You Say You Want an Integration...
From APIs and SDKs to CPaaS, communications integration is the name of the game.
To give a nod to the Beatles, the biggest "revolution" in business communications today is clearly the ability to integrate communications into applications, business processes, and workflows.
Many years ago when the UCStrategies team came up with our definition for unified communications, we defined it as "communications integrated to optimize business processes." That definition held true for a long time, but many vendors focused solely on 'integrating' the different modes of communications to enable users to initiate a call or IM from the same interface, for example. While an integrated communication interface on a telephone or a computer/tablet/smartphone screen is still useful, the real focus of integration as of late has become business applications rather than business processes -- as we intended from the outset.
As to terminology, instead of communications-enabled business processes (CEBP), we're now seeing the emergence of communications-enabled applications (CEA). Whether we're talking about a CRM application, a vertical app such as one for making dental appointments, or even IoT applications, the ability to integrate communications capabilities is key. We're seeing that the real value for most businesses and workers is in the applications that they use to get their work done, with communication capabilities integrated or embedded in those applications. In addition, voice-based communication is losing prominence as messaging-centric communication takes on increased value.
What's driving this is the user experience, based on the workflows and applications that workers use, and how they can be more effective and productive. For example, workers can be more productive when they have communications capabilities within the application or dashboard "where they live." If I'm always in Salesforce and that's what's open on my desktop or mobile device from 8-5, I want to be able to access my communication tools from within Salesforce, rather than having to open a separate application or pull up a siloed communication tool. By initiating communications from within the Salesforce application, it ties those interactions to the customer record and Salesforce can automatically log customer activity (and possibly do even more as software advances).
As Ali Rizvi, Director of Product Management at Fonality, explained to me, "Integration breaks boundaries that UC can't do by itself. The key is the user experience and being judicious about finding meaningful applications where you place communication tools and interactions. Look to where the value is added to business processes where customers are engaged."Companies Zero-In on Integration
We're seeing more and more companies focusing on integrating communication functions into business applications by adding voice, video, messaging, presence, and collaboration to their applications. Developers have been able to do this for a while, but it's historically been somewhat challenging -- it required specialized developers and engineers, and it took a long time to do.
Things have changed, and integration today is much easier thanks to APIs that vendors can use to integrate UC with applications, as well as new Communication Platform as a Service (CPaaS) offerings, which provide cloud-based APIs and pre-packaged plug-ins or integration modules to developers on an "as a service" basis.
Vonage made a very bold move recently by acquiring the No. 2 CPaaS vendor, Nexmo -- a move that demonstrates the value of integrating communication capabilities into applications and workflows. There's a growing list of CPaaS vendors, including Twillio, Plivo, Cisco (Tropo), Genband (Kandy), CafeX, and Avaya's Zang, which all provide not only a cloud communications platform, but also applications, a development platform, and embedded tools.
Another integration approach for communication-enabling applications is for vendors to provide open APIs and SDKs for developers and enterprise customers. All of the UCC and UCaaS vendors understand the importance of integration.
Nextiva is also active in this area. As Nextiva CIO Josh Lesavoy explained to me during a recent visit, "Over the past few years, the desire to integrate telecommunication with other types of software applications has moved from a 'nice to have' to a business requirement." He noted that Nextiva has been offering a full suite of APIs for customers and their software vendors to leverage, providing both real-time control and historical data access via a suite of REST APIs to enable basic telecommunications functionality.
RingCentral introduced its communications developer platform, RingCentral Connect Platform, which offers developers a set of tools and services to build, deploy, and manage custom integrations using RingCentral open APIs. RingCentral has integrated with a number of SaaS providers, but also offers an integration with the Zapier platform to extend integration capabilities to customers. (See related post, " RingCentral Brings UCaaS to Zapier."
The driver behind all of this is business efficiency, and helping individuals work more effectively. During a call discussing Vonage's acquisition of Nexmo, Vonage CEO Alan Masarek told me, "This isn't something different -- it's the identical communications, just a different consumption model. Productivity verticals will be consumed via APIs as they get built in to improve the underlying business processes and applications." Masarek described how Nexmo helps Uber drivers and passengers connect so that the driver doesn't miss a revenue opportunity. Using Nexmo messaging capabilities, an Uber driver can send a text message (which costs only a penny or two) to the passenger and secure the value of the ride for the driver.
Expect to see more consolidation in the market, as UCC and UCaaS vendors acquire some of the remaining CPaaS vendors. In parallel, expect additional vendors and many startups to get into the game. Whether using integrations and APIs to communication-enable applications and workflows is a revolution or evolution, "It's gonna be alright!"