It’s that wonderful time of the year where we pontificators like to look back at the big events of the year and project what’s in store for the new year. Amidst a flurry of business communications activity, several key themes have emerged that highlight how transformative 2019 was for unified communications, collaboration, CPaaS, and contact center markets.
Disruption and Disruptors
2019 was the year of the disruptors. We saw lots of activity from AWS, Google, Zoom, Twilio, Salesforce, and others, who weren’t in this space just a few years ago and now have UCaaS and/or CCaaS offerings.
On the UC front, Zoom, which had a successful IPO and considered to be a Silicon Valley darling by many, launched Zoom Phone in January, heating up competition with companies like RingCentral (a Zoom partner), 8x8, and other UCaaS providers. Zoom also announced partnerships with Genesys, Five9, and Nice inContact for contact center capabilities. Zoom is currently focusing Zoom Phone on existing customers, but I expect that this will eventually change as the company expands its focus, creating more disruption in the market.
Another key disruptor, Google, announced the general availability of Google Voice for Google G Suite in April, which has been in private beta for some time. Offering an integrated UCaaS solution for G Suite provides users with a central hub for all communications and is garnering attention from both customers and competitors.
One of the key players to watch, AWS added Amazon Chime Business Calling, which lets individuals text or call directly from the Amazon Chime application. AWS also introduced Voice Connector for connecting on-premises calling equipment to the cloud using SIP. Additionally, AWS has upped the ante with Amazon Connect for the contact center, including an integration partnership with another disruptor – Salesforce.
Contact Center Disruptors
Speaking of Salesforce, the company announced Service Cloud Voice, leveraging Amazon Connect inside of Service Cloud. By offering its own voice capabilities for customer service based on Amazon Connect, Salesforce is causing ripples in the contact center and customer service space. In addition, Salesforce is using AWS AI for speech to text translation and continues to enhance its Service Cloud offerings to compete with traditional contact center vendors.
Twilio and AWS continue to make headway on the contact center side of things, as both companies announced enhanced features for their respective Flex and Connect products. Twilio Flex received a great deal of attention on the keynote stage at the Twilio Signal event,
demonstrating its growing importance. AWS also intensified competition as it added asynchronous chat for Amazon Connect, with other digital channels being added in the coming year. AI-powered speech analytics were also added, making AWS Connect a more full-featured offering.
Google continued to change the dynamics of the contact center market as it introduced AI capabilities for customers and vendor partners. In November 2019, Google announced the general availability of Google Contact Center AI, starting with Virtual Agent and Agent Assist. Avaya and Mitel were the first to go live and are being followed by 8x8, Cisco, Five9, Genesys, Salesforce, Twilio, and Vonage. We’ll see more deployments of Google Contact Center AI by customers and partners in 2020.
Integrated Solutions Take Over
2019 was also the year of integrated UCaaS and CCaaS. As many of you know, I’ve been talking/writing about the integration of UC and contact center for many years, but this marriage never took off as I had hoped. With today’s cloud services, it’s now easier for vendors to provide integrated and consolidated offerings, enabling organizations to take advantage of having a single provider for UC and contact center capabilities. While this provides many benefits for the IT staff, it also opens the door to enhanced capabilities such as the “collaborative contact center,” where contact center agents and subject matter experts throughout the organization can work together using collaboration tools to more efficiently solve customers’ issues. I hope to see more use cases of the integration of UCaaS and CCaaS in the coming year.
Single stack solutions and platform offerings, combining UC, contact center, messaging, and in some cases meetings, became more predominant in 2019 as companies like RingCentral, 8x8, Vonage, and others promote their single stack, integrated platforms. Cisco is also touting its Single Platform Advantage and unified modular app, which delivers all workloads (calling, messaging, meeting, devices, and contact center) in an integrated fashion from a single platform.
In some cases, we also saw CPaaS being added to the mix. Vonage was one of the first UCaaS vendors to add CPaaS capabilities to its platform, but now others are following suit, including 8x8 which recently acquired CPaaS provider Wavecell. Newcomer Edify offers what it calls business communications as a service (BCaaS), combining unified communications, contact center, and full API capabilities in a single software solution that lets users move seamlessly among channels.
Partnerships Beat M&A
Mergers and acquisitions have been a key part of the business communications market, enabling companies to fill in capability gaps in their portfolios. Acquisitions have also helped companies expand globally or increase their market share, and for years, we’ve seen a large number of acquisitions, especially from companies like Mitel, RingCentral, 8x8, Vonage, Cisco, and others. However, 2019 proved to be a year of strategic partnerships rather than acquisitions. While some of us were hoping to hear plans for a merger between Zoom and Slack, the two companies formed a strategic partnership instead
. Many of us also expected a knight in shining armor to acquire Avaya, but instead, the company announced a strategic relationship with RingCentral.
Other strategic partnerships include CloudFuel, based on a partnership between 8x8, Poly, and ScanSource to accelerate the transition to the cloud. The three companies are investing in joint marketing development, equipment buyback programs, and cloud migration tools, while making 8x8’s cloud services available through the ScanSource network.
Mitel, which was focused on being the consolidator of the industry under CEO Rich McBee, has a new CEO with a new focus. Instead of an acquisition, Mitel announced a partnership with Talkdesk for CCaaS. Will the days of Mitel’s acquisition binge come to an end? We’ll have to see what happens in 2020, but based on industry trends (and the lack of consolidation candidates), it looks like there’ll certainly be a considerable slow down on the M&A front.
Rather than getting acquired by another vendor, LogMeIn announced
in December that it was being acquired by private equity firms Francisco Partners and Evergreen Coast Capital. Several business communications companies have gone this route, and we'll probably see more companies go private in 2020.
Clearly, 2019 was an exciting year in business communications. Here’s to an even better 2020!
Blair is writing on behalf of the BCStrategies, an industry resource for enterprises, vendors, system integrators, and anyone interested in the growing business communications arena. A supplier of objective information on business communications, BCStrategies is supported by an alliance of leading communication industry advisors, analysts, and consultants who have worked in the various segments of the dynamic business communications market.