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5 Takeaways from Enterprise Connect 2017

The 2017 edition of Enterprise Connect is just about in the books, as we head into the final morning of the conference program and the vendor booths are all packed up. As is always the case with this show, due to the very nature of unified communications, a large number of subtopics, ranging from the basics to the most sublime, emerged throughout the week. However, I will remember Enterprise Connect 2017 for the following five major themes.

1. Evolution of the cloud. The cloud has been a major storyline at Enterprise Connect for several years in a row now. However, up until recently, the value proposition of the cloud has revolved around being a cheaper, faster way of doing UC when compared to premises-based solutions. This year the tide seems to have turned, and the majority of UCaaS provider vision now centers on how to use the cloud to create new ways of working and new experiences. We should see some interesting results, as now it's time for the cloud providers to differentiate themselves from one another.

For example, RingCentral is moving toward an integrated UC/team workspace experience, Vonage is leveraging its Nexmo asset to appeal to developers, 8x8 is leading with contact center and BroadSoft is making available a wealth of contextual information through its Hub. Even companies like Cisco and Microsoft that have relied heavily on premises-based sales have shifted to cloud-first strategies with Spark and Office 365, respectively. The differentiation is certainly good as it gives customers more choices to solve different problems.

2. APIs, APIs, and more APIs. How's that nursery rhyme go? "Old McDonald had a cloud ... with a chatbot here and an API there... " -- that's what it seemed like at Enterprise Connect. Almost every company discussed what could be done with their programming interfaces. This is significant as UC is finally living up to the vision of becoming more platform than product, enabling people to use more UC functions in more applications more often. However, I do think most network engineers and telecom managers are intimidated by programming.

The primary appeal of products from the likes of Twilio and Nexmo are software developers -- which obviously makes sense -- but I think the industry would be well-served to figure out a way of getting the attention of the traditional UC buyer. I'd like to see the vendors create programs specifically designed to appeal to a non-developer. Initially the primary use cases could be for improving management tasks, but as they get more comfortable with APIs, the fear that programming has today would dissipate and drive broader, faster adoption.

Here I am chatting with Mo Nezarati, GM of Zang, during a general session on communications APIs

3. Proliferation of team collaboration. I thought there was an overabundance of team collaboration, or what I prefer to call "workstream communications and collaboration," or WCC, at Enterprise Connect last year but this year the focus on WCC was taken to a whole new level. There are a significantly larger number of competitors today than there were a couple of years ago. Cisco had Spark on display, BroadSoft was demonstrating Team-One, RingCentral was Glipping everywhere, Mitel showed off MiTeam, Microsoft introduce the audience to Teams in its keynote, and the list goes on and on. One of the more interesting products in this category is SameRoom, recently acquired by 8x8, which federates these tools so a Slack user can send messages to Spark users, for example.

4. Rise of the physical meeting space. Over the past few years, we've seen tremendous innovation in creating newer and better virtual meeting spaces to the point of almost forgetting about the physical meeting space. Here in Orlando, however, a number of vendors showcased products aimed at improving the physical meeting space experience while bridging the virtual world. Cisco's Spark Board, which won the 2017 Best of Enterprise Connect Award, is an excellent example of such a product. Logitech, Polycom, Pexip and many others had cool meeting room technology on display at the show.

5. Digital customer experiences become real. The hype around digital transformation seems to be at an all-time high. While literally thousands of different digital initiatives can be deployed across a wide range of verticals, one that comes up regardless of industry or company size is the use of digital technologies to improve customer service.

Obviously changing the way businesses interact with customers requires more than a state-of-the-art, omnichannel contact center -- CRM, UC, artificial intelligence, and contextual information are all important, but none of that matters if the first touchpoint with the customer, the contact center, is legacy and creates a bad experience. Given the speed of digital innovation and the massive amounts of information that needs to be collected, analyzed, and acted on, the cloud is the only scalable, cost-effective way to deliver a true, rich omnichannel experience.

This is one of the reasons why a small company like Five9, with an expected revenue of under $200 million for this year, has a market cap that's now close to $1 billion. This should be a hotly contested industry for the next decade.

These are my major takeaways from Enterprise Connect 2017. Please feel free to comment if you agree or disagree, and I look forward to seeing everyone next year back under the dome in at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando.

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