Messaging: the 'Next Voice'?
Some, including Cisco's John Chambers, consider video to be the "next voice." But not me.
At Cisco's invitation-only C-Scape event this month in San Diego, financial and industry analysts had unprecedented access to Cisco executives at all levels. One delightful moment took place during the final Q&A session with outgoing CEO John Chambers and incoming CEO Chuck Robbins, when I had an opportunity to ask a question of John.
I started out by saying that, with my question, I was going to challenge one of his ideas. With his characteristic charisma, he responded that when confronted with a challenge, you need to face it straight on. So he came off the stage, patted me on the shoulder, and sat next to me so that he could respond personally to my "challenge." There we were face to face, eye to eye!
Once the buzz in the room settled down at this unexpected development, I asked:
"John, some time ago you said, "video is the next voice." Is that right?"
To which he answered, "Yes."
"This is the idea I want to challenge," I told him.
Some of the biggest ideas and world changes have come about as a result of SMS or text messaging, and not video, I pointed out. For example, the Arab Spring occurred in large part thanks to the use of Twitter, SMS, and MMS to spread the message. Likewise during President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, during which much massing of the troops and votes came as a result of SMS messaging to a motivated supporter base.
As a further example, I shared that one of Cisco's analyst representatives told me the AR team kept in constant contact via Spark, Cisco's new cloud-based business collaboration environment, during a recent event. In that situation, Spark's messaging saved the day because it was real-time and immediate.
Finally, I pointed out that John himself, in his keynote the day before, had spoken about "fast IT" as the way of the future and said companies that didn't adapt to the digital world and have fast IT were likely to fail in a period of a few short years.
So, I challenged John: "Rather than video being the next voice, isn't text really the next voice?"
In his gracious, southern-dignified manner, John responded that he didn't think so. Video would have a far greater impact on the future than messaging would, he said.
Not surprisingly, this was the response I expected given that Cisco is investing so heavily in video, both in terms of infrastructure and endpoints, and that video uses bandwidth, which drives other Cisco product and service sales. However, at the end of his response, John did say he would have the product team look a little closer at the importance of messaging; maybe my question had got him thinking.
At the Speed of a Text
As I look at the future, video will certainly be important, but SMS and other forms of near-real-time messaging are more likely drivers of faster IT and faster business in general.
We often hear how the "coming of age" Millennials, who are entering the workforce in large numbers now, have grown up with video. Even Cisco's incoming CEO referenced his own children as users of mobile video. However, my own experience with video and various forms of messaging leads me to believe that the emerging workforce turns to text far faster than it turns to video for immediate answers and actions. Although I don't have data, I wouldn't be surprised if the number of text communications exceeds the number of video communications by two or three orders of magnitude for many of us, Millennials included.
I'm not alone in my hunch that messaging may ultimately be more important than video. In an address given at the WebRTC conference-within-a-conference at Enterprise Connect 2015, my industry colleague, Tsahi Levent-Levi, stated, "Unified communications will be gobbled up by messaging... it is only a matter of time."
The key takeaway here is that messaging is going to be used much, much more than video for real-time communications. And, while video endpoint and infrastructure will generate more money from a pure sales perspective than will messaging, Cisco may have a hidden gem in its product portfolio now that it has acquired Tropo. If developers incorporate SMS into line-of-business apps using Cisco-Tropo, then revenues from an explosion of SMS may actually turn into a serious revenue source for the company.
By way of comparison, competitor Twilio recently said it is seeing four billion API interactions per month. Extrapolate this, and Twilio will see nearly 50 billion interactions this year. At a penny per interaction, this becomes $500 million in revenue; at a half cent per interaction it is still sizeable at $250 million. Now, in fairness to Twilio and Tropo, neither is making this much money, but the potential for some serious revenue just from messaging is high.
Video certainly has its place, and I use it regularly. However, for fast IT and more rapid change to world situations and market conditions, I still think, "messaging is the next voice!"