective. It picked up Slope to improve workflow and collaboration from within its app. It’s conceptually similar to Slack acquiring Missions last year. That makes two (actually many more) that are attempting to integrate communications, collaboration, and workflow into a single app.
Bose Acquires ZiipRoom
Bose acquired ZiipRoom, a developer of productivity and connectivity software for meeting rooms, conferences, and devices.
ZiipRoom will integrate into Bose Professional, the dedicated group that targets high-end designers and integrators.
ZiipRoom CEO and co-founder Martin Bodley, former CEO of RevoLabs, will lead Bose’s efforts regarding enterprise conferencing.
RingCentral Acquires Connect First
RingCentral entered a definitive agreement to acquire Connect First, a cloud-based outbound contact center. Terms were not disclosed.
➤BONUS: RingCentral now has a Boulder office.
Quinyx Raises Funds
Quinyx, a London/Stockholm-based provider of workforce management solutions, raised $25M from existing investors.
Quinyx’s cloud-based software solutions help McDonald’s, London City Airport, Burger King, and others with firstline employees manage scheduling, communications, task management, and payroll integration. Quinyx has about 500K employees on its platform.
➤It’s always been a mystery to me why WFO solutions for contact center are not frequently found outside the contact center. There is a similarity in services, and the cloud may destroy these boundaries. For example, Microsoft Shifts, a new application built on Teams, is designed to facilitate work team scheduling.
More on Firstline Employees in this Teams Research Note.
Slack May Skip the IPO
Slack is planning a rare direct listing when it enters the public market in the second quarter.
In a direct listing, a company skips the usual IPO process that lines up investors at a set price. Instead, direct listing lets the open market set the price.
With direct listing, there is no agreed starting price. The result is a highly volatile first day of trading. However, Slack will save on the usual underwriting fees.
Spotify successfully used a direct listing last year on the NYSE. Slack shares some characteristics with Spotify, namely a recognizable brand name and a strong private valuation.
➤I love this. IPOs are a scam and generally recognized as an obligatory path to being public. There has been several companies skirting the IPO lately. Dell avoided it with a reverse merger. Avaya skipped it too.
Stephens on Cloud Communications
Stephens is a privately held financial services firm that announced new coverage of cloud communications. Here’s what they are thinking:
- We believe the $20B UC cloud communications industry represents an attractive secular growth opportunity (22% CAGR over the next four years).
- We believe that the winning vendors in the UCC industry will be governed by integrated platforms.
- We think the adoption of programmable communications will drive hyper growth in the space.
Stephens initiated coverage on January 3, 2019 with 8 vendors:
- 8x8, Inc. (EGHT; OW/Vol; PT $24)
- Everbridge, Inc. (EVBG; OW/Vol; PT $70)
- Five9, Inc. (FIVN; EW/Vol; PT $48)
- LogMeIn, Inc. (LOGM; EW/Vol; PT $93)
- RingCentral, Inc. (RNG; EW/Vol; PT $85)
- Smartsheet, Inc. (SMAR; OW/Vol; PT $32)
- Twilio, Inc. (TWLO; EW/Vol; PT $110)
- Vonage Holdings Corp. (VG; OW/Vol; PT $14)
➤This is being driven by Dmitry Netis, previously of William Blair. He knows this industry well. He and team are most optimistic about Vonage and 8x8.
Verbit, a transcription startup, announced that it has raised $23M in a Series A round. The company, which currently focuses on the legal and academic sector, uses ML and freelancers to offer a 99% accurate guarantee. In total, the company has now raised $34M.
Verbit has more than 70 employees and more than 100 customers. The CEO claims that Verbit now has millions of dollars in revenue.
➤Transcription services are the new black.
Zingle provides an AI-powered text messaging app for the hospitality industry. The company announced that it raised $11M, bringing its total capital raised to $15M.
At its core, Zingle is a messaging service provider — its web-based dashboard and mobile apps collate hotel guest texts sent via Facebook Messenger, Line, Twitter, SMS, and other sources into a unified view.
Zingle also offers language translation and provides personalized information such as appointments, check-in dates, check-out dates, and customer status.
The funds will be used to increase staff.
➤Messaging apps are becoming part of workflow in just about every sector. Messaging apps make a lot of sense for hospitality, as staff are often unavailable for real-time communications.
Zingle uses AI to evaluate the intent of the messages, and can trigger automated actions including follow ups. The company says it has processed over 120M messages with guests at major hotels, and has categorized over 150 different intents.
This Month’s Goodreads
- Microsoft President Brad Smith says these are the 10 biggest challenges facing tech in 2019
- WeChat's Star Founder Seeks Second Act for China's Super-App
- Phones are About to get Weird
- The Hidden Automation Agenda of the Davos Elite
- Smartphones are about to get more interesting, but is it enough to drive growth?
- Amazon Is Pushing Facial Technology That a Study Says Could Be Biased
- Truckers are Replacing Mirrors with Cameras, Screens, and other Technologies
- The Unbearable Untidiness of Our Digital Lives
- Google’s head of translation on fighting bias in language and why AI loves religious texts
- An Anti-Facebook Manifesto, by an Early Facebook Investor
- ALE Analyst Event, Monaco
- Cisco Collaboration Analyst Event, San Jose
- RingCentral Analyst Event, San Francisco
- Five9 Analyst Summit, Yountville
- Enterprise Connect, Orlando
February: Clever Examples of AI in Enterprise Comms
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