5 Big UC Events of 2017
The software-ization of the communications industry has enabled innovation to happen at a faster pace than ever before. This has an interesting market impact, as it enables new entrants to quickly jump into a market and disrupt it and causes established vendors to quickly build new products or acquire to compete with these new entrants. Market transitions are something that has been common in communications since it shifted to IP, but they're happening much faster today. This has created an environment where we should see more "big news" more often, and 2017 was a good example of this. Here are five news items and themes that I felt topped the charts in 2017.
1. Avaya Goes into Bankruptcy and Exits
This is something that had been expected for quite some time, and finally in January the news of a bankruptcy filing dropped. A massive debt load combined with a declining revenue stream didn't leave the company enough cash to operate the business and compete effectively, so it bit the bullet and put together a restructuring plan. As part of the plan, the company wound up selling off its networking business to Extreme Networks, which allows the company to be 100% focused on communications. Although Avaya hasn't officially come out of bankruptcy yet as of this writing, it's expected to by the end of 2017. Now that the restructuring has been done, the hard work begins as the company looks to become more cloud-centric.
2. Mitel Acquires ShoreTel
Over the past several years Mitel has been acquiring competitors to expand its customer base or to add technology. About three years ago it made an offer for ShoreTel, which was rejected. Toward the end of July, it finally got the ShoreTel board to accept an offer of $430 million, which was about $140 million less than its original offer. The ShoreTel acquisition gives Mitel an excellent cloud platform to convert the combined installed base, which also includes the North American Toshiba business, also acquired in 2017. The question for Mitel isn't whether they will make another acquisition, but rather who that might be. One of the missing components of Mitel's UC portfolio is video and someone like Vidyo, a current Mitel partner, would make sense. Regardless of who it is, Mitel CEO Rich McBee and CFO Steven Spooner will ensure it gets a great deal.
3. Artificial Intelligence (AI) Comes to UC in a Big Way
The intersection of UC and AI is something that the industry has been discussing for a couple of years. In 2017, AI-infused UC came to life with both Cisco and Microsoft giving us a glimpse of the future. In September at its Ignite conference, Microsoft showed off its activity maps of a worker's usage patterns across Microsoft Office 365, LinkedIn, and Dynamics 365, which provides deep contextual intelligence. Businesses can then ask virtual assistant Cortana to interpret the data and find new insights. Less than a month after that, Cisco held a press event to show off all the cool things it was working on with AI. This includes its own voice agent Spark Assistant, video analytics, virtual reality collaboration, auto-mute capabilities, and automatic speaker video framing. Microsoft's advantage is the wealth of data it owns, where Cisco's advantage is its ability control the entire end-to-end experience. This should set up a nice battle to watch in the coming years.
4. Amazon Jumps into the Contact Center Space
In March at Enterprise Connect, Amazon Web Services (AWS) made a big splash when it announced its Connect cloud contact center solution. The new offering gave rise to a number of news headlines that predicted doom for the likes of Five9 and NICE inContact. I believe Amazon's entry into the cloud contact center market legitimizes the industry but in this post, I took a look at many of the shortcomings of the current offering. I certainly think that Amazon could be a major disruptor in this market, as it's been in many other markets, but it's likely at least three years away from having an enterprise-grade solution. Meanwhile, vendors like Five9 and Talkdesk continue to see strong growth as the market transitions to the cloud. Evidence of this can be seen in Five9's stock price, which has nearly doubled in the past year and tripled in the past two years.
5. Cisco Acquires BroadSoft
On the eve of BroadSoft's annual Connections event, Cisco announced its intent to acquire BroadSoft, one of the driving forces of UC moving to the cloud, for a shade under $2 billion. The purchase of BroadSoft has a number of financial benefits for Cisco, as it will be accretive to both revenue and gross margins. Considering BroadSoft's expected growth numbers and profitability, the price point of $1.9 billion seemed relatively modest. The acquisition was certainly a win-win for both companies, as it expands BroadSoft's reach and gives Cisco a viable multi-tenant, highly scalable cloud right now, instead of it having to go build one itself. The purchase will create a ripple effect of changes with non-BroadSoft cloud providers as they look to capitalize on any concerns with the transfer of ownership. Also, BroadSoft had many partners, such as Avaya and Polycom, that are competitive with Cisco. Cisco has stated it will keep BroadSoft an open platform -- and I believe they will, but that doesn't preclude them from creating a BroadSoft + Cisco offering that has special pricing or unique features.
2017 was a certainly a fun year in unified communications, and based on everything that happened this year, we're setting up for an even better 2018. See you all at Enterprise Connect!
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- Enterprise Communications: A Look Back, a Look Ahead
- Go Big or Go Home: Cisco to Pay $2B for BroadSoft
- Debunking Amazon Connect's Competitive Threat