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Amazon Chime: Priority or Experiment?

Over the past few years, Amazon has been quietly launching new business application services. The first was WorkSpaces, a virtual desktop service introduced in November 2013. WorkDocs, a file storage and sharing service originally known as Amazon Zocalo, came in July 2014. In January 2015, Amazon introduced WorkMail for secure email and calendaring. Now comes Chime, a conferencing and light workstream messaging service Amazon introduced last week (see related No Jitter news coverage).

Amazon's business application services lineup is conceptually similar to Microsoft's Office 365 and Google's G Suite. All three have email, shared drive, productivity apps, messaging, and videoconferencing. Neither Google nor Amazon currently offer telephony service.

Chime is a result of Amazon's fall 2016 acquisition of Biba, a four-year-old startup offering a WebRTC-powered service that unified conferencing with persistent chat. Biba was one of the earlier app developers to consolidate audio, video, and Web conferencing into a single offering.

Despite Amazon's prowess, the new Chime service is not that much different than the Biba app. The core services are similar, and Chime still lacks the polish of more mature enterprise applications. For example, Chime does not provide the ability to search persistent messages or to record video. It is not browser friendly or interoperable with similar services.

Although limited in features, Chime does offer excellent quality video and audio conferencing. It's a well-behaved app, fine for standalone use, that functionally sits somewhere between Skype and GoToMeeting.

Chime appears harmless and won't disrupt the current market, but like a cute bear cub it may portend something more disruptive. The question to ponder is Amazon's enterprise communications and collaboration vision and intention. Perhaps more will be revealed in Amazon's upcoming keynote at Enterprise Connect 2017.

Clearly, Amazon is interested in enterprise IT services. The company is a leader in cloud technologies and ahead of industry stalwarts Google, Microsoft, and IBM. Amazon dominates in multiple sectors and provides the underlying infrastructure used by many application providers, including several UCaaS players.

Amazon has the relationships, know-how, and an increasing supply of technologies to truly disrupt enterprise communications and collaboration. The company gave us a taste of how it could stack technologies back in 2013 when it raised the bar in customer service. The built-in Mayday function on the Kindle Fire provided live video support with screen share on its low-cost device.

In addition to Biba, Amazon has made several other communications-related acquisitions in the last couple of years. In August 2014 it picked up Twitch, a live streaming service for gaming, and in October 2013 it acquired Elemental Technologies, which makes high-speed video software for content across different screens and devices. Amazon also has its own carrier-grade communications infrastructure from BroadSoft.

Besides the technology, capability, and relationships, Amazon is a potential disruptor because it isn't motivated by short-term profits. The company has consistently deferred profits in lieu of ongoing investments into its services. The company is known for dabbling in new areas and then heavily investing in selected projects.

It's hard to tell if enterprise communications and collaboration are an experiment or priority. Amazon's pricing for Chime suggests the former. The free service allows video collaboration with just one person. The Plus level, for $2.50 per user per month, adds screen sharing. Power users that schedule meetings with more than one other person will need the Pro plan, which runs $15 per user per month.

Considering the limitations and pricing with Amazon's direct offer, the real strategy may be to leverage partners. Vonage intends to bundle Chime Pro directly into its Business UCaaS offer at no additional charge. Amazon's pricing to partners is not known, but appears to be aggressive. Perhaps Amazon plans to leverage partners for all of its business applications.

Amazon going after enterprise collaboration isn't too surprising. The company started as a book retailer and now extends into platform services for enterprise IT and marketing It offers auction, publishing, logistics, and finance services; and it creates consumer electronics and video services, including original content. It seems every industry will be on the list eventually, so why not enterprise collaboration next?

Gene Farrell, AWS VP of enterprise applications, will share his vision from the keynote stage at Enterprise Connect 2017. Check out the full Enterprise Connect conference program here, and register today using the code NOJITTER to receive $300 off an Entire Event or Tue-Thu Conference pass, or a free Expo Plus pass.

Dave Michels is a contributing editor and analyst at TalkingPointz.

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