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5 Game Changers Emerge at Enterprise Connect

Another Enterprise Connect is in the books! This year's event signaled the continued transformation of enterprise communications from one dominated by IP telephony to a varied landscape featuring a broad array of internal and external collaboration and communications platforms.

Here's what I see as the five biggest game changers from my week under the glass big top otherwise known as the Gaylord Palms in Orlando, Fla.:

  1. Team chat has arrived. While we've not reached a consensus on what to call it -- team chat, team messaging, team collaboration, workstream communications... floor wax, desert topping -- this type of tool has arrived for use in mainstream enterprise collaboration. Even more importantly, the line between team chat and unified communications is rapidly disappearing. In various sessions and announcements we heard from just about every leading team chat vendor (except notably Slack) on how team collaboration is bringing real-time communications to workflows. Providers like Alcatel-Lucent Enterprise and RingCentral showed how team chat applications are becoming the new UC interface, while Google and Microsoft highlighted the integration of team chat and non-real-time collaboration applications like document creation.

    Cisco demonstrated the extension of team collaboration to the device world via Spark Board, its 2017 Best of Enterprise Connect winner. Clearly team chat is no longer a niche application living primarily in the purview of application developers; rather it now has the potential to become the very basis of collaboration. (For related slideshow, see "Email Killers 2017: A Look at 14 Cloud-Based Team Collaboration Apps.")

    A panel of industry experts discusses the growing importance of team collaboration apps, from left: Diane Salvatora, Unify; Kira Makagon, RingCentral; Dan Stevenson, Microsoft; Richard Townhill, Cisco, Oji Udezue, Atlassian; Beth Schultz, Enterprise Connect/No Jitter

  2. It's a good time to be an application developer. Twilio's keynote, connectivity issues aside, highlighted the increasing role of cloud-based communications, delivered via APIs, to reshape how organizations develop internal and customer-facing applications. Gone are the days when application developers either ignored communications or had to work through complicated APIs to add comms to their apps. Now, with a few simple lines of code, an application developer can add calling, messaging, conferencing, and other real-time capabilities to their apps, improving the ability to engage with customers, driving digital transformation, and optimizing internal workflows. And Twilio wasn't alone in promoting comms APIs. Other vendors, including Mitel, Vidyo, Vonage, and Voxbone, demonstrated or discussed their emerging APIs offering everything from phone numbers on demand to embedded video conferencing and video streaming. EC's opening day saw a mainstage industry panel on comms APIs, plus a session devoted to sharing results of a partner API hackathon conducted offsite over the weekend. Many sessions, especially those in the one-day conference-within-a-conference on Enterprise Communications & Collaboration 2020 program, discussed the role that AI, machine learning, and bots will play in emerging collaboration modes. The majority of attendees at Monday's "State of WebRTC" session indicated that they were developers as well. I expect the level of developer participation, and associated content, to continue to grow at Enterprise Connect 2018.
  3. Amazon Web Services disrupts! AWS did a bit of a bait-and-switch this year, indicating that it would use its keynote to focus on its entrance into the UC market via its Chime conferencing application (not to be confused with CaféX's Chime desktop video conferencing product). Instead, AWS unveiled its entrant into the crowded cloud contact center market with a service it's calling Amazon Connect (read related article, "AWS Announces Amazon Connect"). Connect, as of now, is a lightweight contact center offering delivered with a number of partners, including Calabrio, Salesforce, and Twilio. Amazon is also leveraging quite a bit of its other work around natural language recognition and machine learning to bring new capabilities to customer engagement. While Connect lacks many of the features found in the more established contact center products, it has the substantial resources of Amazon at its back, a broad set of partners, and the potential to slice off a significant portion of the contact center market with its aggressive, usage-based pricing model.
  4. The contact center market is a-changing. One of the biggest trends in the contact center space over the last year has been the emergence of CRM platforms like Microsoft Dynamics and as potential replacements for the agent desktops offered by vendors like Avaya, Cisco, and Genesys. This change has allowed vendors like CaféX to enter the space by wrapping omnichannel functionality around someone else's CRM to create a powerful customer engagement platform. Amazon's partnership with Salesforce, as well as Cisco's, further highlight the growing importance of CRM to customer engagement architectures. In addition, the contact center market is expanding beyond the world of customer engagement: Witness Altocloud's announcement of a sales-enablement solution that links sales teams with potential customers browsing a company's website, all through Cisco Spark. Customer service managers will need to stay abreast of opportunities afforded by emerging tools and technologies to improve customer engagement while IT leaders need to look at how contact center functionality can improve other areas of their businesses.
  5. New entrants assert themselves. For the last few years a few large UC providers have seemingly dominated Enterprise Connect: Avaya, Cisco, and Microsoft. This year, Cisco and Microsoft were still on the expo floor, while Avaya stepped out of a sponsorship role, likely until its Chapter 11 reorganization is completed. In stepped Amazon and Twilio, as previously discussed, as well as Google, which used its keynote to highlight its own advances in its portfolio and its Jamboard immersive group collaboration platform that competes with Cisco's Spark Board, Microsoft Surface Hub, and many, many others. Other new entrants like Vonage had a large presence, while UCaaS providers like 8x8 and RingCentral, as well as MSPs and hosted providers like Verizon Enterprise and West had large show floor and venue presences. For those IT leaders fearing vendor lock-in and the loss of pricing leverage, the emergence of new, credible entrants is good news.

Overall Enterprise Connect seemed to be a conference in transition. As always, there was plenty of attention given to the nuts and bolts of actually running a communications environment and the usual battles between Cisco and Microsoft, but signs of change and disruption were all around us. I look forward to what the coming year brings as our industry continues to evolve. In the meantime, it's time to brush up on some coding skills....

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